The top 5 product lessons on how this startup delivers learning with measurable ROI for Google, Uber and Samsung

Shinaz Navas
May 27 · 5 min read

Bhakti Vithalani is the founder and CEO of BigSpring, the US-based lifelong skilling platform. BigSpring launched in 2017 as the only platform to measure ROI from learning. Since then, the startup has served more than 1m users worldwide and works with enterprise clients such as Google, Uber, Samsung and Tata Steel to train their employees.

Here is what founders will get out of this conversation with Bhakti:

  • The unique model of ‘demonstrations’ used by BigSpring to deliver and measure ROI for workforce training
  • How BigSpring delivers high-quality learner outcomes through experiential learning in the flow of work
  • Bhakti’s insights on selling to employers and serving employees beyond the full-time white-collar workforce

What’s the story behind founding BigSpring?

When I was working with McKinsey, we found that only 20% of Indian graduates are employable. Employers are looking for a job-ready workforce, but students are trained to write tests rather than develop skills. This is a microcosm of what is happening in education around the world. We measure success by test scores rather than what the world cares about, which is applied skills and productivity. At BigSpring, we deliver job readiness rather than test readiness. Our mission is to create a direct path to employability for everyone.

How do you ensure rapid, impactful learning for your users?

I’ve heard customers say that employees haven’t taken to training — but the irony is that those people are on social media all the time and 70% of searches on YouTube start with “how to…”. We take inspiration from that.

  • Flexibility — We’re totally content agnostic. Although we have our own library, we’re not limited to that. As individuals look to progress from A to B, the reality is that A and B are moving targets and so we don’t hang our hat on a particular skillset or taxonomy. We let people choose their start and end point. We’re creating the machinery that can be adapted by employers to deliver applied skills.
  • Pace — As a mobile-first system, we have a lightweight and rapidly iterating platform. This is important as our clients need us to move at the pace of their business. For example, one of our software clients rolls out 500 new features each year and they are excited by our ability to rapidly deploy skilling.
  • Interoperability —We can sit standalone or we can extend current frameworks. We do offer the capabilities of typical LMSs and LXPs — author and deliver content — but we see this as table stakes; we’re ultimately focused on mapping learning to measurability.
  • Reach —Employers are evolving from organizations into ecosystems. Traditionally, HR and L&D are focused on full-time employees, particularly the white collar workforce, which is only 20% of the total. If you want to drive business impact, you need to reach everyone from HQ to the last mile, well beyond the organization. This means building for “all collar” jobs across frontline employees but also contractors and channel partners. A car manufacturer might have 500 employees but 50,000 dealers in their network. It’s important to reach and optimise for all touchpoints in this ecosystem.

Lots of companies provide corporate training serving these types of needs. How do you stand out in a highly competitive market?

By moving to metrics that matter. Advertising in the 1990s had the same problem learning has today, which is that it’s not measurable. Online ads were measured through impressions until Google came along and shifted this from impressions to clicks, which are a measurable and concrete action. Essentially, course completion is similar to impressions and we are shifting from measuring completion to tracking proficiency — learning by doing, because this is a better predictor of job readiness.

So how do you measure skills?

BigSpring is ultimately committed to making learning measurable, so we’re focused on demonstrations and real-world outcomes. We call these “Reps”, inspired by fitness — you go to a gym and you do reps of an exercise. You can demonstrate virtually anything through a “Rep”, such as practising a client presentation, or going into a difficult feedback conversation and showing you can navigate this. So sales people demonstrate pitches, software developers demonstrate code, truck drivers demonstrate how to change engine oil and so on. Learners co-create their reps with feedback from coaches— they use their smartphones to record audio/video or take a picture, and then get feedback from their coaches and learner community. The coaches can be anyone from the enterprise who has expertise — a manager, trainer, supervisor or peer, depending on the context.

What kind of data insights does this power for you and your clients?

We capture learner demonstrations as a digital skills portfolio and translate this into a proficiency score which measures productivity at a given point in time. This means BigSpring can measure impact far more effectively than the traditional method of tracking course completion rates. Using the proficiency score we can measure an individual’s or team’s job-readiness. We have a quantified and evidence-based view of skills in supply and using predictive analytics we can recommend pathways to upskill people based on changes in demand.

How do you effectively sell to employers?

You might assume that we’re working with HR, but in reality we’re working most often with business leaders. They understand that skills gaps are one of the big three constraints to growth, but they’re frustrated that they invest in learning yet don’t see results. We solve this by focusing on ROI.

Our clients have bought into our approach, which leverages the subject matter experts within organisations — managers, trainers, high performing peers. These experts create content and also engage in coaching teams.

Our clients have seen that this is embedded in their day to day.

Delivering ROI is one of the biggest challenges for corporate learning — how do you overcome this?

There are a number of ways that we do this:

  • A company will start by defining their audiences, skills and productivity targets. This could be as simple as, “I want faster onboarding”.
  • We’re very practical so we concentrate on the 20% of skills that will have 80% of the impact.
  • We track proficiency scores, which increase as people engage with learning content and deliver demonstrations. The company can then measure how this impacts productivity.
  • It’s not a one-shot solution. A company will typically then add a few skills and keep tweaking until the process is optimised.

What is your biggest challenge going forward?

We’ve had some great growth recently working with large enterprises and this year we’re launching our mid-market product for SMBs (small and medium businesses). Most learning platforms don’t address the 10 person restaurant or 100 person reseller — this means we are breaking new ground and I’m sure we’ll learn a few things we didn’t expect. Second, anyone working in corporate learning must obsess about engagement. We’ve had great traction and we need to continue scaling this.

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