COVID-19 Entrepreneur of the Week Technology

Entrepreneur of the Week: Lighthouse Labs launches $500,000 COVID-19 Scholarship Fund

Lighthouse Labs

Lighthouse Labs offers a $500,000 relief scholarship fund for people who are facing job loss or disrupted studies as a result of the COVID-19 crisis.

Canadian coding bootcamp Lighthouse Labs has been teaching web and mobile software development since 2013. Seven years later, the company is giving back to it’s coding community by launching a COVID-19 relief scholarship fund to help anyone whose professional or educational career has been disrupted by the pandemic. 

When Co-Founder and CEO, Jeremy Shaki, started his journey with Lighthouse labs, the paramount concern was disrupting the traditional way of teaching coding and computer science in a way that would make a lasting difference.

“I didn’t just want to start any business… It was crucial to my co-founders and me that we start something that would help change the generally prevailing educational approach,” says Shaki, “tech is all about making us re-evaluate the ‘normal’, and that’s just what we’ve done with education.”

Social distancing has resulted in an unprecedented shift to remote management. As millions of people try to navigate their careers and businesses through the COVID-19 crisis, many are choosing to take the time to re-examine and make shifts. However without the tools and knowledge to do owners can feel left in the dark. 

Lighthouse Lab’s scholarships will now provide people across the country with the various digital skill sets that they need to either sustain or launch new careers. By doing so, Shaki says the company hopes to remove the financial  barrier of learning new skills and get people back to work during unsettling times. 

For Shaki, helping Canadian’s achieve their goals is what makes Lighthouse labs a successful company. 

“As an organization we feel success every time our Career Services team reports another of our students being hired. We truly want to see our students succeed,” says Shaki. 

For the latest instalment in our Entrepreneur of the Week Spotlight, Bay Street Bull spoke with Lighthouse Labs CEO, Jeremy Shaki, on the importance of leading in business through fostering the success of others. 

Q & A

How is Lighthouse Labs acting as a disruptive force in the market?

I would say that where we have been most successful is in providing a more efficient model [of learning how to code] for people who are generally past the stages of education. 

We think people are always considering how they can change and become better, and providing an educational model that was focused on them [mature students] is what has led to so many of our institutional decisions (shorter time frames, more intensive, hands on, extremely relevant skills etc). We were never looking to disrupt traditional education. We were looking to disrupt the lack of options once you were done with it. 

To do so meant achieving significant outcomes [after graduation], as there is a very natural skepticism that comes with short duration programs. We needed employers to validate that our grads were good enough to hire, and graduates to say that they received the outcomes they signed up for. The more people felt assured by those two ideas, the more we were able to have people consider what a career change later in their lives could look like. After 6+ years, I believe we have achieved that. 

Lighthouse Labs

Lighthouse labs is now the largest coding bootcamp in Canada. What questions did you ask yourself when starting out, what did you want to create?

As with any business, we had to take a good look at existing education models and make educated guesses as to how their outputs would fit into the future-of-work. We were operating on the assumption that there is more than one way to provide a solid education that would result in a positive, yet agile, career trajectory. Most importantly we wanted outcomes that both students and the school could agree were the determinant of success. It’s why our job outcomes are so important to us. 

When we realized what we needed to deliver, we had to determine how we would do it. Even within the bootcamp space, there are multiple models and schools of thought. We wanted to create something truly innovative, though sustainable, so our grads could adjust to a rapidly-evolving workforce. 

How did you go about building your team and what do you feel is the most important quality for team members to have?

The only constant amongst my team is they are open minded thinkers. That type of thinking extends to how you work with others who aren’t like you just as much as different ideas for the business. I would say it’s the glue that brings all the different people together.  Every role requires a different personality-type with a different skill set. As Lighthouse has grown, I’ve realized that not every member of our team needs to be someone with whom I’d have a beer.

Rather, to create a high-functioning team, I’ve learned the importance of diversity. Not just diversity of genders and race, but also diversity of thought. After all, it’s the best way to avoid blindspots. Our teammates encourage each other, push each other and learn from each other.

I will say, however, all our team members have a sense of quirkiness that helps them embody the Lighthouse Labs brand and value-system. 

What do you think is most important for entrepreneurs in the tech industry to consider when starting out?

This one’s a bit of a cliche, but it’s true. I’d argue it’s for all entrepreneurs. You’re going to fail. That’s a given. It’ll be uncomfortable and will force you to grow, but you need to find comfort within that. 

For tech entrepreneurs specifically, I’d say, don’t always get caught up in the hype. For an industry that’s so focused on disruption, there’s often a lot of noise. It’s okay to step away from the crowd and forge your own path forward.

In business there are a lot of ups and downs, what was your greatest failure and how has it impacted the way Lighthouse Labs is managed now? 

I could name a ton, but almost all of them came at moments where I decided too early to be closed minded. As an example, we could look at a recent blindspot that’s led to a lot of conversations in our company. For many years, we relied on our top tier in-person education. We didn’t seriously consider an online option because we were so confident in what we did, and how well we did it. We didn’t see results coming from the online space, and chose to remain in person because of it. 

The current crisis forced us to re-evaluate that model within the span of a few days. We took our classes online almost overnight and learned that our course material is strong enough to provide our students with a beneficial education, even online. We have been measuring the education results of it and it’s been WAY better than we could have anticipated. 

Now, we’re forced to step back and reevaluate some of the assumptions with which we have built Lighthouse Labs. I wouldn’t say the outcome is a failure, but as the CEO, it’s a failure on my part to have not been more open minded to how we could have made online successful, instead of deciding it wasn’t a worthwhile endeavour to think about. 

What advice would you give other tech companies or any budding entrepreneur on how to effectively manage during times of crisis? 

First and foremost, understand that there is no ‘right way’ in a crisis. It takes being comfortable making mistakes to handle it well. I would advise this general plan:

First, don’t expect marketing or sales miracles. Be extra critical about your plans for revenue and map out a runway that will make sure that you can last on minimal revenue for a longer period of time. This will give you and your team confidence and stability as you get comfortable with the current circumstances and give you time to understand if they are long lasting. 

Second, if your team isn’t already, structure yourselves into the most agile format of team you can get to. Flatten your authority levels, have people share responsibility, and make sure that you can make decisions more quickly. 

Lastly, talk to as many other business owners as possible. The more conversations you have, the more it will provide insight into all the ways people are handling this and give you an idea of where your business sits within the spectrum. I would especially use the time to reach out to competitors and share the types of insights that aren’t giving away your secrets but providing you all with the most knowledge possible to see how you think your industry will be hit. It’s incredibly helpful for all parties.