My parents came to the US from China in 1973 with just $300. I was fortunate that they were willing to work 14-hour days, 7 days a week so that I could go to a good public high school. When I was accepted into Swarthmore College, they broke their nest egg so I could afford to go. I am where I am today because of what my parents sacrificed for me. They believed that education would be a key factor in improving our socioeconomic status, a value they brought with them from China.
In 2007, I was accepted to the MIT Sloan School of Management. I went in focused on business, but my perspective changed when I met an African professor who had taught himself to read through a traveling library. I realized that when education is available, people will grab ahold of it to improve their path in life. When I traveled to developing countries as part of my MIT experience, I saw the ubiquity of cellphones, and the opportunity to offer access to education abroad through mobile mediums.
At the same time, my partner, Victoria Slingerland, convinced me that we could help developing nations through by focusing on middle managers. In her career as an analyst in financial services, she had observed that quality middle managers were key to maintaining a successful company. It was then I realized that many of the organizations I had visited had this exact problem. The lack of quality project managers, skilled IT professionals, and other middle-of-the-pyramid workers made creating effective and efficient companies difficult in those parts of the world. Talented middle managers create a large amount of economic value, and make the lives of those working under them better, by driving growth with their skillful use of management.
Together we concluded that these were the people we wanted to reach, but we weren’t sure how to do it. Designing education programs for old-school is difficult - it’s hard to learn by text - and I thought it would be 2030 before we saw smartphones in the developing world. But there I was in the Philippines, watching people on the street corner use iPhones, and meeting a taxi driver with a Blackberry. In Tanzania, a factory owner showed off his souped up Windows phone. And then Google announced Android, giving us quality open-source software and lowering the cost of smartphones.
Victoria and I decided that our business would be built on smartphone platforms. We would make software and create content that anyone could use, and then we would release it all over the world, including the developing countries we wanted to reach. I know we’ll be a drop in the ocean in terms of moving the needle in some of these places. But I also know if we can make just a few managers better, or a couple students more passionate about what they do, then it will mean something.
Co-Founder and CEO