Moe Abbas is Co-Founder and CEO of Acadium, an apprenticeship marketplace on a mission to accelerate economic mobility by making access to a new career accessible to anyone with an internet connection. Acadium started with the belief that anyone, anywhere, should be able to get the skills and experience they need to start their career without barriers like price, schedule, or location getting in their way.
Acadium has raised $1M from top angel investors, and it has launched more careers in digital marketing than any other platform to date. The company has been featured in Forbes as one of the leading companies building the bridge to remote employment. And the best part, it is completely free for the students and apprentices.
Moe went from a poor, refugee family and selling chocolate bar at 10 years old to help support his family, to founding or co-founding over a dozen startups which over the last 10 years have employed thousands, in industries ranging from real estate, construction, web development, marketing and mobile applications. In his early 20's he was Co-Founder of Ottawa General Contractors which In 5 years, he led the group from doing deals in a Starbucks into Canada’s leading residential design build company with 20 million in sales and design centers across the country.
At 26 years old he won the NKBA 30 under 30 award and was the youngest recipient ever of the OBJ 40 Under 40 Award. He also won the Immigrant Entrepreneur award from the City of Ottawa and many others.
I mean, education, right? Like people need to get trained people to be inspired. I've thought about this quite a bit. So I built the business for exactly that to help people progress through economic mobility.
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Moe Abbas Inteview
Moe Abbas: [00:00:00] what if we can enable businesses around the world to provide jobs training, and we can align the incentives between the business and the student in this what turned out to be an unpaid apprenticeship.
No, we can provide access to job training to a lot of people around the world. That could have a positive impact, right? Because when you start digging into the post-secondary, you realize that cost 141,000 on average in the U S takes four years, 56% of people are under employed, meaning they're in jobs that require no degrees, 73%.
Aren't even using their degree in their field of study.
Brandon Stover: [00:00:58] Hey everyone. Welcome to evolve. I'm your host brain and Stover and today's guest is MOA boss. Co-founder and CEO of Acadia and apprenticeship marketplace on a mission to accelerate economic mobility by making access to a new careers, accessible to anybody with an internet connection. Acadian started with the belief that anyone anywhere should be able to get the skills and experience they need to start their career without any barriers like price, schedule or location, getting in their way.
This mission, a kitty team has raised 1 million from top angel investors and as launched more careers in digital marketing than any other platform to date, the company has also been featured in Forbes as one of the leading companies building the bridge to remote employment and the best part It is completely free for the students and apprentices That are participating.
now Moe went from a poor refugee family and selling chocolate bars at 10 years old to help support his family to founding or co-founding over a dozen startups, which over the last 10 years have employed thousands in industries ranging from real estate construction, web development, marketing, and mobile applications.
In his early twenties, he was co-founder of Ottawa general contractors, which in five years he led the group from doing deals in a Starbucks, into Canada's leading residential design build company with 20 million in sales and design centers across the country.
but before jumping into tech to have a positive impact at scale, or being a founder of two companies at 19, he was actually overweight, dropped out of school and really dissatisfied where he was in life. So he decided to start training his mind and body and spent every waking moment, either in the gym or reading for six to eight hours every single day.
Moe Abbas: [00:02:36] I dropped out of high school and I didn't understand the education system because here I was being taught by a teacher who really wasn't much of a subject matter expert. Didn't really like their job. Wasn't a very good communicator and didn't have a good methodology on top of that.
So I didn't do really well in school. Ended up dropping out. What I did do is I've always been a voracious reader. I love reading. And earlier on, I. Was very careful to pick books that I enjoyed reading, which is a key consideration. When you are reading, a lot of people read books, they don't lie eggs. I end up not liking reading.
Right. And it's like, it's hard to pick it up later in life. So I would early in my, my life, you know, I grew up, I loved libraries in school and I ended up discovering a chapter, which is now called indigo, which is similar to Barnes and Nobles. Essentially. It's a bookstore, but it's a nice bookstore. So it's a big step up for me, a high school library.
Where I spend so much of my time reading fiction books at the time. And I said, wow, this is super cool. And they got to Starbucks and there's free refills at Starbucks. So I I'd made a commitment to myself to train my body and mind. You know, I went through some rough times. I, you know, it wasn't a bad place and just really wanting to never go there again, frankly.
And I said, I'm going to train and I'm going to train hard. And the way I'm going to train is I want to take it upon myself and I'm going to read, and I'm going to read books from the best authors people who do a great writers. Who are the best subject matter experts in the world, in their fields. And then I'll read their life work. You get these geniuses that spend 20 years on a subject, and then they sum it up in a book for you. Like what better knowledge could you ask for? And that's what I did. I shifted from reading fiction to nonfiction with the same kind of veracity. And I would sit in the bookstore all day, get there in the morning and get my coffee.
I would only leave when I got really hungry. And they ended up actually, I spent so much time in that bookstore. They removed the comfy couches. They were like indented. There was like another lady that would read as well as she would read her, which was all there lady. And she was reading like romance novels. And she was also there all the time. I was just being her and she was kind of annoyed with me cause it was her spot for the longest time.
And then there's this guy just coming in with his coffee. And so I I didn't really know a lot. So the first thing I did is I would read on different subjects. I didn't really stick to one thing. I was just curious and feeding my curiosity. The first thing I wanted to do, frankly, was get better. I should read a lot of self-help. You need to discover people like Tony Robbins, like Dale Carnegie, like Napoleon hill. And then I decided, you know, psychology is pretty cool. So I started reading Steven Pinker, you know, I started learning about how the mind works. I started learning about. Different philosophies and mental models. And then sciences were super interesting to me.
So I learned about biology. I learned about chemistry, geology, and then I ended up in business, which was the most relevant to me. And I always knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur because I just wasn't really good at following the rules, but are now, but I wasn't good back then at all.
Brandon Stover: [00:06:40] Tell me tell me about your first construction company. The one that was your successful one after trying a few different startups, you know, you built that over nine years, did this foundation help to start building that and then going after.
Moe Abbas: [00:06:55] yeah, it did. So I started that when I was 20 to 21 and I knew nothing about construction, but. I knew a little bit about entrepreneurship because I had started another business and sold it, small little business landscaping, a couple of them. And I had a friend who was working at a gym and he's like, Hey, we're looking to do this big contract.
It's a half a million dollar job. I was like 20 years old, never picked up a trade in my life. Didn't have any network and construction didn't have much money. And I said, why not? What I really got to lose. Right. And I think if you, if you, if you had the hindsight, you probably wouldn't do a lot of the things you do in life, I don't think it would be as interesting that way. that's exactly how you're learning. And that's what I did it. I, I went head first in this contract. I got my eye on my shirt, you know, it'd be honest. Obviously somebody who gives you such a big contract to somebody, so inexperienced. They're just going to hustle, you think? And then that's what happened.
I ended up getting hustled and it was really, really hard. I remember it's hard when you don't know what you're doing, and then when you have nobody with you. So I remember it was like 2:00 AM and I just finished moving like nine cinderblocks down, two flights of stairs and across half a mall because there was in a basement of a mall and my hands were like torn up and bleeding and I was by myself and it was just dark and.
You know, it was dusty and that was starting to demolish the cinder block wall that was caked with dust everywhere. And I was like, what am I doing with my life? Why am I here? It was so frigging hard and it wasn't the money I'll tell you that. So I persevered through that figured out just how to survive that one, frankly, I lost money on that.
And I, it just six months of my life gone. And, you know, I lost a little bit of money on that after having to like push really hard to even get paid at all. So I shifted away from it, commercial. That was a commercial job into residential where it's a lot more relationship focused or I could use my competencies in sales and marketing.
I had a lot of experience in sales. Marketing is similar to sales and. I use that to my advantage, the trade knowledge wasn't as important in residential and it's easier to hire sub-trades. And so, you know, I started just kind of learning the ropes in a lower stakes arena, which is residential construction.
And then you learn from the one job that was pretty good. Second job was a little bit better. And then eventually I started meeting different trades people, hiring different contractors, and then I learn how to market really well. So I started getting lead flown and, you know, the, the lifeline of any business is sales and marketing, because if you can get lead flow and sell, and then you have an opportunity at least to build the business.
So that's what I really focused on early on. And I did a million dollars or Starbucks, long relationship or Starbucks, and it was just me by myself just selling these projects and then. Honestly, just figuring out how to piece these puzzles together. He wasn't easy. And I would hire a bunch of my friends.
Eventually you got a little basement office eventually, you know, we took over the whole basement and it was really challenging. Like few times we almost ran out of money and then we ended up focusing on residential design build, which is a lot more profitable and Yeah. I just built that company with like a dozen of my childhood friends, which was super cool.
You'd go to work and see all your friends does. It doesn't really happen anymore. I don't really see too many. I don't see anybody doing that anymore, actually. And so that was just like an experience that kind of stage D for life. We ended up scaling the company across Canada. I sent my friends to like open offices in Vancouver and Toronto.
And we, you know we grew that company significantly over the next seven years into one of the largest residential design build companies in north America.
Brandon Stover: [00:11:37] Or why why quit that if it was, you know, being so successful and jump into tech, that's obviously a, a different wheelhouse in 180 degree turn.
Moe Abbas: [00:11:45] I mean, why don't I even get into construction in the first place? Right. So I started, I learned a lot over the seven years or so when I started the construction company, in one thing I learned was that what I wanted to do in my own life, which was improve my community, ultimately make a positive impact.
Construction is a decent way of doing that. There are better ways, you know, and technology being one of those ways, technology gives you infinite leverage,
Brandon Stover: [00:12:16] Okay.
Moe Abbas: [00:12:16] every time I, I had to start a new construction project, I had to hire more people. Right. And your margins are the same. And they're like, you know, you make 10% profit and then you have to train a new person.
And then it's very people heavy in a way. And every project is custom and you could lose your shirt on every project. It's high risk. And then when I started learning about different business models, I realized, Hey, you know, I have this mission in my own life, which is to make a positive impact and improve my community.
And there's this business model and technology, this, this thing that allows you to reach millions of people very quickly, and you could be infinitely creative in it. And software allows you to design pretty much anything. And, you know, it had these appeals that were very attractive to me. And the way I looked at it was, I mean, sure.
I could have made, you know, More millions. Well, you know, which is great. Single digit millions. It's good in profit, not bad, but that wasn't going to allow me to achieve what I wanted to achieve in life and in a financially, from a family level, from an impact level. And then I just kind of looked at my life.
I said, you know, I was 27 at the time, Tony. And I'm like, I got a lot of life left, even if I started from scratch. And it takes me a decade to get to where I am now are, I'd still be in a position where you can multiply very quickly, right? Because in technology, when you find product market fit and distribution fit, you can grow the company very quickly with high margins.
And that was very appealing to me. And RA said, you know, I didn't really get to pick where I am. What I do, it kind of just fell into them. I want to be more intentional in this next phase of my life. And that was its own journey. Actually, that was, that was like going back to the bookstore and it took me like three years to even figure that out.
Just even get to the starting line of starting like an actual took a bunch of shots, lost about a bunch of money. There didn't really actually start a proper company. And it was really hard. That was the hardest time of my life actually was shifting from the construction industry to the technology industry.
Brandon Stover: [00:14:46] How did you discover what your next opportunity was going to be? I mean, you started bumping, which was a social networking app, but then you figured out, you know, you were working on the wrong theme and that kind of sparked the idea later for Acadian. So it kind of explained to us how you, you know, went through that path.
Moe Abbas: [00:15:03] So I knew more than I did when I was 20, but I didn't know very much. Okay. And the more, you know, in the morning to realize that the less, you know, and I thought in my hubris and I've made this mistake several times, it's kind of a mistake that I knew that I could do it. And it's just going to be like a normal challenge.
And what I underestimated was the level of effort. First of all, my opportunity costs was enormous. You know, like I, I gave up a lot of my equity. I gave up a lot of the growth potential. I gave up so much to just even get an opportunity to start another business. And then when I started the other business, I went to, I went to CES.
I went to, I taught a bunch of companies in Silicon valley with an MBA program that graciously allowed me to join them as a guest. And so I saw I was inspired to do something meaningful and technology, and I thought biotechnology was really interesting and it is really interesting to me. Now, back then, it was just way too early and it was beyond my core competency, but I started following a bunch of patents.
So I learned that whole process. I came up with some really interesting ideas about using software and, and your biometric information and creating a digital avatar with that. And, but that just, it was just too early and it just wasn't, it wasn't the right time for that. So. At that point, I was crushed a little bit and I had to one, all my teams suggest we build a social media app.
We've been thinking about, I said, great. It seems a lot easier than this thing. Let's, let's try that. And I made a mistake. I ended up hiring really early without having co-founders. And that was a big mistake. So I had this burn rate and we had nothing to build and I was funding the company myself.
So that burn rate really started to become painful because you made a mistake in your different first thing was just to right wrong time, too difficult for what your skillset was. And then you moved to this other one, the thing, which wasn't a founder market fit. I didn't know anything about it. Right. So I had this burn rate, so we've got to do something like, and we'll figure it out, how to make money later.
We got to do something it's terrible ideas, terrible way to start a business in a way. And. You know, we, we built the app, learned a lot in that process and huge learning curve that was like its own MBA, frankly cost me a lot more than an MBA. And yeah, that just didn't work. We had WPA, we ended up getting about like three, 400,000 signups, which she was like, it's good, but it didn't have any retention.
And they had no revenue model and you competing with Facebook and it wasn't like Snapchat or tech talk. There was just exploding virally. Like we were like, get users. It just wasn't a great product at the time, frankly, it was a terrible product, but. And then end up being okay, by the time he finished it.
And a lot of the ideas we came up with and started even patent. Now we see them in Snapchat and Instagram and I'm like, oh yeah, we thought about that. I was all right. Yeah. So it's just some businesses you just don't want to compete in. And that was one of them, frankly, in that, in that way, at least.
Brandon Stover: [00:18:27] So now you have this burn rate and you have to come up with something fast. When did the idea for Acadian spark for you?
Moe Abbas: [00:18:33] In that process, I would always work with interns. So back in, even in my first construction company, we didn't have any money, but either grow the business. So we'd work with these interns. They needed experience. They were unhirable. Nobody would even talk to them employers cause they didn't have any experience in there.
You know, I mean, you put up an ad, you got a hundreds of applicants, so I'd work with them. They were unpaid interns. I would hire a quarter of them at the end of their internship. And then the other half to two thirds would ended up launching a career. After this experience they got. So it was a great way for us to hire as a way for them to launch a career.
And we were hiring interns again for the social media app. And then that's when my designer at the time Richard turns to me and he's like, Mo you know, we have hundreds of applicants for this internship. Nobody has experience like, why are we building a social media app? Like, nobody cares. You got a bunch of 12 year olds on your app.
Like what? You're like, you're like a grown ass, man. What are you doing? Build a Bab. Yeah. And I ignored him for a bit. I'm like, you know, rich dude, go do your job, man. Like. You got a business to, to figure it out here. Like this is somebody else's problem. And then I realized this has been somebody else's problems since my first construction company.
And then I realized that, you know, after another round of applicants, he kept coming up to me and he was right. Like, how could you ignore the guy? Like we had this unique insight that, you know, we were able to provide better job training than post-secondary. That's just what it was. Right? Like they weren't hireable.
They came to us, they became hireable. What does this mean? We made them honorable. We were the catalyst. So we had that. We said, what if we can enable businesses around the world to provide jobs training, that'd be pretty cool. And you know, if we could do that and we can align the incentives between the business and the student in this unpaid, what turned out to be an unpaid apprenticeship.
No, we can provide access to job training to a lot of people around the world. And that was really interesting. That could have a positive impact, right? Because when you start digging into the post-secondary, you realize that cost 141,000 on average in the U S takes four years, 56% of people are under employed, meaning they're in jobs that require no degrees, 73%.
Aren't even using their degree in their field of study. And then you look at the main degrees, psychology business admin, and you're like, wait, those aren't even actual jobs. Like, you know, like there's a hundred thousand people who graduated from psychology. There's 10,000 job openings, including like high school counselors, big mismatch there.
Why are they schools selling these degrees? They don't have any job demand. You can't get a job as business admin. There's no job training involved not. And what we realize is the whole system is set up to just make money and support itself rather than focus on outcomes. And we're like, man, this is crazy.
Brandon Stover: [00:21:36] So how does the Katie himself this problem?
Moe Abbas: [00:21:38] We this notion of, of an apprenticeship where someone can come to Acadia with just an internet connection and they can get trained from a vetted business or three months. And they it's 10 hours a week. It's remote. They can do it on their own schedule. There's coursework know we had this vision of like, you know, coming to this let's live now and it works.
But at the time it wasn't like we had this vision where you can do courses and they can get work experience, and then they can get paid opportunities at the end of their training, all on the same platform. It's like this end-to-end bridge between education and employment. And it was kind of like this really big, difficult thing.
And it still is a big, difficult thing, but we started chipping away at it. And the saying goes, how do you eat an elephant? You eat a piece by piece. How do you tackle this ginormous thing? You get it piece by piece. And we ended up crystallizing the mission of Acadian, which is to enable economic mobility and how we do that is by providing job training to anyone with an internet connection.
So we make job training accessible to people around the world that wouldn't otherwise have this opportunity. And by giving them this opportunity for job training, you're essentially leveling the playing field with the wealthy, with the privileged who have access to these elite schools and this and these opportunities.
And that was something really meaningful because once Acadian becomes truly a global company, we have thousands of apprentices now, but once we become global and available to everyone and everyone knows about a Qadium, what does this mean? Right. Like what are the implications? I would a second order effects of that.
And it's something that is profoundly inspiring. Something that is, you know, allows us to work towards this mission that is hard to find in a lot of companies and so what it does is that you can balance purpose and profits, right? So we still make money, but we have a positive impact.
Brandon Stover: [00:23:36] Can you maybe give an example of the second order impact?
Moe Abbas: [00:23:40] Kaylee, she was a sound technician and she was making a normal wage. I think he was around 35, 40 K a year. And it was doing that for a while. And then COVID hit now she's out of a job. So what's Kaylee going to do, she had a passion for content writing and she was thinking, you know, do I go back to school for this?
Cause how else do you launch a new career? You got to go to school. It's like, oh, well, let me just see how much I like, is she just doing some online courses, gets more proficient and content writing realizes that something she does like to do. And then she's like, well, I wonder if there's another way I could get the training that I need and get the experience.
So to just discover as Acadian, and she starts an apprenticeship at the end of her apprenticeship, she was ended up, she was actually working with an agency, digital marketing agency, and they were looking to hire a content writer and Kaylee proved herself to be very good content writer. So they hired her at the end of the apprenticeship and that's a life changing, like she was able to within six months and her case was closer to three months.
Go from, Hey, I think I want to launch a career in digital marketing to being a paid marketer.
Brandon Stover: [00:24:59] Yeah.
Moe Abbas: [00:25:00] You can go to school for four years. She didn't get into student debt. She didn't learn all these things or irrelevant to her. She didn't have to, to spend money to travel and stay up doing exams all night. All right.
All she did was come to Acadian, prove that shit. She is able to do this job, get the experience first. And then after she got the experience, prove she's competent in this. And then she kind of a paid marketer that doesn't end there within one year. She got promoted to director of marketing for this agent is Canadian operation.
They're a California based agency and now she's making double her income. So within one to one and a half years, she went from being a sound technician. To being director of marketing, making twice as much in a cost or nothing. That's life-changing how do we put this in the hands of more people as a question that we ask ourselves every day,
Brandon Stover: [00:26:03] When you guys initially started Acadia, it started with just the landing page and on, you know, on Squarespace. How did you test and validate the idea and then get your first customers for this?
Moe Abbas: [00:26:13] those were really hard, but I had a growth hack at the time that worked really well. And I'd learned my lesson from bumpin to not spend any money before, you know, you have something that can make money, at least potentially make money at the very least. And so what I did, I said, you know what, man, I'm not going to build nothing.
I just want to see if there's a demand here. So I went to Squarespace. I'm like, you know what? I could use Squarespace. How do you want to take any engineering resources? I don't want to get into designer. It's, you know, a Squarespace, you can make a pretty website, put a few funnels, few call to actions, see if people click and then I would go to job boards and I would post up an ad for an internship.
And I would funnel people who are looking for work experience through this landing page. It was a little dicey. Maybe I shouldn't have done that, but you know, whatever it is, what it is at this point. And so I funneled these candidates. I said, Hey, you don't have any experience, but maybe you should go check out.
This platform can help you. And they would come and sign up. And I had like a crazy conversion and I was like, ran into something here. And I like, let's double down on this. So I'm like, oh, let's see how motivated they are. So I even put a pay wall where they had to pay. To get these kind of internships at the time people were paying.
I was like, okay, it's just crazy. Like this shows you how desperate people are for work experience. Like, you know, and I said, okay, we're going to build an MVP, but we actually needed to get liquidity because it's a two-sided marketplace who ended up building course content. And they ended up focusing on digital marketing, a very simple come get free lessons in digital marketing.
So we get people who want to learn marketing. And then we had some liquidity, which is one side of the marketplace, people apprentices in our case that were ready. So when we started selling to businesses, there are at least candidates they could match with. And that was the strategy. It was like this like web page with no product whatsoever and then making it harder for them to sign up.
And then having an MVP, which was lessons to get some little sort of liquidity and then launching the apprenticeship marketplace, which was frankly, pretty garbage when we started, like, it was terrible. We start, we imagined them at first manually that doesn't really work really well. So we built an actual product and we just launched it really quickly because we learned like, you don't want to wait.
You want to get out to market and iterate quickly when you don't have product market fit. And that's what we did, which kept iterating and learning and making it better and better.
Brandon Stover: [00:29:06] When you were selling to the businesses I've heard you talk about before instead of having like an automated checkout system or something, jumping on those calls with your customers is great in the beginning to just start learning from them. What were some of the things that you were getting on those initial calls and how were you closing those first few businesses?
Moe Abbas: [00:29:25] I think it's foolish to try to create any kind of automated checkout system when you're super early, because you want to talk to your clients and you want to know what their price sensitivity is in a way you want to know what they're looking for and you can just, and you want to sell them like you want to make revenue.
And I knew I could sell people. This was not very hard for me to do, especially when you're having a conversation and they have a problem why they need marketing help. I know the marketing hub, this is, so I created a funnel. I would, what I did is we were running out of cash at the time. I was like, man, we gotta make money.
Like we can't keep building things. W we're just not going to get an opportunity to go anywhere. And we're going to raise any money as well. It just was too early, too risky for investors. So I said, I got to figure out how to solve businesses. Where are the businesses? Where are small businesses? What are they aggregate.
And then I realized they're probably like Facebook group. So I would go on these Facebook groups and I would post this ad, which wasn't I tried to make it not look like an ad more like just being helpful. Like, Hey, if you need help, we have student marketers that can help you message me if you're interested or comment, if you're interested.
And then they would have like interested intranet and people would just call me like crazy. And then I would like DM everyone who commented say, Hey, I want to, if this is a fit for your business, let's jump on a call. And I did that and I sold so many businesses during that. And it was really successful and But it's limiting as well.
Right? Because you can't really do that very much on Facebook. It's just, doesn't allow you to do that. There's not enough groups and you can saturate very quickly and that's what happened, but it allowed us to get that initial traction, that initial lift and enough revenue to really build a business, right?
Like we got to like a meaningful amount of revenue just doing that strategy alone.
Brandon Stover: [00:31:21] when you're building a marketplace, what are some of the lessons that you learned from the experience of building it, that you can't necessarily learn in a book that you know, would be helpful for other people building the same type of model?
Moe Abbas: [00:31:32] you don't really understand liquidity. Liquidity is a really important thing. And you can think about it and study it, but there's certain liquidity ratios that are very relevant to your business. Like how many supply and demand do you need relative to each other? It's never, it's never a one-to-one it's never, like, I got one host and that equals one traveler.
Right? So you have to balance supply and demand liquidity. That's very, very hard thing to do, actually. That's a key lesson. The another lesson, it depends what kind of marketplace you're building. Like if you're building like a labor marketplace, You have to consider the kind of relationship that you're enabling.
So are they going to go off platform? Are they going to stay on platform? Is it going to be recurring in such a manner like high transaction, high frequency? Like you're not going to go take your Uber driver's number, the Gelman call you for my next ride. And he's just not going to do that, but you'll do that with a babysitter.
You'll do that with a freelancer. So when we started building out our freelancing marketplace, which it's just, it's another marketplace, that's working with a KTM, essentially. When, when we apprentices are trained, they can become freelancers that requires its own liquidity. And it has different set of challenges because freelancers, if you get a good freelance, are you going to stay with them when you go off platform? So you have to create a model that keeps them on platform. So off-boarding is a challenge that you got to consider. The quiddity is a challenge you have to consider Your business model. Like there's a whole bunch of, we couldn't do transaction fees, which is the most obvious marketplace business model because there's no payments happening in the apprenticeship marketplace.
So we had to, yeah, we had to go with like subscriptions is what we ended up using. So that was challenging to figure out the right model
Brandon Stover: [00:33:23] You guys went through quite a few different iterations of that. Can you kind of explain how you decided to land on the one that you're on now?
Moe Abbas: [00:33:31] yeah, it's very similar to the first one, to be honest you just pick a model. We liked, we liked the idea of recurring subscriptions, right? It's a good business model. You give them your revenue compounds and which works, but it doesn't always work.
Right. And our model that works for some businesses, it doesn't work for all businesses, but. So we said, oh yeah, cause some businesses don't need marketing help all the time. So they would come and they would churn. So you had like high churn and that was a problem. So we said, what if it was, we switched to pay per use?
We switched to pay per use, but you couldn't predict any revenues this way. That was a different kind of problem. And will you realize also with the subscription is that when people are paying them more apt to use the product. So we ended up going back to subscription with a few iterations, better vetting, better expectations management, and a higher price point.
And we had some early later models. We tested that didn't work as well. There were quite convoluted and we have multiple models at one time available, which also was quite convoluted. So now it is one option. You become a member, you get access to the marketplace. You can get one more apprentices is three 99, a quarter or 1200 bucks for the year.
Brandon Stover: [00:34:47] so you guys have like a technology platform, you have courses, you have like support services with this, that, you know, vet both sides for the apprenticeship relationship. What features and services did you start with and how did you decide which ones were needed for successful apprenticeship to happen?
Moe Abbas: [00:35:03] We started just with lessons. So you made lessons and they were like scripts and videos, and that was terrible. We ended up iterating them to be micro lessons. So the kind of like flashcards, which was very popular then so we have to learn how to do that. And it's funny that that has a product market fit because we haven't touched that in two and a half, three years maybe.
And people still use it every day, like thousands of people. Right. So And then we moved to the apprenticeship marketplace. And that was really challenging because you have to figure out how do people want to talk to each other, you know, response rates. Sometimes our apprentices, we get too many inbounds.
What do you do? And they don't respond. How do you show the right candidate to the right person at the right time? So, you know, we added filters and then we had one click labor contracts because we knew that was valuable to businesses to start an apprenticeship. And we just kept iterating once we figured out the apprenticeship marketplace, we did do one big one, which is we launched ISS. Okay. So we realized that there's some. Candidates that wanted a more in depth training and it would be willing to pay for that. So I was an upsell on the candidate side. So we launched an offering to them called Katie and plus, or they could get better training, more support, more career support, especially specifically, and it's done in cohorts and they pay for that offering if they don't want to do the self-serve apprenticeship offering.
And that's, well, that's profitable actually is a profitable business unit of Acadian. And we, then we iterated the model many times and we got really good at apprenticeships. at one time were going to go horizontal. And start offering apprenticeships in other categories. And we realized that was a mistake actually, because we haven't really, really fully won digital marketing and apprenticeships has limitations in it right now that are challenging to overcome for other categories and even in our category.
So we said, we're not going to do that. Actually, what we're going to do is we're going to go deep, deep, deep in digital marketing, and we're going to become the number one place to launch a marketing career period. That's it end to end solution. We're going to take this one, one career path and just completely own this career path you should ever go to school again for digital marketing.
We are the best place to launch a career in digital, the marketing by far better outcomes, better price, and it's faster. So yeah. We ended up focusing on that and same on the business side, where we were hard-pressed to, you know, if you're going to start offering businesses, other services then, and you've got to get liquidity in those services, you might want to build courses in those services.
You got to understand the specific needs of that service as well. And it's totally doable, but we just said, you know what? We want to become the place for businesses come to hire entry-level marketers. And this is something I feel is a lot more defensible, right? Because people make decisions on where do I launch a marketing career?
Not necessarily. And where's the best place to do that. They're, don't make decisions on what do I get experience in graphics design and is coding and marketing and all of these fields, you know, they don't really make this instance that way. They say, I want to become a marketer. Where do I learn this thing?
That's one thing the same with businesses. If I need marketing help, where do I find marketing help? So by focusing on this one category, number one, it's easier to build a brand around that. It's also way more defensible, right? So you can imagine let's just go into the future. You're very successful.
People want to compete with you. If you own this one category, it's done the impossible because you have all the liquidity, right? Why would anybody go? Nobody's looking to build a portfolio. Who's a marketer also in software engineering, right? You're just going to stick in the one field. And that's the feel that they have as a career now in the future.
Once we complete this horror, this vertical end-to-end world-class experience in a completely dominate digital marketing and supply the entire world with entry-level marketers, then we can say, okay, maybe we can go to another category at that way. It's a long time in the future, in my opinion. But that's the strategy that we're going with right now.
Brandon Stover: [00:39:55] For the business owners, when they're looking at some of these students in some of these apprentices as candidates, what are the things that stand out most to the businesses? I know you offer like certificates for some of the courses that they complete in Acadian is past experience, more weighted heavily with them.
What are business owners looking at?
Moe Abbas: [00:40:14] So I'll let you set the expectation that these are people just launching a career. Yes. You're going to find some with experience for sure. Right? Because not everyone is literally. No, it's not their first rodeo for some of them, but I do like to set that expectation that they're, entry-level, they're here for training.
They are motivated. Like they have to apply to get into a KTM. It's a process. They are willing like they're here to do an apprenticeship, many of them, but it's like any other HR process. You're going to have to message 25 and they're, they're all over the world, right? They're in north America, they're in Europe, they're in Africa, Asia, they're all over the world.
You can filter by country. You can filter by type of work, social media, content, marketing, whatever it is you're looking for. And it's a bit of a process involved in that and finding a match to get, to send out 25 messages, same thing you would do with resumes. Don't expect to look at three resumes and hire someone, make a hire.
I look about a hundred actually. So on average it takes 23 messages and 11 days to find a match in Acadian. And it depends how picky you are, frankly. Right? So I say, if you're not finding exactly what you're looking for, broaden your scope, and if you don't find an apprentice. Get a freelancer, I guess nobody wants to do an apprenticeship with you, then you probably need to hire a freelancer at that point and just pay them to get the work done.
Brandon Stover: [00:41:38] I know referrals are pretty big for Acadian and you guys also have like a contest going right now for, you know, people to submit their stories about their apprenticeships. What have been the biggest leverages for growth for you guys that you have really grown in marketing, you know, being somebody that teaches digital marketing, I would assume you guys have some very good tactics of your own.
Moe Abbas: [00:41:59] Yeah. There's, short-term, there's, long-term a lot of people think social media is a good marketing. I don't think it's great marketing personally and sorry for our specific model. I think it's not the ideal way to market. It's good for the brand. What I think the. Best ways to market is by having a conversation with your customers in a meaningful way.
And for us, we have BDR SDRs that's successful on the mentor side. That works really well. You essentially it's email marketing, email marketing is the best ROI by far. So you have these conversations, email, email marketing, you book, phone calls, then you have a script and a process. You follow. We have a strong referral campaign as well.
So we have marketing is beyond just external. So we have a strong referral program that does really, really well for us, where we have partners and influencers that we work with, who promote Acadian. Oh, that's on the mentor side. We've done performance marketing. I like to stay away from that because it's like crack cocaine can get out of hand pretty quickly.
It's got to be careful with performance marketing on the apprentice side. A lot of it's organic people tell other people, SEO is a big thing for us, which is a long take a lot of effort to get that going in app store as well. In partnerships on the student side as well. Those are some good channels that we use.
Brandon Stover: [00:43:25] When COVID-19 hit, there was a lot of people that became an unemployed and, you know, looking to re-skill and then, you know, obviously lots of higher education institutions are closing. So even though they are an option for some people. They're disappearing now, how did Acadian respond and like take advantage of this opportunity that you know, happened during 2020?
Moe Abbas: [00:43:45] so we found businesses stopped spending for awhile. So it was actually quite challenging for businesses. And then now they're spending and they're coming to a Katy and more because we're the most affordable place to get marketing help. So it's been a big benefit there. On the candidate side, we are seeing candidates come to Acadian.
It is happening at the same time. A lot of people are taking this time for self-help. You know, there's just a lot of what we found is. Well, it's what I see is a lot of people who are trying to figure out what they want to do next. And, you know, the government subsidies allows them to take their time in figuring out what they want to do.
That's ending and has ended for many places. So we are seeing a lot more candidates come into the marketplace. It's, you know, in a remote world, all our punishments are remote. Freelancing is growing and remote work is growing exponentially. And we're seeing this now and longterm, this trend is gonna just keep compounding in our favor.
Brandon Stover: [00:44:53] And you guys launched a Acadian plus this year.
Moe Abbas: [00:44:56] I spent about a year and a half, two years for Acadian Plaza. It's grown quite a bit.
Brandon Stover: [00:45:01] And what kind of people were taking that opportunity? You mentioned that, you know, some people want on board advanced training, but that's, you know, something that they have to pay for in terms of getting this training rather than doing an apprenticeship and doing that for free, what kind of people are leaning towards this option?
Moe Abbas: [00:45:17] usually it's people who may not have any marketing experience, actually switching careers who want to become entrepreneurs even, or start their own agency. And like the accountability of working in cohorts on under. Live instruction, right? There's a lot more accountability. They know themselves. They know they do did, they would do better in that.
And it's not very expensive, right? It's still very, very, very affordable. It's under $5,000 to go through the whole program and it has a great outcome. So these are people who like the accountability do well in cohorts are really serious about either launching their own agency or becoming marketers themselves and are willing to invest more in that pathway for themselves.
Brandon Stover: [00:46:02] what advice would you give a smart driven college student? That's about to enter the railroad right now in 2021.
Moe Abbas: [00:46:09] I would say, go join a company. If you can, and do it on paid, you pick a company, that's going to give you a lot of experience. That's in a high growth trajectory and just get in, even if it's unpaid add value and keep adding value and learn and get that work experience, get that network. And if you work hard and you're smart about it, you will get hired.
You will unlock these opportunities. And if you don't just go to the next company, so move to Silicon valley and go volunteer with a bunch of startups that are rocket ships and you'll get hired at one of them. And you might get some equity out of that, and you might earn a ton of money from that.
Brandon Stover: [00:46:48] Yeah. Thinking about learning in school, what is your learning process look like now? I mean, obviously before you were reading a ton and you know, eight to nine hours in a bookstore, what does it look like for you now?
Moe Abbas: [00:46:59] It's actually not that different. I wake up. I do my five minute journal which is I highly recommend to anyone. And then I sit with my giant pot of coffee and my French press. And then I read for about maybe up to one hour, and this is intellectual reading on reading a book on crispers right now, genetic editing.
And then I'll go to work on the way to work, throw in a podcast or a audio book. I don't like listening to just conversational podcasts. So I'm very careful about the podcasts that I listened to, but the books I spend an incredible amount of time find the right books to read.
And so I'll, I'll walk to work. Listen to that. Do my work, walk back, listen to podcasts, eat my food, listen to the audio book. If I'm driving, listen to the audio book. And then all throughout the day, I have different news sources and learning sources, whether it's email newsletters, I've subscribed to that.
Give me information that I need or Twitter and then in the evening I S I S I read, I've been trying to read fiction though, bef in the evening, again, for about half an hour to an hour before I go to bed and every opportunity I get, where I'm in the car and alone, there's an audio book. There's a podcast.
I go into nature quite a bit on the weekend. So a couple of hours. It's about two to four hours of driving a weekend with my kids. Again, listening to audio books we listened to the Alchemist recently, you were listening to shoe dog together they're seven and nine years old. So I picked stories that I think are that they'll comprehend and understand.
It's great every once in a while, we'll pause it. And they'll ask me a question and we both learned, cause I got to explain it to them. And then in nature is where I get to reflect and apply a lot of your learnings and really get an understanding of the core from the mental concepts of life.
Brandon Stover: [00:49:00] Is there anything that you're doing during this learning process? Like taking notes, you mentioned, you know, sometimes pausing and recalling it with your kids and whatnot, that helps you to learn it better and then apply it. So that you're actually using this information.
Moe Abbas: [00:49:13] I used to read it like a book every couple of days. And now I'm just, when I find a good book, I read it very slowly. And then I share what I know whenever I come across something good people tweet, I don't tweet as much. I share my slack things that I find like really interesting lessons. So I'll do that.
I started writing in the margins and highlighting, and that's challenging you to do sometimes because I'm always, you know, that's not the easiest thing to do. Yeah. And I'll pause and have with my kids, especially actually like I'll pause and an important lesson and we'll talk about it.
Brandon Stover: [00:49:48] how else are you teaching your kids? Just out of curiosity.
Moe Abbas: [00:49:51] it's, it's fun. It's like a big experiment. If you mess them up, you can just make more, right? Uh, No one of my goals is to be a great father and you know, create a family legacy, which means it's not just about me being successful. I need my kids to be successful. And the family mission is to improve our community.
So I have to teach them how to teach themselves number one, because kids are, there'll be as helpless as you let them be. You know? Whereas I teach my kids, I let them take a hell of a lot of risks, right. Nothing where they can get serious the, well, sometimes they could potentially get seriously injured, but I'm there with them.
Like, for example, there's like intellectual lessons. You teach them, there is a moral lessons. You teach them. And you do it on the job, let's say, so we'll go for a walk and then something will come up and they'll ask me a question or they'll see something. And that's the opportunity to teach a lesson.
Sometimes I do structured lessons. Like we taught them, I taught them about mirror neurons the other day. And then I had them teach it back to me. So I teach them and they had to then teach me that lesson just under. So I know that the comprehended it, and then I'll reiterate a few weeks later, teach me this lesson again.
And then I make them do a lot of challenges actually. And I, I let them, I let them have an unlimited amount of curiosity, except sometimes it's a big pain in the ass. Like they'll just flip the kitchen upside down, running some dumb experiment. I didn't really, you know, I get the experimentation, but that didn't make any sense that you just like put a bunch of things and made a mess. That's not good experiment. You need a hypothesis. They ain't going to help them guide them down that path. And then for challenges, like we'll walk bare feet up a waterfall in, in high bug season. And if you miss step you're, you're going to get injured. Right. And it's, it's the three of us and every, and I'm like right there, right behind them, hands and feet gripping every stone.
And it's pretty gross, frankly. And it's cold. And it's really hard in a way, cause there's bugs everywhere and you know, you're in the wild, like we're in the middle of forest. We, you know, and, and we're bare feet. And if, if they misstep, they can slide, they can get injured, which should be a huge nightmare.
Cause then you've got to deal with an injury in the middle of a forest, but that's the risks that I think are important for children because we forget where we come from and we live a very comfortable life. And in order to be happy, you need to learn how to suffer. And in order to be successful, you need to learn how to deal with challenges.
So I teach them how I imagined. I would like to be taught as a child.
Brandon Stover: [00:52:55] yeah, you've transformed yourself a lot, you know, physically, mentally, and professionally. What has been the thing that pushed you the most to be successful? Whether, you know, it was in the gym or the office or being a parent
Moe Abbas: [00:53:06] Well, I mean, what motivates you? Right. So I would say two things growing up in poverty and then seeing my family suffer. That was really challenging because of being poor and ignorant to it. My parents didn't know a lot of they're poor. So you see all these other people's exceeding and you're just like, well, w w why didn't they succeed?
Why, why aren't we in this position? And my mom, she got very sick with Ms and they're overweight and they smoke. And, and I saw that and I said, I don't want to be like that. You know? I mean, the sickness, you can't control, but just the other unhealthy habits gave me inspiration to be extremely. And I, then I got beat up and dumped.
In high school, which was a big catalyst for me to get in shape. I said, I'm not going to put myself in that kind of position again. So it's a lot of pain, frankly. Like you just deal with like, I don't know how you get driven without pain and you can make this pain up. Like, you know, Michael Jordan would make stuff up in his head about what people said to him, just so he gets his, his competitive drive going.
Brandon Stover: [00:54:18] would you are doing these things like transforming yourself? I know, like when you were working out at the gym, you were thinking about Arnold Schwartzenegger and using him sort of as a model. Is there any mentors that you use now or to help kind of push you in the same way?
Moe Abbas: [00:54:31] Absolutely. I have a whole bunch of mentors. And it depends on what, like for working out Franco Colombel Arnold Schwartzenegger, you know, like Frank of Columbia was 36 years old as a video of him boxing at 36 and he was incredibly fit. Michael Jordan was 36 when he won his last championship and I'm 35 right now.
And I'm like, I gotta up my game. Like these guys are crushing at this age, you know? So for them, for fitness, I use them for example. And then for there's a, there's a science fiction book that I really liked dune. There's some great characters in that. Like miles tag. Who's an incredibly high integrity Bashara, which is like a general in the book and just has such a loyal following as a general and is able to avoid conflicts and save a lot of lives because of his reputation and his brilliant strategist.
It's a fictional character, but inspires me. And then like for business, you have people like Elon Musk, who I like him in some ways. I don't like him in other ways, Jeff Bezos, same thing. They have pros and cons. So you just kind of like pick and choose and you build your own game character, which is your own life.
Brandon Stover: [00:55:46] Before I get to my last question, is there a call to action that you'd like to leave our listeners with today?
Moe Abbas: [00:55:51] Yeah, absolutely. Sign up to a Qadium. If you're looking to launch a marketing career, ktm.com, a C a D I U m.com E C a D I U m.com. And if you're looking for marketing help come to qadium.com. It's the most affordable place to find marketing help and follow me on Instagram and Twitter at real Mobis.
Brandon Stover: [00:56:14] well, my last question is how can we push the world to evolve?
Moe Abbas: [00:56:18] there's a few ways you could do this. There's one way, which is, I think as I, as my studies are, are leaning me towards genetic engineering, which sounds if you used, you said how you make the world evolve, you could evolve humans, frankly, and that's probably inevitable and that's probably going to be the biggest catalyst.
And we may need to do that if AI gets advanced enough and out of control, who knows? So the other way is,
I mean, education, right? Like people need to get trained people to be inspired. I've thought about this quite a bit. So I bought the business for exactly that to help people progress through economic mobility, another way is to build communities. So one thing I'm reflecting on and progress is not always economical.
It could be how do people live a more fulfilling, happy, successful life. And there are, that's a whole topic in itself. So I'll leave you with provide people, access to quality training and safety. If you're not safe, you can progress, right? Like you're just always worried about your safety and and then we'll, and the interesting technology would be genetic engineering.
Brandon Stover: [00:57:39] Love it Mo thank you so much for coming on the podcast today and sharing everything about your life and the kitty.
Moe Abbas: [00:57:44] Appreciate it.
The Evolve Podcast is focused on evolving the world through evolution of the individual. Brandon Stover unpacks the stories and mindsets of extraordinary social impact founders, visionary leaders, and social enterprise experts as they share how they built startups that are solving the worlds greatest problems. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.Leave A Review