Victor Chima and Boina Babu are the founders of LearnCrunch, business partners, and former co-workers at Spotify. LearnCrunch is a live cohort-based interactive learning platform that helps tech professionals learn business-critical skills they can apply on the job to increase their impact. Both Boina and Victor are dedicated to continuous learning, working in data and other industries to build the best learning experience for tech professionals. In this episode of Unlearn, Boina and Victor discuss upskilling with Barry O’Reilly, sharing the importance of continuous learning and why companies need to actively facilitate it on the job.

LearnCrunch: Origins

Victor shares how LearnCrunch came to be. After realizing he felt the most fulfilled helping other people grow on the job, he ventured into management to continue doing it at a larger scale. Empowering people was something he was good at and loved doing, so he considered how to maximize this skill and passion. Over drinks, Victor and Boina commiserated over the difficulty of transferring knowledge from one person to another, and thus MentorColor was born. This platform allowed them to connect professionals with mentors from top companies. But that only solved part of the problem, Victor says. The resources for learning were accessible, but that didn’t make the learning experience magically easy. The next challenge was knowing what resources to use, where to find them, and which ones to trust. “We decided to help people get through the noise and focus on the things that actually matter,” Victor explains. [Listen from 2:15]

Boina has always seen himself as entrepreneurial, he claims. While his peers at business school were thinking of landing a secure job in companies, he was already trying to launch his own startup. It didn’t take off, but Boina saw it as a sign to learn from more experienced people in the industry before trying again. Working at Spotify taught him all the skills and knowledge he was missing as he had the opportunity to work with leaders at various levels. After a while, he decided it was time to take another shot at entrepreneurship, which proved successful. [Listen from 6:45]

Barry tells them, “In a way, you’re role models to the people you’re trying to reach.” They both became very good at taking a stepping-stone approach to following their intellectual curiosity and finding ways to experiment with new opportunities. Getting outside their comfort zone and learning by doing gave them the confidence to take another big leap forward, he adds. [Listen from 9:30]



Building MentorColor

Barry asks Victor and Boina to share some things they unlearned while transitioning from Spotify to MentorColor, and then to LearnCrunch. “For a lot of the things we did at MentorColor, we had already done them at Spotify,” Victor replies. One such thing involved hiring. When it comes to getting access to opportunities and knowledge, people are often penalized by being in the “wrong” geography. This is something Victor is intimately familiar with, being from Nigeria, so he made it a point to attract as much talent as he could from around the world. [Listen from 10:35]

When you start a business like MentorColor, you need to forget everything you learned before, Boina adds. You don’t need to think about acquisitions and attracting users to your product when working at a well-established company. When you work for one of those organizations, you’ve been hired for a particular set of skills, whereas when you create your own business, you have to do a bit of everything. You are the head and employee of every department. “It’s not because you build a beautiful product that people are going to use it, it’s not because you have the best tech that people are going to care about your product,” Boina says. “We had to unlearn these things so we could start from a new basis and find new ways to grow our business.” [Listen from 14:05]

(Listen to Following Your Intellectual Curiosity with Sharena Rice)

Making the Leap

Everything remains a side project until you start giving it 100% of your focus, Victor says. MentorColor was a side project, but LearnCrunch is their obsession. What they do in a month at LearnCrunch was a year’s worth of work at MentoColor. “We thought to ourselves, ‘We either get serious with this or not; we can’t know if it’s working the way we want it to work unless we’re giving it everything that we can,’” he shares. [Listen from 19:55]

It’s helpful for people to hear that there are stepping stones to building businesses, Barry comments. You don’t just wake up one morning, hand in your resignation letter, and go build a new company while sitting in your bedroom. Boina and Victor have taken a thoughtful approach to entrepreneurship by learning their way through it, which speaks to their characteristics of being continuous learners, eager to explore and grow their own knowledge. [Listen from 21:45]

Boina shares advice for budding entrepreneurs. Finding a great co-founder and idea, and being able to execute are key. Can you actually execute long-term? Are you committed to working on it for five or ten years? Are you passionate enough? Are you fixing a problem for many people? These are the things he and Victor considered before handing in their resignations. [Listen from 23:00]

No Man is an Island

“We wouldn’t have a platform if we didn’t have the relationships we do,” Victor remarks. He sees LearnCrunch as a two-way street; everyone is there to support each other, to align interests and solve a problem together. Victor talks about the importance of learning. “How do you create an environment where we can ensure that people get the learning outcomes they want?” Companies tend to solve this problem by hiring new people; they don’t facilitate learning, so the current talent pool just keeps working based on the knowledge they had previously. Then, the companies complain about a lack of talent. “What about upscaling those that are there? Sometimes, they need [the company’s] support to do it because they’re very focused on execution.” [Listen from 27:00]

(Listen to Balancing Introversion with Leadership with Min Bhogaita)

Looking Ahead

What’s exciting to look forward to is that it’s a new market, Boina says.”We’re working on something that is big enough to be passionate about, to be focused on.” He is very motivated by the fact that they will be connecting people to awesome instructors like Barry and impacting their lives in monumental ways. [Listen from 31:20]