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From Iran to Stanford to Silicon Valley Entrepreneur: Farnaz Ronaghi, Co-Founder and CTO of NovoEd (Part 5)

Posted on Tuesday, Apr 4th 2017

Sramana Mitra: Your hypothesis was that you’re going to be selling to the corporate learning environment, did that pan out?

Farnaz Ronaghi: It’s too early to say if it has panned out completely, but it has. The mix of our customers in the past two years has mainly been universities. Then there are lots of non-profits. We have a lot of good offerings that could make a huge impact. There are lots of these non-profits that want to help others make an impact. They want to do it by offering online classes. The third has been corporations.

We work with Comcast, GE and a lot of different companies. It was interesting going into enterprises, though. Pricing wasn’t the only challenge. Positioning was a challenge as well. We were too academic in our ways of explaining what we are and what we do. That was part of the nuance that we had to figure out.

In enterprises, the game was very different. When we were in universities, we were being bought by the executive education units. They are looking for us to integrate with any of the other systems. They have their own operations. We would go in and they would use us. In enterprises, if someone is offering a training on our platform, they want the results of that training to be tracked and measured in their own systems. We had to define ourselves that among all these different tools that enterprises use, what are we? Are you replacing anyone?

Sramana Mitra: Those are the questions, absolutely.

Farnaz Ronaghi: That was interesting to dive deeper and understand that corporate learning traditionally has been in-person. They tried to do something different and use online tools. They tried virtual instructor-led training. That came with all sorts of hassles. First of all, it was boring. Second, people still had to be at their computers on a regular schedule.

Corporate training also tried using their learning management systems to put up all of these learning modules. That is usually used for sexual harassment training and stuff like that. We hear from HR that they invest so much energy into hiring people and getting them excited about the job. The first thing they get exposed to in the first week is all this onboarding training. It’s really demotivating in some sense.

What we figured out was that what we we are doesn’t exist currently in corporate learning. The enterprise toolset for HR and corporate learning doesn’t exist. That has been the biggest challenge. How do you categorize yourself? We’ve been working a lot on that and basically trying to find the right way of saying what we are. The other thing that we learned was that will not be able to be an LMS for enterprises. Those systems are huge. They’re complex and the market is very crowded. It’s not a place for us to play.

We decided that, while we have to integrate, we have to play nicely. Whatever system they use, we just have to integrate with it. One of the interesting things was that in the beginning when we really didn’t have any meaningful say into these corporations, I remember our heated discussions about which tools we should integrate with. For example, we have a lot of users in Comcast. It’s sizable. When it came to integration, IT basically told us that this is not scalable enough. A problem that we thought that was going to be our biggest problem was not really a problem. It will become a problem if we hit 70,000 plus of their users. Before that, IT thinks that it’s small scale enough that they can do it more manually.

This segment is part 5 in the series : From Iran to Stanford to Silicon Valley Entrepreneur: Farnaz Ronaghi, Co-Founder and CTO of NovoEd
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