UpWest Labs leads $2 million round for the Uber of TED talks, a startup betting millennials crave more growth

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The guys at Jolt announced a $2 million seed round led by UpWest Labs and Hillsven on Tuesday. Other investors include Tank Hill Ventures and former Face.com CEO Gil Hirsch.

The business of filling the skill gap left by universities is booming. Jolt claims they can reboot people’s career development with an online professional speakers’ network.

“We focus on ‘professionals who speak’ rather than professional speakers, so this is a platform to drink knowledge straight from the fountain rather than to buy it from middle-men and trainers, or use pre-recorded, packaged materials who may quickly become outdated,” CEO and Co-founder Roei Deutsch told Geektime. “We also invest a lot of energy in building technology to automatically figure out what’s cutting edge, to help our clients know what they should have their employees learning.”

Not even a year old, they lay claim to hundreds of users employed by Facebook, Google, Salesforce, Oracle, Autodesk, Lyft, Oracle, Slack and the Apsen Institute, among others.

“We strive to create an open marketplace where every type of knowledge is accessible. A typographic designer from Finland could be highly beneficial to a design studio in Frankfurt; same as a mobile growth strategist from Google at Mountain View can deliver tremendous value to a startup team in Tel Aviv,” Deutsch notes.

The platform uses a credit-based system that you can cash out at any time but is built in to encourage listeners to become speakers and speakers to become students.

“When you give a talk, you earn a credit and may use it either to cash out (and have money wire-transferred to your account with no hassle) or to book talks for your own team. Credits can also be bought; the more you buy, the more affordable they are,” Deutsch explains.

Interestingly, the price for usage goes down the more often you use the system. That is for one specific reason he reiterates: “As we strive to encourage lifelong learning and global knowledge sharing, credits are more affordable the more you buy.”

Example of a Jolt speaker profile

Example of Jolt speaker profile 2
An example of a Jolt speaker’s profile as it appears on the site

Do millennials prefer to learn new skills over advancement on the job?

The company’s driving philosophy places a lot of emphasis on targeting millennials. “As millennials become a majority of the workforce and begin to take over key positions, we believe their hunger for knowledge and hands-on learning will drive companies and economies forward,” Deutsch is quoted as saying in the company’s press release. “As more Jolters are invited into some of the world’s leading companies to further develop their teams and individuals, our team continues to rethink the future of the workforce.”

He added that, “As millennials are becoming a more significant part of the workforce, we see a shift towards growth and development coming from the bottom up. For millennials, growth and development come as first priority, before monetary compensation and promotion options.”

There are a number of studies that state that millennials are more motivated by passion or meaning than a mere salary figure. This includes Deloitte’s 2015 Millennial Survey, which claims things like, “More than 50% of millennials say they would take a pay cut to find work that matches their values” and that, “Millennials want to work with purpose.”

However, this reporter doubts that most millennials prioritize development ahead of receiving raises and promotions. If anything, it’s probable that there is an expectation that experience (or growth or development) will increase workers’ chances of raises and promotions. Plus, millennials are in a worse place financially than the past two generations, largely because of student debt and the state of the economy when they entered it — so this is an important, equitable point to consider in developing them as workers.

Regardless, there is definitely talk of a skills gap for new workers and a desire to stay on top of current industry developments and technologies.

Deutsch says that, “Companies gradually realize they have to give their employees ongoing learning to stay in the game; but millennial team leaders and middle-management know it intuitively and are actively seeking for it.”

Jolt was co-founded by CEO Roei Deutsch, Nitzan Cohen Arazi and CTO Nadav Leshem. They have six full-time employees out of their headquarters in San Francisco. Abigail Tenembaum, once responsible for coaching TED Conference speakers, is also joining Jolt’s board of advisors. Zach Holman, who was on the founding GitHub team and of Honeywell, will also join.

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