How this Founder is Disrupting the World of EdTech & Empowering More Students to Break Into Tech
Three of the most important lessons Ruben Harris has learned in building Career Karma.
For most of my career, I worked as a marketer for large consumer product goods companies — but I was always interested in breaking into tech. I submitted resume after resume. I would reach out to tech leaders on LinkedIn. I would ask for introductions, have meetings scheduled, only to be repeatedly ghosted. And then finally, after years in the making, it happened. A mentor at a growth equity fund sent my resume to the CEO of Carta, leading me to land my first role in tech.
"Breaking into tech with a non-technical background is hard," says Ruben Harris, co-founder and CEO of Career Karma. "The same barriers that exist in finance also exist with startups. Career Karma is the product we wished we had when we were breaking into tech. Our vision is to help as many people as possible navigate their careers and build successful tech careers.”
According to a recent McKinsey study, 375 million workers will switch jobs between now and 2030. During the Great Resignation, a record 4.4 million people have quit their jobs. The intense competition for attracting talent into tech is at levels some recruiters say they haven’t seen in 20 years. “This is the most competitive market I can remember in my professional career, with many people comparing it to the dot-com market of the late ‘90s,” says Jim Bartolomea, vice president of global talent at tech titan ServiceNow, which employs a huge chunk of the software talent in San Diego.
Enter Career Karma, one of the largest platforms for reskilling and upskilling talent. Currently, three million people per month visit its platform in search of career advice. Individuals are matched for the best job training program for them. They also have access to a community of thousands of people in live audio rooms, giving them support to complete programs and find jobs..
“The $2.2 trillion post-secondary-education market is unbundling, and Career Karma has created its own category,” Harris says. “We're helping adults navigate an increasingly complex landscape of colleges, non-degree programs, professional certifications, boot camps and short courses. Career Karma is where companies, schools and job training programs all come together in one place.”
Harris is disrupting the world of edtech and empowering millions of people to break into tech. Here are three lessons he has learned in building Career Karma:
At the age of 4 years old, Harris became a cello player (he still plays to this day). He credits his ability to stay disciplined as a founder to those early foundational years learning music. “As a musician, you learn so many things: subjective and objective analysis, how to express yourself, how to take praise and criticism,” Harris says. “I learned how to compete, I learned how to teach, and I learned how to set and exceed goals. All of these things set me on the trajectory to some day start my own company.”
As Harris describes it, learning the correct way to play an instrument like the cello, memorizing a piece or learning the notes can take months of practice before you see results. “Staying disciplined is key,” Harris says. “When you're building a company, results won’t happen overnight.” He recalls being rejected by Y Combinator the first time they applied. He was disappointed, but he remained disciplined and stayed the course. He didn’t let that rejection stop him. Career Karma was accepted the second time Harris and his co-founders applied to Y Combinator.
Building community is key
“Building community is one of the key differentiators that sets us apart in the marketplace,” Harris says. “Psychological support is critical when you are going after a new goal like learning an entirely new skill. You can be at the best school and have access to the best teachers, but self doubt still creeps in.” For many individuals on Career Karma’s platform, the prospect of entering a new world like tech can be daunting. The support the Career Karma community provides helps individuals to keep going and persevere when they feel stuck and are on the verge of giving up.
“I grew up with a lot of confidence,” Harris says. “In Atlanta, I was surrounded by successful people who looked like me. I never doubted that I could achieve anything. I want Career Karma to help all individuals realize their potential.”
Don’t let a "no" stop you from asking again
Harris and team just closed $40 million Series B funding and have raised $52 million in the past three years. All of their early major investors have doubled down on their investments. Yet many of the investors Harris approached early on said no the first time.
“Just because someone says no, don’t let that stop you from asking again,” Harris advises entrepreneurs. "You have to get comfortable articulating a vision that people may believe in, but they may not believe that you can do it. If they say no, come back to them in a year and say, remember what I said I was gonna do? Guess what? I did it. Then they will cut you a check."
Harris advises entrepreneurs not to hold grudges and not to burn bridges with investors. Some of those who said no the first time said yes the second time, investing more than Harris anticipated.
Now that it's closed the Series B round, Career Karma is gearing up to hire heavily in product, data and design, as well as expand into higher education and enterprise. “With Career Karma we are not just building a company, we are building a movement to connect the world’s talent to its next opportunity,” Harris says.
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