As a popular columnist Regina Brett says, “No matter how you feel, get up, dress up, and show up for life.“ Mentally showing up can provide the energy shot that is needed to prevent one from drowning in the sadness on a gloomy day. Not only should we face our lives with a positive attitude like this, we should also carry this spirit with us into job searching. A high energy and positive attitude is great, but these days the job market is tough. Positive vibes just aren’t enough to seal the deal. To nail a job interview, you need to be skilled in areas that employees value, and that’s where education comes into play.
People today don’t just go to school and sit in class to get educated. There are many other ways to get informed and gain knowledge. Online courses are all over the website and they are getting more popular than ever.
SkilledUp.com is a web-based search tool that provides those looking for online courses a simple way to find resources that meet their needs. This NYC-based company was started a little over a year ago in August 2013. I was fortunate enough to meet Brad Zomick, co-founder and Chief Content Officer, and learn more about the business and his story as an entrepreneur.
Here is what Brad wants to share with us.
- Where did you get the inspiration to start a business like this?
In the past few years the job market has changed a lot. We went through the financial crisis and all of a sudden it became really difficult for talented people to find jobs. At the same time, there was a lot of great learning materials available online, especially in 2012, that was when the online courses boomed. People pay for online course because they want to pay for job skills, but they don’t know where to find them, they are all over the place and disorganized. So essentially we are a kind of bridge to narrow this skill gap and help people to get a job by finding online courses to educate themselves so they can advance their careers.
At the same time, the cost of education is soaring higher and higher, so we are nearing an inflection point where online education is an increasingly attractive choice. For some technical professions like programming, web design, and online marketing people don’t even have to go to college to get educated, and can make good money. Believe it or not, the average computer science major does not graduate with the programming skills required for an entry-level job. This is also the case many other fields, and people are beginning to realize this.
- What differentiates your business from all the others out there in the market?
When we first started a little over a year ago, it was just the course providers. They all existed in a vacuum and would find a way to market to their customers. Then we came into the picture as a middle man of sorts. We collect and curate all the online courses in one place, so anyone who wants to learn something online can go to our site, and find what they need. Earlier this year we started seeing some copycats.
I don’t know much success they are having but from what I can tell what makes us different or better than them is that we have more courses and more free content. We have just developed an API (Application Programming Interface) project that will soon be put into use and we are about to announce our first major partnership on Tuesday, September 17th. I can’t say much more but make sure to follow the news that day!
- What are the courses you offer on skilledup.com? Are they more technology related?
I’d say about 10% of the courses are Massive Open Online Courses and OpenCourseware and the rest of it is focused on skilss. We focus on skills that’s what gets people jobs and get them ahead their career, so people would want to pay for them. The college courses, there is a massive supply of college courses but right now they are not making much money and it’s not clear that they will get people jobs. We are called SkilledUp.com so our courses are all about skills. The key is using classes to get a job and our classes help people achieve the goal.
- How do you know taking online courses is helping people with their jobs or careers?
We are just starting a content series, where we profile people use online courses to get ahead. Our first case study used online courses to skip 101 college courses, design Facebook applications, and land internships at Microsoft and Google. We are looking for more success stories like this.
- What is your marketing strategy?
Our strategy is providing people who are interested in our products with useful resources. For example, people who are interested in online courses they want to read course reviews. So for the courses that are most popular, we spend time taking the whole course then we write a review and rate it base on different aspects, such as price and employment value, i.e. how likely it can get you a job.
People who want to start a career follow experts in the that field. They’ll go to Google and look for information like this. So we also do skill experts interviews, where we find experts in different fields and ask them how they got to where they are and how they acquired the skills, then we share these stories on our website with our users.
- Can you compare taking online courses with going to class to learn?
Online course are actually harder than regular courses. People get distracted when taking online courses, your Facebook, Skype, cell phone, messengers, etc. you really need to be extra focused when taking online courses. You have to be very self-motivated to take online courses and you have to be 100% on it. A college degree means lots of things, your degree is worth something if you went to a university with big name it has most of the value within that school’s network. Outside this network what’s more important is your portfolio, there are sites teaching you how to create a portfolio, they help you proof the value of the online courses you take. Combing your resume and online portfolio to show your qualifications is where the future lies.
- I imagine the SkilledUp team uses online course often. Are you currently taking any online courses?
At any given point, I am actually taking a few different courses. These days many operate as a monthly subscription where you come and go as you please, learning what you want, when you need it. My personal favorite is fizzle.co, it’s a entrepreneurship web startup marketing site. Not only did we review this course but use it to learn how to do better business. I also just reviewed an Excel course called Filtered. Our website generates a ton of data and Excel is the tool of choice to analyze it. Thus we are drinking our own Kool-Aid.
- What’s your background?
I am from Baldwin, New York and I graduated from Cornell University in 2002 with a Bachelor in Management and Marketing. Out of college, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. So, I ended up working for a couple of technology firms in the financial services space. Over that six-year period, I was never passionate about any of those jobs and it grated on me. I was tired of helping rich people get richer and I wanted give my career an international edge. I also wanted to work in companies that the average Joe. So I took some drastic moves, left NY, went back to school, moved to Hawaii for a year and China for three. It was in China that I realized you can teach an old dog new tricks. In a span of three years, I immersed myself in Chinese. I’ve had many different job in different fields and with many young small companies. SkilledUp suits me because I love to learn and I love entrepreneurship.
Brad lived in China from 2009 to early 2012. He got his MBA degree via a joint venture with University of Hawaii and Sun Yat-Sen University in Guangzhou, China. While in China, Brad interned in the Commerce Section of the U.S. Embassy in Being helping U.S. companies create clean technology partnerships in China; He also carried out a similar mission working for the U.S.-China Energy Cooperation Program, and consulted with China-based 2 Internet startups and a market research firm that helped U.S. companies find a market in China. Brad speaks conversational Mandarin Chinese and is passion about learning and writing. Fortunately, those interests are aligned with SkilledUp’s mission.
He is currently enjoying his life as a New Yorker in the Big Apple once again.