Making College Affordable with Grant Aldrich

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Making College Affordable, Grant Aldrich and Simon Severino | STRATEGY SPRINTS 184

In this episode, Simon welcomes Grant Aldrich, the CEO and founder of is a rapidly growing EdTech platform where students can receive college credit toward their degree. Created by startup veterans and leading academics to help more people go back to school, students can take a variety of online general education courses without the normal applications, entrance exams, or costs associated with traditional institutions. prepares adults for higher education and works with participating accredited universities to award transfer credit for successful completion of the courses. Working adults now have a bridge to start their path back to school regardless of their finances or busy schedules. Grant has been on a fulfilling mission making college more affordable and accessible for everyone at Let’s listen to his sharing on making college affordable.


3 Valuable Insights: 

  • Focus your efforts on what are you doing and what's the goal
  • Building a new business or incorporating something into a new business now is to create a mission focus
  • A degree isn't always the most appropriate it can be, but it's not always the case.


Show Notes

(00:21) -Simon: Welcome back everybody. To the Strategy Sprints podcast. I'm your host, Simon Severino. My guest today is the CEO at online degree. After graduating from college with an overwhelming amount of depth, he was determined to change how students embark on their college education. So he founded online with a purpose driven mission, make higher education more accessible and affordable for everyone. Welcome everybody Grant Aldrich. 

(00:52) -Grant Aldrich: Thank you man, thank you for having me. 

(00:55) -Simon: So cool to have you here and you have Rosemary relevant staff to discuss. Why we should know ourselves and why self-awareness is important if we want to have a healthy business running and not burn out, but before we go there, what are you currently creating?

(01:17) -Grant Aldrich: Yeah, so I'm on a mission, a monumentous mission to make higher education affordable for everybody. And so, you know, what we've done up to date was really create an alternative to the modern community college system. So right now, someone in the United States could go online, get started in 60 seconds without applications or entrance exams and begin taking college level courses, um, towards their degree, figuring out what they want to learn, um, which could receive credit towards their degree, saving them time and money. And here's the key thing. We do it all for free. And so that was a very monumental shift in bringing a very different model to education. And in that same vein of making college more affordable, the next big thing that we're working on is in addition to what we've done on the degree side, we're going to do on the certification side. So now, um, as you know, millions of people are out of work and they want to be able to get actionable skills, to find new jobs in this emerging marketplace. We have, we're going to be launching a massive platform for them to be able to find the right certification program for them at the lowest cost possible and the fastest possible. So they can get the skills in that new job they're looking for.

(02:42) -Simon: How can you make that happen?

(02:46) -Grant Aldrich: Well, I'll tell you it's not easy because in this space it's a, you know, a higher education is highly regulated. And so unlike a lot of other different spaces where, you know, you can launch with an MVP rather rapidly. And, um, you know, in this case you have to, you have to go a lot further in terms of looking at the regulatory environment. Um, you know, how are you delivering education? It's a serious thing. So it's not for the faint of heart. Um, but, uh, but yeah, th in this context with the, with the platform, really what I saw was that for certifications, it's a huge value to someone as opposed to going a degree path. So for example, some people have to go get a degree, and that means, you know, maybe they need to be a teacher or an accountant, something that necessitates that you get a degree.

(03:35) -Grant Aldrich: And in other cases, they use it because they want to, you know, move up, um, with work or make themselves more marketable for their job. And a degree definitely does that, but in many cases, people don't need a degree. What they need is some actionable skills training and something, so they can get a job that pays very well. And the beauty of going to the certification route is that unlike four years and the expense of a degree, we're going to make sure that it's under a few thousand dollars and with easy payments, and we'll only take three or four months for you to be finished. So that's a huge shift and now making education affordable for everybody and in every kind of path that they want to take

(04:18) -Simon: In which maturity stage are you, where are you at product validation, market validation beyond?

(04:27) -Grant Aldrich: Yeah, we did a test. Um, and so, and it went incredibly well. And so right now we're at the, uh, we're building the MVP. And so right now we're getting really close, but we're not exactly there yet. So I'm hoping by the second half of this year or the beginning of the next quarter, we could, we could be there.

(04:47) -Simon: Beautiful. And then if people want to, uh, be part of the journey, do you have a newsletter or something that they can subscribe to and see the journey?

(05:01) -Grant Aldrich: Yeah. You know, a lot of people just feel follow us in what we're doing. Cause they like, you know, they genuinely appreciate our mission to make higher education affordable. So I would just say, check out the project, it's online and they can also follow me on LinkedIn, just type in grant Aldrich. And you know, there aren't that many on there. And, uh, yeah, I'd love to have follow me or reach out.

(05:24) -Simon: I'm curious, you can pick only one person when everybody's digging. This person is zagging. We call it the strategy award. Who do you nominate?

(05:34) -Grant Aldrich: One of my favorite entrepreneurs is, is really unknown to most of the world and rarely gets spoken about in Silicon Valley. And his name is Marcus Frind and Marcus' Frind was the founder of plenty of And I got to know him because of my last company. I mean, not personally, but know of him. Um, my last startup was acquired by IAC interactive Corp and his company had also been acquired by them as well. And I started to really dive into the story and this guy created a $500 million platform with hundreds of millions of people utilizing it. I mean, imagine the tech resources that go into, I have a dating platform where millions of people are using it every single day, massive amounts of data, massive amounts of, um, transactions, um, uh, customer service. He did it all by himself. One, man, did everything and built that entire company. That guy is my hero.

(06:36) -Simon: Beautiful. Looking forward to meeting and yeah. What are the three books that shaped you most?

(06:45) -Grant Aldrich: Yeah. You know, I will preface that for me personally. I really like to, to hone my, my, my sense of the macro trends. So to, to steal a line from a Wayne Gretzky, you know, to, to know where the puck's going, as opposed to where it's at currently. And I think that if you're really able to train your mind to look for the macro, you're always able to, um, operate effectively in your day to day. And so one of the books that was very profound, um, was a book called the third wave by Alvin Toffler. And Alvin Toffler is to provide some context as a futurist who was very famous for writing a book called power shift. And the third wave talks about the information age and how things are changing and how trends, um, that would seem odd are actually very predictable. You know, the first wave being the agricultural revolution, second wave being the, um, industrial revolution, the third wave of the information age.

(07:41) -Grant Aldrich: It's a very cool book. Uh, another one that I would recommend is, uh, that had a really big impact on me was a book called buzz marketing by Mark Hughes. And, um, what was amazing about Mark's book was that I think that he codified marketing into one thing that is the goal, and that is to get people talking about your brand. And so that to me, cause, you know, when you, when you ask someone what is marketing, I think that you're going to get a million different answers to that. Um, and they may not all be wrong, but you have to really focus your efforts on what are you doing and what's the goal. And that's what his was, was you have to get people talking about it. And then his book goes into all these different, cool ways to get marketing without spending money, get people talking, how do you get the buzz?

(08:25) -Grant Aldrich: And I thought it was profound and I've utilized that, um, for our company and we don't do any marketing and we've been able to get an immense amount of groundswell. Um, so I would highly recommend that book. And then finally, um, one of the books that I think is, is, is, uh, was an eye opener for me. But when I was very young was Keith Kharrazi's book never eat alone. And then that what that book kind of shows you is that you have to make networking and helping people and just wanting to help people, just part of your daily life, you know, no one wants to be networked with and that's lame. And so just being real and just always being willing to help people. And I think that's awesome. Um, so that feels like the, the three good ones.

(09:07) -Simon: And I can't imagine right now listeners saying, Oh, how does he do it, no marketing spend and people talk about his brand. What are some things that you want to share?

(09:19) -Grant Aldrich: You know, if I was going to give you one secret that I found that of now, because this is my to give some, uh, also context for the listeners is that this is my, uh, third or technically fourth startup. And I've taken a lot of lessons as I've now come to this one. And on this one, one of the things that I felt was missing from my prior lives was the, um, was the satisfaction of going to work and really loving what you do. I, in a previous life, I was working in the pharmaceutical industry and there's nothing wrong with that, but you don't skip to work all day getting ready to make pharmaceutical companies money. So this time I wanted to create a mission focused business. And my mission first was to make higher education affordable for everyone. And I really just started with that mission and had to create the solution based on that.

(10:05) -Grant Aldrich: But in creating a mission-based company, I didn't realize this, but I solved so many of the problems that entrepreneurs deal with at launch. And I'll give you an example. I'd come into this industry knowing nobody changing industries mid-career and so you would think it would be impossible to reach out and to begin to get partnerships at a good pace. But if you've got a great mission and a mission that taps into something that everybody cares about genuinely, they are far more likely to want to help you. So when I would, I would just write someone cold at, let's say a university, I'd say, look, here's what I'm doing. I'm trying to do this. And I would love to have you help and people most of the time, I think in, in, in, in a normal circumstance would just delete the email or ignore it. They’re too busy.

(10:50) -Grant Aldrich: But in this case they paid attention because they wanted to, uh, to help us. And so that's also helped with the buzz cause the more universities that come come on board that works with the buzz and people were saying, well, what is this? I'm I'm curious now. Well, what are you guys doing together? And so anyway, now, and then it becomes, you know, it really grows and snowballs past that. So I say that if someone is thinking about coming a new business or incorporating something into their business now is to create a mission focus. I could give you lots of examples on why I think it's a winner and solves issues, but that would be a big one.

(11:23) -Simon: Beautiful. What did you recently change your mind about?

(11:30) -Grant Aldrich: Yeah, this is a, uh, this is a tough one. Um, I, I think that I've realized that I've really tried to take that Marcus Frind approach where I've, I want to make sure that I have, um, as few people who are really good in my mind tasked with as much as possible and not to overwhelm people. But because that, I, you know, I think when you get bloated organizations that are really large, where you task someone narrowly for everything, you don't get, you lose a lot in that scale. So, but I also think that to a fault in my own personal side, that it now creates it where a lot of the little tasks that we shouldn't be doing the core team have been doing, and I want to fix that. So it's, you know, there's no good answer to this. It's always a blend, but I think that's one of the ones I would say,

(12:23) -Simon: Let's say it's a fine balance.

(12:26) -Grant Aldrich: It is, it is. You don't want to outsource. I mean, you want to be able to outsource a lot of the trivial tasks and things that, uh, you know, you, you, you keep your, your officer's, if you will, your executives tasks on the most important things. But I think that if again, you don't want to create that bloat and that's always what I'm fearful.

(12:44) -Simon: Absolutely. I do my time analysis every day on my iPad. I have my daily flow. I've wrote down what I'm doing. And then on the right side, I have two questions and one is, uh, which of these tasks should somebody else do because they do it better than me. And the other question is if I would live more intentionally and more freely, what, what else would I do? That's how I review my day, every day. And so then every couple of weeks, or every couple of months I look back, I find some patterns and that's when we do the new hire, but it's not just for fun, but because there is a serious pattern behind it, where I see myself not leveraging my time, the best way. And then, then we consider hiring,

(13:32) -Grant Aldrich: Wow, that's incredibly insightful. Cause you're right. You know, that one thing that one box that you fill out, I'm sure gives you the most insight of all of those things. Every time you go back to review it.

(13:44) -Simon: Exactly. And everybody does it in our team. So this is how we find the processes to systemize. We call it systemizing. When we amplify ourselves, it either becomes an automated or semi-automated process and or we hire somebody external, or we hire somebody internal to do that instead of us. And the reason that's the data, the data comes from, okay. We have found this pattern blocking us in, in leveraging our time.

(14:19) -Grant Aldrich: Wow. Yeah. I love that. I mean, I may actually, I may cite you. I'm gonna, I think I'm gonna create that in our daily, uh, our, our daily wrap ups that I'm going to cite it. It's going to be the Simon.

(14:29) -Simon: Yeah. You can download it. It's it's out there. It's all, everything we do is open source. You can do it. tools and download it and use it with your team. It's really helpful. And, um, so what's next on your journey. What's the one, one thing that you would like to move forward, coming up with your company?

(14:56) -Grant Aldrich: Yeah, it's really the expansion into the certifications. I mean, there's just, we have a real problem on our hands, uh, worldwide, but you know, let's just focus on the United States and that so many people are going to be out of work because of these macro trends. And, you know, with COVID COVID is really just accelerated what was already happening in the marketplace and that the American, you know, the, the American economy and the American worker were already facing immense pressures on their jobs due to robot automation, right? These things are coming in and taking away jobs, globalization, and of course the modernization of the economy. So I, you know, these things I really want to solve, I really want to provide the ability for people to up-skill get the certifications they need, get the new kinds of careers they need so that we can get more people back to work and people are more happy on a day-to-day basis. And I think it's a key piece of making education affordable.

(15:57) -Simon: You are pointing to something that I find really relevant, the education system. Now we are talking us, but we could talk about really any education system was broken all the time, and now we are seeing it. And, uh, if we think of a post pandemic, much poorer population in urgent need of jobs, they will think twice if, if to go the standard path and take a big debt for, for something that is not really helping them in their, in their real context, getting really forward. And, uh, what's your take, what was, what was really broken all the time, but now we are facing it, uh, via the pandemic? 

(16:55) -Grant Aldrich: Yeah. I think if you went onto the street and you surveyed anybody and ask them in a perfect world with no other considerations, would you want to college degree, they would all say yes, but the problem is, is that when you begin to bring about all of the things that you actually need to do to get that degree and the cost, and you really weigh the cost benefit analysis, it's completely out of whack. And I think it's been like that for a very long time. And so, as a result to your point, I think that people now have, um, just shied away from even taking that first step to get education that they need. I think the second thing too, is that, you know, now in this economy, you know, a degree isn't always the most appropriate it can be, but it's not always the case.

(17:40) -Grant Aldrich: And so, you know, there have not been good options for people to pursue that path as well, because that path is also too. And so I really think it comes down to that cost benefit to help people take that first step. There's a lot of other little factors as well. Like, you know, for example, one of the things that I really wanted to tackle with was to make this education completely online. And again, this is before COVID because even though with COVID, it seems like it's an absolute necessity. Even before that, as a working adult, I don't have time as a parent with a job to leave in the middle of the day, three times a week to go to school, it's just not feasible. And if you have a university or some school that necessitates that, well, then no one's going to do it. It's just too hard. And you're setting people up for failure. So again, all online and you start to chip away at these impediments for adults and, you know, you create something that is very accessible.

(18:35) -Simon: This is the part that is so liberating about this pandemic that we all knew that things can be done via zoom, et cetera. But everybody was like, yeah, but I don't know. I don't know. And now this is our kids, uh, are, are zooming with their grandpa. So it's just, it's, it has broken through that comfort zone. And now everybody's reconsidering. Wait a moment. Should I really fly for three hours there for that meeting? If I can, if I can do it online with a moment, do I need to sit for eight hours in one chair and take notes really? Is that the best way I'm going to learn something? And so I'm really excited about this, and same as you. I started disrupting it way before, uh, March, uh, in January, I said to myself, I will not fly anymore. And I was a frequent flyer.

(19:43) -Simon: And, um, and I said, it must be possible to respect everybody's time and that everybody can work, learn and create wherever they are just with a phone and with a pencil, it must be possible and anything is possible. And, um, so I I'm really excited about what you're doing and what is currently being created in tech space and the tech space. But those are pretty much in every tech sector because it's, it's a lot about real time and it's, it's respectful and, Oh, I'm sorry. Yeah, we, we, we had the illusion of many things. We were not seeing how, how we were enslaved by many things like the concept of being eight hours in one room. Why eight hours, first of all, it's, it's much better to chunk it up in, in small, deep work sessions and then this cast and have it work with it. But first you need to build something you need to apply. And all of these things now, uh, that are coming up that we felt were right, uh, are now surfacing.

(20:58) -Grant Aldrich: You're totally right. Everything. I mean, what you just said was very profound and you're right, that this is accelerated what needed to happen for us. Um, you know, a great example of that is, um, my son has allergies and we go every, you know, few months to an allergy doctor and lately we've been doing it online via zoom. And how phenomenal that now, uh, uh, an industry as archaic as medicine in terms of innovation is now offering that you could just do all these appointments online, which we always could have done. And they were so reluctant to do for, you know, whatever legal reasons, but that they finally gotten around that. And wow, like you said, what a, what a, what a respect for our time. I don't have to drive two hours there and back to go to this doctor's appointment. I know it's a, it's a phenomenal and you're right.

(21:47) -Grant Aldrich: I mean, that's, that's just one small change. I think what you touched on is even more profound than, you know, how we work and how we travel. And all of these things are taking, are taking an immense shift and you're right. I love it. I love your, uh, your strategy, by the way. I agree that I've, I don't want to have to fly anymore either. You know, I've got a family and I, the, if you're flying, you're wasting a lot of time and you're, uh, you're, you're away from them. And, uh, yeah, I love it.

(22:13) -Simon: Yeah. These are all just concepts. Uh, these is how you go to the doctor. Uh, you, you spend two hours in traffic, then you spend 25 minutes there, you get sick while you wait because it's Petri dish for sickness, and then you get some pills and then you go home. Uh, this is not the only way. There are many ways. If you think of yogic hospitals, they basically put you into the earth for a couple hours in the garden. And they say, that's the Yogi hospital. So there are many different ways, uh, to pursue the impact. And, and I think it's this, the, in my sector, it was okay. Consulting executive consulting. That's how you do it. First. You said a big bill. Then you, you, you book flight, then you talk, you manage with their assistants to have a whole board room organized. And then you, you sit there for eight hours, um, mainly boring yourself and the document, very precisely the that's, that was the standard in my industry.

(23:31) -Simon: And so prop it was wrong from the very first moment. And, and especially these eight hours sitting around, uh, which we call workshops are basically wrong on so many levels. And what we do now with the sprint method is it's in real time, everybody starts whenever they want, wherever they are on their phone. They have 16 questions per day. If they are a CEO and they don't want to ask them three weeks later in the workshop, they want to ask them now, and they might just need a quick answer or a quick test done together. It takes 10 minutes maybe, but they need maybe five on during one day. So a much more natural way of working is to do something then to discuss it with somebody, then to test it with a small market, then to go and play with your kids, then to cook a wonderful real meal, instead of going to a cafeteria with your colleagues, then to, to do some jogging or walk the dog, then again, maybe a meeting, then you create, again, something it's much more natural flow.

(24:46) -Grant Aldrich: Oh, I love it. You're right. God. I could only imagine that the, that was, and, you know, I bet it was almost impossible to deviate from that norm, uh, prior to what you were doing and made prior to COVID because that's what everybody expected. And, and, and, and that those expectations dictate so much of what they, when they hire you. That's crazy

(25:05) -Simon: Exactly. You tell these in January to the corporations and they run out. I, that's not the way here and now they're there.  Now, it's different now it's different. And we have many countries and many people will say, wow, this is liberating. It's just 60 minutes of zooming, but then I do it. It's much more integrated into my life and into what I need. And I can ask 24, seven, I have a question. I ask it right now in my time zone right now, whenever it fits. And so this is liberating and the educational space is very similar. The concept about how to take notes, the concept of how to, how to certificate and what to certificate. Are you certificating that I can repeat your content or, or did I am capable of thinking, deciding, finding the information, sorting the information in a way that I can create a meaningful contribution to the field?

(26:09) -Grant Aldrich: Well, like you said, I think that, you know, this is, um, these concepts are all changing and, you know, again, I had no idea about, you know, in your, in your field specifically, and that's fascinating. And I think that, you know, there's so many fields across, you know, every industry and that, you know, these concepts are now being shifted and you're right. This is a very exciting time. I, we haven't really, I think, fully grasped this new world that we live in.

(26:38) -Simon: And, uh, yeah, it keeps evolving and nobody knows really these tectonic in which direction they will go. So if we, if we will stay interesting, definitely. And, um, yeah,

(26:52) -Grant Aldrich: I think, I think right now everybody's thinking that, you know, I think on one side, um, people think it's all gonna go completely back to normal. And I think that, and I, and I think, no, that's, I don't think we're ever going to go back to exactly where we were before. I think that as tragic as this event has been, that a lot of things have shifted us now for the better, I don't think it'll exactly stay how it is now, but I think that the die has been cast now, you know, you, can't, all of these trends have been accelerated. And I think our world's just going to be better thereafter, um, in the face of such, you know, Facebook just tragedy.

(27:26) -Simon: I find it really fascinating to see that what was normal is now questioned by so many people, because we have time to, to feel, to introspect, to question ourselves and what we are committed to, and you see all these liberating aspects you see also like in the U S also the dark sides of that, of, of, of, of what's of the shadows of our society, uh, coming up. And, and also there, there is, there is a core of very legitimate questioning of things. Uh, I, I don't agree with the way, uh, it's, it's, it's, it's being manifested right now. Uh, but this, this also comes from questioning things. And, uh, so it's really interesting that right now, many, many, many, many things that we, as social norms, social norms around you right now, social norms are shifting radically.

(28:33) -Grant Aldrich: Right. Right. And by the way, I think that you and I could probably, uh, talk a lot longer and agree on many of these things. Cause I think I agree with what you're alluding to. And so I, yeah, you're right. There is that side of it.

(28:46) -Simon: And I hope, uh, you stay safe during the next five, six days. There are going to be quite quite important. And please come back to the show soon, uh, when and reports about the growth of your business. And thank you for sharing your journey with us

(29:08) -Grant Aldrich: Thank you so much for having me, man. I honestly, I love your show and, uh, appreciate you having me

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