Tell us about yourself?
Born and raised in France by an Iranian family, I immigrated to the Silicon Valley to follow my passion. I want to help people achieve their fullest potential and accelerate progress through technology.
My work spans artificial intelligence, learning technologies, and psychometrics. I spend most of my time at Workera – the Skills Intelligence Platform, where my team helps enterprises and individuals understand, develop, and mobilize their talent through AI-powered assessments and personalized learning paths that close skills gaps and future-proof organizations.
Outside of Workera, I am a Lecturer of Computer Science at Stanford where I teach the popular Deep Learning class (CS230) and I’m the co-creator of the Deep Learning Specialization on Coursera completed by over a million learners.
In my free time, I particularly enjoy playing and watching football (soccer).
What do you think is the single biggest misconception people have when it comes to startups?
From the outside, most startups seem successful. From the inside, most startups seem to struggle. People attribute the successes and struggles of startups to their product-market fit, the macro-environment, or the timing.
In reality, most startups succeed or fail because of their people and culture. Startup founders and employees leave or stay because of hope and sense of belonging.
What lessons has being an entrepreneur taught you?
There are many lessons around resilience, leadership, management, people, and culture! Hard to think of a single one here… 🙂
If you could go back in time to when you first started your business, what piece of advice would you give yourself?
You don’t need to be 100% confident to make a decision. Startups ≠ academia. As an entrepreneur, you are asked to make decisions all the time. Failing to make decisions impacts alignment between team members, trust in leadership, and pace.
I’ve learned that you don’t need to be 100% confident to make a decision. I’ve learned that no decision is a decision, as long as it’s communicated effectively to the team.
I’ve also learned that there different decisions require different approaches. For example, you can be more consultative or more directive depending on the decision.
A lot of entrepreneurs find it difficult to balance their work and personal lives. How have you found that?
Definitely. It was extremely hard for me to find the right balance between work and personal life. In truth, I am still working on it. Most entrepreneurs have so many priorities to deal with. And, there’s only 7 days in a week and 24h in a day. So you have to compromise.
What helped me is to clarify my priorities and make certain activities part of a routine. My situation is that I am passionate about my work and dedicate loads of time to it. My friends and family know it; and they support me.
Outside of work, I need to play and watch football (soccer). I have two trainings a week, game on Sundays, and I wake up early on the week-ends to watch my favorite European clubs play. It’s part of my routine. And, I need to have social interactions.
In-person, but also phone calls. Many of my friends and relatives are on the other side of the world. So, I have a routine of speaking with them early morning in California. I still have a tendency to be “always on” with work. Still working on it.
Give us a bit of an insight into the influences behind the company?
Before Workera, I was creating classes focuses on artificial intelligence methods. These classes were completed by millions. I saw firsthand how learners and organizations are drowning in an ocean of educational content, with no way to understand their skills and grow effectively.
This led to the creation of Workera, which focuses on precisely measuring, developing, and analyze skills data to help organizations and their employees achieve their fullest potential.
What do you think is your magic sauce? What sets you apart from the competitors?
Workera is the first mover in skills intelligence, helping organizations understand, develop, and mobilize talent by providing actionable skills intelligence and precision upskilling that enables business transformation.
Workera’s primary competitors offer varying forms of skills data based on third-party data, a company’s first party data, self-assessments, manager or peer evaluation. These competitors are focused on skills intelligence, talent acquisition, learning content, or a combination of these.
The key weaknesses of these competitors are the following:
- Subjective data: Competitors are unable to provide accurate, objective measurement of skills so intelligence is directional at best and difficult to act on.
- Disengaged learners: Lack of clear learning paths, and time intensive learning, results in poor user engagement.
- Self-serving: In the case of content providers, the assessments are built to direct people to only their content. If an enterprise has multiple sources, the resulting skills data will be fragmented.
- Broadly defined skills: Broad categories of skills limits visibility into key strengths and weaknesses and results in ill-defined upskilling initiatives.
On the other hand, Workera provides enterprises with unprecedented visibility into their workforce’s skills giving them a competitive advantage through intelligence they can use to more quickly identify and address critical innovation skills needs and transform their business.
How have you found sales so far? Do you have any lessons you could pass on to other founders in the same market as you just starting out?
Many of us are technical and entrepreneurial, but don’t have experience turning technology into a business. For me, finding a business co-founder was a game changer. It’s really hard to find the right person, but it’s worth spending time on it!
Coming from a technical background, when I started Workera I was still learning the ins and outs of building a company. While I had many of the necessary skills for success, I also had just as many gaps. In order to put Workera in the best position to succeed, I had to find someone whose strengths could complement my gaps.
I needed someone who was highly focused on business and specifically with expertise in talent / education technologies. The EdTech community is small, so Jimmy’s reputation at Udacity for hard work and producing results was well known across our network. He had launched upskilling programs to over 100 organizations and their employees.
We met on LinkedIn through Linda Lee at AI Fund. Our first conversation was about the vision for Workera and the market opportunity.
We also shared our values and working styles with each other. Then, we did an exercise where we filled in a matrix that had every business function (like Product, Design, Marketing, Sales, Customer Success, etc.) and added our skill level and interest.
Our answers were complementary. Although we both didn’t like legal work…hehe. He joined the company soon after our seed round to take on our go-to-market functions—allowing me to focus on technology! I learned a ton from him and it put the company on the right path.
What do you consider are the main strengths of operating your business in California over other states in the US?
To be honest, I don’t see being in California as a significant advantage to operate a business today. Don’t get me wrong. It’s the best place for entrepreneurs to learn how to build a startup. There are countless mentors, role-models, and events.
The Stanford ecosystem is incredible. The culture of innovation is omnipresent in the San Francisco Bay Area. But, nowadays talent is everywhere. People are hungry for work around the world and they are learning the skills they need online. Operating solely on California would be a mistake for most companies.
What (if any) are the weaknesses of operating your business within California?
By focusing solely on California, companies are missing out on the incredible talent living elsewhere.
We are currently suffering through a cost of living crisis. With California already being one of the most expensive states to live in, how has this impacted your business?
We aren’t drastically impacted as the majority of our team members live and work outside California.
It is no secret that California is the birthplace of innovation. But that also makes it incredibly competitive. How have you found the competitive environment of California?
It’s energizing to see how much innovation is happening here. It can get overwhelming to talk about technology and innovation with everyone, but I’m sure it has an impact on people’s mindset and creates a culture of optimism.
Have you considered moving your company to another state? If so, which state and why?
No, I haven’t considered it.
Where do you see your business in the next 5 years?
In 5 years, I believe that Workera will be a global company with team members (hopefully) in almost every country! I hope our efforts will impact many people’s lives positively and enable them to achieve their fullest potential.
And finally, if people want to get involved and learn more about your business, how should they do that?
Please visit our website at https://workera.ai. If you’re looking for jobs at Workera, please visit our careers page: https://workera.ai/careers/ You can also find me on Twitter and LinkedIn. Thank you and see you soon!