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Fireside chat with Raheel Ahmad, Co-Founder of DevNation

Who is Raheel Ahmad?

Raheel Ahmad is a Pakistani tech entrepreneur, currently the co-founder and CEO of DevNation, an edTech startup focused on up-skilling talent with digital skills in the emerging markets. He is a graduate of New York University and has previously launched and scaled two AI startups in AI. He currently resides in NYC but has lived in Shanghai for over six years. 

What’s the story behind DevNation?

DevNation started off with a simple vision in mind: democratize the highest quality of education for the emerging world. We understand the importance of education. Societies like the US, India, and China have one thing in common: their focus on tech education has uplifted millions from poverty and empowered generations with the ability to innovate. Looking back at Pakistan, we did not feel the same way and we were at a point in our lives where we really wanted to solve a problem that would impact generations to come. Pakistan is home to more than 50 million people between the age of 18 and 34. Despite that, our tech talent is scarce and highly unskilled. More than that, if you are not a graduate from tier 1 university, your future in the country is bumpy and extremely difficult – you won’t land a good job. Up-skilling becomes a necessity but all without guidance and mentorship. So we identified and connected with this problem and decided to tackle it heads on. 

Today we are providing upskilling programs in web development, data science taught by top instructors. Programs are completely online and are focused on building real-world projects. Learners get mentorship from industry experts and collaborate as if they are in a real company. In the end, our goal is to get them ready for the industry. 

What was the most difficult part of your experience in the early beginnings?

Convincing people around us on the Deferred Tuition business model was quite difficult. People called us stupid and ignorant for choosing this mode of payment because Pakistanis do not have a great reputation inside the country for returning owed money. There is no credit rating system in Pakistan which makes it difficult for a company like us to take on such a risk. We are determined however and we believe in the long run, this model will work. It might not work for the investors but it definitely works for the people and puts pressure on us, as an institution, to actually deliver on what we promise.

On the operational side, explaining to people what Deferred Tuition was and how it worked was very challenging. It still is. People get the impression that the program is free until they realize that it is not. Overall, there were many other challenges in regards to the training, hitting the right target audience to achieve a course-market fit and eventually product-market fit. It is still challenging but as we are getting extremely data-oriented within the organization, we are making informed decisions by constantly running experiments and following a scientific approach. Education, upskilling, and job placement are already very hard problems but important ones to solve in Pakistan. 

What are you most proud of regarding your business?

We are solving a complex problem. Every day, we are up-skilling the next generation of Pakistan with the digital skills of the future and connecting them with opportunities that were not accessible to them. Every single day, we get to work to empower the underserved. It is something that makes me wake up every single morning. 

As we are laser-focused on the Pakistani market, we are well aware of the financial burdens and roadblocks for over 80% of the population. So we have introduced a tuition option that ties our success with that of our students. We are the first startup to offer Deferred Tuition in the Pakistani market. Deferred tuition allows students to pay a small up-front fee during enrollment and pay the rest once they land a job. It has allowed millions of Pakistanis without financial resources to dream about their future and get a high-quality education designed to make them successful. We have reduced the risk for our learners – if they fail, we fail, and they don’t pay us a penny. 

But the success of our users and lifelong relationships are embedded in the DNA of our startup. We make all our internal decisions to make our students successful. We won’t accept any other outcome. This culture of being laser-focused on our student’s success within the company will always differentiate us from other similar offerings. 

What is your vision for the future of DevNation?

Our vision with DevNation is simple: Everyone should have access to high-quality education and opportunities regardless of their socio-economic background. Everyone deserves a better life and we want to enable that journey.

What’s your advice for the businesses that are trying to adapt to this economic climate?

Focus on your customers and embrace the changes. Don’t try to fight change instead build strategies that align with the current status quo. Focus on the customer because, at the end of the day, customers are all that matters. 

Please name a few technologies which have the greatest impact on your business.

Zoom, Google Meet, Calendly, AI, Slack -> all the technologies have actually empowered us to deliver the services and products that we are so proud of. Remote work and technologies are here to stay and we are glad to build a business on top of these technologies. 

What books do you have on your nightstand?

  • Deep Work (Cal Newport)
  • Four Hour Work Week (Tim Ferris)
  • How to Lead (David Rubinstein)
  • Grand Strategy (John Lewis Gaddis)

Because of the current economic climate our publication has started a series of discussions with professional individuals meant to engage our readers with relevant companies and their representatives in order to discuss their involvement, what challenges they have had in the past and what they are looking forward to in the future. This sequence aims to present a series of experiences, recent developments, changes and downsides in terms of their business areas, as well as their goals, values, career history, the high-impact success outcomes and achievements.

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