By Khai Tran
Forbes, June 6, 2019.
Pathrise is a unique startup that focuses on helping underrepresented students get hired at large tech giants such as Apple, Google and Facebook. The company provides a mentorship and accelerator program that teaches soft skills and interview strategies to give students in their program a competitive edge. The program is free to enroll and students only pay a fee only after they have been hired for a job.
A series of interviews with entrepreneurs and non-profit organizations serving underprivileged communities: Kevin Wu, CEO of Pathrise, leads a company that helps underrepresented students get jobs at major tech companies.
Khai Tran: Can you tell me about Pathrise and what the company does.
Kevin Wu: Pathrise teaches students, new grads and people re-entering the workforce how to get the best job possible. We do that via an accelerator. It’s a one-on-one type group over synchronous video. Each fellow gets a personal advisor and access to an online platform with resources to help them find a job. It’s like an online career boot camp. Our student’s salary is usually about $12,600 more if they complete our program.
We have an income-share model to make it more accessible and affordable for underrepresented students. Student pays 9% of their first-year salary only after getting hired. The income share makes it easy for students to pay us back and also gives us incentives to find the best possible job for them. Additionally, we help the student learn multiple phases the job search itself such as networking, interviews, and negotiations. We try to make it as tactical and systematic as possible.
What was your mission when you first started? Has it evolved?
We seek to uplift undervalued students and tech professionals in their early career. We were just trying to see if what we were doing would be helpful for anyone. It was the realization that there was an unfilled gap in the job search process. A lot of programs were really just providing emotional support while you’re on your job hunt. We wanted to do more. And while working with students, we realized it’s a funnel optimization problem that’s inherent in the job seeking process.
The people who were drawn to Pathwise tends to be from the marginalized and underrepresented population. We became a systematic job search that supports those who missed out early on. And we help them catch up by providing the tools, resources, and mentorship to help even out the playing field.
How many employees did you start out with and how many full-time employees do you have now?
We started out with just two employees, Derrick and myself. In the early days, it was just the two of us advising and mentoring everyone. Now we’re at 22 full-time employees and growing.
Where are you currently headquartered and why did you choose that location?
We’re currently in San Francisco. We chose this city because we’re starting with the tech industry. We also happen to be a tech company ourselves and wanted to take a technology-approach to solve problems. But that doesn’t mean there’s not a human element. The one on one personal interaction is a big part of the business. We also have plans to expand beyond the tech industry.
How does your company help the community?
We recently launched quite a few free resources. Our plan is to roll out all of our curricula for free. We built a repository on how to better your job search etc, all for free. We’re confident that the program is valuable in and of itself in addition to the knowledge. Career coaching isn’t a well-favored idea because it hasn’t been effective in the past. And we want to defeat that perception by giving out valuable information for free.
If someone were to replace you one day, what advice would you give them?
In terms of my job, I’d advise them to have intentionality. Intentionality is being very system driven. Rather than being reactionary, look at problems from a holistic perspective, and turn the solutions into templatable actions that can be replicated. Intentionality is important to have in general, but for our industry, it’s particularly important.
How are you so sure the program will help the students find a suitable job?
The whole program is to help fellows find jobs. We give them unlimited support and advising until they sign a final offer they’re happy with. As a result, a Pathrise fellow is always working with an advisor on new networking opportunities, interview reflection and practice, negotiation word for word, and more the entire time.
When your students get a high paying job at a giant tech firm, does it benefit the community they came from?
It does because they return the network and knowledge they’ve gained to their own network. We encourage students to share the things they’ve learned and promoted the idea of giving back to the community. Oftentimes the way other new fellows hear about Pathrise is a previous fellow sharing some exciting tactics or tips they learned in our program.
How are you doing in terms of traction and growth?
In terms of traction, we’re growing very quickly, and on track to do more than $10mm of revenue in 2019. We have placed 140 students. 75% of our students are hired within 3 months of beginning the program. We currently have 400 students enrolled. More importantly, we’re making a life-changing impact on our students by helping them create fulfilling careers.
What is your ultimate goal for Pathrise?
There are three pieces to our vision. The first is to provide a system to overcome environmental disadvantages for underrepresented groups and other undervalued job seekers. The second is to become the missing job seeker’s agent. And finally to research, develop, and share job search curriculum, which has remained underresourced before Pathrise.
Thank you Kevin for your time.
Khai Tran – I cover startups working in underserved/underprivileged communities and the unique challenges they go through. I am the Founder and CEO of Waterfront Ventures, an economic development organization that works with local government and institutions to build startup ecosystems in underprivileged cities. I’m also the Co-Founder and CEO of Penji, a startup that offers unlimited graphic design at one flat monthly rate. Before that, I was a Vietnamese immigrant who came to America with my family seeking a better life.