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Thought Leaders in Online Education: Karen Francis, CEO of Academix Direct (Part 4)

Posted on Saturday, Apr 19th 2014

Sramana Mitra: I have a bunch of questions on that. These are, again, trend questions. One of the big problems with the Internet, in my view, is that it’s a free-rider and free-loader population. What percentage of your traffic are paying users as opposed to people looking for free courses?

Karen Francis: The only way I could answer that right now would be to give you metrics on the paid course sales. I would say we’re too early for that. Most of the people on our site are connecting to free courses. I think that’s largely because they don’t know that they’re available yet. We’re really at the early stages of adding the courses. We’re just getting exposure now for those people who are willing to pay.

Sramana Mitra: For your business, you want the paid courses to be on it because that’s your revenue model.

Karen Francis: We do but I don’t want it to be all about the money, to be honest.

Sramana Mitra: I really don’t like a lot of free stuff. Philosophically, I still believe in capitalism even though capitalism is under a lot of fire. It’s not just viable. You can’t really sustain things by offering everything for free. The other side of the spectrum is higher education has become too expensive. That’s a whole other driving factor. In fact, we got a testimonial saying, “One Million by One Million is a thousand dollar annual membership fee. An MBA is $85,000. If you want to start a company, what is that point of spending $85,000 a year for a couple of years?” If you really want to start a company, it doesn’t really make a lot of sense.

Karen Francis: To take that thought and go back to what we were talking about a minute ago, there are going to be those people who are going to say, “It’s not worth it for me but I’m going to piece together the types of topics and the caliber of work that I want. I’m going to create my own degree equivalent.” We’re increasingly going to see recognition of competency-based skills that employers are going to accept and other people are going to accept.

Sramana Mitra: Right. That brings us to an interesting point which is when it comes to something like programming, it’s actually very easy. Either you know how to program or you don’t know how to program, it doesn’t really matter what school you went to because it’s very deterministic.

Karen Francis: If you can actually show some of your product, you can show that you can do it.

Sramana Mitra: You can build up a portfolio by doing freelance projects. There are many different ways of establishing that you have those skills and abilities. There are other disciplines where it’s not as simple. Entrepreneurship is actually very simple because you don’t need to prove to anybody that you know how to do entrepreneurship. You want to prove to yourself and you want to do it.

We cover a very wide range of students. There are people who are aspiring entrepreneurs trying to learn how to get into the game and maybe working on pre-concept stage. We have companies that are actually on the game, have generated revenues, and are trying to accelerate. We have a lot of practice in entrepreneurs in the program as well. We do the whole spectrum from incubation to acceleration. We don’t have to prove to anybody that we know how to do that as long as our entrepreneurs are happy, they’re learning, and they’re getting value out of the program. We don’t need to convince any employer. However, most education is geared towards employment or something where somebody else needs to believe.

Karen Francis: Validate.

Sramana Mitra: Validate, exactly.

This segment is part 4 in the series : Thought Leaders in Online Education: Karen Francis, CEO of Academix Direct
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