First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID19 times?
Dan Rosensweig: Since I no longer have to fly between east and west coast every week, I’m lucky to be spending lots of family time with my wife and two daughters (and their boyfriends!) in New York. Even with all the bad news, it’s been a gift to have family dinners where we catch up on the day, binge TV shows like Schitt’s Creek, and just overall staying physically and mentally healthy. I also call my closest friends regularly and actually have time to listen and be present, and I’m grateful for my strong support system from friends and family.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded or joined Chegg
Dan Rosensweig: When I graduated college, I had no idea what I was going to do. At the time, I certainly did not have a computer background, so it’s been a fabulous journey filled with success and failures. The path has not been a straight line, has been driven by fear, ambition and serendipity. If I learned anything, it’s to be willing to summon the courage to take on new opportunities, even if they scare you and you don’t feel ready.
I eventually became the COO of Yahoo! and CEO of Guitar Hero. When the opportunity to work for Chegg came, I knew it was the right fit because of my passion to address issues in education, and my daughters were applying to colleges at the time. Fun fact–I actually wrote the mission statement of Chegg during my interview! Since then, the vision has always remained the same, and we continue to work hard to be the best advocates for students.
How does Chegg innovate?
Dan Rosensweig: To start, we focus on putting the student first, listening to them and working with them to identify and reduce their biggest challenges. The modern student is always facing new problems, so we must research and offer new services to support them. Due to the Coronavirus pandemic, students’ mental health is worsening, student debt is rapidly piling up, and unemployment rates are skyrocketing. We have a strong research team that surveys how students are feeling and what they need so that we can continue to innovate new products, services, and partnerships in the most beneficial way possible.
One major gap in the current education system Chegg tackled head-on is the lack of skills-focused learning. It is projected that 375 million workers, or 14% of the global workforce, will switch occupational roles as rapid automation renders certain jobs obsolete. This means students must develop a variety of skills in highly sought-after fields such as computer science and product design. Incorporating Thinkful, an online learning platform focused on teaching students the most in-demand technology skills, to our platform will prepare students for the demanding workforce.
We also recently added Mathway as a service to address the major math deficiency problem in the education system. The quality of math education is subpar considering that 60% of high school graduates who enter community colleges are not qualified to take college math classes, and this problem will only worsen in our increasingly data-driven world. The alarming fact that math proficiency is a growing issue is why we added Mathway, a learning service that covers over 400+ different math topics, to our platform. We identify the areas where students need the most support, then grow as a business to address these pain points.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business and how are you coping?
Dan Rosensweig: We first focused on our employees, their families, our local communities, then the students and the business. To promote a healthy work-life balance for our employees, Chegg offers amazing benefits such as childcare reimbursement for families, ergonomic reimbursement for office equipment, and live and on-demand fitness sessions. We are reaching out to our local community, surveying employees about their needs, and of course putting students first as we all adjust to this new way of living.
The pandemic has exacerbated existing problems but has also accelerated critical trends in high education. Some of our initiatives so far include donating to food banks for people experiencing food insecurity and partnering with Frank to help students receive their financial aid. When everything went remote in Mid-March, one of our first concerns was Chegg’s internship program. We were adamant about continuing the program because internships prove to be an important stepping stone for students to land their first jobs, such that resumes that list internship experiences were 14% more likely to lead to an interview request.
But, amid the Coronavirus pandemic, students are facing cancelled summer internships and rescinded job offers. We knew our internship program was absolutely vital and needed to be an enriching and worthwhile experience for our interns. In addition to the lack of opportunities, students are also struggling from the lack of access and resources to their professors and TAs. In fact, our research team found that 60% of students say their in-person academic services (tutoring, writing labs) were not made available online. Students are now turning to additional online resources for academic support, and Chegg saw an increase of 35% year-over-year subscriber growth in our Q1 earnings report.
Did you have to make difficult choices and what are the lessons learned?
Dan Rosensweig: I’ve faced many difficult choices in both my professional and personal life. Through it all, my biggest takeaway is that you must commit to the decisions that you make. You must be all in. If you keep leaving yourself exit strategies, if you aren’t fully committed, then the choices you make simply won’t work out. When I look back now, no matter if my choices worked out or not, I always ask myself if I am glad I made that choice.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety, how do you project yourself and Chegg in the future?
Dan Rosensweig: I’ve learned not to let the stress become personal. I view it as just another situation that has to be dealt with. Rather than procrastinating or being afraid of the problem, I tackle it head on and better sooner than later. Taking care of my physical and mental health, I have also recently started using the Peloton every day and practicing meditation and yoga. I also love spending time with my loving wife and daughters, calling my close friends, and listening to Bruce Springsteen.
The outdated education system is continually evolving and modernizing, so we must also continue to innovate. Since I joined Chegg in 2010, I have always believed that technology has the potential to democratize education and make learning more affordable, accessible, and relevant. Bridging the gaps in the current education system drives the mission, and the mission drives the company.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Dan Rosensweig: As an industry leader in the educational technology space, we are already ahead of the game because we consider how to support students holistically. Our recent report found that the top 3 issues on students’ minds were academics, cost of living, and obtaining a financially secure job. Chegg’s wide range of services include study help, tutoring, internships, career growth, and mentorship, which positions Chegg as the go-to academic hub for students anywhere on their academic and professional journey. To stay ahead of the game, we are always looking for new and better solutions while using technology to suite students’ individual learning needs.
Your final thoughts
Dan Rosensweig: My truly amazing mentor Bill Campbell taught me that life is all about your attitude, and you must be open to possibilities and have the courage to seize opportunities. I take his lessons to heart, and I am grateful for all the serendipiti