Rich shares the value of a mission-driven business, how ODEM creates inclusion within education and how good people are what really matter in business
(Edited for conciseness)
Last month CEO Rich Maaghul sat down for a LinkedIn Live session, sharing with the ODEM audience how he got started in business and explaining what continued education and lifelong learning means to him. Rich has always been a passionate proponent of education, but it wasn't until he became involved in EdTech that he discovered the imbalances within the global system and set out to improve it. Below is the transcript of his LinkedIn Live, we welcome you to get to know our leader, Rich:
Transcript of LinkedIn Live, October 23rd, 2019:
Hi everyone! Good morning, good afternoon, and good evening, [wherever you are]. Thank you for coming and visiting my interview, my talk today. My name is Richard Maaghul, and I'm the CEO of ODEM.
ODEM is an on-demand education marketplace. This is the first time that I've done something like this without a moderator, or without just presenting on stage and talking to people about myself and about what ODEM is all about. So, I'm going to talk a little bit about me, my experiences working as an entrepreneur over many, many years (almost 30 years!) now and talk about how I came up with the idea for ODEM.
So I was talking to my wife this morning and she was telling me to relax, have fun, and don't say so much – we’ve been married for 26 years.
From the [beginning], since I was a little kid, always had some kind of business, it was a lemonade stand cutting grass, or shoveling snow. I always, always had some kind of side business throughout my school weeks, my schooling years. And so it was in my genes, I love being an entrepreneur. I love the good times of being an entrepreneur and I love bad times. I love when we have problems. I love all the challenges and if you don't love the [whole experience], get out of the business quick because it's inevitable, [problems are] going to happen. And it's going to happen for me tomorrow, or later today, or Sunday -- or something great is going to happen. So just keep that in mind when you're working on your own business and good luck.
It's the wild, wild west out there, it's a roller-coaster ride. But if you hit it, you're successful. If you don't, then I think you learn from it, and you start again. You gotta learn to get up when you get knocked down and continue to march ahead. [It’s part of] the education.
I'm in education, business, technology, but I want to give you a little background on my education. I've always had a learning issue -- dyslexia -- and I had a hard time with the standard type of education that traditional institutions provide starting in elementary school all the way through college. So, I did go to a couple of different universities, and I decided that university wasn't for me. I didn't learn in that kind of format. And so, I decided to pick up and go the entrepreneur route. It's a common theme I'm hearing, even today.
[During] the years I worked in technology, I moved from the east coast to Silicon Valley, just when the [technological] Gold Rush was hitting, so I got into technology very quickly. I started a couple software companies and was very successful. And then, in 2007 and 2008, I started helping other startups raise venture capital. And what I've learned was that a lot of people out there were really trying to create great innovation. But it was difficult for people.
At that very same time, when I was learning the kinds of issues that startups were having, [I realized their issues were] based around the same learning [curve I had once experienced]. For instance, I had always had trouble with business terms like ‘EBITDA’ or ‘gross margins,’ and all that kind of business terminology that I needed to be able to effectively communicate with venture funds, or even my CFOs. [Understanding that side of business is] very, very important.
At the same time, I was approached by a couple of individuals about investing in their startup called Excelorators, and they do overseas education. But at that particular point, they were creating an entrepreneur program for young people to help them learn quickly and adjust to how they run their company. I loved that whole idea, so, I helped them get investment.
And then, I got involved because [Excelorators] was education, and it was something that I struggled with at a younger age and over time. I struggled to learn, like I said, the business terminologies, and I wished I always had some short term kind of classroom program that could teach me while I was working at the same time.
So, it really was a success, especially out of China. I think at that point, 70% of our students and executives were coming to the high-brain universities that we were facilitating these types of programs at Harvard, MIT, Stanford and Berkeley, those types of universities. So it was very successful. But we were having trouble with scaling, and this is when I first realized that education was a big business and all about making money, even in private education.
I'll talk a little bit more about traditional education institutions. So one of the things in China we found was there was a lot of middlemen that were involved in the transaction so by the time the student left China and went to Harvard University or some other university, they would have to go through maybe three to five different middleman. And then they were inflating the price and convoluting the actual education program. So, I needed to figure out how to deal with this, and it really hit me when I was in Jakarta.
A little bit over three years ago now. I was presenting a summer program for students at a Buddhist school, and a young boy who was in ninth grade came up to me before I went on stage and started talking came to me, just wide eyed reminding me of my child.
He was asking me, Mr. Richard, can you tell me more about Harvard? Do you think I can actually go to Harvard? I've been reading a lot about it and I'm very excited. And I said, Okay, well why don’t you sit down and wait until I present the program and then afterwards we can talk. So, I went ahead and presented the program and then afterwards, I was looking for him because I was eager to get his feedback about what he thought. And he was sitting over in the corner and I walked up to him and he looked sad and I said, what's going on?
What do you think? He goes, Mr. Richard, there's no way I can go home and ask my parents to pay for this. And I think at that point I was fundamentally shaken because I realized that not all kids are fortunate like my kids were when I was able to pay for their education and help them out in their lives. It's a common story that I've been hearing. I traveled to 75 countries in the past year and this is a common, common story that I continue to hear.
I'm going to talk a little bit about education. You know, my wife tells me not to get angry about it, but it's really hard not to because I'm really passionate about the problems and the solutions that we need [to implement to fix those problems]. The biggest thing that I learned that shocked me is that 93.7% of people worldwide never even get to step into a college or higher education institution, or even a private school. Can you imagine that? Of the 7% who are able to, 60% of those students that do go to school, bottom out. The rest is feast and famine; the top 5% of students get great jobs after schools, but they bust your butts 16-18 hours a day to make a living. And, you know, there's just so many differences statistics that I can just tell you guys.
Jack Ma of Alibaba talks about in Davos, 800 million jobs are going to be taken over by robots. I know everybody says that, but it's true. Science, technology and math, [that makes up] robots, or AI, that can do [jobs] better. It's a fact.
It's not just you know people blurting this out for sound bites, it’s true. Billions of people, you know, are either computer illiterate, or just illiterate. They can't read or write or they can’t even navigate themselves through a computer. There is so much poverty out there. Even in the United States, by 2023, guess what, half of the student loans will be in default. By 2030, half the universities and schools will be [faced with] bankruptcy.
So parents are stressing out trying to get their kids into school. [Look at the] schemes and scandals that just happened in the United States. There are so many problems. Listen, my kid just graduated Berkeley as a math major. He got great grades and worked very hard. And you know, you thought he was gonna come out and get a job. He comes to me and says, you promised me if I went to a great school and did well, that I would get a job. But the problem is, he doesn't have a skill. So, I mean it's unfortunate that that's the way life is today. And I apologized to my son because I honestly believed that.
And, you know, so there are so many different issues, even in the employer on the employer side. Employers can't find skilled workers. HireRight, out of the UK at 84.4% of the first hires end up not being the right hires.
You know, the IBM CEO (Ginni Rometty), she said in Davos that they don't even care anymore if [their hires] graduate from university. They want skilled workers. And we're producing people who are not skilled workers.
There are people out there who are very, very educated, but not skilled. I go to Pakistan, I go to Beirut. These people are highly educated, highly educated, but they have no job opportunities. So there's a huge mismatch and equality between employment and education.
Okay, So, what's the solution? Well, ODEM is an on-demand education marketplace. Our mission is to make education more affordable, accessible, verifiable and transparent. So, anyone can come and teach, learn, get verified and get hired. We have a really unique platform. It's called the trust platform. So, anybody who comes in; the students the educators, accredited entities, university colleges, private institutions, employers, everybody who comes onto the platform has to be verified through light KYC through verification or academic credentials and their skills, their previous skills.
And once you be able to verify these records, you create a platform with all these participants. Students can connect directly with educators and educators can get an understanding based on the student registration. When students register, they know what the students current skills are, which skills are desired, what their current occupation is, and what their desired occupation is. These are the things that allow educators to see what the trends are, and be able to build a curriculum based on needs, and not just from the students, but [skills that] employers actually want. So we actually map through a very sophisticated data structure data framework that we use from the European Union. They did an amazing job building out this data framework over 18,000 skills and over 4000 occupations. And what we do is we map all the participants with this data framework.
So now, the students, educators, or even the credit entities can be a part of this. And the employers now can work together with students to see what their real skills are and their real needs are, so they can actually guide or help train on these kind of skill-based competency courses, and then are able to offer that student a job.
So that's kind of the crux of what we're trying to do; it's the matchmaking and bringing together. What's really important is students with the right education for these micro, skill-based education to get students who don't have the money or, you know, they're not properly prepared for these education type programs, are skilled in the labor force. So, we bring them all together, and we match them together and it's an alternative. So, you can be in the classroom, it can be a blended, online course, it also can be self paced. We don't provide the content, we actually don't curate the content. We allow educators, universities, private institutions, consultants -- any consultants out there on LinkedIn, you have an expertise that you can train somebody who needs a skill? It can be as simple as training somebody how to create an Excel spreadsheet, to help that person get to the next level in their job. It could be coding. It could be as simple as, you know, a math course or teaching somebody in English.
So, this is what we're doing and getting traction with today. We've done over a couple of million dollars this year, just in pilot stage education programs and putting diplomas on the blockchain.
The other piece is that we have universities and educators -- I think we now have over 30,000 educators -- and we have five universities or private learning centers putting courses on the platform. Nicosia University, they’re big in blockchain and great school out of Cyprus. They’re putting 12 undergraduate courses and master courses as well. So, we’re working with a lot of universities. We are working with the National Trade Union Congress in Singapore, their learning center is doing the full cycle of our platform. So, we're very excited about that. They have 30,000 companies hire within Singapore in Southeast Asia. So, we're really excited. They do over 1,000 education programs. We're working in a lot of different governments. We now have access to 3,700 universities’ academic credentials. So, we're making great strides in the coming weeks. We will be launching our program out to the general public. So we're very excited.
We really have a great team here. We're about 65 people. We're in five different countries, spread out in areas of the world that we can really help. And we're very excited for all countries, and all people. We really want to get people educated, and an alternative type of education where they can build [educational] building blocks over a period of time.
I think now what I'm going to do is see where I can answer people's questions. Okay, so let's go, I'm going to answer some questions here.
One question is, what do you do on a typical day. Wow, that's a great question.
I try to get a little time for myself to clear my head. And then I head into work. I generally get on the phone because we're in so many different countries. We do a scrum meeting and I find out some of the issues that we're dealing with from a tech side and from an operational side. And I meet with my leadership team. And I do things like this today: do a lot of interviews, do a lot of presentations. I travel immensely. I was doing a calculation and I spent three months in my house. Most of my time is in hotels around the world. So I don't have like, you know, a set schedule. But you know I try to keep myself flexible, I talked about earlier, trying to, you know, putting out fires. We always face some challenges. I do a lot of fundraising as well. I work with our FinTech team about our tokens -- the ODEM token is listed on exchanges like KuCoin and Bitfenix, so I always have to keep updated with that. I deal with regulatory issues. I'm always on the phone with legal counsel and my accountants and so forth. So my typical day is about 18 hours, which I love. I love to keep myself busy and keep myself productive and helpful.
Okay, so how do educators get paid. So, educators, come on the platform, and they will register, similar to what the students register their skills, what they teach, and so forth. And they will be able to put up their programs, select the type of teaching method they actually will use, either through in the classroom online or self paced, so forth. So, when a student comes and purchases the program, first what they do is they put a deposit to hold their spot on that program. And then once the program has met its minimum requirement, the minimum amount of students, then the deposit and then the remaining payment from the student will need to be made. The payment is held until the class, or the completion of the course, and then the educators who will get paid out.
Okay. What have you learned in the last year that will inform the company in the next year?
I think it's people. When you're building a company, you have to have the right people. You have to have the right people that meet the core values of your company that are committed and have a passion. And it's about being of service to others, and people that are capable of doing their jobs.
You do the best you can, but you do have to take a little risk with people and bring them in. So I think one of the biggest things that I've learned is that you have to recognize if they can't make it, if they can't perform their duties. If they don't meet the core values of your company you can either ship them to another position, or let them go and bring in other people. I mean, every venture funds ask about your team. You know, companies [you work with] ask about your team. So, it's really, really important to get the right people. I will always make sure that I have, you know, the strong understanding and relationships with my team members. I want to always keep conscious of what's going on, and making sure I talk to my leadership team, and support them and bringing in and making sure that we have the right people.
Okay. The next question is, what market trends do you envision for blockchain in education.
Blockchain for us is really important from a platform use perspective. One of the things when you are creating an alternative version, where you're allowing students to be connecting directly with educators, you have to have something that governs that process. For example, institutions govern the process of education. So when you remove that institution or the middleman we talked about, who traditionally governs, you have to deal with that. So, smart contracts are great because they say the terms and conditions of that transaction, that education experience for that student and for all the participants. Everything that is done is guided by these smart contracts secured and stored on the blockchain.
And the verification of people's academic records, we know, putting those records on the blockchain, giving the power back to the student, so the students can have more control of those records. Employers and other institutions who access that information can feel [confident] and comfortable that these records can't be doctored. So that's what is really, really important.
Now, on education content side, we think blockchain is [a big focus]. Right now, we're working with Blockchain Intelligence Group, they do a lot of blockchain compliance training.
We see a lot of blockchain courses out there, we need to start educating people about blockchain. It's more than just cryptocurrency like Bitcoin. It has immense value that this world really needs. You know, I listened to Tim Draper at an event last week at CIS in LA, and you know, he says it right: it's self governance. With governments in different countries, if you look at what governments actually do for people -- blockchain allows people to have their own self governance. What is the government left for? He made a little in a comment: it's war and bombs, right? You know, if you can have a self-governance focused way of doing business or any kind of transactions, blockchain is here to stay. So, we need to educate people about the benefits and the solutions.
What is your finish line?
Well, the finish line for us is, you know, going back to our mission, making education more affordable more accessible, getting more people skilled and more people work, creating a new gig economy. Getting educators better pay, get educators greater flexibility over how they teach. Getting employers better access to these skill-based workers and getting more connected with educators or even institutions.
We talked about verifiable and transferable. We all know that these records have to be verified and that's why having these certificates on the blockchain will let everybody know that they're authentic and they can't be changed. And the transferability which is really important, because we all know that taxi driver who was a lawyer, but is having a difficult time having their records transferred from one country to the next. So, I think blockchain will be able to help be part of, you know, creating a global standard where people can really kind of compare what's acceptable, with accreditation from one country to the next. But, you have to start with securing that data and making sure it's authentic.
Okay, great. so I'm going to finish up.
It's really important for us to all get involved and I hope everybody can share the message of what we're trying to do. And also if you need to learn a subject; are you having troubles with learning or understanding terminology or a language? Connect with an educator and get an opportunity.
So, we always say, you know, come on here and get verified, get trained, get hired. That's what we want everybody to do so, you know, please feel free to reach out to on LinkedIn. I love to answer everybody’s messages. So, you know, I appreciate everybody's support and for all you entrepreneurs out there keep at it. Love the day, seize the day, and I wish the best for everybody. Thanks. Bye.