Trish Costello

Entrepreneurial Thinking Shifts the World

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Touched by an Entrepreneur’s Message…


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.  


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.



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The Politics of Going to College –

MIT researchers provide an eye-popping visual representation of the economic power of higher education, especially over the past twenty years.

via The Politics of Going to College –

HSD-high school dropout; HSG-high school grad; SMC-some college; CLG-college grad;

GTC-Greater than college


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Could Many Universities Follow Borders Bookstores Into Oblivion? – Wired Campus

Could Many Universities Follow Borders Bookstores Into Oblivion? – Wired Campus – The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Brilliant discussion, and a quick read, on the massive changes happening now in higher education.

The world’s master thinkers  in every field are now widely available to everyone with a computer and many are teaching in MOOCs (Massive Open Online Course) to 100’s of thousands of students.   Do we need thousands of mediocre courses/lectures on the same topic around the US or is there a new model for receiving knowledge by the best digitally, and applying it in smaller settings with key teacher/facilitators?     Done right, it will give students a superior learning experience.

Soon we’ll select from the best of many institutions and ‘masters’ putting together our own highly personalized educational curriculum, which will then be certified for quality based on the rigor of that learning experience.   This is a good thing.  The current accreditation system is meaningless in regard to quality and ridiculously expensive.  With this, I believe we’ll see a superior learning experience, delivered in a more efficient and effective way.

Change has come slowly to higher ed–it’s the nature of huge governmental and non-profit entities.  Your memory of college 25 years ago would be similar to today’s reality–except the cost is approximately 20X  what you paid and nothing else in our world is similar, including the demands and career sophistication awaiting the new college grad.  Welcome disruption! Our students and economy deserve it.

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This is the model for academic/corporate partnership: MIT Launches New Center for Mobile Learning – MIT Media Relations

This is one of the most exciting moves in using innovative thinking and technology to move education forward, and comes about through a true development partnership between Google and MIT.    The Media Lab has always had a reputation for inter-disciplinary doing, creating some of the most forward thinking applications in the world.

 “The Center, housed at the Media Lab, will focus on the design and study of new mobile technologies and applications, enabling people to learn anywhere anytime with anyone. Research projects will explore location-aware learning applications, mobile sensing and data collection, augmented reality gaming, and other educational uses of mobile technologies.”


The genesis of the program according the press release was MIT Prof Hal Abelson’s work at Google, during his sabbatical, in creating the App Inventor for Android.  App Inventor has established a new system of programming, using what my non-engineering mind translates as a plug-and-play building block development process. This is the type of sabbatical & corporate/academic partnership that catapults opportunity–putting together the most creative researchers with the most innovative companies, with phenomenal results.  Add to this, MIT’s history of open sharing of results, data and product, and everyone can benefit.

MIT Launches New Center for Mobile Learning – MIT Media Relations.

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What great educators create on line–real innovative thinking in education

Virtual and Artificial, but 58,000 Want Course –

58,000 people from around the world have signed up to participate in a Stanford class on artificial intelligence.  From one woman who emailed the announcement to her network of colleagues it has become a virtual firestorm to sign up to learn free from the world’s experts on AI.  Students will get a certificate of participation and all will be ‘graded’ using new tech approaches such as personalized exams; new techniques include having students vote on which questions they want the instructors to address.

Instructors Sebastian Thrun and Peter Norvig articulate the vision:  changing the world by bringing education to places that can’t be reached today.

This is an exciting development that is sure to bring others forward in innovative thought in truly providing education to the world.  SAD TO SAY, but higher education has been one of the most backward industries in terms of innovation, technology or effectiveness.    Only the oil industry can outdo them in % increase in cost of product over the past 20 years, and higher education’s approach hasn’t changed much in the last 500 years.    Can you imagine any other industries using virtually the same ‘technology’ that it mastered 500 years ago?   Think about medicine, communications, transportation, manufacturing to name just a few.   And what turms ineffectiveness into tragedy is that arguably no other service is more important to our personal and economic well-being globally.

The for-profit participants in the field, for the most part, have taken the low road, preying on the uneducated and unsophisticated, to tap into the government’s student loan coffers, almost universally providing substandard education.

A few bright lights can begin to change this–Stanford’s pioneering work in the field, the pheomenal Kahn Academy, and perhaps 2Tor, in the for-profit space.

Kudos to Thrun or Norvig