Wharton MBAs cooking up the next-billion dollar web success might think they’ve got their entrepreneurship 101 after taking that MGMT801 class. But what about Agile Project Management with SCRUM, Data-Driven UX Design, A Hands-On Introduction to Building Wireframes, or Making Something People Love? These are just a few of the online and on-campus courses offered by General Assembly (GA) to equip entrepreneurs with the technology and design skills needed to succeed.
What started out as a modest co-working space in New York’s Flatiron District is now a global network of entrepreneurs spanning over a dozen international campuses. Taught by respected practitioners from places like Google, Gilt, and Warby Parker, General Assembly’s hands-on courses in product development, design, and marketing have now been taken by >30,000 entrepreneurs.
Since its 2011 launch, GA has raised over $14M in funding from investors like Zappos’ Tony Hsieh, Reddit’s Alexis Ohanian, DST’s Yuri Milner, Maveron and Bezos Expeditions. This week, we sat down with GA founder Jake Schwartz (WG’08) to learn more about the GA story and his thoughts on MOOCs (massive open online courses), MBA entrepreneurs and the ever-lingering ‘WhartoniteSeeksCodeMonkey’ meme.
Wharton Journal: Tell us how General Assembly has evolved since 2011.
Jake Schwartz: We were 4 people when we opened in 2011 – now we’re 150. What we offer has evolved too – 2 years ago this month we had just launched our first long-form course. And of course we were only in New York – now we’ve got campuses all over the world.
WJ: How does GA differentiate itself from Coursera, Khan Academy and other players in the online education space?
JS: We started as an offline space, and still today most of what we do happens in person. We use online tools and content where it’s useful but we strongly believe that our campuses are at the core of what we do and who we are.
WJ: How do you see the MOOCs model evolving over the next couple of years and how does GA fit in this landscape?
JS: What’s interesting about MOOCs is that there’s a tremendous amount of hype and press covering them, but it’s unclear how much actual impact they’ve had. We care way more about the quality of the experience for our students, the outcomes our students achieve, and the community that gets formed in the process. Delivery of content is just a small piece of equation.
WJ: GA has been quick to expand to new markets. You now have 14 campuses in places as far as Hong Kong, Australia and Berlin. What measures does GA take to maintain the quality of teaching and community amid rapid growth?
JS: There was a period of time where we grew very fast and expanded locations as fast as we could. We’ve learned a lot since then. We invest a lot in curriculum and in training our regional directors. We insist on being the best at what we do everywhere we do it.
WJ: How effective do you find MBA programs in providing entrepreneurs the right tools to be successful? What are the missing pieces, if any, and how might experiences like those provided by GA fill those gaps?
JS: I use a ton of what I learned at Wharton every day. The frameworks you use in B-school, like strategy and HR, become really useful especially when you grow to our current size. The missing pieces are all around the tactics you employ to make stuff actually happen. How to sell your first client, how to build your first product, etc. This is what we do at GA – teach practical skills that are immediately applicable in the workforce.
WJ: What’s your take on the ‘WhartoniteSeeksCodeMonkey problem’, and do you see any change in the way the tech / startup community sees the value of MBAs?
JS: I think that’s so funny – and definitely true. I don’t think startups are ever going to value MBAs the way large companies do – it’s just not the paradigm that works when you’re hustling early on. But that doesn’t mean MBAs can’t add value – they just have to leave the sense that they’re special at the door. I also think MBAs should seriously consider adding other skills to their toolbelt – whether it’s coding or design or whatever– anything that makes it clear the tactical value you can bring to a team on day one.
WJ: You’ve taken proactive steps to engage the Wharton community in the past, including offering a Field Application Project last spring (which I was a part of). How else can Wharton MBAs interested in learning more about GA get involved?
JS: I love having Wharton students get involved at GA. Stay informed about what’s happening and what classes we’re offering, and come to events. While you’re still in Philadelphia, we have livestreams and products you can use – to make sure you’re getting some tactical knowledge in between all those case studies!
Jake Schwartz (WG’08) (second from left) with General Assembly co-founders at GA’s London campus