This post was originally published on NEA’s website:
Marley Barazon was 16 when she immigrated to the United States from the Philippines. For months, while handling the rigor of senior year of high school, she looked for a job to support her family as they attempted to make it in a new country. Application after application, she kept receiving rejections. After three months, Marley finally came across a Craigslist posting for a position at Old Navy, and the link redirected her to LearnUp. After completing the scenario-based LearnUp training, she applied for the job, and received her first interview in America. Then, the good news came—Old Navy wanted to hire her, as a “Sellebrity”, or retail salesperson, at a nearby branch.
It is an economic irony that in every country around the world, there are thousands of unfilled jobs and yet simultaneously a high unemployment rate. In America, we have a ~5% official unemployment rate, but in certain cities that rate is three to four times as high—and is even higher amongst minorities, youth, and low income folks. If you add those who are underemployed, the number is even higher. LearnUp is trying to solve this “skills gap”, starting with entry-level jobs, by working directly with employers to put online the necessary content an applicant needs to know to be a successful employee. Applicants then complete targeted training at zero cost to them before applying for the corresponding job, which increases their chances of getting hired by 300%. We believe this could not only help the people desperately in need of work to get jobs, but could also revolutionize vocational education over time.
Whether you are a young immigrant looking for your first job, a veteran who fought on the battlefield in Afghanistan who now wants to succeed in civilian society, or a single mother trying to find her next gig, LearnUp is your platform. But at the end of the day, LearnUp isn’t just a job-training platform. It is a platform for hope.
At NEA, we are excited to announce our co-lead Series A investment with our friends at Shasta Ventures to support Alexis, Kenny, and the rest of the LearnUp team on their quest to retrain America.
“Brilliance is universal. Opportunity is not.” – Jeremy Johnson, CEO of Andela and co-founder of 2U (NASDAQ: TWOU)
When Jeremy Johnson and I sat down for coffee in mid-2014, he posed a set of questions for me:
1) Do we believe that there is genius-level talent equally distributed around the world?
2) Do we believe that much of this talent doesn’t have access to the opportunities we have?
3) Do we believe that this talent can be unleashed for the good of their families, communities, and global economy, irrespective of race, religion, gender, or socioeconomic status?
Yes. To all.
And thus, Andela was born.
Andela is based on a powerful and profoundly simple idea: paying students to learn. What if, instead of students paying tuition, we paid students to learn? What if we started in a massive and complex country like Nigeria—a country with 70% youth unemployment, the ISIS affiliate Boko Haram in the northeast, and rapid population growth that will make it the third most populated country in the world by 2100? And, what if we started with next generation computer science skills—Angular, MongoDB, Node.js—for which there are 3 unfilled jobs for every qualified developer globally?
As a board member, I’ve had a front row seat to what the deeply passionate team (Christina, E, Adam, Ian, etc) has accomplished thus far. We are about to begin training the 11th class of fellows, who each sign up for a 4 year educational roller coaster. We have a <1% admissions rate, making Andela the most selective educational institution in Africa. We recently conducted an all-female bootcamp, expanded to Kenya, have had companies like Microsoft hire fellows, and just closed our Series A financing from Spark Capital. And so much more.
This is just the beginning on our quest to train 100,000 fellows in Africa over the next ten years.
This is Andela.
Last week, I spoke in New Delhi at The Growth Net. My panel on “frugal innovation: technology for those living on less than $2/day” had Sanjay Kapoor and Nandan Nilekani, both of whom have had remarkable careers building technologies that have touched billions (literally). Here is an interview I gave with Boom Live after the panel which talks about the future of Indian e-commerce (e.g. Snapdeal at $5 billion valuation could be cheap) as well as the way I think about frugal innovation (e.g. using tree stumps as cricket wickets in India is just the beginning of frugal innovation – and companies like Uber could touch those in the middle class and lower class more than we think).
“We honor those who walked so we could run. We must run so our children soar.” – President Obama honoring the 50th anniversary of the marches in Selma that led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act. A riveting, must-watch speech.
In December, students held the largest demonstration on Harvard’s campus since apartheid. The Black Lives Matter protest blanketed Harvard Yard with students, of which I was one, wearing hoodies and staging die-ins. It shut down the roads in Cambridge.
My criminal law professor first semester, Ron Sullivan, is a man I deeply admire and a key advocate of the Black Lives Matter movement, as well as minority rights broadly. The former head of the DC public defenders, he famously testified in front of the Senate on the Trayvon Martin case: the jury got it right, but the Stand Your Ground law was wrong. There should be a fundamental duty to retreat when safely possible, otherwise we as a society are signing up for vigilante justice.
In class, we began discussing the stop and frisk laws in NYC, which historically have disproportionately targeted minorities. Professor Sullivan asked a simple question to the 80 of us:
“How many of you have been stopped and frisked anywhere in the US? I don’t just mean patted down, but actually frisked.”
4 people raised their hands. Two were African American males, one was a Sikh male, and one was me.
“Talk about stereotypes. 4 men of color,” Professor Sullivan said.
As a country, we have come a long way. Just ask Congressman John Lewis, who marched 50 years ago in Selma, if he ever thought he would be holding the hand of a black President 50 years later on that same bridge. Just ask Congressman Mike Honda, whose family was sent to a Japanese-American internment camp after Pearl Harbor, if he could ever dream of representing the community from which he was banished 70 years before.
But as a country, we have a long way to go. When my black classmate gets unfairly harassed or frisked, that hurts my civil rights. When my Muslim friends get ‘randomly selected’ for extra security screenings 100% of the time by the TSA, that endangers my religious freedom. And when an Indian grandfather visits Madison, a place 200 miles from Selma, and ends up partially paralyzed for being ‘suspicious’, that threatens my safety.
The march began 50 years ago, but must go on.
Originally posted by the Brookings Institution. Link is here.
The Blockchain: What it is & Why It Matters
By Mohit Kaushal & Sheel Tyle
Chances are that you’ve heard of bitcoin, the digital currency that many predict will revolutionize payments – or prove to be a massive fraud – depending on what you read. Bitcoin is an application that runs on the Blockchain, which is ultimately a more interesting and profound innovation.
The Blockchain is a secure transaction ledger database that is shared by all parties participating in an established, distributed network of computers. It records and stores every transaction that occurs in the network, essentially eliminating the need for “trusted” third parties such as payment processors. Blockchain proponents often describe the innovation as a “transfer of trust in a trustless world,” referring to the fact that the entities participating in a transaction are not necessarily known to each other yet they exchange value with surety and no third-party validation. For this reason, the Blockchain is a potential game changer.
In 2008, Satoshi Nakamoto, the pseudonymous person or group of people credited with developing bitcoin, released a whitepaper describing the software protocol. Since then, the network has grown and bitcoin
has become a recognized unit of value around the globe. Bitcoin is extremely important because it provides a mechanism for accessing the Blockchain – but it’s not the only application that can leverage the platform.
Bitcoin has also been on the receiving end of some bad press, such as around the collapse of the Mt. Gox bitcoin exchange earlier last year. The Mt. Gox story is not necessarily an indictment of bitcoin. For the purposes of this post, simply remember this: bitcoin is just a mechanism for transacting on the Blockchain and the Blockchain is the key innovation.
The Blockchain: Trustworthy Transactions in a Trustless World
The Blockchain enables the anonymous exchange of digital assets, such as bitcoin, but it is not technically dependent on bitcoin. The elegance of the Blockchain is that it obviates the need for a central authority to verify trust and the transfer of value. It transfers power and control from large entities to the many, enabling safe, fast, cheaper transactions despite the fact that we may not know the entities we are dealing with.
The mechanics of the Blockchain are novel and highly disruptive. As people transact in a Blockchain ecosystem, a public record of all transactions is automatically created. Computers verify each transaction with sophisticated algorithms to confirm the transfer of value and create a historical ledger of all activity. The computers that form the network that are processing the transactions are located throughout the world and importantly are not owned or controlled by any single entity. The process is real-time, and much more secure than relying on a central authority to verify a transaction.
There are many analogous concepts both ancient and modern. Technology has and will continue to transfer power and control from central authorities and distribute them to the masses. For example, time used to be determined and communicated by large clock towers that were expensive to build and maintain. Engineering innovations ultimately decentralized the quantification of time to the individual. Likewise, WhatsApp, a popular cross platform messaging app, cut the transaction cost of sending messages globally – and cut profits for the carriers. The central authority (phone carriers) lost to the application (WhatsApp) built on a decentralized network (i.e. the Internet).
Similarly, third parties that currently verify transactions (the central authority) stand to lose against the Blockchain (the decentralized network). As such, the Blockchain essentially disintermediates these third-party transaction verifiers: auditors, legal services, payment processors, brokerages and other similar organizations.
While you may not be convinced that exchanging bitcoin is an invaluable service, there are many other examples of value transfer that are critical – and currently very slow and expensive. Consider the exchange of property: numerous intermediaries are currently involved in this process, such as a third-party escrow service that works for both parties to ensure a smooth transfer. The escrow service, like other services built solely on trust and verification, collect fees that would be mitigated by performing the transaction on the Blockchain – as would wire transfer fees, third party financial auditing, contract execution, etc.
The use case of the Blockchain enabling a decentralized currency exchange – such as bitcoin – is well defined and will likely be the dominant use case near term, however there are a multitude of innovative and disruptive use cases. Companies are already building their own Blockchains for various applications such as Gridcoin that leverages the Blockchain to crowdsource scientific computing projects. Gridcoin uses its own protocols that require much less computing power and electricity to manage than traditional bitcoin networks.
The Blockchain: and Why it Matters (Let’s Not Mess it Up)
The Blockchain is a foundational technology, like TCP/IP, which enables the Internet. And much like the Internet in the late 1990s, we don’t know exactly how the Blockchain will evolve, but evolve it will.
Similar to the Internet, the Blockchain must also be allowed to grow unencumbered. This will require careful handling that recognizes the difference between the platform and the applications that run on it. TCP/IP empowers numerous financial applications that are regulated, but TCP/IP is not regulated as a financial instrument. The Blockchain should receive similar consideration. While the predominant use case for the Blockchain today is bitcoin currency exchange that may require regulation, this will change over time.
Had we over-regulated the Internet early on, we would have missed out on many innovations that we can’t imagine living without today. The same is true for the Blockchain. Disruptive technologies rarely fit neatly into existing regulatory considerations, but rigid regulatory frameworks have repeatedly stifled innovation. It’s likely that innovations in the Blockchain will outpace policy, let’s not slow it down.
Tragic begging and triumphant benevolence. Paper gains and palpable losses. Newfound empathy and noticeable disdain.
I’ll never forget seeing thousands of Syrian refugees – mothers who fled the Assad regime clutching toddlers – on the streets of Istanbul. They had a small cup or piece of cloth in front of them, asking pedestrians for spare change in Arabic – a language Turks don’t speak.
I’ll never forget the smile on the faces of the BCNA loan officers who had given small business loans to immigrants in all of NYC’s boroughs. These loans allowed these immigrants to realize their American dream through their corner stores, their laundromats, their beauty salons, and their restaurants.
I’ll never forget the phone call from a fellow investor that my first venture capital deal, Snapdeal.com, was about to announce an investment from Softbank at a $2 billion valuation. Or, the text message about Hired.com, a deal that I had seeded at NEA, had closed a round at a $200 million valuation.
I’ll never forget the phone call from a portfolio company CEO that he had run out of money. He was going to have to shut down his business and, in the process, I would lose all my invested capital. He was in tears. He had given it his all, sacrificing everything for his business. He hadn’t even paid himself in the last few months to keep the company afloat – and he was broke. I was, in the next 5 minutes, defeated and encouraging, confused and consoling.
I’ll never forget meeting General David Petraeus 1:1 in his office, and the many emails, discussions, and meals that continue to follow. He’s a man who led our armed forces in Afghanistan and also was the Head of the CIA. He was—and still is—the quintessential American hero: a gentleman, a class act, and a selfless leader. But one mistake caused him to give up his career in government. I think the world of him—and if he can make a mistake like the one he did, then I’m pretty sure anyone can. We’re all just human.
I’ll never forget meeting Lance Armstrong in New York as part of a group dinner. Because the event was off the record, I am not at liberty to share quotes. However, I could tell Lance was noticeably frustrated at the doping scandal; not necessarily because he was upset at the backlash and the titles that were vacated, but because he still feels like he was wronged. He had brought a knife to a gun fight. And if everyone was doing it, then why was he the villain?
What a year 2014 was. 2015, you’re on the clock.
This email exchange, where HBS professor Ben Edelman quibbles over $4 of Chinese food in the pursuit of making a broader point, is disturbing.
Here is my email to the Dean of HBS. Let’s see what happens.
I hope you’re well. I’m a JD/MBA student here.
The article about Ben Edelman was disturbing – all the negative stereotypes about HBS up and down social strata ringing true in one exchange. I hope HBS is looking at disciplinary action related to it. I know I don’t want to associate myself with someone who, in a petty pursuit of integrity, seems to display none himself.