The global economy continues to grow and develop as globalization increases over time. However, the skill gap within developing nations, especially in the South American continent, threatens to hamper the $6.5 trillion increase in world GDP by 2030 unless countries around the world successfully upskill their workers. Yasaman Rajaee and Camilo Jiménez observe the opportunity at stake in facilitating learning for future jobs at scale and created Lernico. Lernico is a cohort-based, online learning platform that cultivates expert-led communities to teach students who seek the jobs of the future. The startup is remote-first across South America and Europe.
Frederick Daso: What are the main factors driving the skills gap in Latin America?
Yasaman Rajaee and Camilo Jiménez: According to the World Economic Forum, Latin America has the widest skills gap in the world. This means that while 50% of its companies report issues finding workers with the right skills, 20% of the continent’s youth is neither studying nor working, and even if they do have employment, 60% of them work in informal jobs.
One of the drivers of this issue is the outdated education system that is theory-based and is detached from the world of work. Secondly, the notion that learning ends when someone graduates from high school/university leads to few opportunities for work-based learning. While Lernico targets both issues and contributes to solving the skill gap in LatAm, we believe that policy reform in the education system and workforce development is indispensable.
Daso: What are the core challenges for domain experts to monetize their knowledge to a potential audience of learners?
Rajaee and Jiménez: Based on our 100+ conversations with experts, they face difficulties monetizing their knowledge independently because they do not have the technical skills to create online content. More importantly, they do not have the necessary marketing and community-building skills to build an audience. Additionally, they lack the pedagogical background needed to create engaging course content. Lernico addresses all these issues. It provides a seamless experience for experts to create online content, connect with potential students and build learning communities. Additionally, by leveraging my co-founder’s academic experience, we teach our experts how to teach – initially through 1-on-1 coaching sessions and soon through our proprietary “How to build cohort-based courses” course that will be offered in multiple languages.
Daso: It’s clear there’s a massive market for online learning in emerging markets. For potential domain experts creating content for online classes, how much would it take for them to teach on Lernico to make a meaningful difference? Have any of your educators on the platform crossed this threshold yet?
Rajaee and Jiménez: This threshold does not just depend on one variable: our experts’ income will depend on the number of learners applying for the course, the number of courses the expert offers per year, the price of the course, and the amount of help the experts’ needs from Lernico (which will determine the commission they pay to us). However, assuming sufficient traction for an expert’s course (30-50 students per course) at a price point of a few hundred dollars, an expert can make a comfortable living with us even as a part-time instructor. Our pilots have shown that these assumptions are very realistic.
Daso: One of the main attributes of the creator economy is a power-law distribution in the revenue generated. Usually, the top 5-10% of creators on a certain platform generate 80-90% of the revenue. How can you ensure that more creators meet the meaningful threshold you defined in the last question while the most talented can make as much as their efforts yield?
Rajaee and Jiménez: First, as you saw in the previous example, an expert does not have to bring in hundreds of students to make a comfortable living as an instructor. However, we do want to ensure that every course meets the minimum threshold. The first step of our journey together with experts is testing the course-market fit. If we don’t see sufficient traction, we either advise our experts against launching their course or work with them to change their communication strategy. Second, we teach our experts how to teach, thereby ensuring that the quality of our instruction is homogeneous, so we are not just dependent on a few experienced experts.
Daso: With a cohort-based learning model instead of individual course selection and completion, how can educators on your platform build communities beyond the class that can grow into a following akin to content creators, generating even more revenue from there?
Rajaee and Jiménez: Firstly, we believe that the shared purpose our learners have to achieve personal transformation is the first important step towards building communities. Additionally, as part of our expert training, we want to teach our experts how to become great community leaders (e.g., share best practices on team building, post-course engagement, etc.)
However, we recognize that once an expert has built up a large following, maintaining personal relationships might become a challenge. Therefore, once students finish a course, they become a part of a life-long career support network managed by community managers whose main task is to ensure engagement in the community is maintained (e.g., by sharing relevant content and opportunities to the group).
In addition to selling courses, experts can generate more revenue through our referral model that provides monetary incentives for them to bring in new experts. We are also experimenting with the idea of financially incentivizing former experts like Camilo or Cesar to become mentors of the new generation of experts, thereby ensuring that high-quality instruction is maintained. This model is inspired by other creator economy referral programs that allow experts/creators to infinitely make money from only one successful referral if that referral also refers to another successful referral and so on.
Daso: What have you already learned or that you hope to learn as you’re deploying your MVP in Latin American countries that you will apply when expanding to different regions of the world?
Rajaee and Jiménez: We learned that offering content in local languages is key to building communities. Even if our participants speak good English, fostering sharing and collaboration and building trust is much easier if our courses are offered in the local language.
Daso: Yasaman, how have your experiences discovering, applying, training, and ultimately securing a product manager role, which is not explicitly taught in schools, shaped what type of content Lernico provides to prepare students for the Future of Work?
Rajaee: My experience has shaped both the content we offer and our pedagogical model. I found that modern, technical skills (needed to become, e.g., a CTO or a product manager) are the hardest to acquire in the traditional education system. Therefore, we decided to focus on these areas at Lernico. However, our experts can offer any course on the platform, assuming there is a product-market fit. Additionally, while I did attend online product management courses, I found that these courses were often theoretical and lacked the application of new knowledge. Therefore, our pedagogical models put a great emphasis on these principles. Camilo has ten years of teaching and learning design experience, a great asset to our company.
Daso: Camilo, when we spoke, you mentioned the following: “Knowledge is not created in universities anymore; it’s created by experts at companies.” Where does your view come from, and how has that shaped the way you select and approach domain experts to be educators on Lernico?
Jiménez: Because of the global skills gap, companies are forced to engage in skills development and research. Since universities often lack the resources and infrastructure to perform leading industry research, discoveries in machine learning, space, nanotechnology, among other fields, are being made by companies rather than universities.
However, despite companies engaging in on-the-job skills development, they don’t have the pedagogical background to transform their explicit and tacit knowledge into effective learning experiences. This is where Lernico comes in. We equip industry experts with a pedagogical model that helps them pass on their knowledge effectively and engagingly.