Trish Costello

Entrepreneurial Thinking Shifts the World


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Touched by an Entrepreneur’s Message…

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The following simple email message was in my in-box today.  There were no pictures, big logo’s, or branding messages.  I added Eren’s picture to my blog but it wasn’t in his message.  Just a short simple story telling us about how his life experience compelled him to create Udemy, and the perseverance it took to grow it.  How he went to a one-room school in Turkey with little opportunity to learn, but his life was changed by acquiring advanced knowledge of math over the internet. About his desire to bring education to all over the internet and, after an initial failure in Turkey, how he moved to Silicon Valley and found funding after 50 VC pitches.   Now they’ve closed a  $12M series B round of capital and are growing rapidly.  

I had the opportunity to see one of Eren’s very early pitches a couple of years ago at a tech meet-up in Palo Alto.  It was far from smooth and there were a lot of missing ingredients, but there was no mistaking the possibility of magic.  A fresh approach to an awakening and gigantic market, with a passionate team that just wouldn’t accept failure.     I became a supporter that day.  I use their products and promote them to others.  I follow their success.  They’re in a wildly shifting market right now, surrounded by a plethora of big competitors, but they continue to advance. 

Eren’s story captures the essence of entrepreneurial creativity–A perfect reminder, especially around the holidays, of the impact each of us can have on the world around us if we move unceasingly and courageously toward our dreams.  

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Hey Trish,

I’m Eren Bali, the CEO and Co-founder of Udemy. I want to thank you for making Udemy such an amazing community.

Recently, a lot of people have asked me why I started the company. The answer lies in my personal story, and I wanted to share it with you today.

I was born in a small village in Turkey. My primary school was a one room schoolhouse where a single teacher tried her best to teach 5 different grades at the same time. That meant we were often left to try and learn from books on our own. As a kid, I was interested and somewhat talented in subjects like mathematics and science, but there was very little room for me to advance my skills.

One day my parents bought my two sisters and me a computer and Internet access for a few months. At the time none of us had any idea how it would change our lives. But once I started using the Internet, I knew I had found a new way to learn.

That’s where I discovered several math forums where people were exchanging problems to work on and a few websites with problem sets used in the Math Olympiads. Even though these forums were clunky and disorganized, they had a huge impact on my life. Long story short, by teaching myself math online, I eventually won a gold medal in the National Math Olympiads in Turkey and a silver medal in the International Math Olympiads.

Later on during college I studied computer science and mathematics. It was there that I met my good friend, and Udemy co-founder, Oktay Caglar. Together we started experimenting with the possibilities offered by the Internet.

So with the power of the Internet, combined with our own challenging educational experiences, we imagined a world where anyone could learn anything — from any expert in the world. It didn’t take us long to realize how much this idea could change people’s lives.

But the journey wasn’t easy.

We first created a product with Udemy’s vision 6 years ago in Turkey. We failed. So we packed our bags and moved to Silicon Valley to give it another shot. We were rejected by more than 50 investors before we launched the company in the Valley. But through it all, we didn’t give up because we believed in the power of the Internet to change how people learn.

We learned from the challenges we faced and eventually our hard work paid off.

It’s on that note that I want to share some exciting news with you. As a result of Udemy’s amazing growth, we just raised $12 million in Series B funding.

As a small thank you, I wanted to share a collection of Udemy courses that I wish I had access to while growing up in Turkey. I hope you enjoy them.

Thank you for making Udemy what is it today.

Eren


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The Great Disconnect: Top tech companies focus products on women, but they have no tech women

Giving Women the Access Code – NYTimes.com.

“As recently as 1985, 37 percent of graduates in the field were women; by 2005 it was down to 22 percent, and sinking.”

Many of the fastest growing tech companies today are targeted to an overwhelming female market–think Pinterest, Groupon, Zygna.    The truth is that to have a vibrant economy and long term tech innovation, women’s talents have to be utilized in software development and product creation. Yet there are few women making a career in software development– the great economic ‘muscle’ in the high value work world today and as far out in the future as we can see.   Women are killing it in other areas–making massive strides in all other fields and professions, as their numbers dwindle in the computer sciences according to a recent article in the NYTimes.

In Giving Women the Access Code,  Harvey Mudd President, Maria Klawe, and others, are working to change this by creating computer sciences programs that appeal to women.   College is the time to both understand the breath of what one is able to learn and do, but also understand the external value proposition of their work.  The same transformation needs to happen in the field.  I know many women who have excelled in engineering or computer science education programs, but left these fields after a few years due to dysfunctional environments that had nothing to do with the actual work responsibilities.     

We need to do three things:

1) Revolutionize the teaching of computer sciences and software development, especially with the newer platforms available, to draw in women of all ages, both through university settings such as Harvey Mudd and the other great CS schools and the growing non-university education platforms, such as Codecademy and Udemy.

2) Recreate software/product development environments, from man caves with man rules to women inclusive environments. I know many amazingly bright women engineers/CS who have left the field, as ‘life is too short to live this way.’  Its not that hard to do–just takes some insight, open-mindedness and a willingness to make changes.

3) Investors should insist on women on the team, when entrepreneurs pitch a company with even a 50% women’s market.  Many of today’s companies have predominant women’s markets, yet no women on the team?!  Come on!  This is not rocket science!  Over the last few years I’ve heard dozens of pitches from young tech guys developing products for women-predominant markets that haven’t a clue about the market they’re looking to serve.  This often doesn’t preclude them for blowing through money–lots of money.  They have unlimited research but still don’t ‘get’ it.  Women around the table, women in the scrum meetings makes you stronger and ‘derisks’ your ventures.

Good for Maria Klawe and others like her–it’s just the beginning of what’s to be done….