This CEO is building a global business with a relentless approach to success.
INTERVIEW | by Victor Rivero
Raffaela Rein began her illustrious career as an Investment Strategist for BlackRock in London after graduating in Business Finance from the University of Durham. It wasn’t long before her entrepreneurial drive took over and she was led to Beijing, Sydney and Taipei to help found three e-commerce companies for Rocket Internet before heading back to Germany to set up CareerFoundry in the startup hub of Berlin. Martin Ramsin, a web developer, helped found the company and is CTO. As co-founder and CEO of this vocational online training company for digital leaders and technical talent, Raffaela has helped raise $1.2 million to date, and is flush with insight from her immersive experience in building a company that helps others find jobs – as well as creating new jobs along the way.
What prompted you to develop CareerFoundry — what issues, challenges, and problems were you trying to solve?
Raffaela: During my time at Rocket Internet and Axel Springer, we were set the task of trying to hire 150 developers, a feat that, we discovered, was downright impossible. I began to wonder why so many companies were having problems in this area of recruitment and I
We are excited about the future, to be able to change people’s lives while building what we think is the most exciting education company on the planet.
realized that there is quite simply a gap in education. Put bluntly, educational institutions are not teaching students the skills that are fundamentally required in today’s job market.
The irony is, that despite the one million job vacancies in the IT sector in Europe alone, the continent as a whole is experiencing unprecedented levels of youth unemployment (close to 6 million young unemployed people across the continent). I realized that there is a huge gap in the market: our educational institutions are failing to educate people with the skills they need to build great careers for the digital economy.
By founding CareerFoundry my aim was, and still is, to bridge this gap with an immersive, time-efficient and high quality education program that helps people to learn the tech skills they need to progress professionally. This value proposition is important for our clients – whether they are a company that wants to train its workforce, schools looking to educate teachers so they are able to teach relevant skills to children or unemployed people looking for new careers – all of them want the best learning results in a relatively short period of time.
What’s something interesting about it’s development history?
Raffaela: Previously in my career I built e-commerce companies for Rocket Internet. It was a surprise to me how different it is to build an educational company compared to an e-commerce platform. The user experience, the sales cycle, the customer lifetime value – everything needs a completely different approach: it is a much more intricate process and also more interesting and exciting than anything I’ve ever seen in e-commerce.
How was it working in the ‘before launch’, talking with the students, collaborating with those who would give input — any lessons learned? Was it a shock going from development theory to user practicality? Did you make some key adjustments at that time due to student user feedback?
Raffaela: Honestly, we didn’t do enough user testing when we decided on our product. We began by selling classes offline and what we learned from that experience became the testing ground to our online offering. The lesson we quickly learned was that online learning is all about great user experience, and providing that to our students requires a great many resources, as well as testing and pedagogical experience. And all that takes money. For this reason we decided to raise funding early in order to be able to offer a truly outstanding experience to our customers.
The key adjustment we’ve made over time is to make the curriculum and learning management system ever more trackable, gradable, with clearer outcomes and focused on generating great, visible learning outcomes at the end of every lesson.
Anything interesting about your own background that informed your current approach? Your work with BlackRock or Rocket, or Satorion?
Raffaela: After graduating with a Bachelor in Business Finance from the University of Durham, I joined BlackRock in London as an Investment Strategist. It was here that I first felt the calling to entrepreneurship, so I decided to join Rocket Internet to gain entrepreneurial experience first-hand. At Rocket Internet I built ventures in China, Australia and Taiwan which not only enabled me to travel the world whilst gaining startup experience, I also learned the dos and don’ts of building Internet businesses – experience that comes in very handy now at CF. Upon returning to Germany I worked as a digital consultant before eventually founding CareerFoundry. These experiences have taught me that building a startup is a very iterative process; it is okay to learn in that process, to fail as well as to double down on what works. I am a lot calmer now having gone through those experiences than I might be had I not had them.
What’s your 60-second pitch to someone on what exactly it is and its benefits?
Raffaela: We’re the world’s most affordable coding bootcamp. And we’re online. That means people from all over the world can learn and change their career with us, no matter which continent or time zone they’re based in – as a matter of fact, we have students in over 30 countries worldwide. We offer vocational training for web developers and user experience (UX) designers and will be launching two additional verticals later this year.
How about the competition?
Raffaela: Sure, there’s plenty. However, none of them come close to the quality of education and mentors that we at CareerFoundry are offering, nor can they compete with our successful outcomes (CF has an 80 percent placement rate) not to mention the value for money.
Any highlights about test marketing it or starting out — any interesting feedback or reaction to what you were doing?
Raffaela: We’ve had great demand from the outset. Our offline classes were incredibly popular and this only increased when we moved everything online, as we were able to reach more people.
One of the most important things we learned – perhaps because we’re based in Berlin and have not grown up with the Silicon Valley kind of mentality – was that focusing on profitability too early was a mistake. It took a lot of investment into conversion rate optimization before the business really started growing strong.
What else can you say about the value and benefit of Career Foundry?
Raffaela: Well, as I mentioned, 80 percent of our graduates find jobs within 90 days of graduating from one of our courses. This is the biggest value and we’re super proud of each life we can touch and change for the better.
Additionally, we’ve recently started partnerships with top business schools in Germany such as the European Business School Oestrich-Winkel and Zeppelin University, to develop the next generation of digital business leaders. We’ll use the money we just raised to expand on partnerships in this direction; we’re all about educating the next generation of leaders to empower people to live awesome, fulfilled lives while spurring economic growth.
With $1.2 million raised, what’s next?
Raffaela: We’re building two new verticals – that will launch at the end of the year.
We’re also strengthening our career advice and career coaching resources, to bring even more people into jobs following on from the course.
Thoughts on education in general these days?
Raffaela: We’re at the beginning of a gigantic wave with edtech – of the $4 trillion global spending, less than 10 percent is digital. First of all, I anticipate a significant increase in investment in the sector. The global $4.1 trillion education market is ripe for disruption; consumers are ready and demanding solutions. There have been big exits such as
We’re at the beginning of a gigantic wave with edtech – of the $4 trillion global spending, less than 10 percent is digital.
Lynda.com’s $1.5 billion sale to LinkedIn, CrossKnowledge´s sale to Wiley for $175 million and 2U’s $100 million IPO [valuing them at over $400 million] will be happening later this year. Even though investment in the sector is meager, with only $430 million by U.S. edtech firms in 2013, I think investors are starting to realize that there is a wealth of opportunity and talent in edtech and that valuations are still comparably low.
Increasingly, I expect governments to start collaborating more closely with edtech startups; after all, education is always a policy question and edtech solutions offer governments an opportunity to save costs while improving their educational output. In five years, new technologies that don’t exist today will be contributing to the breakthrough into the mainstream of online learning/edtech. Interactive video, WebRTC and wearables, for instance, are technologies l am watching closely.
How about technology’s role in education?
Raffaela: I’m excited about the opportunities in regard to personalization, interactivity and fun that technology can and will bring to how we learn.
You’ve provided a lot of good advice to students to help them in their careers. Any advice for edtech startups these days?
Raffaela: Focus on student outcomes rather than making money. Your customer’s success has the biggest impact on your own. Secondly, focus on your conversion rates and growth before you start thinking about profitability.
Raffaela: We are excited about the future, to be able to change people’s lives while building what we think is the most exciting education company on the planet – right from the heart of Berlin. We’ve recently won a few prizes such as the Young European Innovator of 2015 by the European Commission and the EdTech 20, a prize recognizing the most significant innovation and growth over the last year, and whose businesses are primarily based within Europe.
Victor Rivero is the Editor in Chief of EdTech Digest. Write to: firstname.lastname@example.org