Part of the challenge of lifelong learning is that you do it a day at a time. You do it one article, one video, one book at a time. It’s so many little data points, that you have to bring them together to be truly meaningful.
You’re sitting in a job interview, nervously pondering what chain of events led you to this moment. You’re getting eyed down by a prospective employer, an uptight businessman sporting slicked-back hair and a stone-cold stare, a man who would rather chop off three fingers than crack a smile. His flickering eyes scan everything, missing no details. Under his harsh gaze, it feels like the sun itself is conducting the interview, breaking down your will to exist with an unforgiving heat and brightness you can’t even begin to understand. You’re suddenly aware of your appearance — the hand-me down polo your friend gave you, the slightly mismatched socks you’re desperately trying to keep hidden beneath your chair. The longer his beady eyes drink you in, the more you realize your hiring opportunity is hanging by the tiniest of threads.
Then his eyes jump to your resume and with a sinking feeling, you know you’ve gasped your last breath. In his omniscient hands, it couldn’t look more paltry — bachelor’s degree from UVU, past employers, and a list of skills completely unrelated to the job. His smug coughs echo that rattling sound in your head, hammer-on-nail sealing you deep inside your coffin.
You want to shout. You want to scream. You want to spend the next hour listing all the attributes and areas of expertise you’ve honed over the course of your life, but can’t properly quantify under the rigid guidelines of a pen-and-paper resume.
You went into that office overflowing with hope, and then it was gone.
As you perform the long, slow walk of shame out of the office (with his eyes boring a hole in your back), you are filled with such an unrelenting anger at the world, and everyone in it who refuses to acknowledge your value, that you don’t know where to turn.
But there is hope.
“My passion has always been for the systemic issues in education,” Degreed CEO David Blake said in a recent interview with Beehive Startups. “I had kind of a burning in the belly to address what I felt were the material issues. As I examined the situation, I believed that the heart of the issue was about credentialing. And that is what drew me into starting Degreed.”
Before we continue any further, you must understand one thing about David Blake: he is an education reformer first, entrepreneur second. His love isn’t creating new companies, it’s figuring out ways to enhance, expand, and positively alter the outdated way we measure educational experiences.
In 2008, Blake helped found Zinch, a social network connecting students with various academic opportunities (scholarships, colleges, study abroad opportunities, etc.). His path in the educational space had begun.
“Even if you have a great classroom experience, even if you learn everything you need to, when you step outside the classroom you’re faced with all these systemic issues,” Blake said. “Student debt, the skills gap being filled, are poignant examples of that. Zinch hearkened right back to where it all began. The motto at Zinch was, ‘Students are more than a test score.’ It was LinkedIn for students, giving students a chance to represent themselves as more than test scores and GPA.”
For a time, Zinch satisfied that part of Blake longing to transform education. But only for a time. In 2011, Zinch was sold to Chegg and Blake began preparing for the journey that he truly believed in.
“Zinch was a great company, it was helping kids get into college, but it wasn’t really addressing what I saw as the fundamental issues facing education,” Blake said. “Yes, getting into college is a painpoint for every student who goes through that process, but it isn’t systemically what is wrong with education.”
If you’ve ever sat through a job interview and felt shockingly inadequate when it comes to time to explain your educational measurables, you know what the problem is: credentialing. In most cases, you tell somebody where you went to college and the conversation is done. Before Degreed, there wasn’t an effective way to track academic progress.
“Our mission was to make all learning matter, to jailbreak the degree,” Blake said. “What we mean by that is to take everything into account. If you ask anyone to tell you about their education, they’ll tell you where they went to college. That’s because we only have this one measurement of education that has been standardized, that we can all relate with and communicate. What we learn through our lives, capturing that, normalizing that, communicating that, is a challenge. So we built Degreed to be able to take all of the different ways people learn.”
Degreed is the new way of measuring education. It isn’t a piece of paper you hang on your office wall and use to jump-start conversations about how you had a six-pack in college — it’s the “new degree for the new world” that encompasses everything you’ve learned in life.
“Part of the challenge of lifelong learning is that you do it a day at a time,” Blake said. “You do it one article, one video, one book at a time. It’s so many little data points, that you have to bring them together to be truly meaningful. So Degreed takes all of your learning input — academic, professional, formal — across all mediums and platforms — articles, videos, books, conferences, courses, events, assessments, certificates, work experience, academic courses and degrees — and we bring all that together. It’s tied to skills and knowledge areas, and you’re able to build up your lifelong body of learning in a standardized, measurable way.”
Now your prospective employers can’t dismiss you with one quick glance of a resume. Everybody’s educational experience extends well beyond college, it’s built every day in small but meaningful increments.
This may sound odd, but my education didn’t truly start until I had graduated college — you enter into a world thinking you’re equipped to deal with everything, and then realize you’re not. This is what Degreed measures, all those things you do to enhance and focus your college degree. It’s foolish to think that every person’s academic ceiling should be measured by a four, or six, or eight-year window. So Degreed doesn’t.
Blake isn’t the only person who believes in this vision, as their recent $7 million Series A funding round shows. Led by Signal Peak, participated in by Peak Ventures, Deborah Quazzo, and other internal investors, the round proves the world of educational reform is only getting bigger.
“They’ve proven to be exceptional partners,” Blake said. “One of the biggest considerations for us, we’re really in this to effect change in how learning is measured and valued. I came at this from the world of higher education, I came at this with a passion around learning and effecting change, I’m an education reformer first and an entrepreneur by necessity…Signal Peak fully supported this, they weren’t just excited by the growth and revenue and numbers, they were fully committed to the mission we have and pursuing it.”
Educational reform isn’t the only area Blake is knowledgeable about. With offices located in Salt Lake and San Francisco, he has been able to fully immerse in the waters of both startup communities. Like anything in life, there are pros and there are cons.
“The community out here (San Francisco) is incredibly rich and incredibly giving,” Blake said. “You meet someone, you tell them what you’re doing, and they say, ‘You got to meet these two people.’ Those people inevitably say yes to the meeting, they take time out of their day, they meet with you and hear what you’re doing, and they say, ‘You got to meet these two people.’ Everyone is very generous and committed to the network…the networking in Utah has been challenging, some of it is being strung out among three communities on I-15, some of it is just the culture established down there.”
Before you go bonkers and start sending Blake mean emails about the virtues of the Beehive State, take a deep breath. What Utah lacks in certain areas, they make up for in others.
“What Utah has proven very exceptional at, some of it is by necessity, Utah is very grounded in business,” Blake said. “In many of the successes out of Utah, they’re very strong in marketing, sales, operational teams. Business models were in place from the beginning. There’s some magic that happens out here (San Francisco), kind of the swing-for-the-fences, but I think a lot of startups out here would do well to ground themselves in those foundational business principles.”
Through California connections and Utah business principles, Degreed is embarking on a mission: changing how learning is measured and valued. College degrees are a great starting point, but there is so much more that shows the value of each individual. David Blake believes this, and so does everybody that has invested time and/or money in the re-calibrating of how people view credentials.
Just because we’ve always done things a certain way, doesn’t mean there isn’t room for change.