Millennials tend to pursue different career choices than what they imaged for themselves right after high school. They don’t work for the same company for more than a few years, and are eager to experiment with various professions throughout their careers. In the age of lifelong learning, where online courses play a key role in education, career change is definitely an option.
Education technology might be still in its in infancy, but CareerFoundry CEO and founder Raffaela Rein realized the potentials of online learning early on. Raffaela and her co-founder Martin Ramsin started their company in 2013, committed to train the next generation of technical talent and digital leaders with the help of their 3 to 6 months long online courses in web development, UX and UI design. Overtime they expanded their business to more than a thousand students from all over the world, and raised a seed round of investments. We asked Raffaela about career transition, online community building, mentors and female entrepreneurship.
YOU USED TO WORK FOR ROCKET INTERNET IN BEIJING AND TAIPEI TO FOUND AND EXPAND E-COMMERCE COMPANIES IN ASIA. WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO COME BACK TO BERLIN, LEAVE ROCKET BEHIND AND START YOUR OWN VENTURE?
When I left Rocket Internet, I was about to launch my own business with a friend in Taiwan. We had a groundbreaking idea to set up a Starbucks-like coffee shop chain in Asia. Unfortunately that venture failed because of bureaucracy – as it turned out, it’s not so easy to get a visa as an expat entrepreneur. Around that time I received a job offer from Axel Springer, so I moved back to Europe. To Berlin to be more exact. Having lived in many diverse big cities all around the world, I wanted to find a new home in an international and open-minded environment.
Coming to Berlin, I already knew that I will start a company. The twist was, that the job at Axel Springer led me to found my own.
HOW DID YOU COME UP WITH THE IDEA OF CAREERFOUNDRY? WHY EDUCATION?
I’m not an educator, I have a business background. The moment of enlightenment hit me when my department at Axel Springer tried to hire 150 developers for its internal innovation. It was extremely tough to find the right people with the right skills. I was shocked. It was 2013, when in Europe we had six million unemployed people under the age of 25, and at the same time millions of jobs in the IT industry that simply couldn’t be filled. I realized the huge mismatch between the skills needed in the 21st century job market, and the ones that are actually taught to people at the traditional educational institutions. I felt that my mission is to close that wide gap, and decided to design an online training program, that teaches the exact skills the digital job market requires in a short period of time.
YOU HAVE QUITE SOME COMPETITION OUT THERE, LIKE GENERAL ASSEMBLY, OR STARTUP INSTITUTE, WHERE STUDENTS ARE OFFERED SIMILAR COURSES IN AN OFFLINE, CLASSROOM ENVIRONMENT. SOME MIGHT SAY THE TEAM EXPERIENCE IS INEVITABLE FOR ONE’S SUCCESS IN CAREER TRANSITION. WHAT DO YOU THINK?
First of all, the offline setting is not for everyone. In order to take an offline course you have to live in a certain city, be available at a certain time of the day, and as most of these programs are full-time, you probably have to give up your job. That’s just not an option for a lot of people. Our program is targeted at those, who want to stay in their jobs, while shaping their careers for the future.
Secondly, online communities can be super powerful. We do have an incredible community, where real-time messaging and video calls are constantly part of the experience. Our students are part of a cohort, just like at the offline institutions, which means that they are never on their own, their peers go through the same journey. Students, mentors and our team members constantly engage with each other, support each other and push each other forward. The connection that our community builds during the program is very powerful.
HOW DOES YOUR CURRICULUM LOOK LIKE?
There’s a full online curriculum with 60 exercises that students go through step by step. Rather than concentrating on theory, we place a bigger emphasis on how you can build a portfolio and actually apply what you learned. For example in the web development program, you build a whole web app step by step. You can present your work and display your code to the outside world, as we work with tools like Heroku or Github. At the end of the day we are just facilitators, the students are the ones setting up their own stage, so they are ready to start their new career once they finish the course.
HOW DO YOU MAKE SURE YOUR STUDENTS STAY ON TRACK?
We have mentors, who work with our students individually, in a 1-on-1 setting. Mentors help students to take care of weaknesses, develop their strengths, and shape their skills to achieve their career goals. And of course there’s the personal side of career change, which is most of the times emotionally challenging. Besides a mentor, our students have customer success managers, who help them to set milestones and make sure that they stay on track. We have motivational Slack groups, where everyone can share their fears, learnings and inspirations on a daily basis. There’s a lot of interaction, it’s just simply in an online environment. You can connect with someone who’s going through similar things in the other part of the world, but this person may happen to live in your city. As simple is that.
DO YOU OFFER PLACEMENT OPPORTUNITIES TO YOUR ALUMNI AFTER THEIR PROGRAM ENDS?
Currently 95% of graduates find a job after the course. We don’t have a placement promise yet, but we are currently working on something. What we do have is the customer success team, who help people shape their CVs and portfolios – that alone opens lots of doors. In terms of placement, we’re planning to start from this year onwards and are currently looking for hiring partners.
DO YOUR FORMER STUDENTS USUALLY PURSUE THEIR CAREER AFTER FINISHING THE COURSE? IS THERE ANY PARTICULAR SUCCESS STORY TO SHARE?
We have tons of great testimonials, but the most astonishing stories are always those, when you hear about people, who used to be on a 30k annual salary, and after taking the course they make 60k or even 90k. That happens quite frequently and that’s an undeniable difference.
My personal favorite example is one of our former students, Claire. She used to work as a nurse, which is a great job, but it required her to lead a very rigorous, disruptive lifestyle, so she was tempted to change. Throughout her training we discovered how tremendously good she was, so we decided to keep her for ourselves. Now she’s working on our UX team.
WHAT WOULD BE YOUR ADVICE FOR THOSE, WHO ARE TRYING TO CHANGE THEIR CAREER AFTER WORKING SEVERAL YEARS IN ANOTHER FIELD?
Do your research! Very often people know that they are unhappy in their current job, but have no idea what else they would like to do instead. Those who come from a more traditional background, from a non-digital sector, usually don’t even know what growth hackers, data scientists or startup advisers are up to. Figuring out your new career goal is probably the hardest step of all. Go and find your resources on the internet, and don’t be afraid to google your questions, if that gives you a better understanding what opportunities are out there. Once you made your decision it’s all about networking and mentorship, attending meetups and industry events, and finding the right people, who can help you get where you want to.
DID YOU HAVE ANY MENTOR FIGURES OR ROLE MODELS?
I don’t think I had role models per se, but I’m a huge believer of mentorship. I’ve had my fair share of mentors myself in many different shapes and forms. You definitely need mentors, even as a founder. It’s inspiring to connect with people, who have gone through the same path before and have sort of the foresight to see the challenges you will face – they can definitely help you to cope with your emotions. My biggest learning from these people was that it’s never a smooth, straight line upwards, but more like a hill that goes up and down. As an entrepreneur you have to anticipate that.
When you experience the highs of the startup life, you need somebody to bring you back down and tell you that it’s not going to be like that all the time. When you have a low period, you need somebody who brings you back up and reassures you that it’s a long-term path. Once you go through your highs and lows, you just become much calmer.
When you experience the highs of the startup life, you need somebody to bring you back down and tell you that it's not going to be like that all the time. When you have a low period, you need somebody who brings you back up and reassures you that it's a long-term path.
WHAT IS THE HARDEST PART OF BEING A FOUNDER?
When you start your own company, especially in the first couple of years, you can literally see the doubt in people’s eyes. Some of them already see you as a failed entrepreneur. I came from a credible background, from very credible brands, where I felt an overall respect towards my job and my company. Building something new from scratch and convincing people to join you on your journey, whether it’s investors, business partners, or employees, is extremely difficult. But it’s also extremely exciting!
WHAT WOULD BE YOUR ADVICE FOR FEMALE ENTREPRENEURS?
Just do it! Don’t be discouraged by the reports and studies that say it’s terrible to be a woman in tech and you will be terribly disadvantaged. It’s just not true. There are so many outstanding female entrepreneurs, not only in tech, but everywhere. We’re still the minority and it has to change. If you have a great idea, go for it and help us change the ratio.