David Blake, chief executive of Degreed, says that in today's world, everyone is pretty well learning throughout their lives and at their jobs. But when you ask anyone about their education and learning, they still talk about the degree that they took years ago.
Five years ago, he set up Degreed to certify people learning and skills beyond their formal degrees. Degreed is an unusual educational start up in the sense that it does not create or sell its own content - though it uses AI to suggest content and courses you need to take in line with your interest areas. These could be articles, TED Talk videos, seminars or courses in a MOOCs platform.
David says that he has raised $40 million so far, and is going to raise another $40 million in his next round of funding. Degreed started off operations in the US but has since set up offices in Europe and another in India (in Bangalore). The Bangalore office is about 10 months old and David says it is growing fastest (though on a small base). His customers are primarily enterprises (he says mostly Fortune 200 and Fortune 500 companies) as well as organizations such as Nasscom. (He is in talks with them.)
For individuals, Degreed is free. You can keep track of your learning on Degreed by posting things you are reading, watching or conferences you are attending or lectures you are giving. However if you want a certification, you need to pay - or your employer does.
Excerpts from the interview:
Q. So how does Degreed actually work?
A. The issue is that when you ask people about their education, they usually talk about their formal credentials. But we are in the knowledge economy where we are learning over the entirety of our lives and our goal is to make all learning matter. It is not replacing college degrees but opening up the concept to include our college degrees and everything we have learnt after that.
Q. You have companies as customers and then you have individuals?
A. It is important to us that the objective of Degreed was to establish the framework which would enable a truly lifelong model of education. We believed that individuals had to own their learning but employers had to use the platform. Because as an individual, you are going to have many jobs, You will have many destinations. Even if you talk of college you travel across destinations - college, courser, TED talks - so a single destination cannot own all your knowledge. So an university cannot own all your learning, an employer cannot own all your learning. You have to have ownership of this so that if you travel between those destinations, it goes with you.
But if the goal is to make all your education matter, it has to matter to employers or to universities. And we really believed it needed to matter to your employers if it needed to apply broadly across your whole career.
Academically, we are there three, four, six years but professionally we are there 30 or 40 years so we honed in our employment.
Q. How long have you been in India?
A. We have been here for 10 months or rather 9 months plus... There is significant traction in the market as far as Degreed in India is concerned. Predominantly the strategy has been enterprise though we are also looking at a lot of bodies or consortiums like Nasscom. We are working with all of them in tandem.
Q. You have raised about $40 million so far...
A. We have raised about that much to date and we will raise about that much more in our next financing. We are growing a 100 per cent each year in terms of revenues. Of course it started on a low denominator and it has been only 10 months but the growth rate in India has been even faster.
Q. When you say you certify the learning of an individual what is the process? Is there a test? As you said, people are learning from different sources... They might be taking a Coursera course or listening to a TED talk...
A. Our certification process is all about the application of your mastery. Our platform does track that you read this article and you went to this conference but that is not how you qualify for certification. Just reading 20-30 articles does not mean that you will be able to successfully apply your skills to a new domain. So they are independent. The platform does track your learning but but you have to come and show evidence and demonstrate your mastery. And then it is a process by which you can textualise the evidence - say you ran a project etc. You make an articulation of your applied mastery. And then people endorse your claims. And then it goes into a process where it is peer reviewed and expert reviewed. So at its core it is a bit like the PhD peer defence process.
Q. You have operations in Europe as well. How is that growing?
A. Recently it is growing very fast... like the US, we have mostly Fortune 200 or Fortune 500 clients there. Recently we are serving Unilever. With rare exceptions, our clients - we serve them globally.
Q. How does the revenue model work?
A. So it if free for individuals to use and maintain their profile of their lifetimes, enterprise organizations pay us to use it at scale in their organizations. To get data and insights into what everyone is learning, rolled up in one place and then we integrate with all their internal learning processes as well as give them the tools to have their employees tracking as well as the self directed learning that was outside the organization. So that is what the organizations are paying for using it. In 2017, we launched our model for certifications and enterprise organizations pay for their employees to be certified. Employees are also able to purchase it directly as an individual if they want to qualify themselves in a particular skill.
Q. What makes you different?
A. So there is a lot of young companies entering the field, but what makes Degreed stand out is we have managed to architect this to provide the market with a common language and the market has never had that. We believe the market wants to speak the language of skills but it cannot and is left to speak the language of degrees, and there has to be a truly common language for skills. It has to be standard and it has to be interoperable. What Degreed is architected for is something no company has done before. We have kept all of these standards consistent between clients. So for the first time, being certified as a level 4 skill in IT is Cisco is the same thing as being certified as a level 4 in Intel.