PP62

Ben Wong

CEO of Academy Xi
Simon chats with Ben Wong, CEO of Academy Xi.

Show Notes

Academy Xi is a future-focused education company that provides courses and training programs in the areas of human-centered design, business and emerging technologies to working professionals, looking to skill up or companies interested in building capability.

You can contact Ben here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/benjaminjameswong/


Transcript

Simon Dell: Welcome to the show, Ben Wong. He is in Sydney at the moment. How are you today?

Ben Wong: I’m very good. Thank you, Simon. Yourself?

Simon Dell: Not too bad at all. How is sunny Sydney?

Ben Wong: It is very nice, actually. I can see it on my balcony, and just looking at out into the nice blue sky. Very good, thank you.

Simon Dell: Perfect. You are the CEO and co-founder of Academy Xi, which for anybody who wants to have a quick look at that, is AcademyXi.com. Do you want to give us a quick overview about what you are, who you are, and what you do at Academy Xi?

Ben Wong: Yeah, definitely. To start off, Academy Xi is a future-focused education company. We provide practical skill-specific courses in the areas of design, emerging technology and business. Also, for people who want to upscale, transform to new careers, or build their own businesses, as well as helping businesses build capability internally t1o ultimately grow their business or improve their experience. 

We’ve been around for 3 1/2 years now. When we first started the business, it was really about, “How do we create a powerful network or a community of people that could then go on and make impact in the world?” That became the real part of our vision of how do we empower our students. How do we empower people with the right skills so that they can go on and make that impact?

For myself, I started my career very early in the areas of finance. It was a funny journey along from where we came. I went to finance. I threw myself into the world of startups, learned some great lessons and made some good mistakes. I fell into digital education, actually. It was one of those things that I had never expected, but found some purpose in it all and made the opportunity to make impact to the world.

When I left that role, I decided to really bring this vision to life of how, back in the day… And I always thought I hated education or learning, and it was actually, I just hated the structure of how it was built. It wasn’t really right for me. It wasn’t the right, conducive environment for me to learn. We created Academic Xi, it was a really exciting journey, and here we are today.

Simon Dell: You’ve started off, you mentioned, in finance. What sort of took you in that direction? What attracted you to the finance space?

Ben Wong: To be honest, I studied accounting and marketing, and I literally went for the first job at Westpac. The first interview I was able to get, and I got it. Being a uni grad and having worked in a bar before, it was a pretty great opportunity. I leaped into the opportunity. I did get stuck there for three years, but after realizing it wasn’t the right place for me, I quickly got out of the world of finance and private wealth and leaped into the world of startups.

Simon Dell: I want to talk about your first startup, Hire a Human. That marketplace, for anyone who doesn’t know what that is, it was a marketplace for hiring and finding casual hospitality staff. Is that right?

Ben Wong: That is correct, definitely.

Simon Dell: You mentioned earlier on about you having worked in a bar. I guess you saw a gap in the marketplace there and thought that this could fill that.

Ben Wong: Definitely. I was surrounded by a bunch of younger people that were all going out, doing great things, and constantly looking for casual staff. They were using a range of different ways to try to find staff, from asking friends, to looking on Facebook groups, to trying to post on Gumtree, all sorts of different places. I think that sort of made sense to me in terms of, “Well, there’s people looking for these skills and it’s not as easy as it seems to find them.” I saw that marketplace model as a difficult model in retrospect, but upon looking at it, it was a great opportunity to connect people together, who needed both services and act as an intermediary for the two.

I think seeing that opportunity was a really interesting thing, because it all made sense at the time. We were able to get some good traction with it, but at the end of the day, building a marketplace is an extremely challenging piece. If you have the workers, there are a whole lot of people that are willing to do work, then you have to find the customers, and you have to balance that as you grow. A marketplace is, regardless of what it is, it must have a strong community to begin with. It becomes very difficult because you’ve got to keep building each one as it goes. If you don’t supply the right amount on each side, you hit roadblocks along the way.

Simon Dell: Is that what happened to that startup? You kind of filled one side of the marketplace but didn’t manage to fill up the other side?

Ben Wong: Part of it was like that, but I think at the end of the day, what I sort of realize is that you need some pretty powerful skills to be able to do that and a pretty strong network. One thing I realized once again in retrospect was that you need to really understand the customer that you’re building your business for. I tried to build way too many categories at the start. I tried to do way too many things from bartenders, to photographers, to videographers. Pretty much everything and anything in hospitality. 

As you’re building that marketplace, you’re not actually adding a lot of value to many people. You’re only adding a little bit of value to many people. So, you need to add more value to a specific group of people, do something really well, and add a lot of value, and then build out. That was the big mistake that I found. I also made some challenging mistakes around the tech in terms of its scalability. There’s a lot of really powerful learnings with that, and I sort of raised a small amount of capital, like $100,000.

When you had all these big startups like Oneflare, Airtasker, all the big marketplaces all converging who are doing similar things in some sort of nature, it became pretty challenging and I went, “I probably don’t have the capability, let alone the resources to be able to make this happen.” You also need a level of passion. When things are so challenging, you need to really believe in the vision and really believe in what you’re trying to do. Otherwise, the odds will stack against you.

At that point, I sort of went, “Wow, this has been a great learning experience.” But realistically, to take it to the next level would be out of my depth or scope at the time. I threw in the towel and learned some great things. It was a great experience for a startup.

Simon Dell: One of the most interesting things you said there is about the simplification about overcomplicating that initial offering. Is that one of those sort of things that you’ve learned and taken forward into other projects?

Ben Wong: Yeah, completely. My big belief is: focus on your first 100 or 1,000 customers. Focus on delivering to them an incredible amount of value, and then you start to branch out into new products, new services, or new markets. Because at the end of the day, that should be a philosophy for any business. If you’re not doing anything that well, then why would people really want to join you or use your service or product?

I definitely have applied it to my current business and previous businesses before that. As an advisor, mentor, any other founders, that’s a key piece of advice; you want to focus on the user experience. If you’re not solving a problem for your user, you’re not doing anything. That’s a really important thing to learn. That, for me, to what we did today, teaching user experience design, that is one of the great ways that I sort of learned user experience design, by accident. I learned that if you don’t focus on your customers or your users and you don’t solve their problems, then what are you doing?

I think a lot of businesses or early stage startups, that’s the challenge. What’s the unique point that you’re going to be able to provide? What’s your unique value proposition? Are you really solving the problem at hand and are you really creating a great experience? Are users going to come back and use your service? I think that’s the challenge with marketplaces in general. If you look at many of the marketplaces, how do you retain your customer? How do you make sure that they keep coming to use your service and they don’t override or escape your usual processes?

Because many people will start to go off platform because they realize that there’s no value for it anymore. They’ve got their reviews. They’ve got their initial services, and they can go directly to the customer. It’s only when certain platforms really make that experience seamless and solve problems that facilitate that transaction, that’s when you start to get real value and real retention.

Simon Dell: There’s that story about when Facebook launched. There was a competitor to Facebook, and I can’t remember the name of it. It actually had launched a couple of months earlier and did something very, very similar, but they overloaded it with features. Whereas Facebook, at that time, was a fairly simple, stripped-down, user-friendly interface. Whereas the other one, which had more money, more investment, better people, had absolutely jam-packed it with features and actually made it harder to use than Facebook.

It’s interesting that you say that that kind of overloading too much into these startups and not focusing on the user experience is an important lesson for everybody. And I say not just for startups, for existing businesses who want to branch out and create other products or channels for their business.

Ben Wong: Definitely. You’re spot on there. If you look at some of our biggest, most successful companies. When Google started, it was a simple search bar. Yahoo! really failed because it was completely saturated and distracting. Why would you use Yahoo! over Google when not only the algorithm is better but it’s so simple that anyone can use it, and all you need to do is type in those details? You look at Uber, they had a very simple interface.

They made it really good. They made it simple. Everyone could use it. You look at Instagram, same thing; a couple of buttons. Snapchat, all these great services and products have really focused on the user and made it really simple to solve a problem that they’re looking to do, whether that be taking pictures and uploading them, or whether it be getting from point A to B via Uber.

It really is something that I think many businesses neglect. Sometimes, you have to learn it the hard way or you learn it by practice. I think definitely encourage people to really think about that as they grow their businesses.

Simon Dell: Let’s talk about the early days of Xi. When you sit there day one and go, “Here’s a proposition. Here’s what we’re going to do.” You’ve kind of narrowed down your idea. You’ve got some people on board. Day one, how did you go down and find students to become part of the Academy?

Ben Wong: We were quite fortunate because we had a network already. My co-founder had a bit of a network already. I had been playing in the space for quite a while. So, we were fortunate to get those initial customers through network. But to be honest, we hit that first intake of students, and that all went well.

But then getting those additional customers where it’s outside of your network and you’re trying to reach a wider audience became really challenging. You’ve got to build that trust. You’ve got to build that credibility, just like any brand, you’ve got to do that. But with educational trading, when there’s a higher price point, people in businesses need to know that you’re reliable and credible.

It was all about building that credibility in the market, really providing that care of customer service, and that’s what really set us apart. I was on the phone for the first year and a half doing sales because I think people really needed that guidance, they needed that trust. They needed the ability to feel confident that they could trust us.

Once we overcame that barrier, it really became quite powerful in terms of people recognize the brand, and for those that didn’t know us, once they got to know us, they typically would choose us. I think it’s about building that credibility, building that brand. Once you’ve achieved that, then things become about how to reach more people. That’s the next challenge that you get through.

It’s a lot of hustle in the early days in building those relationships and demonstrating that value. And so, we would go above and beyond to make sure our students really have a great experience. I think their expectations were overmet. I think that’s the key part. If you can, once again, back to that comment before. If you focus on your first 100 customers and you really deliver a great service, then you get that powerful referral factor which we’re able to achieve.

Simon Dell: We’ll talk about the specific marketing channels in a minute, but one of the things I want to go back to is that comment that you just said, where you spent the first year on the phones. One of the ongoing themes that I hear from successful startup people is that they did spend the first year, two years, really hustling. I hate the word hustling because that’s a Gary Vaynerchuk word. It suggests you’re doing something wrong or you’re doing something dirty. You’re doing something unscientific or unspecific.

I think it’s more about just the ability to sell. I don’t like hustling. I like the word selling, because that’s essentially what you’re doing. One of the themes I’ve heard back from a lot of startup CEOs is that they spent that early time selling. They previously learned the ability to sell somewhere else and that they now think that the ability to sell, stand in front of a complete stranger and present your case for your business, is a very important trait for a startup founder. My question for you is: How important do you think that ability to sell is, and where did you learn that ability?

Ben Wong: You’re completely right. I don’t think we would’ve made it to where we are today if we didn’t have that. I think it’s how do you connect with your customers, how do you understand your customers, and really be able to show that value. If you can’t sell your value or demonstrate your value, your product or service to try to get that traction off the ground becomes very difficult because you’re relying on either really, really good marketing, and probably at that stage, you don’t have that, or an extremely good product that has good uptake at the start and can hit those numbers fast enough to allow you to grow.

For me, I learned that at my last role, having to do that, having to speak to customers. My big philosophy around sales is some people, there’s a dirty stigma of sales, but I think it really depends on what you’re selling. If you believe in your product, if you really believe that you can bring value and then you can live on that brand promise that you sell, then I think selling becomes a critical thing that you need to understand that craft.

When I say a craft, it’s really about coming from a point of authenticity. If you believe in your product, and you genuinely know you can bring value, and then you end up delivering value, then it almost becomes natural. And so, it’s just about being authentic, sharing your perspective, solving their problems so they’re coming to you with a problem to solve. Whether that’s to get you from point A to B or whether that’s helping you get better employment in the case of Academy Xi. People come to us because they either want a new job, a better job, or they want to look better in their current job.

With those things in mind, you need to understand: What are they really trying to achieve? And then outlining how your product or service solves that. If you can’t tell your customer that, then you’re not going to get your customer, especially if you don’t have that credibility in the market. If you have a brand, if you have credibility, then maybe the sales piece is not as important as it is in the early days. But in the early days, if you can authentically tell someone why to trust you and why trusting you is going to solve their problem, why would they choose you? That’s one thing that I think is really critical.

You either need an extremely good salesperson, an extremely good product, or extremely good marketing, and really, you need the more. You can get away with two of the three of them. One of those definitely should be a good product for it to be sustainable.

Simon Dell: I’ve had conversations with other people that have said you should never need salespeople because your marketing should be so good, your product should be so good that you don’t need salespeople. To a degree, I understand that and I would probably argue that where you are in the life cycle of your business at the moment, that may become more and more true. Your reputation is growing. Your marketing is getting better. Your brand is getting more well-known. You’re getting more referrals. Perhaps the salespeople aren’t necessarily needed as much.

To your point, in early days, when you don’t have a comprehensive marketing strategy when your brand isn’t well-known, you’re going to meet a lot of people who don’t know who you are and need to be explained the benefits of using Academy Xi.

Ben Wong: Definitely. It also depends on the price point. If you’re selling a $50 subscription, typically, you just need really good marketing and really good conversion rate optimization. You need to have a good web page that explains exactly what you do so that they can make that decision. But when the decision-making process is a lot bigger with something like a course that costs $3,500, then you need that support and that person to trust that salesperson to make that decision because typically, you’re probably not going to market or answer all the questions just through marketing or what you have on your website.

I think if you look at something else like Salesforce, that’s a big commitment. They already have the brand. But if they don’t, it takes that time to be able to build that trust and that reputation. Or if you were HubSpot, or whatever it is, even though their brand is strong, there’s still that level of sales that is required to know that you’re going to support them through the rest of their journey.

Simon Dell: Those are really good examples. You use HubSpot and Salesforce and you just go, Salesforce has the reputation. It has a high price point and you know it can probably do everything that you need it to do. But the reality is, somewhere along the line, you probably just want to talk to a human and ask them some questions. Even if those questions are already on a website, or already in marketing material, or on social media, it doesn’t really matter. Sometimes, you just need to connect to a human with a human to say, “Is this course right for me? Is this what I’m going to learn? I know this is what you’ve said on the website, but I just need to hear somebody say that to me.”

Ben Wong: Exactly. They want someone to debunk their worries and really know that they can trust that person. It does come down to a lot of trust. Some great companies build that trust through the great products that they do or the great marketing that they do, and they build that brand. There’s that balance where you tend to want to speak to someone if the price point is big enough or the decision making process is big enough. They do want that knowing that someone has told them that it’s going to be alright.

Simon Dell: A perfect example is I run an e-commerce site in New Zealand for a client. We get inquiries through that. It’s a fairly simplistic product. You either want it or you don’t want it. I would probably say that of all the hundred orders that go through that site, there’s probably two or three where you get emails where the people are asking you questions that the information is there on the screen in front of them. But they just need somebody to reinforce the answer to them. They need a salesperson to say, “Yes, you’re doing the right thing. Yes, that is the right measurement. Yes, that is going to be good enough for what you need.” It’s interesting that sales is still such an important part of any startup. I think a lot of startup people forget that that is such a key part of growing a business.

Ben Wong: Exactly. That’s why you see, with a lot of e-commerce sites, or just any sort of website in general now, you have that live chat function. Because even if someone in live chat tells you that’s going to be okay, it’s in writing. I went to a site one time and I just wanted to ask a few questions because I wasn’t sure. I got my answers back. And knowing that that was in writing and that I had my answer, because I was a bit worried about the decision, that provided me with the confidence. Even though it was a small transaction, I just had that confirmation that that was right.

Simon Dell: Sometimes, nothing can replace that human-to-human interaction for some people, even for small transactions or big transactions. The other thing I wanted to ask you specifically then: As you run today, what are the marketing channels that work well for you? Where do you invest your marketing dollars? Is it in content generation? Is it paid Google ads? Is it search engine optimization? What are the things that generally attract new customers to you?

Ben Wong: We have a quite diverse marketing mix, and the reason is because we’ve got to reach a wide variety of people and we’ve also got to build that trust, back to that point before. One of our high-converting channels is our event series because we run a bunch of events, people come down to our campus, they see the great speakers, they feel like this is a real place, it’s a place that I feel comfortable and represents the brand that I feel aligned to. That does work quite well. Outside of that, we use Google Adwords.

Simon Dell: You’re talking about that person-to-person interaction. So, you can do all these things online, but when they actually come down and meet people and see people, all of a sudden, it reinforces massively that this is the brand for them or this is the place they should be learning.

Ben Wong: Exactly. It’s a good quality conversion opportunity where people want that touch point. They might come from a Google ad, they might come from a referral. We do a lot of search. We do some Facebook marketing. We’ll do some Instagram marketing. We obviously use email channels. We have meetup groups, bring people to the community. It gets them a feel of the brand. Once they feel confident that they’re aligned with the brand and that we can deliver that value, then that helps the decision-making process, typically.

But I think we definitely want to do expand our marketing channels. We’re looking options from YouTube pre-roll to just extending our content marketing piece. We’ve done the other channels like PR before, which is good. It helps us reinforce that trust. For us, we want to keep expanding our channels and offering more value, more content. We’ve just recently hired a CMO, which is really exciting. He’s coming forward and is really passionate about really sharing the vision, sharing the great stories.

One thing that I’m keen to move forward in, and we haven’t done as well as we could, is we have so many amazing outcomes, so many amazing stories, and we’re not sharing them enough. We’re also looking for a really creative content person to help join the team to start sharing the stories a bit better, because I think that’s one thing that — I want to get back to that thing of trust. Share the outcome, share the great results because people can align to that. I think if you have a great product and you have great results, then make sure you tell the world about it, because that’s the great way to really show what you can do.

Simon Dell: On another front, what about some of the technical stuff from a marketing background? What do you guys use in terms of software for things like tracking your students, or sending out emails? What are some of the pieces of software that you guys might be using within the business?

Ben Wong: We’re actually going through a process right now. We’re moving from our CRM, Close.io to potentially Salesforce which we’re currently in the process at the moment. We’re also using things like ActiveCampaign. That basically helps automate a lot of the emails. We’ve used other software, Google Analytics and a whole bunch of other analytical tools. I think for us, another good one is live chat. I think we use Intercom or Drift, one or the other.

That really helps drive a lot of great opportunities, because what we find is that people want that immediate response but they don’t necessarily want to speak to someone on the phone. Or they may want to. They’ve just landed on the website, and that connects them directly to both our course advisors who can be anywhere. They can be on their mobile phone and can respond to this. It enables a lot quicker response and that feeds in back into our CRM system. We use MailChimp. We’re in the process now of a new CMO to revamp our marketing strategy and also the tools that we use.

Simon Dell: Interesting. I’ve used ActiveCampaign before. I know you’re revisiting them now, but how did you decide on what you were going to use when you pick things like that? Did it just happen to be the first one that you found, or something that someone recommended?

Ben Wong: To be honest, for that tool in particular, that was one of our team. He chose that as a good opportunity. He actually took our growth marketing course. He came as a student, so I think he probably learned that in the course, and then he’s actually come on and boarded our internal team. He’s just picked up a lot of these tools from some of the greater structures that we work with.

Simon Dell: I just want a little quick diversion before we wrap up, because I want to talk about VR and AR. I’ve had a number of conversations. We’ve had an AR startup on the show. I’m a great fan of the free-roaming VR, zero-latency place, which to me is the next gen for entertainment. What’s your opinion in how AR and VR is going to disrupt business? What are the implications for the average business owner, or are there any implications for the average business owner?

Ben Wong: I like to look in this way that what VR and AR do is they create new experiences. So, they either augment an experience or they create a whole world experience. If you think about it from that perspective, it really comes down to the fact that we’re now moving into an experience economy. We are paying more for experiences than ever. We might be paying less for commodities in some sort of ways because we’re finding cheaper and more efficient ways of creating these commodities. But experiences are one thing that people are looking for more and more.

If you look at it through that lens, I find that AR and VR are an opportunity where it’s going to create completely new experiences that don’t exist or do exist and it makes it more affordable and more cheaper to use those experiences. From that side from a business perspective, it’s going to start to change the way that we create those experiences. For example, now, in AR and in VR, you can skydive and feel like you’re actually skydiving with a VR mask on and you’re hanging from a bunch of ropes. And you think about the cost for the customer to do that as opposed to actually skydiving and the risks that you sort of evolved.

As the technology starts to improve, because although it seems good from one lens, it’s still, you can see where it really will head. So, I think it’s going to start to change the way that we do business from an experience side, so how we make an experience better, would that be to sell a product or service or the product or the service is the experience? I think businesses need to start thinking about how that can affect it, if that’s the industry that they’re in, or the services that they’re providing are experience-based, because that’s going to play a big part in how we change the way we do things.

Once again, it’s still in its early stages. I think it’s more just thinking about how that could affect your industry. We’re never going to have fast technology will move. 

Simon Dell: The challenge I’ve got is that with VR, I can’t see a long-term solution being headsets on the head, just simply because the history of putting glasses or headsets on people is pretty much a disaster from start to finish. You look at Google Glass, you look at 3DTVs, anything where you have to say to people, “We’re going to lock you into your own microcosm by putting a headset on you so that you can’t interact with somebody standing next to you.” That to me is a big challenge. And the challenge I have with AR is that because you’re constantly having to hold your phone up and look through your phone, a new world or a new experience…

You’ve mentioned this right at the start. You’ve got to focus on the user experience, and I’m not entirely sure holding the phone up or putting some sort of headset on my head is going to be a good user experience for long-term, moving forward. What do you say to that? Am I missing something, or is there technology that’s coming to replace those kind of things? What’s your opinion on that?

Ben Wong: Definitely. I break it down to two things: technology and stigma. Technology, if you think about it today, the thing that’s most ubiquitous is our mobile phones. Everyone has a smartphone to some extent. Today, you’re holding your mobile phone out there because it’s the most convenient thing to create this experience. But realistically, the technology’s going to get so much better.

If you think about it, you would’ve never thought 20 years ago that something like the iPhone would exist. But now, you’d be very surprised to think that something like that wouldn’t exist. I think our expectations of what technology can and will become is sort of unknown. We see it in science fiction, and usually once things in science fiction happen, we strive towards making it happen because it’s imagination that we sort of believe in.

There’s still time when our technology’s going to become ubiquitous. It’s going to become seamless. The experience is going to be better, and who knows what that technology will be? I don’t think that you can have a contact lens in your eye today, but realistically, they started to do stuff like that in some sort of element where the screens do become part of how you look. They’ve really got great glasses, like normal reading glasses or sunglasses that start to do some of this stuff.

Once again, if you looked at a phone 20 years ago, it would be a brick. What is it today? I think AR and VR, people have been trying to create VR for a long time. It’s not just 20 years, it’s like over 100 years ago, there were people trying to create VR to some sort of extent. What it was then to what it is today is unfathomable. But I think what would be in 10 years or 5 years is going to be completely different. If you think about that in mind, then that’s going to completely change the possibilities.

If you think about something like online dating, there was a huge stigma around it. Now it’s like, if you’re single and you’re not in online dating, it’s like, what are you doing? I think the stigma around wearing glasses and not talking to the person next to you. We’re pretty bad at that today. We sit on a train and we don’t talk to the person next to us. A hundred years ago, if you’re not speaking to them, you’d probably be rude. The world is changing.

Simon Dell: It’s funny, there’s a great picture that I sent around sometimes on social media where they say — we’re all these zombies staring at our phone when we’re sitting on a train. But they share a picture of a train in the 1930s, 1940s where everybody’s sitting on the train while reading their newspaper and still not talking to anybody.

I think humanity says that we don’t really want to talk to strangers unless we absolutely have to. Whether we’re staring at a phone or a newspaper, I don’t think there’s much difference. I think that technology might come on in leaps and bounds and someone might invent something that would take a big step forward into an area that nobody quite realized was there. I also think in the back of everybody’s heads, everybody’s sitting there going, “Star Trek Holodeck, that’s what we’re all waiting for.” And until somebody invents that, we’re not going to be happy. 

Ben Wong: Have you watched Ready Player One?

Simon Dell: No, I haven’t. 

Ben Wong: I love the movie. It’s really interesting. It’s a bit far-fetched from reality, but it’s a really interesting fact that the virtual world is just so much more exciting than the current world because people can be who they really want to be. I think it’s a really interesting take on how the world works and what could happen. Hopefully, it doesn’t happen down that way, but it’s an interesting take.

Simon Dell: Yeah. We’ve had things like Second Life where people were going into those systems and pretending to be somebody else, and creating an alternative reality. That only appeals to a certain group of people. I think from a mass take up that everyone’s going to be plugging themselves in and transporting themselves to alternative reality, I find very hard to accept. I would love to see a Star Trek Holodeck. I genuinely believe that’s what everybody wants, that’s what everybody wants to see.

Or the other alternative is something like Westworld because everybody wants to go to a cowboy, Midwestern scenario and pretend they’re cowboys. It all sounds very far-fetched, but then as you quite rightly pointed out 20 years ago, the iPhone sounded really far-fetched.

Ben Wong: Anything’s possible if you can imagine it.

Simon Dell: Absolutely. Last three questions. What are some of the other brands that you like and you admire out there? They might be tech brands, or they might be a startup that you’ve seen that we ought to keep an eye on, or they might be a big name brand that everybody else loves; something that has been an affinity for you.

Ben Wong: That’s a hard one. I’ve got a few ones that come to mind for different reasons. I’m a big Elon Musk fan, so Tesla. I’m not a fan of the logo, but I think the branding, the mission, and the brand values that they have in terms of what they’re trying to achieve is powerful. The Thankyou brand is also really nice because what they’re trying to do, they’ve got good purpose, and they’ve managed to create a very, very simple brand with a good product that has a good mission and has a good purpose. I think aligning your mission, and your purpose, and the products being invented in one is really quite powerful.

The last one would probably be IDEO. They’ve got a really good brand value and mission and what they’re trying to do. Really good brands for different reasons. My perspective is I think if you’ve got a vision or a mission that you’re trying to achieve, your brand needs to be able to really represent that. I think these brands do represent that mission rather than just it being simply about the logo. I’m not a big fan of the Telstra logo on cars, but I think the actual brand, and what it represents, and what they’re trying to achieve is pretty powerful.

Simon Dell: I love the Tesla brand. I’m just concerned that it’s all smoke and mirrors. It’s all eventually going to collapse in on itself just because of Elon’s showmanship. Anyway, it feels like a circus. It generally feels like a circus sometimes. And I read a lot about both sides of the opinion about whether he’s a massive fraud or he’s a visionary, and I’m still actually to come down on either side of the fence. I think everyone who is in tech and startups have a bit of an opinion. I generally believe that ushering in the era of electric cars deserves a Nobel Peace Prize. And if for nothing else, if that’s what he does, he should be remembered for that. Unfortunately, he takes it too far. There’s a lot of bullcrap out there.

Ben Wong: That’s the thing, you never know. You don’t know how possible anything is or not. I’m not knowledgeable enough to know that, and I think if someone in the world’s going to do it, it’s interesting to watch and observe. If it becomes possible, we’ll all sort of look back and go, “Wow.” And if it’s not, then we’ll go, “Okay, yeah, thought so.” 

Simon Dell: I watched a video the other day of a Tesla driving itself home. The guy was behind the steering wheel, his hands didn’t touch the steering wheel for maybe 25 minutes, and it drove it all the way home. So I’m like, that’s good. That’s the sort of thing that we want. Anybody who sits there and goes, “I’m never going to give up my car” is lying because quite frankly, we’ve all got a thousand better things to do behind the wheel of a car than actually drive the car. Anyway, my second to last question for you is: What’s coming up for the rest of 2019 for you? What have you got new that you could tell us about, or something happening that you’re excited about?

Ben Wong: We’re in Sydney and Melbourne at the moment. We’ve just launched in Singapore, so we’re just finalizing a few things. We’ve got two people over there that are setting the groundwork up, which is super exciting. We’re partnering with the government to help run our programs over there and help drive their skills, future agenda with putting good talent out to the industry. They’re really focusing on that digital economy and that future of work, which is really amazing to see a government that forward-thinking.

Outside of that, it’s really about being a global presence, so driving our online programs and really expanding our product offering, both on a practical skills delivering perspective but also knowledge-based skills. So, really looking at how we can start launching knowledge-based programs as well as getting that digital literacy up for larger amounts of people in organizations. Outside of that, we’re actually working on Axis.

It’s a hub where we get constantly a lot of people asking for talent and also people asking for project work, for students to do project work. What we’re doing is we’re essentially creating this hub that will automatically link the community or the industry with the opportunities that they have directly to the students, rather than going manually through us. That should add a lot of value where people in the industry can get more affordable work, or they can find really good talent, and also offer a mentorship.

So it links up with people who will want to be mentors with students who want the mentorship. Really just trying to create more value on both sides of the community and our student network, which I think would be a really good differentiator for us of being able to link up the right people without having to charge for that. I think that’s a really good value add that we’re looking to launch.

Simon Dell: I’ll have to say just to sum up: Education, and the way that we educate people, and the manner that we educate people, starting from four-year-olds up to students and that kind of thing, is still very archaic in the way that we do it. It’s still, to me, desperately needing a new approach. I think the things that you’re doing are the start of that change, and I hope more and more people embrace what you’re doing.

There’s a company that I follow in the US called Lambda School, Austen Allred, I follow him on Twitter. Very interesting guy, had some massive success. Similar kind of proposition to what you guys are doing. I think there’s a massive opportunity there, and I think the sooner we can filter it down to the younger generation, the 11, 12, 13 year olds rather than teaching them, making them sit in a classroom and learn something that they don’t need, that they don’t care about, that will make a massive change. Congratulations on what you’re doing.

Final question for you: If anybody wants to get a hold of you, if they want to ask you a question, they want to pick your brain about something, what’s the best way of them getting a hold of you?

Ben Wong: The best way typically is LinkedIn, so Ben Wong. I think my LinkedIn is Benjamin Wong or something like that, but just search me up.

Simon Dell: Benjamin James Wong?

Ben Wong: Benjamin James Wong, that’s it.

Simon Dell: We share an identical middle name.

Ben Wong: Very nice, so Benjamin James Wong on LinkedIn. If you want to search it, it’s Ben Wong. We’d love to connect with as many people and see how I can support or work with anyone.

Simon Dell: Thank you very much, again. Congratulations on the success so far, and I hope it keeps getting better and better. It was great to have you on the show. Thank you for your time.

Ben Wong: Thank you so much, Simon. Really great chat and conversation, so I appreciate you making the time. I look forward to hearing more.

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