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Navigating the Changes Inherent to Startup Growth with Teachable

Founded in Tech Episode 6

Tabitha Hickman, CFO of Teachable, joins host Mark Eckerle on this episode of Founded in Tech.

Together, they discuss Teachable’s unique platform as a marketplace provider and how they navigate the changes inherent to startup growth. Tabitha also talks about her top pieces of advice for up-and-coming entrepreneurs.

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This podcast was transcribed through a third-party application. Please disregard any misrepresentations.

Mark Eckerle:
Welcome to this episode of founded in tech.

Mark Eckerle:
I’m your host Mark Eckerle. And today I sit down with Tabitha Hickman, who is the chief financial officer of teachable. They are working hand in hand with content creators to make a seamless solution for consumers on all fronts. On today’s episode, we discuss Teachable’s business model, both with content creators, as well as their backend payment processing system. Tabitha’s experience working as a one person team to now a 15 person team. And finally, she passed along some great advice and tips that she learned and now recommends for others in finance or operations. I had a pleasure talking to Tabitha and learning about the exciting things happening at teachable and hope you enjoy our conversation.

Mark Eckerle:
Hello

Mark Eckerle:
Everyone. Please join me in welcoming Tabitha Hickman from teachable to the show. Tabitha is the CFO and joined us today to talk about her background as well as teachable and some exciting things that they’re working on. So welcome to the show today

Tabitha Hickman:
So much for having me I’m excited to be here.

Mark Eckerle:
Awesome. Awesome. So let’s, let’s jump right into it. Why don’t you start telling us a little bit about yourself, your background, and kind of your career journey, how you ended up where you are today as, as the chief financial officer of teachable.

Tabitha Hickman:
Okay. Um, I guess you could say I’ve had kind of an untraditional path, uh, to my current position. Um, I started, um, my career in messing banking did a couple of years, um, in M&A, and then spent about eight years in private equity and the private equity fund that I worked for, um, focused primarily on making leveraged buyout investments in companies with subscription revenue basis. Um, as well as in media communications and education. So there is a little bit of an overlap between what I was doing then and what I do today, but, um, that kind of in the same way. And so after spending some time in private equity, uh, I decided I wanted to see what life would be like on the other side of the table and operations. Um, and so I initially began working for one of my private equity company’s portfolio companies, um, fast forward a few years.

Tabitha Hickman:
Uh, I spent a lot of time, uh, working with subscription companies and information companies, primarily in finance and strategy. Um, and before I was at teachable, I worked for a company called to checkout, which is a payment processing company. Uh, we competed with Stripe and Braintree and other companies, the process payments for small businesses and our orientation was much more on small businesses that were outside the United States. So roughly 60% of our revenue is derived from creators and small businesses that were, that were not U.S. Companies. Um, so in 2017, um, as I was wrapping up at to checkout, uh, Encore, who is the founder and CEO of teachable, uh, reached out, um, said, Hey, we don’t really have any finance at teachable. Um, we think we might need some, um, we’re growing really fast. Uh, we serve the creator economy and, um, you know, would you be interested in taking on this role?

Tabitha Hickman:
And, um, when I, when I first started looking at teachable, um, I really didn’t understand the creator economy. Um, I understood the SAAS part of it. Um, but what I really was intrigued by was the payment processing angle. Uh, teachable has its own payment gateway. And from my experience as you checkout, I could see how that could be a very viable and fast growing part of our business. Um, I was also intrigued by the fact that teachable is a startup in the technology space someplace I’ve never worked. Um, and this was a chance to kind of build a team and a function from scratch. So I’m starting at Teachable in 2017, um, have seen the business grow from where it was to roughly 10 times in revenue and almost 200 employees. Um, and it’s been a really exciting journey to, uh, to see what that requires from a financial standpoint.

Mark Eckerle:
Yeah, it’s always, it’s always neat I mean, especially if you come into this startup ecosystem, I mean, you’re you come on in, in the finance role, you’re kind of the only person on your team and then you really, you build it out from there and grow it. And it’s neat to see that development over it’s only been three, four years since then, but how much growth has occurred during that time period.

Tabitha Hickman:
Absolutely.

Mark Eckerle:
Um, so, so I guess you already touched on a little bit of teachable, but talking about the create creator ecosystem, um, can you go into the business model of teachable and kind of what that, what it is the, the revenue and the operations of, of the company?

Tabitha Hickman:
Absolutely. So, um, our mission is, and I quote to enable creators to monetize their expertise. Um, and so when we talk about a creator, we’re looking at somebody who either has a body of knowledge or a validated, um, content offering or a following, or sometimes both. So I’ll give an example. A creator could be someone who, um, has a pottery studio and they make beautiful pots and they started to put together YouTube videos about their pots, and now they want to take that knowledge and they want to share it with other people and, and charge money and make money from it. And so teachable is the platform that will enable them to put their courses online, um, to build a beautiful sales funnel or a beautiful webpage, um, or offering, um, and even offer things like coaching alongside of that. So again, Teachable’s mission is to enable creators to monetize their expertise.

Tabitha Hickman:
Um, we look at creators, not just as individuals, but also as small businesses. And we have creators on our platform who make anywhere from call it, you know, a couple of hundred dollars a month to our largest creator last year made over $10 million. And so our business model is twofold. Um, from a revenue standpoint, we charge creators, um, subscription fees to come onto teachable, to put their content on a platform and to have access to our tools. And so those are like any subscription fee. It’s a monthly or annual fee that ranges in price, depending upon the kinds of, uh, features and options that you want. And then our second revenue stream, um, is our payments product. So let’s say you come onto teachable, put up your content, build out a funnel and you’re ready to get going and start selling your course. Um, we facilitate the collection of payments and the payout of that money to you, the creator, um, that’s through our payment gateway, and that is actually the fastest growing part of our business. Um, last year, for example, we facilitated over $500 million, in course sales and lifetime today, teachable has done, um, over a billion dollars in course sales.

Mark Eckerle:
Gotcha. Is there any, any, any topics that you guys kind of focus on any specializations or is the, the, the material just all encompassing? Is it anything that people are kind of interested in at any point in time?

Tabitha Hickman:
It is incredibly wide ranging and I hadn’t, I had no idea that that would be the case. Um, when I joined Teachable, if you look at some of our more popular content sets, um, we do have quite a lot of, uh, courses that are in the kind of fitness and wellness space. Um, we also have a lot of, um, coding classes or, um, sort of technical skills, but we really have anything from, you know, how to make sourdough bread, to how to feng shui your home, to, um, how to, uh, code, as I said, I’m thinking of some of our more popular ones or even, um, financial advice at one of our largest schools is a school that helps people repair their credit and also, um, achieved financial literacy. So it’s really a very broad monopoly of content. Um, and it also, uh, we have creators in virtually every country in the world and our platform is offered in 16 different languages. So we have a number of creators that are not English speaking.

Mark Eckerle:
So, so how does that exactly work? Cause I think over the last 12 months or so, a lot of people have come to realize that they can produce produced content in various ways, whether it’s writing in the form of a newsletter or, um, podcasting like we’re doing right now, or putting videos on YouTube where there’s like the, do it yourself videos, where if I need to fix something at my house, people just go on YouTube and figure out how to do something or look up the product. Um, so how do you, I don’t want to say compete, but identify talent or, or work with those people that are trying to be, I mean, maybe even influencers to some aspect that already have a following, like you mentioned, um, how does that kind of play a role into the company’s operations?

Tabitha Hickman:
So, um, I think it’s probably important to understand sort of how teachable got started. So when Encore, um, founded teachable, he had a class on Udemy. And, um, he was very unhappy because Udemy was taking a very big cut of his core sales, um, and Udemy wasn’t allowing him to have access to his students and have their contact information, for example. And so when teachable was started, it was all started with the idea that we would not be front and center. Um, it would be the creator who was always front and center and the creator dictates what kind of content, how they want to display that content, um, how they want to price their courses, how they want to manage their students. And in many cases, people will host a school on teachable and nobody will even know that teachable is behind the scenes.

Tabitha Hickman:
It’s all about, you know, how the creator wants to present themselves. And so a big part of our, um, business has always been, uh, ensuring that the creator has the tools to present themselves in the way that they want to present themselves. So that’s, I think sort of number one, number two, um, it is true that teachable really got its start with courses, right. And our core engine and our core product offering is, um, designed to make it very easy, to put a course together and to put it up on teachable or on the internet. Um, I should say, um, as you’ve mentioned, uh, I think the creator economy has really exploded beyond courses and that’s come to encompass like multiple different types of products. So a big part of our evolution going forward and our strategy right now is to ensure that people can still use teachable to do that. Um, people have kind of hacked teachable to offer downloadables, um, MP3 files, uh, newsletter subscriptions, um, all through this kind of like course offering. But one of the things that we started launching last year was what we call products beyond courses. So coaching for example, is something that you can now offer through teachable and increasingly our platform, our goal is that our platform will be used not just for courses, but for a broader range of information.

Mark Eckerle:
Gotcha. And what is the typical length, I guess, of some of your material? Is it, is it, um, you mentioned like, for example, how to, how to make sourdough bread or there was even like a financial literacy course, which I think both topics can be wide ranging, one maybe a little more than the other. So, um, is, is there a big cost, cost differential to the consumer? What does that look like? Is there multiple courses? Um, or is it just a one-off video? What would that look like?

Tabitha Hickman:
Yeah, it really, again, it really very much depends upon the creator and their offerings. I mean, we have courses that are a couple of hours in length, um, and I think that would probably be sort of on the shorter end. Um, it’s a static course. Um, you basically watch the video and maybe you have like a quiz at the end or, you know, some additional collateral material, but it’s a, it’s a very static experience. Um, we have other, um, creators who offer a community to go along with their courses and, um, webinars and additional content that they post through their school. And that can take the form of multiple weeks with content being released in a drip format. So you’re taken through this journey of, uh, you know, four weeks or eight weeks or 12 weeks. Um, and then we have some creators who use teachable very much as kind of a one-off experience.

Tabitha Hickman:
Like they will have a big conference and they’ll host it on teachable and then they’ll make all the, all the content or the recordings or the, or the other materials available on teachable, but it’s really much more centered around like a one-time event. So it very much depends on, you know, how a creator wants to do that. Um, I will say that if you look at what sold on teachable, roughly 25% are subscription products. And so those are increasingly of interest to creators because they want to create this sort of ongoing revenue stream is similar to the way in which we have subscription-based products. Um, they, they increases-

Mark Eckerle:
It sort of trickles down, doesn’t it.

Tabitha Hickman:
it’s a very popular, uh, revenue models, we increasingly see our creators moving in that direction via, um, video offerings or be it newsletters, but something that enables them to get that recurring revenue from the same list of customers.

Mark Eckerle:
I think, I think 2020 has opened a lot of people’s eyes to maybe a transformation in the educational system. Um, and I’m wondering, does the company, you mentioned you have courses that are released over a period of weeks or even months, depending on the material. Are there, uh, is there a pivot to like a trade program or like a vocational program where can learn hands-on how to do a job almost. I mean, you’re not getting a degree at the end of it or anything like that, but you can almost learn how to a job as opposed to going to college or something and paying some exorbitant costs. That’s ridiculous at some schools.

Tabitha Hickman:
It is. I think that, um, teachable is probably a little bit adjacent to that. Um, this is the courses that we have are either, I don’t want to call them entertainment, but they’re, they’re sort of for the fulfillment or the, the self enjoyment of, of the student. Um, we do have for sure, um, a number of different, hard skill courses. And I think a lot of our coding courses are very much like that. And they’re designed to give you a specific skill that you can use, but I will say it is, it is kind of a balance between, you know, things that could replace like a certification program. Um, but probably not something that ever would kind of jump into like the MOOCs space or the, the, um, higher education space.

Mark Eckerle:
Gotcha. Okay. And then are there, so who’s your, who’s the ideal consumer? Is it a general person that’s interested in a certain topic? Is that the person that would typically go onto the platform and sign up or, or search for things that they’re interested in?

Tabitha Hickman:
Well, the interesting thing about teachable is that, um, you can’t really find courses on teachable. Um, so you can go to teachable, um, and we’ll have some examples of, of what our creators are creating, but generally it’s the relationship between the creator and the student that draws them that draws the students to teachable. So the creator has the, the list or they have the marketing and they pull their students in, and then they’re using teachable to SU to support that experience. Um, interestingly, however, uh, one of the things that we launched last year is discover by teachable, which is a curated, um, I want to call it a marketplace, cause we always say, we’re not a marketplace, but it’s a curated space where we are pulling in, um, different selected courses from teachable and we’re making them searchable on discover. Um, it’s kind of an experiment for us with something new, uh, but we’re doing that in a thematic way so that you can come in and say, I would like to take a yoga class for example, and we can present you with this list of, of options. Or I would like to take a coding class and here’s maybe a bundle of different like coding classes that might be germane to you. So, um, it’s definitely something that we are exploring, uh, and that I think will probably be part of our, our offering in the future. But right now we are, again, still much more a behind the scenes kind of provider.

Mark Eckerle:
Gotcha. All right. A lot of classes live or they downloaded. If I purchase a, a course, can I download that and revisit at any point in time and stop start, depending on something comes up, is it a full hour I have to block to watch something? Is it live? How does that, how does that work?

Tabitha Hickman:
Um, absolutely. So most of our courses are not live. They are, um, they’re hosted on our platform. You can go in and you can access them either like on your mobile device or on your computer. Um, we tend to find the people like to watch, um, on those devices and you can stop and start at your leisure. Um, one of the most popular features that we have for our creators is, um, a dashboard which identifies different statistics around that usage. So like how long did it take somebody to get through the course? How many times did they stop? Is there a certain point in the course that they’re stopping and maybe putting a comment in the comment sections of the, you know, they can ask a question or they can get feedback from the creator and those kinds of like, um, analytics are helpful for our creators in determining kind of how they’re, um, creating their content and what they might want to do next.

Mark Eckerle:
That is one of the neat parts. I mean, as, as we’ve evolved in, technology has developed to seeing the data analytics behind things like this, and you can kind of use that going forward to craft your material and see what’s working. What’s not working. It’s, that’s one of the parts that interests me the most.

Tabitha Hickman:
That’s very cool.

Mark Eckerle:
Um, and the one reason I asked about who the ideal consumer is, is because I think in today’s work environment, right, everything’s virtual now. We’re not as in the office as much, there’s a lot more virtual events happening. So for instance, like our work is doing like a cooking class, things like that. I was wondering, does teachable work with corporations or companies to put on classes or even, even if they have a material that’s already been recorded? Um, would like a company, like for instance, Withum, be a customer to teachable or your creators

Tabitha Hickman:
It’s possible? I mean, we, we certainly do have, um, a number of enterprise customers on the New York times and the New York public library for example, are, are customers of ours. And, um, and they do utilize our platform for, um, different types of internal trainings. Um, we’re, we’re definitely not like a traditional LMS, which like a lot of big corporates like to use for internal training, but we do have, um, customers who use us for that reason or for that purpose.

Mark Eckerle:
Gotcha. And then how do you, how does the company evaluate, um, I guess what topics, I guess it would be generated based on the creators and what they’re, and their following, I was gonna say, what topics does the company identify that people are interested in? Like, how would you know, this could be a hot topic coming up for Q1 2021 or Q2 2021, let’s get some material around it, but I guess it would be more so around the creator and what they’re producing and who, and how much people are interested in them.

Tabitha Hickman:
Exactly. And I mean, we certainly, when our creators join our platform, they’re asked to self-select a, um, a content area. And so we do, you know, analytics around kind of like what is trending and what is popular and what courses are being acquired most frequently or purchased most frequently. And, um, I have to say that it’s been actually relatively consistent throughout the time that I’ve been here and we, we still have a lot of health and fitness, a lot of, um, coding and other, um, practical skills and then, um, a lot of, uh, financial literacy.

Mark Eckerle:
Gotcha. Gotcha. Okay. So, so let’s jump into your role a little bit as, as CFO. What does a, I mean, every day is something different, right. You know, no one day is the same. It’s, there’s always something new as soon as you wake up, there’s, it’s always changing. Um, I’d be curious what you focus a large portion of your time on, I mean, you said you, you like to have, um, some experience with operations side of things, so you want to get that experience as well. Um, and I’m just curious, how do you approach your role, um, and, what’s worked for you? What kind of you have, what have you parlayed into your leadership style? That’s that’s worked well, do you think,

Tabitha Hickman:
Um, I think it’s a good question on that. I’m sure that like anyone that you talk to you probably is going to have a totally different answer. I’m so-

Mark Eckerle:
Everyone has a different answer. I like to pick everyone’s brain to see.

Tabitha Hickman:
Curious to see what some of your other guests have had to say. Um, I think that one of the things that is a challenge and an opportunity. A challenge and an opportunity for somebody coming into a CFO role, or even somebody just in finance in general, in a startup is that things are always changing. And you always have to be looking like six months into the future and ascertaining, like, what is it that you’re going to need? What kind of, um, opportunities are going to present themselves? How is finance going to respond to that? How are we going to staff for that? What kind of processes or competencies do we need? I think one of the things that you can easily fall into is trying to stay lean, um, being very comfortable with your workload and then things kind of balloon and you’re not caught up.

Tabitha Hickman:
And so I think one of the things that I, I spent a lot of time thinking about is, okay, what is the strategy for our business? What is product saying is going to happen? What is compliant saying it’s going to happen and how can finance respond and how are we staffing? Are we hiring appropriately to do that? I think the other thing that happens when you go from being sort of a one person team to know where we are now, which is a 15 person finance team, um, how are you able to kind of like a, of things? I think, you know, we all come in with certain skillsets and I think I’ve never had, you know, an accounting background or an accounting skillset. Um, so it was very obvious to me that the first person I needed to hire was a really strong controller. And we have a great controller who introduced us to Withum.

Tabitha Hickman:
Um, and he was helped to build out that team. But when you start to get bigger and bigger, you really have to think about like, how can I best, um, find people who are even better than me at these things, because they’re the people who are going to take us to the next level. Um, so I think that’s, uh, that’s one thing that, um, I constantly think about a lot. Um, the other things that I do and I, and I suspect most people in finance do is you’re just constantly looking at the metrics, like, where are we today? How are we pacing to our plan? You know, what’s that going to look like? You know, for the end of the quarter, um, what changes or revisions are we going to need to make? I think if you’re always thinking about the numbers, you’re always thinking about the forecast in something like the financial implications. And I suspect that that that never really goes away.

Mark Eckerle:
Yeah, you, you really, you hit the nail on the head where two things that were taught to me early on in my career that I’m still trying to just understand, as I grow in my career is one is, you’re only as good as what you know, and what you don’t know. So recognizing differences there. And the other one was that being, you can only get so much done. So being able to move up in your career, you have to be able to pass the work down because we are comfortable with what we know and just doing it ourselves, but being able to let go, like you said, it’s, it’s so much more easier said than done

Tabitha Hickman:
Inspiring. It’s very hard. And I think, you know, when you, um, when you think about scaling and growing, and I’m sure this is not just finance, but all functions, um, how, who you hire and how you hire, but more bluntly, like how you onboard someone and making that investment in ensuring that they have a good experience that they’re, um, given all the tools that they need, that they’re given all the context. And that can be very hard because sometimes that context is in your head and you don’t want to take the time or have the time to document it. But making that investment, I think will definitely reap dividends, you know, farther down the road.

Mark Eckerle:
Gotcha. So, so overall, how how’s your experience been? I mean, you’ve, you are a one person team. You’re now a 15 person team. Talk to me, talk me through that transition because there’s a lot of companies out there that are still small and growing, um, the technology ecosystem. So you, you’ve kind of already built out a full accounting and finance team. What was that like? I mean, it’s been a four year fast journey, and I’m just curious to get your thoughts. I mean, it’s a lot of moving parts that you’re wearing a lot of different hats I’m sure,

Tabitha Hickman:
Sure. And so I think it is, as you mentioned, um, sort of identifying like, well, what can I do as an individual and how can I be, how can I utilize my strengths and, you know, right off the bat, what do I need and what do I not have? You know? And so, you know, again, you know, my background is much more in kind of like the FP and a, um, and to a certain degree, the treasury space with payments, definitely not in accounting. So it was a priority to, to hire, um, into, into the controllership and into the accounting space first, um, subsequent to that we expanded into, um, into FP and a, um, and, and help to staff that group. And I think if I had any regret it’s that we didn’t do that more quickly simply because the business has grown. And as you’re looking at different opportunities, you want to make sure you’re threading finance through all of that analysis so that you can say, you know, is this a smart place for us to spend money?

Tabitha Hickman:
Is this an opportunity that we’re missing? Um, the third big area that we invested in is tax. Um, I know that that might seem somewhat counterintuitive, but, um, because teachable has this, this bifurcated revenue model, um, we have not only to deal with things like Wayfair, um, which is, you know, obviously become a very big, uh, challenge for a lot of businesses, digital businesses, but because of our marketplace, we also have, um, workplace facilitator requirements that we need to be mindful of because we’re selling products through our gateway. And so, um, that’s actually become a very big area of focus and will be an increasing area of focus, um, as we staff up, uh, not only for U.S. Tax compliance, but also for our worldwide tax compliance. So it’s probably been, you know, kind of sequential in terms of how we thought out each of those teams, but really it was much more about again, like where are we going to be in six months?

Tabitha Hickman:
And what is it that we’re lacking right now that we need to fill? Or what might we need to fill in that six months? So for example, we hired our first tax person, um, about a year ago. And you know, that team will probably be three or four people by the end of this year. And it was because a year ago we said, okay, we know that by the end of this year, we’re going to have to have certain, uh, certain aspects built into our product to address sales tax. So we need to get ahead of that. So we make sure that there’s somebody there on the finance side to match that product opportunity.

Mark Eckerle:
Yeah. Tax, taxes aren’t the most exciting topic, but it’s one of the, it’s one of those necessary evils where you just, you have to, it’s one of those things you have to do every year.

Tabitha Hickman:
Absolutely, it’s very complicated

Mark Eckerle:
And it’s only getting more complicated every year. They never make it simpler. That’s true. So supporting your role, as you said, looking into the future am, I’d be curious over the last year or two, you said you came out with a couple of new products, the discover, not the, not marketplace, the discover search engine to find the courses. Um, and there was the, the creator content where they, I believe you mentioned what, what is on the horizon? What I, I guess what is 2020 or 2021 look like as far as building out next adventures? Is there anything that you guys are trying to work with? See potential opportunities? I’m curious.

Tabitha Hickman:
Yeah. I think it kind of goes back to what we talked about at the top of the conversation. Um, we are serving this very dynamic environment. We’re serving a market that continues to grow. Um, but we need to continue to be nimble. We need to respond to that. And one of the main, um, areas in which we’re going to do that is by increasingly broadening what you can do on teachable. So, um, yes, you can, uh, create a course. Yes, you can offer coaching. Um, yes, you can kind of hack your way into an ebook, but we want to make, you know, our platform effectively the operating system for the creator economy, so that you can do more things like podcasts, for example, or books, or, um, create like a cohort space, cohorts based challenge. If you want to, um, all within this one ecosystem and sort of in parallel to that, um, one of the things that differentiates teachable from some of our competitors is that we do have this payments offering.

Tabitha Hickman:
So, you know, you come to Teachable, you start selling things, you know, we manage your money, we manage your taxes in the United States. We manage taxes in the EU. So we make it very easy for you. Um, we offer you multiple different ways to, um, allow your students to pay. We offer multiple different currencies. The whole idea, being that like, if you have, you know, this sort of this capability, this payments capability, that’s a differentiator, you’re obviously going to lean into that going forward. So in addition to enabling people to offer more stuff on teachable, um, we’re continuing to invest in our payments offering. Um, and that requires heavy investment and compliance having tax, since we talked about when it’s the kind of thing that will enable our creators to not think about the hard stuff so that they can think about the stuff that they love.

Tabitha Hickman:
So, you know, this year we’re, for example, making some changes, um, on our checkout page so that our creators can have more ways to sell to their students and more ways to bundle and create different offerings so that they can have upsells and, uh, little bumps and things like that that help them increase their order value and provide more value to their students. Again, we’re also investing in, uh, expanding our sales tax capabilities outside of the United States to other markets. So those are the types of things that we’ll continue to see, probably not just in 2021 for, probably for the next three years.

Mark Eckerle:
Yeah. I could, I could really see that, that payment process for uh almost blowing up on the backend because it’s, as people want to produce more content, they’re not really thinking of what’s going on behind the scenes. Right. So having to be onboard and working closely with, with teachable, it’s one of those things to nice, nice to know that that’s being taken care of. Um, cause like you said, if you weren’t focused on their passion, their hobbies producing that content, whether it’s on YouTube videos or writing articles, newsletters, or Tik TOK videos, whatever it may be. It’s just to know that it’s all being taken care of by, by you and your team.

Tabitha Hickman:
Correct. Exactly.

Mark Eckerle:
So, so jumping on, I guess, going back, we talked about the future a little bit. What, what was 2020, like for you and the company? How, how have you guys kind of transformed through to this new virtual environment? What was, what was COVID’s impact on the company not to get too, um, I guess negative here, but I’m just curious, how did you survive through this whole pandemic? I mean, it’s always nice to hear how companies are doing, and I’m just curious to know what, what you and your team did.

Tabitha Hickman:
So I think from a, from an overall business standpoint, um, COVID was hugely beneficial to teachable. Um, you know, we saw a dramatic inner kind of acceleration in revenue and interest and I don’t think that’s a surprise. Um, from a, from a company standpoint, from an employee standpoint, it was obviously very challenging. Um, I think that goes without saying that, um, even with all the, all the tools that we have and even with all the efforts that we’ve made to, to stay in touch, um, you know, it, it has been challenging for, for the, for the company and for our team. Um, we were also, we were acquired last year by a company in Brazil. And so, you know, that adds an additional element of complexity. Um, I think that what we’ve done very successfully is really maintained a lot of our, um, communication cadence and maybe increased it across the company.

Tabitha Hickman:
So, you know, we have bi-weekly all hands. Um, we have daily standups with many of our teams, I think for some people, maybe people for whom, um, one-on-one or interpersonal communication, might’ve been a bit more challenging. They actually felt a bit more open in kind of like a technologically, um, facilitated environment. I think we’ve done a good job of trying to, to maintain those channels and, and, you know, our people team has done a phenomenal job of providing different virtual events and different virtual, um, get togethers and things that we’ll, we’ll try and keep those close. What I do think it’s done, however, is it’s made us rethink a lot about remote work, um, and about the office, as I’m sure like other people are thinking, we moved into our office roughly two weeks before COVID started this big new office where we were going to put like hundreds of people and tell them yeah.

Tabitha Hickman:
You know, um, that’s kind of a painful bill to, to see each month. Um, but as we’ve been able to, um, number one become more successful working remotely and as people have started to kind of rethink how they want to balance work and balance life, um, I think as a company we’ve become much more open to remote work and that was not something that we were very open to before. And so we are not coming back to the office before September, but when we do what we’re allowing our teams to do is to decide like, do you want to be kind of a hybrid, um, team and come into the office sometime and not be in the office other times? Um, or do you want to take the approach that you’re going to allow people on your team to be remote? Um, so for example, in finance, um, we actually have a few people now who will always be remote.

Tabitha Hickman:
They will never come to New York, um, or maybe they will come for special events, but they will always live somewhere else. And so, um, it’s been a change for us. Um, I think it’ll require some rethinking about how we reconfigure the office when we get back. Um, it also requires us to think very hard about how do we ensure that all these people who are remote, you know, still remain kind of like connected to the company. And we’re starting to think about, you know, what that looks like. Um, but it’s also, um, given us a lot more freedom in terms of talent acquisition. Uh, we can reach into different markets that we wouldn’t have approached before. Um, we can find people with much more diverse backgrounds and different perspectives. And so that’s been kind of, um, I think a pleasant surprise, but we might not have like, um, embraced.

Mark Eckerle:
Yeah. I think that’s one of the neat things that this has kind of opened everyone’s eyes to is the aspect of remote work and just the offering of talent. Right? You can, you can hire anyone, you can work wherever you are. I mean, and I love what you said there, where you said it opens up to everyone’s perspectives and ideas because everyone comes from different backgrounds, they have different upbringings they’ve been all over. So just having some different, different voices in the room is nice for brain storming activities and things like that.

Tabitha Hickman:
Absolutely.

Mark Eckerle:
So, so what recommendations would you have for, for other C-suite executives? I always ask everyone this question. It’s one of my closing questions. Um, was I just like to pick everyone’s brain? What, what tips would you have that you’ve experienced at your career that you think really helped you? Um, that would be good advice to other people. Maybe if they were the one man or one person, one woman finance team starting out back in 2017 that you think would be nice. Had you known that?

Tabitha Hickman:
Um, I think that

Tabitha Hickman:
It’s-

Tabitha Hickman:
As I said, it’s important to always be thinking ahead, like, don’t get caught up in like what’s happening today or next week, but think about, you know, kind of where you need to be six months down the road. And I, I use six months as a timeframe because 12 months is probably too long and like, things can change the way to mention all at once.

Mark Eckerle:
Everyone tends to use twelve months.

Tabitha Hickman:
I mean, look at what happened in the past 12 months. Right. We didn’t think about that. Um, so I think like, think about where you want to be in six months where you could be and like, are you making steps and strides and, and putting resources in place to get there? Um, the second thing I would say is, and maybe this is just me, but people pay like far less attention to, um, lots of detail than you think, right? Like you can have this great presentation and you can have like all this detail and talking to investors and they’re not going to remember like 99% of what you said.

Tabitha Hickman:
So like really focused on like the five things, but like, you really want to get across and like, make sure you’re like rock solid on those five things. And you can explain them very well because all the detail in the world isn’t going to matter if you can kind of explain those five things. Um, and I guess like the last thing I would say is when you think about the people that you’re hiring, um, think very hard about not hiring people that are like you, I mean, you’re always going to have sort of a natural affinity for people maybe with, you know, similar background or like, you know, some with some of the same people or, um, maybe you have like a similar trajectory, but I think it, the more that you can bring on people who will challenge you and who will challenge your perspective with mutual respect, um, you know, the stronger your team is going to be, and the better it is for the company.

Mark Eckerle:
I think that that’s perfect. I mean, people may not be comfortable being challenged, but again, it helps with that brainstorm activity. You bring other ideas into the room and you’ll be better off at the end of the day. I think, and people may not be comfortable, but it’ll work out for the better. Perfect. Well, that, that wraps up today’s episode with Tabitha. Thank you for joining me today.

Tabitha Hickman:
Thank you so much. It was fun.

Mark Eckerle:
Awesome. Feel free to learn more@teachable.com and we will see you all on the next episode of found the Ditech. Thank you for tuning in. If you liked it, once you hear more, you can follow us and subscribe.

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