INNOVATORS VS COVID 19
Growing an Ed-Tech Company during a Pandemic
We talked to Stephen Cognetta of Exponent about the platform’s practice-based online learning and COVID-19.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Stephen Cognetta: We’re doing as best as we can! The pandemic has certainly changed all of our lives, but we’re hopeful that this is also an opportunity to change the world.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Exponent.
Stephen Cognetta: I’m a former Google PM, and I took time off to explore some entrepreneurial ideas. One thing that I kept circling around is my passion for coaching and empathetic work – this was one of my favorite parts of being a product manager. After doing some side-work as a coach for a while, I realized that there was a huge need for more services to help people through interview processes, which can be an especially challenging and emotional journey.
Flashforward two years later, and now Exponent helps people land their dream tech careers through courses, coaching, and community.
How does Exponent innovate?
Stephen Cognetta: We rely on our customers and deep empathy with customers to innovate. We talk regularly to our customers, who often suggest ideas (it’s particularly awesome to have so many creative product managers as a part of our community). We also innovate with a rockstar team. One of our quirkiest product launches was our choose-your-own-interview simulator, where you can simulate an actual PM interview.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Stephen Cognetta: COVID-19 has dramatically affected the labor market, which is directly tied to our business. We’ve decided to make several features free during COVID-19 to help students who are impacted particularly negatively in this time, in response to try to help out. In general, we’re also trying to publish more content about COVID-19 and how it impacts interviews.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Stephen Cognetta: We make difficult decisions all the time at Exponent. I’d say some of our key learnings include:
- Making reversible decisions – it’s low-cost to try something out, and especially important to do so when starting a company.
- Making decisions quickly – usually, as a startup, taking a while to decide is a decision in and of itself.
- Always thinking about the user – ultimately, putting our minds in the customer as much as possible has been incredibly helpful for the success of our company – and our customers.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety? How do you project yourself and Exponent in the future?
Stephen Cognetta: Dealing with stress and anxiety is very important to our company and me. Interviews themselves are filled with anxiety and imposter syndrome, so we focus on baking into our company culture of empathy and respect. For myself, I’m lucky to have a supportive team and incredible mentors that I can talk to when I feel concerned or stressed out about a particular situation.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Stephen Cognetta: We have lots of folks out here trying to teach in the interview prep space, but we feel like our blend of coaching, courses, and community is really unique. We also don’t see this market as a “winner-take-all” market, so we’re excited to collaborate and learn from others!
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