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Launch HN: Flockjay (YC W19) – $0-upfront tech sales academy for diverse talent
63 points by shath2018 9 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 40 comments
Hi HN,

I’m Shaan Hathiramani, the founder of Flockjay (https://www.flockjay.com). My team and I created Flockjay to make tech accessible for people from underrepresented communities. We're doing this by targeting a branch of the industry that itself has been neglected in this age of engineering bootcamps: a $0-upfront online sales academy that gives underserved jobseekers the tools and training they need to break into tech.

Startups are building formal sales processes earlier in their life cycles. Many struggle with predictably hiring top talent for sales. Skilled sales reps are critical for growing startups, as they accelerate revenue (4-5x their compensation) while understanding what customers want. Top performers are hard to find because they often come from non-traditional backgrounds. They are conscientious, curious, and emotionally intelligent, and have honed their skills through experience and mentorship.

As an industry, we focus most of our energy on teaching people to code. Yet, in a recent poll of 250 US college and university officials, not one school offered coursework in tools like Salesforce. Meanwhile, the best sales reps are amongst the highest earners in tech. Providing this training can create economic opportunity that changes lives.

I have witnessed the power of education and access in my own life. As a son of non-white immigrants, I grew up with a narrow view of opportunity. Then, 22 years ago, my parents crossed the street and asked our neighbors why their kids’ bus went one way, and mine went another. I applied for a scholarship to their private school, and my entire worldview changed.

After college, I taught financial literacy in inner-city Chicago and NY. Many of my students felt overlooked in tech job searches despite being qualified. They didn’t speak the tech language, rarely had an industry connection, and lacked fluency in business software. If they did land the dream job, there was often a steep learning curve with little training or support.

We built Flockjay to bridge this skills gap. Over 12 weeks part-time, students receive expert coaching, interview with top companies, and join a community of mentors. Our hired graduates make 2x or more their current income, while making real impact at breakout tech companies. They develop life-long skills for any professional transition.

Our team has 10+ years of domain expertise, and with help from world-class professionals (Facebook, Flexport, Google, etc.) we’ve developed a fully-immersive curriculum that uses cutting-edge tools (Summary: https://flockjay.com/applicants). Our students pay nothing until hired, after which we take 10% of their first year income.

We are working with groups representing different races, genders, sexual orientations, socioeconomic/educational backgrounds, geographic locations, and ages to attract high potential applicants. You can read more about our view of diversity here: https://flockjay.com/diversity.

We are from places like Mississippi and Ghana, and we are building a radical company to reflect the change we want to see in the world. What we’ve learned so far is there is no single story of success. We want to hear your experiences, ideas, feedback, and stories about breaking into tech. They have been the most meaningful part of our work.

This reminds me of Lambda School (in a good way). Will 10% of students' first year income be a sufficient cut for you? I assume a salesperson's first-year commissions will be much lower than future years.

Also, have you considered doing in-person courses at some point? It's less scalable, of course, but people may be more open to committing a portion of their future salary to a program they engage with in-person.

I see cool "learn to code" courses and bootcamps all the time. I haven't seen the same for sales. Looks like you are well-positioned. Excited to see where it goes.

The goal is to shift costs over time to the employer, while still aligning incentives with students, so they have skin in the game. Companies struggle to predictably hire top sales talent, and our graduates come in with a big leg up - not only learning best practices for SaaS selling from experts, but learning tools like Salesforce and Outreach.

We emphasize personal, 1v1 mentorship and coaching, which is our way of getting the benefits of in-person learning. Over time, we'll be partnering with community groups and their spaces to offer IRL coaching as well.

Not everyone can be a good salesperson. But those that can be good can be trained to be GREAT. Sales isnt the last refuge of people that cant do anything else. It is a profession with actual skills that can be developed through training, process, and experience.

I love the idea of someone saying "oh yeah...sales MATTERS" in a world that screams "tech tech tech tech." If you are a non-technical person wanting to work for an exciting tech company then sales is a great place to gravitate. And if you are a tech company that ignores investing yourself in sales then you are fighting with 9ne hand tied behind your back.

Love it. I've been in tech sales for 20 years and even started a company that provides sales services for tech companies. I truly believe that a number of great tech companies die because they dont "figure out" sales early enough. Lead gen...pipeline management...pitches...these things matter. I've helped crappy products destroy competitors just by paying attention to the sales process. TLDR: a better mousetrap is worthless without a sales strategy.

If I can offer my time or experience to help you drive this forward I would be excited to do so. I tell people often "I wanted to be in tech but I'm an awful engineer. So sales was my way to enter this sector."

My contact info is in my profile. Good luck to you.

"Make something people want" only works if people know you exist. I'll reach out to follow up.

>As a son of non-white immigrants, I grew up with a narrow view of opportunity.

How many white immigrants are able to send their kids to private school? Most non-immigrant white parents don't/can't send their kids to private school. How many parents have neighbors who send their kids to private school?

I am all for what you are doing, but this line is laying it on a bit thick.

We're making the same point. Most people regardless of background don't have access to private school, let alone private school financial aid scholarships. Mentioning my upbringing was to emphasize how narrow my worldview was, including but not limited to schooling options.

I would love to get my mother signed up for this as she has been wanting to transition into tech sales. What types of roles do you believe a graduate of the program would start out with? ADR/SDR? SMB AE? Other? And what about remote opportunities?

We'd love to help. Ton of ageism in tech, and we're looking to help fix this (we have many students from those backgrounds). We focus on ADR/SDRs now, with the goal being that with our training, they get promoted 6-9mo faster than peers to AEs. We're doing some SMB AE work as well.

Email us at hello@flockjay.com and I'd be happy to personally share more. We're focused on fulltime, on-site positions for now, but over time will do more with remote.

Is there any way someone outside of the US can get access to these trainings? That would be awesome for someone like me trying to switch gears from being in development and just entering sales.

I understand the other alternative is to provide $5k in advance, but for someone considering moving to the US soon, would this requirement be relaxed?

Right now, we're focused on working with students who are eligible for full-time work in the US (residents, citizens, and those with visas already). We're investing upfront in an extremely high-quality education for our students, and we ask for nothing until hired. Email us at hello@flockjay.com and we can see if we can help.

Thank you.

I noticed you're hiring some sales reps at your company: https://jobs.lever.co/flockjay

Why are you choosing to recruit externally rather than from your talent pool where you can control quality?

We are doing both (and have already hired from our own training). We plan to be one of the biggest hiring partners from our program. We're posting externally due to timing - we need more help now, and our first public batch of candidates starts Jan 7.

Hi Shaan, I appreciate when services get creative with monetization approaches. The 10% fee of first year income is quite interesting. It seems like a good way to charge for education because it incentivizes the educator to put the student in the best earning position possible.

Are you able to shed light on how you are able to protect Flockjay from anti-discrimination laws? My guess is perhaps your students become "independent contractors" that makes it not subject to the Civil Rights Act? Does this mean that as a student I would be unavailable for hire as employee and would have to commit to enter into service agreements as contractor instead? Or is the risk not on Flockjay because they are not the one making the hire. If that is the case would this not put companies that use Flockjay at risk of breaking anti-discrimination laws?

From https://flockjay.com/diversity

> We aim to promote diversity and inclusion in our application and training process, in the hiring partners we work with, and in our own company. [...] Diversity includes race/ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic/educational background, geographic location, and age.

From https://www.dol.gov/oasam/programs/history/herman/reports/fu...

> Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination in employment on the basis of race, color, sex, or ethnic origin; the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) prohibits discrimination against employees 40 years and older; and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination in employment on the basis of disabilities and requires that employers reasonably accommodate individuals with disabilities who can otherwise perform a job. As with other labor standards, independent contractors generally would not be covered by anti-discrimination laws.

Thanks for the question, it’s an incredibly important one, playing out on the national stage most recently with lawsuits against Harvard.

Diversity is notoriously hard to define, and few companies try due to the risk of such lawsuits. We take a deliberately broad view of diversity as you referenced, and we admit students based on a skills assessment evaluation that aspires to be blind to those criteria. No process is perfect, but this allows us to avoid the issues you mentioned. When companies hire from us, they then evaluate based on skills criteria and our certifications.

Happy to follow up if you have more questions.

> we admit students based on a skills assessment evaluation that aspires to be blind to those criteria

I think that is a good approach. Thanks for the response.

Frankly, it's going to be very hard to avoid disparate impact with a blind skills assessment. I'm not sure whether that's a legal issue in your situation.

Have you had any people move from engineering to sales by using your bootcamp?

Yes, more popular than you might think, especially as a)SaaS products get more technical and b) roles like sales engineering grow. Some of the best performers in sales become thought leaders in the industry they work in. We get applicants who went through coding bootcamps, who realize their skills are best served in sales roles, merging technical knowledge with understanding/solving complex business problems.

I went the opposite route and would have loved to have had something like FlockJay at the start of my career.

Cool thing about these roles is they're a killer combo of skills - best way to understand product-mkt fit is to talk to customers and truly listen to what they want (and what they need).

Would love to chat with anyone who has gone through this transition. (Engineering -> Sales)

Great idea, really like what you are doing!

I'm wondering what kind of opportunities are out there for an older engineer through this program? Aka someone that has recently turned 50, has a long career as a programmer, etc, etc.

I've been thinking about sales recently and it seems like there a higher salary/income ceiling, as as I find myself bumping into my own salary limits, this seems like a pretty interesting option.

Anyway, just wondering if this is more a young man's game so-to-speak, or if this program is suitable for us, uh-hm, 'seasoned professionals'.

Tons of opportunities. The biggest challenge I face hiring sales folks is the tech aspect. I can teach you discovery and qualification in a few short weeks. It would take me years to teach you about WordPress or I series or PHP. Turning your tech knowledge into a solid sales foundation is easy. Go for it!

We’ve found qualities like curiosity, conscientiousness, coachability, prior success, and work ethic to be best predictors of success in sales, not age. We’d love to chat if you are passionate about tech and interested in making that transition. Send us a note at hello@flockjay.com

Really love this idea. I totally agree that there is a lack of good and easily accessible sales training/education. Would be interested in learning more about how the training itself is designed. Where do you source the training content? Are there real trainers that you meet virtually via video conferencing or does it work like a self-serve online course?

Kelly Schuur is our Head of Sales - she was the first Account Executive at Intercom and has spent a decade building and training sales teams. She's poured her heart into the interactive curriculum, along with support from industry experts at Facebook, Google, etc. All our instruction is live, interactive, personal, and online - so it's via video conferencing and tools like Slack.

I've been interested in learning sales. Very cool to find a bootcamp for it. I'd be interested in taking this coarse if I could pay upfront instead of paying 10% of my income. Is there an option for this or will there be?

Yes, there is currently a $5k upfront option. Most of our graduates earn 2x their current income in their new tech sales roles (>$75k or more) in year 1.

We charge a fraction of what comparable intense, live coding bootcamps charge. There are apprenticeship options for sales, but real training there is minimal, and you're not learning from experts, or able to fail safely. In many respects they're glorified staffing companies.

Sales reps are amongst the best paid in tech. Investing in the training to be the best is what we focus on.

Is it possible to pace our my own sales class?

We are trying to do B2B sale but it's really hard fresh out of school. I can corroborate that our school doesn't offer training like that.

Our classes are live, online, and interactive, from 5-8pm PST Mon-Thurs, with new ones starting every month. Most schools we've talked to (>250) don't offer courses with this training. We'll be expanding to more timings/options in the near future.

When will the first class graduate? I would like to hire a few people immediately, we could also allow for remote phone / video internships or testing during their course.

Would love to chat. Send us a note at hello@flockjay.com. First batch ready in March.

Nit: the birds with the headsets make it look like call center work.

I hope this doesn't go the same way coding bootcamps go.

It's really hard for great dev skills to be learned in a matter of months. Sales on the other hand, is a different story. People already have many of the core skills, they just need the tools and training to level up, and create a scalable process. A lot of that is learning to use sales enablement tools, and a lot of it is getting practice and personal coaching from experts.

This is great news. Even as an Engineer, Sales is Hard.

Sounds like a reasonable idea, but I’d drop the college admissions essay bit about overcoming hardship etc now that you’re already in YC.

Ton of hard work ahead for us to do that doesnt end with YC - making sure we're building for and serving people from underserved, non-traditional, and disadvantaged backgrounds. Reaching them requires sharing our stories and listening to theirs.

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