Welcome to Daring To, a podcast that finds out how CEOs and entrepreneurs navigate today’s business world – the conventions they’re breaking, the challenges they’ve faced and the decisions that they’ve made, and lastly, just what makes them different.
Nelson Sivalingam is a serial entrepreneur and award-winning filmmaker. In 2016, Nelson co-founded and is currently the CEO of intelligent learning platform HowNow, which helps organizations build skills and work smarter by connecting them with the knowledge they need when they need it – everywhere they already work
HowNow brings together scattered knowledge that lives in different apps, systems, websites and the minds of talent, inside and outside of the organization, into a single, searchable platform. Using leading Artificial Intelligence, HowNow connects the right people with the right learning resources based on their role, team, skills requirements, and organizational goals.
With HowNow, organizations can empower people to learn faster and work smarter with on-demand access to relevant knowledge everywhere they already work – in their inbox, helpdesk, chat tools, on mobile and hundreds of other places.
Intro: [00:00:02] Welcome to Daring To, a podcast that finds out how CEOs and entrepreneurs navigate today’s business world, the conventions they’re breaking, the challenges they face, and the decisions that they’ve made. And lastly, just what makes them different.
Rita Trehan: [00:00:19] Well, joining me today on Daring Two is CEO Nelson Sivalingam, who is the CEO of HowNow. What a great name for a business, HowNow. I mean, it’s like the question that everybody wants to ask about anything that’s going on in the world right now. So, tell us a bit about what HowNow is, because I guess it could be a lot of different things. But put it in your own words. How would you describe your business?
Nelson Sivalingam: [00:00:41] Yeah, it sure. So, Rita, thanks for having me on first. And I guess, HowNow, it’s a workplace learning platform. And we essentially connect people with relevant learning at the point of need, so they can work smarter and upscale faster. And that’s essentially what we do. We work with organizations everywhere from your kind of fast-squaring scale-ups all going up to your corporate enterprises.
Rita Trehan: [00:01:05] So, I’ve got to say, I mean, it’s got to be impressed by you. For a guy that started his first business when he was at university, how do you get from making T-shirts to designing and putting together an online learning platform, which, right now, must be incredibly in demand? So, do you agree of that entrepreneurial spirit come from? I mean, cutting T-shirts to film making, I believe. Do you want to kind of allude to that a little bit?
Nelson Sivalingam: [00:01:33] I think the filmmaking came first. I think there was always a love for films. Myself and my brother, we both loved it. Mom pretty much says she raised us on a movie diet. And so, naturally, we watched a lot of films. One day, you think, “Oh, I could make better films.” And then, got into it like that. So, we ended up kind of setting up our production company. I call it a production company, but it was really a big call for us to get paid to make commercials, music videos, and then, naturally get that money to make our own films.
Nelson Sivalingam: [00:02:05] And the T-shirt business, I think every entrepreneur this generation probably has a rite of passage has had a T-shirt printing business at some point. And ours was just like that at university to my friends and myself, we were like, “Yeah, you know what? A T-shirt that expresses how you feel would be great.” And we, then, applied for a little loan or, actually, a grant that university gets to support entrepreneurs. And I went to Austin University. And we got the grant. And I remember sitting down at the dining table after we got this. I think it’s one thousand pound grant. And we were planning this big holiday we were gonna go on after we sold-
Rita Trehan: [00:02:43] I love it.
Nelson Sivalingam: [00:02:43] … thousands and thousands of T-shirts. And little did we know that that money wasn’t even enough to get started. I mean, there’s quite a sad story around that because we were trying to buy stock from a manufacturer in China, and we didn’t realize how expensive it was to get quality shirts, and we didn’t have enough money for it. So, in the end, we ended up printing thousands of black and white t-shirts that we couldn’t, in the end, plug. So, lessons learned.
Rita Trehan: [00:03:12] You see, there’s quite an interesting story. You know, you thought that everybody having a rite of passage is sort of making the own T-shirt. So, as students or whatever, I remember when we were at school and we finished school, we would sign each other’s shirts or T-shirts as we were leaving. It was kind of like a rite of passage. And maybe you’re right. it was always in us to sort of create this T-shirt kind of business. But actually, you had a massive learning from that. Do you think like too many entrepreneurs sort of go in without enough sort of understanding of the business that they’re getting into? Or do you think that that’s something that actually all entrepreneurs have to go through to be able to be successful in the future? What’s your views on that?
Nelson Sivalingam: [00:03:51] Yeah, I think it could be either way. But I think the one thing that I think has to be consistent is your ability to learn and your ability to learn fast. And I think when I see … I meet a lot of founders and entrepreneurs, and I think the single defining trait for me is not how much they know or how much they didn’t know about a particular sector that they now operate in, but it’s their ability to be able to just absorb knowledge and to proactively put themselves in situations where they can learn and they can learn faster.
Nelson Sivalingam: [00:04:25] And I think, when I look back at all the different things I’ve tried that didn’t work, and there’s more things that didn’t work than the ones that did work, and all of those, I just throw myself in an environment where I can try something and learn from my hands-on experience. And I think whether it’s that film making or the T-shirt printing business, there’s lessons from each one of those to take. And I typically, now, more proactively, I retrospectively look back when things go wrong or when things go right and ask myself, “Would it have been possible for me to learn that lesson faster? And if so, what should I have done?” And so, that’s the kind of common question I ask myself, and it’s a trait I think and founders need to have.
Rita Trehan: [00:05:09] I love that concept of asking yourself. I think that’s the first time I’ve ever heard somebody say that about it’s not about necessarily what you learn from it, but how could you have learned it … how could you have learnt about it faster? So, how could you pick up the speed in seeing some of those problems, or issues, or challenges, or even opportunities earlier in the process? I think that’s a really valuable insight. I love it when I get guests. I always get something. So, I think, like, why can’t I think of that? That is such a cool way of thinking about it. I think that’s a really valuable, sort of, tip for most people actually in any job that they’re doing. It’s like when you have something that doesn’t go the way that you want it to, like what could you’ve done to get to that stage earlier in the process?
Rita Trehan: [00:05:52] Now, most listeners won’t necessarily know this about you, but you and your family actually came over from Tamil and had quite a tough time. You were a young kid, and your family was escaping the troubles of Sri Lanka at the time. I mean, do you think that has made an impact on you, that’s made you sort of fight, be a bit of a fighter and not give up, or do you think that, actually, that didn’t really have that impact, it’s just to you are?
Nelson Sivalingam: [00:06:25] Yeah. So, I guess, my parents in about, I would say, 32 years ago, they migrated from Sri Lanka over to the UK. I was actually born in London, but my older brother, he was born in Sri Lanka, and he came over with my parents. And so, I guess what it does do is I always look back on the fact that that’s a huge risk for anyone to be able to take. And I think every migrant can probably relate to the idea that you’re leaving everything you have, and especially you’re leaving a war-torn country, and you’re leaving not out of choice but out of necessity. You’re essentially leaving everything you have behind. So, your resources, your home, your family, your friends, and just start in a completely alien world and to start from the bottom. And I always think that’s a huge risk.
Nelson Sivalingam: [00:07:18] And when I compare it with any risk I’ve taken in my life, it doesn’t really compare. I would most likely never take a risk of that scale in my lifetime. So, what I always think about is, what am I doing with this risk that my parents have taken? They’ve taken this risk. And now, I have a setup that they didn’t have. So, for me, it’s a question of, am I making the most out of what I’ve been given? And to me, the idea of being in a job that I didn’t enjoy and doing that for a long period of time just to earn a bit more money than my parents did it to get the house, the car, and all of that was it me paying respects to what they had done and what they given me?
Nelson Sivalingam: [00:08:06] And they’ve essentially given me the opportunity to be able to take these risks and with relatively little to lose. And I want to make sure I’m making the most out of it. So, that’s what it’s done. In terms of me pursuing an entrepreneurial career, it comes from that idea. And also, my dad having grown up in a war-torn country, I was quite political from a young age. And hence the reason why my name is Nelson, named after Nelson Mandela. My older brother’s name is Guevara, named after Che Guevara, and my little boy’s name is Anthony off after Mark Anthony. And with this namesake to live up to, my dad was always about doing more and stepping out of your comfort zone. And I think that came from the fact that he sets out of his comfort zone. And I think all of those little things probably drive you to make the decisions you do.
Rita Trehan: [00:09:03] Well, you know what? I think, this should have like a kudos to your mum and dad when they’re listening to this one, in honor of them for, like, giving you guys such great names and putting that much. In a way, sort of shaping you guys to do something more than just be satisfied with life. So, massive shout out to them when they see to this. Yeah.
Rita Trehan: [00:09:25] So, look let’s talk a bit about this entrepreneurial spirit because lots of people would want to be entrepreneurs. And you talk a little bit about your passion. And you’ve got to do something you’re want to be passionate about. You didn’t want to just do a job that you could do and earn some money, but it was something that you really felt you needed to do. And clearly, the big company wasn’t for you. You started your career in some big companies and chose, “Yeah, that’s not for me. I’m not suited to that.” How do you think people need to decide what the right career path is for them? Like choosing to be an entrepreneur or not, like, for you, what were the choices that you went through in making that decision?
Nelson Sivalingam: [00:10:05] Yeah, sure. So, I don’t think I started off saying I wanted to be an entrepreneur. And even when I worked at a couple of big companies, and to be honest, both of these companies had great cultures, it’s just I didn’t enjoy being part of such a large organization where it didn’t matter what you contributed up until you got to a certain level, the impact of those contribution was always quite minimal. And so, I think when I left the kind of larger corporate environment, it was more so to be a part of smaller teams where I could have more impact, and I can see the consequences of my actions within a workplace.
Nelson Sivalingam: [00:10:43] And so, when I left, it was the intention of joining a small company. But at the time, I just happened to get an idea. We still had our production company going, and we’re working on a few things. And then, we thought, actually, if we turn this into this kind of tech business, we might be able to make enough money to one day go produce our own films. That was really what drove me to kind of start HowNow. And so wasn’t the idea of becoming an entrepreneur.
Nelson Sivalingam: [00:11:11] But that being said, when I look back retrospectively now, and I hear people talking about, “Do I quit my job? And do I take that risk? And do I start a business?” there’s one common misconception I’d like to point out is that people think by starting a business, you’re taking a huge risk. And there’s this common association that if you’re a risk taker, you start a business, but I don’t actually think that’s the case. I think there is a bigger risk working for another organization because whether you get made redundant or let go is not in your control. It’s within the control of someone else in many, many layers of hierarchy and authority above you. And to me, that is a risky place to be.
Nelson Sivalingam: [00:11:56] And more so, more than ever before, we realized that during these last couple of months that it’s not a safety net, and it is being risky even if you are being employed by a company; whereas, on the flip side, if you’re a freelancer, or self-employed, or you’re an entrepreneur, you are very much in control of your destiny. No one’s letting you go. And whether you bring in money or not is very much down to you. So, to me, starting a business is me being risk averse. And me being risk averse is me having more control. So, I think people need to flip the way they look at the risk quotient of starting a business is what I would say.
Rita Trehan: [00:12:36] So, I mean, again, you give a really interesting insight as to how you look at things. And it seems to me that the way that you look at things in general and how, probably, you’ve looked at your business is almost like turning on its head and think about almost like the alternative, the opposite of what normally comes to mind around how you think about things. If I think about your learning platform, I mean, you’ve got 500,000 users, is that right, on the platform?
Nelson Sivalingam: [00:13:03] Exactly, yeah.
Rita Trehan: [00:13:03] And I’ve got to say, I’ve been around the block a little bit. I like to describe myself as seasoned rather than out, right? But learning platforms have been around for a long, long time, but yours clearly has captured the imagination of people. And I guess maybe it’s because you’ve had this kind of like alternative view of looking at how people learn. So, tell us about what makes it so different? Because on the skeptic, right? I’ve been around, I’ve been in a job, I’ve seen like loads of learning providers. There are hundreds of that there. What’s so different about HowNow that people are obviously finding really interesting in your company? I mean, you’ve raised a lot of money and got some good backers. So, there’s something in there that’s quite unique. What is it?
Nelson Sivalingam: [00:13:49] Yeah. So, I would say there’s a couple of things that happen. On a macro level, what’s happened is, like you said, you’ve been in the HR space, and you know when you say learning, typically, people refer back to the LMS. And the LMS within your organization, to a large degree, over the last couple of decades, has been used of mandatory and compliance training.
Rita Trehan: [00:14:09] It’s really bad normally, isn’t it? It’s really bad.
Nelson Sivalingam: [00:14:12] Exactly. And so, it’s very much been top down, one size fits all, a uni-directional flow of knowledge, and like I said, it’s compliance and mandatory. And so, what’s happened though more the broader cultural shift where people now realize that compliance might save you from a lawsuit, but it’s not going to save you from disruption. And that’s why some of the biggest industries in the world are being disrupted by startups and scaleups in every sector you can think of.
Nelson Sivalingam: [00:14:40] And so, when you look at, okay, compliance is not enough, we need to essentially build a continuous learning culture to ensure that we’re staying ahead, that’s when you realize your existing learning technology and your existing learning ecosystem and infrastructure wasn’t designed to drive continuous learning. And the easiest way to know that is if you ask an employee in your company, “When I say learning within the workplace, what comes to your mind?” If they turn around and say, “Oh, it’s that thing you asked me to do at the end of the month where I have to do it by a certain deadline, and I need to take that box,” then you don’t have a continuous learning culture.
Nelson Sivalingam: [00:15:18] Now, once you come to that realization, and we came to that realization, and one thing me and my other founders and a wider team have in common is we’ve all been victims of really bad training within the workplace, so we know what bad training looks like. So, about four years ago, we asked ourselves the question, “What would learning look like if you built it from scratch today?” That’s the question we’re answering. We’re not trying to retrofit your legacy on a message. We’re not trying to build on top of it. We’re asking the question of a lot has changed about work, alot has changed about the technology and our relationship with technology as a consumer, how do we take all of that into account and answer this question of what learning would look like today?
Nelson Sivalingam: [00:15:58] And I think that’s what’s happened. I think that’s the response we’re getting with HowNow, because a lot of organizations who had already realized this problem were essentially using a bunch of different tools to hack together solutions, so they can drive the learner engagement up, but they were using tools that weren’t designed for learning. So, when we came about with a completely different focus, a focus of having a single access point for all of your learning, regardless of where that learning lives.
Nelson Sivalingam: [00:16:26] So, whether that learning lives in dozens of different internal app systems and experts, or it’s an external content library, or it’s a global podcast, let’s bring this all together into a single front door because even your most motivated employees don’t know where to go to find the thing they need when it’s scattered across multiple places. And once you put it all together, you can now leverage data and AI in a way to personalize learning to make it meaningful. And this wasn’t possible when you’ve got a small manual team who have to essentially personalize it based on what team you belong to or what role you belong to. That’s not personalizing it in a meaningful way and it doesn’t address the skills gap crisis you have in your organization.
Nelson Sivalingam: [00:17:11] And the last thing that we did that was quite significant is, right now, you typically take someone out of work and into training or into their LMS, but it makes more sense to take the learning and to send it to the places where we work. So, embedding learning within the workflow. And that’s what we did is beyond that, whether a mobile app, we have a Slack app, we have a Microsoft Teams app, and we integrate Salesforce. So, it doesn’t matter where you spend most of your day, the relevant learning is only one click away. And so, you’re able to, now, learn and share knowledge in the flow of work. So, there’s a few things that we completely changed in terms of how learning is done within the workplace. And I think that’s what people have resonated with. And that’s pretty much taking a learn-first approach rather than an admin-first approach to learning.
Rita Trehan: [00:18:01] So, let’s talk about that. I mean, obviously, we’ve got to talk about COVID-19, I hate to say, but we do. And I know lots people are probably thinking they’re coming away to not hear about it. But hopefully, we’re going to talk about it in a positive way. We’ve seen statistics that are showing us that more and more people are taking online courses at the moment as they’re homebound and remote working. They’re using this opportunity to sort of like enhance their skills, and capabilities, and actually grow different capabilities or just learn about new things. How you, as a company, trying to help respond to that because it’s clearly a demand that’s coming? What are you doing to help companies or individuals think that through that this is an opportunity to sort of grasp new skills and new capabilities? Are you doing anything in that area?
Nelson Sivalingam: [00:18:46] Yeah, for sure. So, I guess in the short term, we’ve got a campaign to support furloughed employees. So, any organization with furloughed employees, we’re offering our platform for a pay what you want. Now, when we say pay what you want, people are like, “Hmm, what do you mean?” Seriously-
Rita Trehan: [00:19:02] It’s like the honesty bar, isn’t it? It’s like the honesty bar.
Nelson Sivalingam: [00:19:02] Yes, exactly. And honestly, if people didn’t want to pay, no issue whatsoever. They can have it for free. And we’re giving it away for free. For three months, they can use it, and they can support their furloughed employees. But if they did want to pay all of that money, we support an incredible organization called Room to Read who support millions of vulnerable children who, in particular, have been affected by COVID who have no access to school. And the consequences of them not having access to education is significantly worse than what we see in this country. And so, that’s where the money goes if you do decide to pay.
Nelson Sivalingam: [00:19:43] Now, what you get with that is the entire platform. We’re not cutting back. And what that does is it saves a lot of time and effort from the perspective of the LMS team and the people team, where our platform already generates a range of resources across every business function, everything from developing skills but also things to help you with proactively dealing with your mental health. We curate resources around managing your personal finance and all of that is there. So, on the short term, our platform is there to support your furloughed employees. So, if you’re stuck and you don’t know how to continue to engage your furloughed … and that’s what’s important, you want to be engaging your furloughed employees. You don’t want them to feel like out of sight, out of mind. And you don’t want them to feel there’s a reason why they’ve been left out. And so, we’re there to help with that.
Nelson Sivalingam: [00:20:31] But on more, I guess, mid to long-term, I think there are a few things organizations have realized now. The first thing is this will change a lot of things moving forward, and digital is here to stay. So, all of these organizations have predominantly depended on face-to-face training. They now realize they need to have something in place. And they know that thing is not their traditional LMS they were using for compliance training. That’s not the thing that’s going to get people engaged. And so, they’re looking for solutions to that.
Nelson Sivalingam: [00:21:01] The other thing people realize is newly remote teams are always surprised by how much knowledge is locked up in the minds of the people who work in the company. And so, what you end up doing is you end up slacking or messaging people the same question over and over again to get the answers. And so, organizations realize they need to centralize and bring all of this knowledge together. And so, you can put the collective intelligence of your company to work. And that’s where something like HowNow can help is it’s not just a top down LMS create all of the content, but it’s empowering a bottom-up approach where all of your internal experts can contribute to the knowledge.
Nelson Sivalingam: [00:21:40] So, I think there are a couple of the things that we’re seeing changing and where we can help people over the longer term. And also, we’re now reading data and stories about how people who had Office 365 for a very long time are now starting to use it a lot more. So, teams is getting more engagement. And other tools that you may have had is now getting a lot more engagement. That means what’s happening is a digital transformation project that would have typically taken you months is now being accelerated and condensed into a matter of weeks.
Nelson Sivalingam: [00:22:12] Now, when that happens, you need to make sure people are not left behind. And in order to do that, you need to surface relevant knowledge at the points of need to help people feel comfortable with this new technology. And that’s where HowNow can essentially help you with driving that digital adoption and making sure people are not left behind. So, that’s a few different ways of how we can help.
Rita Trehan: [00:22:36] So, let’s talk about that, because I think that’s something that is going to be coming. If it’s not in company spaces today, it definitely is going to be as soon as they come back to whatever we call it, the new normal and the abnormal, the new world, the future of work, who knows, right? You can call it anything you want. What we all know is that it’s going to be very different to how it’s been before. This idea of the digital transformation, which every company I can think of is set there on some sort of digital journey. And as you’ve said, they are trying to accelerate that.
Rita Trehan: [00:23:08] One of the key things, and you’ve talked about it, and I’ve talked about it is the fact that the automation of certain jobs and certain skills means that there’s a whole plethora of new capabilities that are going to be needed in the future. And equipping people today to have those skills and capabilities is really, really important. So, how do you think you can help companies or how should organizations like yourself be helping companies to really think that piece of the strategy through around how you make sure you’ve got the right skills and capabilities that you’re going to need in the future because it’s normally an afterthought, right, if we’re honest? Most companies wait until the end. And then like, “Oh, my God, what are we going to do? Help! Help!”
Nelson Sivalingam: [00:23:50] Great question, Rita. And I’m sure you’ve seen this in your experienced working in organizations. With skills gaps, it’s the genuine issue both as a business but also as a social issue. We’re essentially saying if people don’t start to upskill and reskill, they’re going to end up being socially and economically irrelevant. And that is a huge problem both socially and as a business.
Nelson Sivalingam: [00:24:16] Now, the first part of that as an organization is how many organizations actually know what skills they have within your organization. How many people? You get all kinds of KPIs that are measured within the business, but how many organizations measure skills? Now, in our experience, nothing.
Rita Trehan: [00:24:35] Zero?
Nelson Sivalingam: [00:24:35] Exactly. And that’s the reason why when you say you’re learning and development, typically, the metric that learning success is measured on is completion rates. It’s how many people completed the course and how many people passed the exam. But what we all know is just because you aced an exam, it doesn’t make you great at your job. And you need to be able to … that learning is not the end. It’s the means to an end. And the end is acquiring skills.
Nelson Sivalingam: [00:25:03] So, the first part of addressing this problem within an organization is measuring skill. So, within HowNow, what we essentially do is we collect and analyze millions and millions of job posts to identify what the most in-demand skills are for any particular job title. So the moment you join the platform, we know your job title, we can tell you based on market data, “These are the skills that you need to have.” At that point, for a process of self-review and peer-review, and that peer reviewed can be done by your senior colleagues or managers, and what we do is almost like a mini 360, but to get a perspective on your skills proficiency level for each of these skills.
Nelson Sivalingam: [00:25:43] Now, it’s deliberately designed to be light touch because what typically happens is companies pay a consultancy to come in and to spend 6 months to 12 months. They come up with a jobs family and a skills family. And by the time that job family or a school family is done, the market and the industry has changed, and there’s new skills, and there’s new jobs. But we can now leverage data to get a real-time insight into the skills that are required for each job.
Nelson Sivalingam: [00:26:09] And the reason why we base it on self-review and peer-review rather than an assessment is going back to what I said before, which is just because you’ve aced an exam, it doesn’t make you great at your job. But what does make you great at your job? If the people you work with can evidence the fact that, actually, as a result of you doing this learning, and can see you’ve acquired these skills, and you’ve become more proficient. So, that’s the first thing we help organizations do is measure skills.
Nelson Sivalingam: [00:26:36] Now, that changes the game completely because, now, you’ve got a real time insight into what your skills gaps are. Without being able to identify skills gap, you can’t close it. So, now that you can identify skills gaps, you can now leverage HowNow to personalize learning in a way where it’s directly addressing those skills gap and helping you close those gaps at the speed of business.
Rita Trehan: [00:27:00] So, are you seeing certain trends come out from that sort of analysis that you’re doing? Are there certain skills or gaps that you’re seeing certain organizations really lack or that they’re really skilled in? Or does it really depend on the the organization?
Nelson Sivalingam: [00:27:16] I think it definitely depends on sectors more so than the organization itself. It was like when we look at banking and finance, what we can see is there are quite a few new roles coming in. And as a result of these new roles, there are a lot of new skills coming in. And so, what we’re helping organizations do is essentially identify who are the people who need to reskill and to be relevant in today’s industry, in today’s market. So, the skills and jobs vary, like you would expect, based on sector, but there are some skills that you could do an annual needs analysis, but you might not get the real insight into what skills are missing within your organization. It’s quite black and white in that sense because you’re essentially using data to be able to identify those skills at the speed that you need to.
Nelson Sivalingam: [00:28:08] And so, people are, sometimes, surprised. Managers are, sometimes, surprised by where they see the gaps. But that’s exactly what this is designed to do is make sure you have access to that data. And it’s an important one because, right now, telling a manager that, “Oh, everyone in your team has completed course A,” is not really helpful. But telling the manager, “These are the skills gaps that you have, and actually these are the experts within your team who are really good at skill. So, why don’t you facilitate coaching and knowledge sharing amongst that group?” But without knowing the skills that you have in your organization, you’re unaware of the gaps and you’re also unaware of your experts.
Rita Trehan: [00:28:50] So, let’s talk about that group that are the advocates, and the champions, and the sponsors of platforms like yourself of what you’re trying to do, which is very novel and very, I would say, innovative. How do you get the CEO to be using your platforms? Let’s talk about those leaders at the top, senior leaders that actually have a very important role to play in this continuous learning concept. Is it easy to get them to buy in to this concept of them actually doing their own learning and assessment? Or is that still work to be done, do you think?
Nelson Sivalingam: [00:29:28] There’s definitely work to be done. I think we’re at the early part of learning, and development, and using an LMS being a bit of a tick box exercise. And I guess what we’re trying to help people do is think outside of that tick box and look at learning for the actual results it can drive. And I think people need to be able to see that L&D, typically in organizations, is looked at as a cost center.
Nelson Sivalingam: [00:29:56] Now, I definitely don’t think it’s a cost center. At the very least, it’s a value sense that L&D should really be a profit center because you’re basically looking at someone who can see where you want to get to as a business in terms of your goals, identify what’s holding you back from getting there in terms of skills and capabilities, and then help you close those gaps, so you can actually deliver on those goals. And that is someone helping you get from A to B.
Nelson Sivalingam: [00:30:23] And so, I think the moment CEOs in the C-suite give L&D a seat at the table, and look at L&D as a someone who can help you mobilize your talent in a way that wasn’t possible before, I think that’s a cultural change and, really, the mindset change that we need to see more. I mean, it really pains me when we’re speaking to an organization, and we just show them in the platform, and they turn around and say, “We don’t think our people are ready for this.” And by default, my response back to this is-
Rita Trehan: [00:30:57] How did you know? Yeah.
Nelson Sivalingam: [00:30:57] … do we realize that the consumer technology we’re used to using is far superior than what you were telling people to use as an excuse for your LMS? These are people who are using things like Spotify, Netflix, YouTube. And these are people who are teaching themselves how to do things by watching videos online. And so, consumer technologies come such a long way. For some reason, and I’m still not too sure why, when it comes to a workplace context, we tend to think people are less capable than they are when they’re consumers.
Rita Trehan: [00:31:28] I have a theory about that, and we’ll talk about that after the show because I want to make sure that we kind of cover everything that we need to. But I do totally agree with you that companies need to sort of like let them unleash that capability that, actually, people learned by doing these days. And when you get an app, you can get an instruction manual with an app, right? You go on the app, and you figure out how to use it, and that’s how you learn. And so, I think there are lots of ways to use learning platforms and learning new capabilities. But let’s talk about another sector because I think this is an equally important sector to be thinking about now, which is the education sector, which has been massively impacted by COVID-19. What do you see as the future for learning in the education sector?
Nelson Sivalingam: [00:32:12] Yeah, that is definitely an interesting space. And I thin, although we’re they’re primarily focused in kind of workplace corporate learning, we’re looking at this space thinking what needs to happen. And I think one of the primary requirements that I think private colleges or colleges, and schools, and universities in general, if your way of delivering learning is still very much one person in front of a lecture hall or kind of classroom and kind of broadcasting their message to people, then you could definitely digitize it. There’s no question about it.
Nelson Sivalingam: [00:32:50] The part that is challenging, and I think where educational institutes get stuck on, is there’s a social learning element. There’s a serendipity about being intellectual in a classroom with peers, and asking troubled questions, and exchanging that knowledge, that’s a large part of being on a campus is that social learning experience. Now, technology can definitely help you do that. I mean, the truth of it is a lot of us do our socializing online. I mean, even pre-lockdown, most of us were probably engaging with more people on social networks than we were physically. And now, more so, we’re doing our socializing on online. So, it’s definitely possible. But I think that is the mindshift or the transformation that educational institutions need to go through to understand it is possible, but it does mean you need to change the way you do things.
Nelson Sivalingam: [00:33:41] And the common, I think, mistake we’re seeing happen with kind of educational institutions is they’re trying to take exactly what they do within a classroom and a lecture hall directly online in a Zoom call, and that doesn’t work because you’re not. It’s a different medium. It’s a different mode of delivery. And you need to make sure you change your content to suit that, so it’s more of a native experience.
Nelson Sivalingam: [00:34:07] And the other area is the examination part. Now, even pre-CVOID with universities and colleges who do use digital learning, when it came to the assessment and exams, most of them still sent you into a school gym to take the exam. Now, that defeats the purpose. If you’ve used technology for the learning experience, then why are we not using technology for be assessment part? Also, technology will help us assess people in a completely different way. Rather than leaving it down to this one final end-of-year exam, we can now leverage technology to create more hands-on ways to practice and see knowledge being applied within the context it should be.
Nelson Sivalingam: [00:34:51] And I think there are better ways to get a assessment of someone’s capabilities than an exam. I was speaking to someone recently who is an apprenticeship provider, and they were saying how they’ve got this particular student who they think is one of the best students to come through the program that isn’t great at creating reports, and that’s what’s required for the assessment process. What happens to an individual like that? Technology can help us create more of a diverse learning environment. Not everyone reads well, not everyone resonates with videos, and not everyone learns well within a lecture hall or a classroom. Technology will help us support a more diverse learning community. And I think that’s where educational institutes need to look towards.
Rita Trehan: [00:35:35] I think, again, there are some really valuable points there for the education sector to take into account. And I also think for businesses because I think what we are seeing is a shift from learning from the exam-taking, as you put it, to actually what’s the skills and capabilities that are going to be needed in the future are those kind of reasoning skills and analytical skills, those thinking skills, those problem solving skills. Those are the ones that companies are looking for. So, we have to almost change how we have children learn today, moving from like learning things in right fashion to actually being able to sort of challenge and question and understand the whys behind certain things as opposed to just saying, “This is what this passage tells me.”
Rita Trehan: [00:36:17] So, I think there’s significant scope for seeing maybe for all of what COVID-19 has brought in terms of things that have not been great, there is so much opportunity to go forward in how we can think about changing the world of business, the world of society, and really take some of the learnings that we’re seeing and leveraging technology to help us out.
Rita Trehan: [00:36:39] So, look, let’s just get back on a couple of last questions. Let’s get back to being a bit more personal. So, you and your brother, come on, tell me what that’s like working together. I don’t know, but I can’t imagine working with my brother and sister together. I think we’d last for … we managed to do it on school holidays with my parents’ business, but that’s probably about the limits of what we could do. So, what’s it like starting a business with a family member? Would you recommend it? What are the highs? What are the lows?
Nelson Sivalingam: [00:36:39] To be honest, Rita, we’ve done it for so long, and I don’t think, I can’t really remember any any other way. And definitely, there are certain things that are inherent, like the trust that you had therefore, and that’s an important thing to have in a co-founder. And we work well, and we’re interested in similar kind of things, and to a large degree, we share a world view. And so, I think all of that is possible. But obviously, as siblings, you do argue a lot, and that’s still there, but we probably spend less time arguing about work and spend time arguing about other things. And so, yeah. So, for me, it’s been great working with my brother. And I think, yeah, you should really ask him as well to see if he feels the same.
Rita Trehan: [00:37:59] He might put a comment on when he sees the podcast and listens to it. He might have his own views about what he thinks about working with his younger brother. But lets talk about, so what’s the future? I mean, you’ve just got this big round of funding. What do you see as the feature for your company now? Where next?
Nelson Sivalingam: [00:38:15] Yeah. I think, in the same way we spoke about the industry and the macro level, we’re still at the early stages of a big change happening in workplace learning. And I think we’re at the forefront of that change, and we are coming in to disrupt what is quite an embedded product category of kind of LMSs. And we’re just at the start of the journey, and it’s incredible that we’ve already got some kind of brilliant customers who are really forward-thinking, and then looking at learning as a way where they can drive performance people and wield results.
Nelson Sivalingam: [00:38:51] And so, we’re excited by that. It’s the great thing about being at the beginning is there’s so much more to do. And we’ve recently, in the last year, we kind of launched department office in South Africa, and we’ve got organizations we’re working with over there. We’ve just started awarding some of our new clients in Singapore, Malaysia, and the APEC region. We’re doubling down on the US as well. So, obviously, taking it to more companies. And that’s the great thing about what we do, it is a universal problem, and it’s a problem that every organization above a certain size faces. And so, yeah, there’s a lot more to be done there.
Nelson Sivalingam: [00:39:29] We’re also very much a product-led company. And so, we’re really excited about some of the things we’re working on to really look at how do you drive learner engagement, but also the ultimate goal of how do you connect people to the relevant learning, so they can build the skills that matter and skills that they need. And there’s some exciting stuff that we’re working on around there to really start driving even more innovation with a workplace learning. So, excited about growth both in terms of product, but also in sense of where can we work with customers around the world?
Rita Trehan: [00:40:04] Well, it’s refreshing to hear such a different perspective around learning and development. It’s been long due. And your enthusiasm just resonates through in terms of how passionate you obviously feel about this and your commitment to it. So, I always have a question I ask every guest, which is what is your daring-to moment? So, what would you say your daring-to moment has been over your life?
Nelson Sivalingam: [00:40:25] Rita, that’s a big one. Daring-to moment, I guess, for anyone who’s thinking about quitting their job and starting a business, although I thought it wasn’t much of a daring-to move, and everyone around me definitely made me feel like I was taking a huge risk, and it was probably a bad move to do, but I think leaving behind a large corporate life and all the comforts that come with it. And I think one of the biggest addictions we all suffer from is that monthly paycheck. And kind of breaking away from that addiction was probably my daring-to moment.
Rita Trehan: [00:41:06] I love the way you describe that, breaking away from that addiction. Yeah, I know what that feels like. Yes, I do. I can remember it well. So, look, and I think the only other thing like I haven’t mentioned, which, again, I am hugely passionate about is to seeing diversity in terms of entrepreneurs. And obviously, you represent that. I make a big deal about when I have a woman, a woman on my podcast, but I am equally passionate about making a big deal about seeing like people from diverse backgrounds actually making it and doing great things to sort of move society forward. So, kudos to you because I know that you are a great sponsor for Asian entrepreneurs, which we haven’t really touched on very much. But it is important to have young role models that are showing the way forward for people that anything is possible and that it’s that the diversity that brings us forward. So-
Nelson Sivalingam: [00:41:56] Absolutely, Rita. I could not agree more, and we need to see more of it. And if I can help in any way, if anyone is looking to break into the space and wants to have a chat, I’m more than open to speaking and having, now, virtual coffees. But I think it’s an important responsibility for everyone to take, whether you’re a business leader, a community leader, and whatever your circles and social groups are to drive the kind of mission of diversity, not just because it’s the right thing to do, but the net benefit outweighs what we’ve got right now. There is so much incredible data around diverse companies performing better and just better products. And I think it’s not just to do it for that reason, but there is a lot of positives that come out of it. And so, yeah.
Rita Trehan: [00:42:50] So, on that note, if people want to get in contact with you, or want to know more about you and HowNow, want to access some of those free resources that you’re offering, what’s the best way for people to contact you? LinkedIn? Website?
Nelson Sivalingam: [00:43:05] You can find me on LinkedIn. You can also find out more about what we do on gethownow.com. And you can also find us on LinkedIn. We’re also on Twitter. You can find me on Twitter at @thatnelsondude. And if you do want to get in touch, my e-mail address is email@example.com.
Rita Trehan: [00:43:22] Okay. And if you want to know more about Dare Wordlwide, you can find us on www.dareworldwide.com. I wish I had such a cool Twitter name, but I don’t. It’s just @rita_trehan. Maybe I’ll think of adding something like dude or dudess. I don’t know. Maybe in the future. But you can listen to this podcast. And please leave your comments if you’ve enjoyed it. And do take the opportunity, ping CEOs out there to actually take advantage of these learning resources and demonstrate from the top how important learning is. So, thanks so much for being on the program. It’s been really great to have you on the podcast.
Nelson Sivalingam: [00:43:58] Thanks, Rita. Thanks for having me.