Ex-Zynga Manager Lo Toney Appointed CEO of Khosla’s LearnStreet

Laurence “Lo” Toney has been named CEO of LearnStreet, the Palo Alto-based startup that’s helping aspiring computer scientists learn how to code online.

lo.toney - medium

Toney is one of the many Zynga employees who have left the games company over the past few months. In October, he stepped down after working there for three years, most of that time as the general manager of Zynga Poker.

“It’s hard to imagine being at a big company now, like Zynga, now that I’m at a small company,” said Toney, after only five weeks on the job. “But that’s why I chose to leave. I wanted to join a company I could lead, and take it to the next level.”

LearnStreet was founded a little over a year ago by Vinod Khosla, a venture capitalist who saw an opportunity to create an easy way to create online courses. Other education companies have also sprouted up around it, including Codecademy, Khan Academy and Coursera.

LearnStreet claims to teach someone the basics of three programing languages (JavaScript, Python and Ruby) with no development background needed.

Toney said it reminds him of his college years, when he bought himself an HTML programming book and taught himself how to make websites (despite the fact that he was studying business). LearnStreet is the online version of buying a book, and can be used by a student studying computer science, or by a teenager or adult looking for job skills.

While Toney’s most recent experience is based in gaming, he said there’s a number of overlaps between Zynga and the new company.

First, running the Poker division is like “having your own startup,” he said. As the general manager, he was in charge of managing an entire team and budget.  The other similarity is that he plans on LearnStreet having a freemium business model, where customers get some of the course work for free and then pay for additional help — sort of like free-to-play games.

“What we’ve done and discovered is we are beginning to pick up on pain points and friction points, where people are willing to pull out their credit card and pay for additional help,” Toney said.

So far, the company has raised $1 million from Khosla Ventures; now, with Toney on board, he said it plans to raise additional funding soon.

Prior to Zynga, Toney held positions at Nike and eBay. At Nike, he was the Global General Manager for Nike.com, working on the company’s e-commerce strategy; at eBay, he was director and general manager of the company’s collectibles business.

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