20VC Raising $24m From The ChanZuckerberg Initiative, Why EdTech Is So Misunderstood & Why The Future Of Work Is Decentralised with Andela's Jeremy Johnson

Summary Notes


In the 20 Minutes VC podcast, host Harry Stebbings interviews Jeremy Johnson, CEO of Andela, a company revolutionizing the building of engineering teams with a scientific approach and backed by notable investors such as the Zuckerberg Chan Initiative and Google Ventures. Johnson discusses his journey from co-founding 2U, an ed-tech company that went public, to starting Andela after being inspired by the untapped tech potential in Africa. He emphasizes the importance of operational details and the increasing trend towards remote work, driven by the ability to quantify output and leverage top talent globally. Johnson envisions Andela becoming a household name in tech, aiming to mobilize 100,000 brilliant developers across Africa to change perceptions of talent. Insights on the evolving ed-tech landscape and the potential of virtual reality to further enable distributed workforces are also explored.

Summary Notes

Introduction to the 20 Minute VC Podcast

  • Harry Stebbings hosts the 20 Minute VC podcast, available on Snapchat and Mojitovc.com.
  • Harry welcomes feedback and intellectual discussions on his platforms.

This is the 20 minutes vc with your host Harry Stebbings found on Snapchat at H stepbings with two B's and all ads. Get a personal message from me and you can also find some more intellectual and academic thoughts of mine on Mojitovc.com.

The quote introduces the host, Harry Stebbings, and mentions where listeners can engage with him and his content.

Introduction of Jeremy Johnson

  • Jeremy Johnson is the founder and CEO of Andela.
  • Andela aims to use a scientific approach to build engineering teams.
  • Investors in Andela include the Zuckerberg Chan initiative, Spark Capital, Google Ventures, and Susaventures.
  • Jeremy co-founded 2U, which went public and has transformed higher education.
  • He has been recognized by Inc. Magazine and Forbes as 30 under 30 and has spoken at White House and Congress events.

I'm delighted to welcome Jeremy Johnson to the show today. Jeremy is the founder and CEO at Andela, the startup that aims to bring a scientific approach to building engineering teams.

The quote introduces Jeremy Johnson and provides a brief overview of his current venture, Andela, and its objectives.

Sponsorship and Partnerships

  • Intercom is featured as a messaging platform for customer engagement.
  • Cooley is highlighted as a law firm specializing in startups and venture capital.

However, before we dive into the show stay you must check out Intercom. Intercom is the first to bring messaging products for marketing and customer support together on one integrated platform.

This quote emphasizes the importance of Intercom's services for customer engagement and marketing.

Jeremy Johnson's Background

  • Jeremy was invited to speak in Nairobi, which led to the founding of Andela.
  • His visit to Nairobi revealed a more developed tech ecosystem than he anticipated, based on Western media portrayals.

Happy to walk through it. It was like many good things, a bit of an evolutionary process. I was invited out to give a talk in Nairobi in January of 2014.

Jeremy Johnson explains the circumstances that led to the creation of Andela, highlighting the role of his visit to Nairobi.

The Tech Ecosystem in Nairobi

  • Jeremy expected a less developed tech ecosystem in Nairobi.
  • He was surprised to find a vibrant and rapidly developing tech community.

What I expected was an ecosystem that was less developed, that was less, I'd say, I got to see in the early days of sort of the New York tech evolution back in seven, eight, when you were just starting to see tech emerge as an ecosystem.

Jeremy Johnson shares his initial expectations about Nairobi's tech ecosystem and how they were challenged upon his visit.

Founder vs. CEO

  • Jeremy discusses the differences between being a founder and a CEO.
  • A founder should be committed to the success of the company, while a CEO needs to be more operational.
  • The roles of founder and CEO have overlapping qualities, but each has distinct responsibilities.

It is certainly different, but I think that being a co-founder done well means that you are accepting responsibility for the success of the organization that you're going to throw yourself at it in a way that I'm going to lay down on the tracks for this.

Jeremy Johnson describes the dedication required to be a founder, emphasizing the commitment to the company's success.

Being the CEO is in some ways similar, but it is also, I look at it as being a little bit more operational as well.

This quote illustrates the additional operational responsibilities that come with the CEO role, in contrast to the more visionary role of a founder.

Inspiration and Respect for Founders

  • Jeremy Johnson respects founders who feel a compulsion to create change in the world.
  • He considers himself fortunate to have the opportunity to think about the change he wants to see and build towards it.
  • Johnson believes it's crucial not to waste such an opportunity as it's both fun and challenging.

"For me, what I respect is people that can't help themselves. They just have to do this thing like they have to create this change in the world."

This quote emphasizes the admiration for founders driven by an inner need to effect change, highlighting the passion and commitment required for success.

Role Models

  • Jeremy Johnson looks up to Elon Musk for changing perceptions of reality.
  • He also admires Brent Beeshore for building successful startup incubators and his ability to focus and unite people.

"When I think about people, I look up mean, there are obvious candidates like Elon Musk, who is constantly helping the world see that reality can look a little bit different."

Johnson identifies Elon Musk as an influential figure who challenges conventional thinking and inspires others to envision a different reality.

Fundraising Strategy

  • Jeremy Johnson began fundraising by approaching people who already knew and trusted him.
  • Early investors were mostly acquaintances who believed in him despite the risks.
  • As the company grew, the focus shifted from trust to proving the business model with data.

"Our early investors were people who I've known for years, by and large, who mostly said, Jeremy, this sounds insane, but if you're really passionate about, like, let's give it a shot and see what happens."

This quote illustrates the importance of personal trust and belief in the founder during the initial fundraising stages, where the business concept may still seem risky or unproven.

The Zuckerberg Deal

  • The investment from Zuckerberg Education Ventures (now Chan Zuckerberg Initiative) was a significant milestone.
  • Jeremy Johnson's relationship with the team at Chan Zuckerberg Initiative began with mutual interests in education and technology.
  • The deal with Zuckerberg was unexpected as they had not led an investment round before.

"I wasn't expecting that they would lead RB, but when Vivian said, hey, I think Mark would find this really interesting, we haven't led rounds yet, but we've been discussing it, and I'd be interested in this being potentially our first lead."

This quote describes the unexpected opportunity for Andela to receive investment from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and the importance of aligning interests and building relationships in fundraising.

Impact of Zuckerberg's Investment

  • Jeremy Johnson was initially concerned that the partnership with a mission-aligned investor might complicate business relationships.
  • The investment and subsequent visit by Mark Zuckerberg to Africa had an overwhelmingly positive response from partners.
  • The involvement of a high-profile investor like Zuckerberg provided validation and increased interest in Andela.

"The reality couldn't be further from the truth. And I love being wrong in situations like this."

Johnson expresses his relief and positive surprise at the beneficial impact Zuckerberg's investment had on Andela's business relationships and reputation.

Edtech Misconceptions

  • Jeremy Johnson believes that the tech industry often misunderstands education, leading to failures in edtech ventures.
  • He suggests that many edtech companies fail because they expect users to come to them without understanding the unique dynamics of the education market.

"Yeah, the problem is that most folks in tech misunderstand education."

This quote highlights the challenge of applying typical tech strategies to the education sector and the need for a deeper understanding of educational needs and market dynamics.

Difficulties in Scaling Education

  • Education is challenging to scale because people seek tangible outcomes from it.
  • The initial excitement around open education platforms has faced practical sustainability issues.
  • There is a correction phase in the edtech sector following a period of overhype.

"That is difficult in education, unfortunately, not as easy to aggregate such a large number of people around self-improvement."

This quote emphasizes the challenge in scaling educational platforms due to the personalized nature of learning and the specific outcomes individuals seek from education.

"Open education platform is really well intentioned and exciting theoretically, but in practice ends up being a bit more complicated to make sustainable and scale."

Here, the speaker acknowledges the good intentions behind open education platforms but points out the practical difficulties in making them sustainable and scalable.

The Edtech Correction Cycle

  • The hype around edtech has been followed by a correction cycle.
  • The focus is shifting towards creating real value in the edtech space.
  • Clarity and understanding of what it takes to scale education are seen as beneficial for the long-term health of edtech.

"But I'd say there was a period of time when it was a little overhyped, and I think we're seeing a bit of a correction from that, from like the 2012 through 2014 period of time."

This statement refers to the previous overestimation of edtech's potential and the current period of adjustment and realism in the sector.

"Ultimately the world reverts to are you creating value at this point?"

The speaker suggests that despite the hype cycles, the enduring question for any edtech venture is whether it creates value, indicating the importance of tangible results over publicity.

Remote Work and Distributed Teams

  • The ability to quantify output makes physical location less relevant.
  • Companies are recognizing the inefficiencies of traditional office setups.
  • The top talent can leverage technology to have a greater impact, making the case for broader talent searches.
  • The trend towards distributed workforces is becoming more pronounced, with a significant portion of developers already working remotely.

"We're moving towards a world where you're able to quantify the output of what someone on your team is producing."

This quote explains the shift to remote work based on the ability to measure employee output rather than their physical presence in an office.

"It's no longer a small number of people. It's increasingly becoming something that people are just aware of."

The speaker points out the growing awareness and adoption of remote work, indicating a shift in the workforce towards distributed teams.

The Future of Remote Work

  • The future of remote work is seen as inevitable, with virtual reality enhancing the experience.
  • The transition to remote work will be driven by proof points and examples of its effectiveness.
  • The speaker anticipates that virtual reality will play a significant role in making remote work even more attractive and commonplace.

"By the time we get to virtual reality, that really is fully integrated into our daily lives, and it can create a full virtual experience, I think that the world will have significantly shifted already."

The quote predicts that by the time virtual reality is fully integrated into daily life, the shift towards remote work will have already occurred significantly.

Catalysts for the Shift to Remote Work

  • The speaker believes that clear proof points will drive the shift to remote work.
  • Examples of successful remote work adoption will encourage more companies to consider it.
  • The increasing cost of living in major tech hubs may also contribute to the distribution of teams.

"The reason these things happen is you get proof points, you get examples."

This quote suggests that real-world examples and demonstrable success are what will convince more companies to adopt remote work practices.

"And as that becomes more and more obvious, as the data becomes more and more abundant, you'll start to see people moving from just early adopters thinking about it to it becoming more of the norm."

The speaker anticipates a tipping point where the benefits of remote work become so evident that it transitions from being a niche to a standard practice.

Andela's Core Challenges

  • Andela faces operational challenges rather than issues with supply or demand.
  • Matching the number of available IT jobs in the US with the talent pool in Africa is not the primary issue.
  • The complexities of ensuring operational tasks, such as lunch delivery in Lagos, are significant hurdles.

The challenge for Andela is making sure that lunch shows up on time in Lagos. That is immensely challenging.

This quote highlights the unexpected operational challenges faced by Andela, emphasizing the importance of seemingly minor details in the company's success.

Infrastructure in Africa

  • Infrastructure setup in Africa requires more engagement than in places like DC or New York.
  • Andela has invested in a direct fiber optic connection from undersea cables to their campus.
  • Despite the higher cost and effort, Andela has achieved better internet connectivity in Lagos than in New York.

I don't see anything that is a roadblock. What I see is it is harder to set up a fiber optic connection than it is in DC or New York.

Jeremy Johnson indicates that while there are no insurmountable obstacles, setting up infrastructure like fiber optic connections is more challenging in Africa compared to more developed regions.

Information Sources for Jeremy Johnson

  • Jeremy Johnson primarily uses Google News and Hacker News as his information sources.
  • He acknowledges the need to broaden his sources but currently relies on these aggregators.

The only thing right now is Google News and hacker news.

This quote reflects Jeremy Johnson's current preference for news aggregation platforms to stay informed about industry and technology news.

Andela's Future Vision

  • Andela aims to mobilize 100,000 developers across Africa.
  • The company seeks to change global perceptions of talent and its origins.
  • In five years, Andela plans to expand to more countries and become a well-known name in tech and engineering.

We want to mobilize 100,000 brilliant developers across the continent and change the way the world views talent, where it comes from, what it looks like, how you engage with it.

Jeremy Johnson outlines Andela's ambitious goal to revolutionize the tech talent landscape and the company's growth trajectory over the next five years.

Acknowledgments and Gratitude

  • Harry Stebbings expresses gratitude to Jeremy Johnson and those who facilitated the interview.
  • Jeremy Johnson appreciates the opportunity to share Andela's story and looks forward to future interactions.

Well, Jeremy, it's been such a pleasure to have you on the show.

Harry Stebbings thanks Jeremy Johnson for his participation in the podcast, highlighting the value of the discussion.

Promotional Mentions

  • Intercom is praised for its messaging products that help businesses communicate with customers effectively.
  • Cooley is recognized for its legal services to startups and venture capital firms.

With Intercom, businesses can chat directly with prospective customers on their website, engage with current users with targeted messages based on their behavior, and provide personal support at scale with an integrated help desk and knowledge base.

This quote promotes Intercom's services, emphasizing the benefits of integrated communication platforms for business-customer interactions.

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