In a recent in-depth discussion on a popular video podcast, Pasha Rayan, Co-founder and CTO of the online training platform, Forage, offered profound insights into the transformative potential of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in education. Rayan’s innovative EdTech venture, part of the Y Combinator Winter 2019 batch, revolutionizes how education and recruitment intersect.
Forging Ahead with Forage
Forage’s unique vision stems from Rayan’s determination to use technology as a force for educational progress. He aims to align education with real-world business requirements and provide a learning platform that exposes students to practical experiences.
“Pasha Rayan’s vision is not just about making information available,” the host noted. “It’s about engaging learners and equipping them with the skills that today’s businesses are searching for.”
Forage is a testament to this vision. By partnering with top companies, Forage offers extensive online training programs that educate and provide hands-on industry experience.
The Role of AI in Education
The interview delved into the transformative power of generative AI in education. Pasha explained how AI has the potential to create personalized learning paths, taking into account each student’s learning style and pace. He elaborated on how AI could revolutionize learning outcomes and open new global student opportunities.
“As we evolve, we’re looking at how we can use generative AI to really help drive personalized learning experiences,” Pasha stated. “By understanding each student’s individual learning style and needs, we can provide them with a truly tailored educational experience.”
Aligning Technology with Impact
On aligning mission and technology for impactful work, Rayan was vocal about how Forage seeks to solve real-world problems. “It’s about your mission and how your technology can help you achieve that mission,” he said. He emphasized that it’s essential to align the tech solution with the mission of any startup to create an impact.
Pasha Rayan’s views paint a vibrant picture of a future where education and industry work in unison. Through his endeavors at Forage, he’s creating a learning ecosystem that benefits students and businesses alike. His infectious enthusiasm for innovative learning and recruitment solutions makes him a leading figure in educational technology.
By leveraging the power of technology and aligning it with the mission, Rayan is not just shaping the future of education – he’s shaping the world’s future leaders. Connect with Pasha Rayan on LinkedIn or Twitter @Pashpops to follow his insights.
Hosted by: Imteaz Ahamed
Imteaz – 00:09 Hi everyone, welcome to Applied Intelligence. Today, I have a very fun guest to speak to, Pasha Ryan. Pasha is the current CEO, I’m sorry, CTO, and co-founder of Forage. And we’ll get into that a bit later, but more importantly, I met Pasha many, many years ago. And Pasha was actually my intern back at Racket in Sydney, and now he’s gone on to do.
Pasha Rayan – 00:21 Yep.
Imteaz – 00:37 some many wonderful things and we’re gonna get into that in a lot of detail. Very recently though, however, we’re both in New York and I got to catch up with him, which was very cool and hear all the stories of what it’s like to be a startup founder and there’s so many crazy things that we’re gonna talk about today. But Pasha, welcome to the show.
Pasha Rayan – 00:57 Oh, it’s good to chat again, MTS. It’s funny, right, because when we met, you know, I was just at university, figuring out what to do with my life. And I think it’s a little bit better nowadays, but yeah, definitely, definitely a long time ago.
Imteaz – 01:14 Yeah, don’t worry man, I still don’t know what I’m doing in my life. I just, you know, happening to get through day by day. Um, but anyway, just so the audience gets to know who Pasha is. Um, I love to ask this question, which is if you had an autobiography and if it had five chapters, what would the title of each one of those five chapters be?
Pasha Rayan – 01:18 I’m gonna go.
Pasha Rayan – 01:38 Yeah, I mean like I love this question because it really makes you distill like into those phases of like your life, right? Um, and it’s funny, right for me, a lot of my first chapter would always be that introductory childhood chapter of just like you know Basically, you know being a pretty normal kid not really caring about too much except for video games and movies um, I guess the second chapter in my mind really would be
you know, like being young and trying to figure out the world. So that was a period of my life when I was, you know like maybe 16 to like 21, where before I knew anything about anything at all**, you know,** like, you know, I didn’t really. I grew up in a single-parent family, so I had no real exposure to the outside world and like what was going on and like what work was like or what different things you could do at school, at university.
So my second chapter would basically be this phase of like, yeah, trying to figure things out by going deep. And that second chapter would be that phase where I picked up books about philosophy. I read a lot of books across different topics. It’s when I started to learn the code on my own or at school. Yeah, I was just kind of a voracious reader and trying to figure out things there. So that second chapter would be, oh, you know, like, let’s go deeper and try to figure things out.
My third chapter would basically be, you know, probably a chapter of my university years where I kind of took the approach of university where, you know, I had to kind of figure it out at that younger age that this is a great time to actually, you know, figure things out but also like do things at a lower risk, you know, like I had not learned anything about the corporate world. I hadn’t learned much about academia. I decided to…
I did pure randomness to a degree in commerce and philosophy and computer science with the liberal studies at UNSW. And for me, it was really just a distillation of, okay, you know, like I had read a lot in the previous years. I had only started to figure out what the world was like, but I thought university or college was the best way to actually test out some of these ideas and have fun, you know, trying to do student.
society things have fun trying to build things on the side, have fun learning. You know, I would go out and just. Pick up random textbooks from the library, read them for fun and try to understand what the topic was about. It could be economics, could be random things around history or sometimes the sciences and, yeah, put them back and just kind of like get back to, like, tinkering and trying out things in the real world. After that, I guess chapter was that chapter. Yeah, that’s chapter three.
a chapter of my life on actually kind of like doing real work for the first time. That’s when I entered with UMTA as you know, like when I entered at records, I worked in the corporate world, I spent some time working on**, you know, in**, as a consultant, I spent some time working as a product manager at a tech company in Australia, and that would be like that fourth chapter, just a chapter of exploring work.
There you kind of like, I went through multiple types of business cultures and I think kind of learned what I thought would work and actually is kind of what we want to do for the rest of our lives. And the fifth chapter would be**, you know,** quite, and I guess you could probably sub-subdivide chapter five into a ton of subchapters, because it’s still ongoing, but really would be my journey with forage and kind of life ever since starting a startup. So chapter five would basically be titled Forage. And then under that would probably be about five or six subchapters for the gamut of jobs and roles that we’ve had there and the crazy journeys and stories. So yeah, Chapter Five is probably a bit of a undersell, but yeah, that will probably be the fifth chapter because that could be its own book and its own rights.
Imteaz – 05:50 But let’s dive into that, Pasha. So what led you to create Forage, and what problem does it solve, and how does it kind of work? Let’s go into a bit of detail to give people perspective in terms of what you work on right
Pasha Rayan – 05:52 Hmm.
Pasha Rayan – 06:00 Mm-hmm.
Pasha Rayan – 06:05 Awesome. Well, we step back, like, Forage is a platform that runs virtual job simulations. So when we started Forage, we basically had this idea that, and this thesis that the model of hiring someone just doesn’t work today. Because today, a company would spend a lot of time to figure out how to hire someone, then spend two or three years to train them up. And then after that, either that candidate or that person just doesn’t fit the role or isn’t good enough for the role, or on the flip side, the candidate realizes that career isn’t for them. And what we thought was we’d flip it around and go, well, why don’t we actually train people first, then the company can hire them, then they can stick around for much longer. And the vehicle to kind of prove that these are our virtual job simulations and Forage basically is the platform to…do a three to five-hour virtual job simulation with any company, any like, you know, we try to work with any big company in the world. So a university student or college student can jump on to theforge.com and do a job simulation with the Boston Consulting Group, Pfizer, Lululemon, General Electric, you know, work with a lot of these companies around the world. And in that simulation, a student actually tries out what it’s like to do a job.
I guess in my mind; it’d be like, they get to like experience what it’s like to work with their own version of MTAs at records. But it’s the actual stuff, nothing theoretical. And when they do that, students actually start to realize what is, what they find interesting. And on the flip side, employees today are finding that the students that do these forage job simulations are much more hireable.
So a student on forages three to four times more likely to land the job than a student who hasn’t done forage in the application processes that we work with companies all around the world. Companies love us because the students that do come on board, you know, like when they interview them, they know the key terms of an industry. They know what the work is like, and they know that they’re not gonna be someone that drops out in a year or two. So that’s kind of like the core bit of forage. And I guess like, you know,
Before I get into what led to it, where we are today, we’re quite lucky, right? We started in Sydney, Australia, but we’ve been lucky enough to grow around the world. We have offices in here, in New York, in San Francisco, and in London. When we started, we had 300 students on our website when we were in Australia, but now we have 4.5 million students around the world. We have 150 employers, and we’ve been going down the venture capital startup route. We’ve been lucky enough to raise around $40 to $50 million.
and venture funding in the last five to six years. So that’s Forage. And what allows us to create that ecosystem really is a much more personal journey of story for me and Tom, my co-founder. I think the funny thing is when we created Forage and wanted to create something in the student space, even before the first lines could be written, Tom, my co-founder…
And I independently were just always helping the students out with their resume and how they could land a job. And I think for us, you know, like, you know, I mentioned, you know, like we grew up in a single parent family. We had no idea about this. And I think for me, a lot of it was like, I feel like I got really lucky landing into really cool jobs, doing cool internships, meeting amazing people who could help out with our resume. Um, and.
my co-founder I think felt the same. And I think for us giving back was always a way to actually really kind of like help the next generation of people who maybe didn’t have the best of luck. Tom grew up in Waka and didn’t know anything about any of this stuff as well. So that’s kind of like, that was the feeling of us wanting to give back was really the genesis of the company. And I think, you know, what led us to create it was us realizing that there probably should have been a better way.
to do this at scale, right? You know, and I could probably go into the story of how we started off as a mentoring marketplace to solve that, but you know, we really just started Forage as a passion project to solve that. But as we went along, we realized that there were other way to productize the main experiences required to get someone to be ready for a job, do that at scale and do that in a way that really impacts education and hiring.
Imteaz – 10:48 That’s incredible. It’s very cool to see a story where the work that you do has an impact on the way that you’ve perceived the world and not necessarily received that help or seen that help growing up and then landing in a place where you can actually do that. I never knew I wanted to do sales. I wanted to do commercial. I never knew that I wanted to manage a P&L.
and I kind of stumbled into corporate more than anything else. I thought I was going to be a lawyer growing up. And I didn’t necessarily have the mentors or the people around me or even, you know, my dad’s parents, my dad’s friends or my mom’s friends, they weren’t necessarily in the corporate sector because they were first generation immigrants to Australia, right? They did, my dad had a white collar job, but it was a very technical role, not necessarily.
managing commercials. But I’m faith my way into record, and I’m still that record. But that was pure chance. And it shouldn’t necessarily be pure chance in terms of how people find the right career path that really lets them shine.
Pasha Rayan – 12:06 Yeah, and you know what’s funny? I remember your story back when I was an intern and you were chatting it through, how you got through two records and went through it. And that and many other people have similar stories where they’ve been able to find their great careers for luck. And I think the thing that I always have pinched myself with is that not everyone was as lucky as us, right? There are lots of people at the different schools I’ve gone to that maybe…
just what as lucky they’re like land into a pool or figure out that, you know, for you, commercial was good for me being in tech was kind of something that I wanted to do. Um, and some people just get kind of like swept away. And, you know, I actually think it’s also like, let me step back, you know, the, the scope of them, the, there are so much talent out there in the world, but getting that talent to the opportunity where they can flourish is actually something that isn’t done very well yet. And, you know, it can be.
it can be done better in so many ways. But I think for us, you know, like being able to solve that problem you mentioned of like having, you know, like being able to like, bridge that gap of going, oh, I, someone doesn’t know, it doesn’t have the connections about it industry to, Hey, in your own time, one safe space in your own safe way, you can find what particular, you know, what particular career will, will align with you, I think is, you know, and it’s more, we’re going to be really impactful. And I think, you know, for us, it was always
trying to create a way where we could align getting that impact while at the same time proving that you can actually try to solve this problem, which means a lot to a lot of people and turn it into a very good business and turn it into something that is also unique and didn’t exist yet. So all of that kind of packaged together into kind of what ended up becoming Forage.
Imteaz – 13:56
Like I think about working in commercial and working in sales in particular, and that’s not something that’s necessarily taught at university, nor is it taught at high school. So you don’t necessarily hear about becoming a salesperson or a commercial leader. You hear about being a business person, right? But you don’t necessarily hear about being a salesman as growing up.
Imteaz – 14:27 giving the opportunity to people that already have these innate skills of building relationships and or other very technical things or not non-technical things and then putting them in a situation for them to actually flourish, which is very, very cool. So coming back and steering more towards applications of generative AI, which is such a hot topic right now. How is that?
Pasha Rayan – 14:44 Yeah.
Imteaz – 14:54 How is GenAI really changing the way that you’re going to market with Plurage in the near term?
Pasha Rayan – 15:01 It’s a great question. And recently at Forage, we had run an internal hackathon around generative AI. I think maybe, you know, a bit of context and preface is that, you know, obviously as Forage we’ve been growing a lot and have been doing a lot with, you know, helping place amazing students and talent into like great companies out there. But Gen. AI kind of like came in like a storm essentially and kind of like… shook the world of technology because it allows you to do so much more than you could have done before, right? Before to even get close to anything close to what OpenAI and these other generative AI tools offered, you’d have to spend millions and millions of dollars on a data science team and they themselves would not have enough general content to be able to train a powerful AI.
Pasha Rayan – 15:59 I think at a high level, the question is, how does generative AI actually change the world of recruitment education? I’ll start with education in that generative AI is very powerful because it allows basically anyone to have a personalized tutor and allows anyone to have.
Imteaz (42:37.833) You got it.
Pasha Rayan (42:44.938) why I’m really proud of like us realizing that our core hypothesis for our original product was really not on solid footing was that we kind of really like, you know, I think what happened was we listened to this great video by Y Combinator about what product market fit should look like. And what we had done was, you know, we’d listened to it and Tom and I, I think, you know, we had realized after watching this video that we don’t have product market fit. And I remember, I think we both independently just had sleepless nights and felt really sick about that fact.
Like we were like, we knew we were doing something that was not going to work. And I think for us, it was at that realization and really early on that we were like, this isn’t going to work, but we’re going to figure out what does work. And we’re going to figure out what does work, but that still hits our mission. Um, and I think that, you know, like when we made that decision and we were screwing up and spending a lot of time with something that wasn’t working, it was really pivotal for us because for us.
We then turned around and changed all of our behaviors and our processes to go find product market fit, you know? So after like three months of working on this project, the mentoring marketplace, and it wasn’t working, we had basically turned around and go, we’re gonna just iterate every week on a different kind of idea, make learnings on that idea, and talk to so many people to the point that we would just actually be sick of talking to people.
every day and we were exhausted. I think we ended up talking to like a few hundred people by the end of like, by the end of it. We had iterated so fast, like within the next two months, um, that we had built up a list of learnings. Like actually students don’t know how to get mentored, but they do want to know what a job is like. And companies do want to give out more work experience programs, but they literally can’t physically, like, like just as you imagine, you can’t physically manage that many people. Companies can’t physically manage a thousand to 3000 interns in a new month.
moment in time. And it was interesting. We had learned so much. I mean, it started picking up these learnings. And I think what I didn’t realize, you know, and what made it eventually a success was that like, we had spent an extreme amount of time talking to users and figuring out what did or didn’t work. And at that extreme, after that extreme amount of time, I think Tom and I were just drinking and exhausted one afternoon. And we had just joked that like, Hey, what if we just gave every student an internship?
we were all like, yeah, let’s just give every student an internship. And then we just kind of laughed about it. And then the next day we sent an email being like, Oh, well, then we’re like, let’s go do it. So we went out and said, like, we’ll go out and like create these virtual internships. And the thing was like, I remember we weren’t bullish on the idea in itself. We knew that we wanted to solve the mission, but the virtual internships, virtual job simulation idea that we ended up with, we kind of saw it as fallen from everything else that we had done.
But when we sent out an email to our user base saying that we were going to do some virtual internships, virtual job simulations, the thing that kind of like makes me proud like I think the funny thing is that we had put all this effort into it. And Tom had written this email, very basic email, and he had press send and he walked to the toilet. And I had set up the system where when a student signed up to something, we would get an SMS. And the seventh…
Tom Press sent me that email. We had basically, like my phone started ringing nonstop and we’re sitting next to our investors at that point and our investors are like, oh, what’s going on there? And I’m like, I don’t know what’s happening, but everyone is signing up to this thing that we’ve just sent out. And you know, in the multi few minutes that Tom took to go to the toilet, it took a while, he had interest, we had initially gotten like 180 applications to our virtual internship, virtual job simulation then. And I think the crazy thing was that like,
looking back, you know, we was just part of our consistent process of learning and trying to figure out what could be helpful to students. But that was it. That was us finding the thing that would have actually had both the fit for the market and what students wanted and the employees wanted. And yeah, it was something that really kind of like, that was the culmination of all of the hard work after we realized we had screwed up thinking and being so stubborn that we had an idea that was going to be it. And I think for me, that was probably like…
the failures to hope that I’m most proud of in the whole startup journey, which is like we had almost come in too stubbornly, but we had really realized we had failed on what we wanted and what we achieved to do, which is build product market fit, but then corrected and tried to really solve it and probably at an extreme level to get to where we were. So yeah, I think getting to what our first product became was probably crushingly, crushingly
sad when we realized we had failed in our first run through of it all. But we’re proud because I think we’re able to pick ourselves up and almost work at an extreme level to solve that problem down there.
Imteaz (47:41.61) So talk to me about the point where you realize you didn’t have product market fit. To the time that you got all of these pings on your phone, what kept you motivated between those two times?
to keep going.
Pasha Rayan (48:00.619) Motivation is such a funny thing when it comes to doing a startup. That early phase was like, I think it was pure stubbornness. We had left our jobs, start this company and we had really wanted to make a difference. I think we’re all like, well, if we’re going to leave our jobs and we’re well paid, we’re lucky enough to do a lot of these cool things.
Pasha Rayan (48:27.794) I was running like growth and acquisitions at a, at a marketplace company. So like we had left our cool, we had left some pretty cool jobs, good positions. And, and we wanted to make a difference. And I think for us, the motivation was actually at that stage and motivation changed over time, but I’ll never swap out in stages at that stage of like, Oh, we don’t have something when you figure it out. Um, I think it was just pure stubbornness. I think for us.
We wanted to make a difference. We didn’t want to fail and we wouldn’t let ourselves fail. That was our motivation then. We didn’t want to let ourselves fail because we thought that the problem was so big and so real that, and someone had to figure it out, that we may as well make it us. I mean, we may as well make it us and do it in such a way that it actually would work. So I think that first bit was pure stubbornness and just a desire to achieve our mission.
I think we’re a little, Tom and I were a little zealot like that. We really, we had that zealotry around really trying to make a difference. Um, and then when we got there, it was interesting, the motivation afterward, after you get to something that kind of works because you know, once we had the core products, we were lucky enough to grow and get students from like amazing universities and start getting these amazing brands to come on board. Um, you know, we had KPMG on board, Kim and Malisyns, and then BCG came on.
government departments started coming on, it was really like quite good. But like at that point, the motivation to charge through like, really like, you know, like this is our sixth year now doing forage and we know that it’s going to take a decade or more of commitment to even get to where we think it can go. Um, the motivation right now is really, A, trying to achieve a mission. Like every time we find things hard, it’s like, we’ll do something worthwhile. B, I think the biggest thing as we kind of grow is this idea that you know, we’ve
worked really hard to bring out amazing people to join our team to make a difference. We have amazingly talented leaders, amazingly talented engineers, amazingly talented product people, salespeople, who could all probably be out there making a lot more money but are choosing to work with us because we are making a difference. So it’s how do we do them right? How do we do them right at a day-to-day level as working with them, but also at a year-to-year level so they feel like that they’re getting…
you know, they’re growing and they’re getting their worth and spending their time here with us as a company. And that, you know, like I wake up and that always keeps us going. I think thirdly as well, right? Like when we hear of these amazing stories of our students landing jobs and our employees being able to find amazing students, like it really keeps us going, you know. When we started, we wanted to do a company that did a line of admission, but like it has been such an advantage because, for us, there’s really no reason.
to quit, you know, like there’s, there’s always, we are helping someone every day, someone out there. Um, you can see it on, if you look up social media or LinkedIn, you’ll see people posting about Forge every day. Um, I think the crazy thing is like that keeps you going because that alignment of being able to have a good mission, um, a good business, and really something quite unique as a technical challenge and a product level or as a business level. If you’re thinking about the economics of it all. Um,
Yeah, I mean, I think that’s kind of what keeps us going, being able to help people out in such a unique way that can become a big company. So yeah, motivation, you know, that early motivation was pure stubbornness and really wanting to make a difference. And then as we’ve grown as a company and organization, it really is, I think, a sense of, yeah, being able to make that difference, a sense of duty to the people that have put their time and investment and being custodians of like, you know.
our team members’ effort and the custodians of some of our investors’ money, custodians of the effort that the students put into the hours on our platform to be able to turn that into something valuable, I think just keeps us going.
Imteaz (52:26.398) super cool. In wrapping up the podcast, Pasha, what are the three things that, or the three takeaways that you want to leave with the audience today?
Pasha Rayan (52:36.898) Yeah, I think there’s a few takeaways. I think one at a high level, I think going off the topic of motivation, I think it’s okay to be motivated to make a difference and make, I think people separate the idea that you can make a good business and it be both nourishing and helpful for people around the world. I think there are ways to pull that off most of the time. And I think…
More people should be willing to try to build businesses that align with those three things, companies that can be big, companies that make a difference, and companies that are unique that don’t exist yet. I think that’s a huge thing that, A, as the years go on is almost like ridiculous how much keeps us going every day to kind of work hard for forage and everything that we do. The second takeaway is I think with generative AI, the opportunity is quite…
large, especially when you think about generative AI as a tool to get you past current limits. I think one of the interesting things about generative AI versus, let’s say, the era of the internet is that because it can be so personalized, it really gives you the chance to become much faster, much more engaged, much smarter, much more understanding of things that are happening than before.
And if you use that world, you can really, I think an individual can make much more impact in the world overall. And then I think the third thing is like, yeah, I mean, I think, I think, um, hopefully, the last takeaway is that someone out there listening, whether, you know, they’re a bit younger or they’re kind of in their career thinking about making a difference, you know, like it is, it is possible to be able to like, you know, pull it off and like actually create like, you know, cool things.
by putting the effort into it and having fun and being able to mix this idea of mission and technology and work altogether. So yeah, I think hopefully someone out there gets a little bit more energy to make a difference in their community or in a way that makes sense to them. I keep thinking about generative AI, but helping small communities out, like running small organizations, helping…
Helping families be better, helping companies become a bit more, you know, like streamlined. I think there’s so many opportunities and hopefully, this gets you going a little bit more on.
Imteaz (55:12.126) Super cool. Pasha, lovely to catch up with you, man. It’s insane to see. I remember you as this tiny little intern that came into the office and then 10 plus years go by and then you turn into this guy. I’m super proud of you and super proud of the work that you do. It’s mind-blowing. So congrats to you. Keep going. I want to see bigger and better things from you going forward. Just for people that want to reach out to you.
Pasha Rayan (55:26.728) Yeah. Ha ha.
Imteaz (55:42.304) for any other questions and whatnot, how should they do that?
Pasha Rayan (55:45.95) Yeah, I mean, visit theforge.com to visit the website. My email is pasha at theforge.com. Always happy to help companies and people out, you know, who are trying to make a difference. Yeah, feel free to reach out anytime. I know there’s never, I’m never too busy to try to help, like, you know, someone trying to do some cool stuff in the world. That always excites me. But yeah, feel free to email us and reach out and connect us on LinkedIn and other things. Pasha Arian is my name and unique enough to hopefully be found pretty quickly.
Imteaz (56:20.234) Super cool. Thank you so much, man. Take care.
Pasha Rayan (56:22.99) Thanks, Imteaz!
Watch the full podcast: https://youtu.be/5xars3lR8cM
Subscribe to the newsletter: https://lnkd.in/e5VtgV2f
Listen to Spotify: https://spotifyanchor-web.app.link/e/uoQACsQX9Bb
Imteaz social handles: https://linktr.ee/imteaz