Article: Degreed CEO David Blake: I had to learn to embrace risk


Degreed CEO David Blake: I had to learn to embrace risk

‘I'm an education reformer by choice and an entrepreneur by necessity,’ says Degreed CEO David Blake in this exclusive interview with People Matters.
Degreed CEO David Blake: I had to learn to embrace risk

David Blake co-founded learning solutions provider Degreed with Eric Sharp in 2012, with the vision of helping learners develop and showcase their skills regardless of their chosen L&D platform. After David’s departure as CEO in 2018, he went on to establish other startups – the Future of Work Studios, and Learn In.

2022 was a full-circle moment. When Degreed acquired Learn In that same year, David returned to helm the combined entity.

David's journey defies the traditional trajectory of entrepreneurship. His story, as recounted in an exclusive interview with People Matters, reveals a visionary CEO propelled not by the allure of startup fame or the pursuit of wealth but by an unwavering commitment to education reform.

From risk-averse student to risk-taking entrepreneur

As a prodigious student, David thrived within the structured confines of academia. Yet, his exceptional grades and accolades, badges of honour in the world of formal education, masked an underlying discomfort with the inner workings of entrepreneurial life. "I was an excellent student, which in many ways does not set you up to be an excellent entrepreneur," David says.

The irony is not lost on him; the very qualities that made him a stellar student – a cautious aversion to failure and a penchant for perfection – were the antithesis of what he needed to succeed in the unpredictable world of startups.

‘I was a great student but not a very natural entrepreneur’

The transition from student to entrepreneur was not a path David had envisioned for himself. In the early days of Degreed, his venture into the world of education technology, David grappled with the stark realities of entrepreneurship. "I was a great student but not a very natural entrepreneur. I had to learn to embrace risk tolerance myself," he reflects.

A new chapter in his entrepreneurial saga

Degreed was David's first foray into the world of startups – a platform aimed at revolutionising the way we perceive and pursue lifelong learning. Despite the challenges, David's commitment to his vision propelled the company forward. Yet, in 2018, he stepped down as CEO, a decision that marked the beginning of a new chapter in his entrepreneurial saga.

David ventured into new territories with the establishment of The Future of Work Studios and He also founded Learn In, an initiative that further underscored his dedication to education reform. However, the narrative took an unexpected turn in 2022 when Degreed acquired Learn In.

‘We need the education system to be lifelong’

"For me as an entrepreneur, it’s all about the education system. I believe we need that system to be lifelong," David believes; his words reflecting a vision that stands in stark contrast to the conventional paths tread by his peers.

Reformer by choice, entrepreneur by necessity

The journey was not without its challenges. In a system where policy and precedent wield significant power, David recognised the limitations of his position. "As a young 20-something when I started Degreed, you don’t actually have that many levers available to you. If I was controlling policy, I would have changed that," he acknowledges.

In the face of these constraints, however, David saw an opportunity. In the digital age, technology and entrepreneurship emerged as potent tools for change, vehicles through which he could channel his vision into reality.

"And so, I tell people, I'm an education reformer by choice and an entrepreneur by necessity," David explained. A statement that encapsulates his venture into the world of startups.

For David, entrepreneurship was not merely a career choice but a means to an end – a way to challenge the status quo and champion the cause of lifelong learning.

‘I was hell-bent on seeing a lifelong model of education’

David's story is a testament to the transformative power of education. His story is not just about the creation of a company but about the relentless pursuit of a vision that challenges the status quo.

"I never aspired to start a company or be a CEO and entrepreneur. For me, I was hell-bent and dedicated to seeing a lifelong model of education be built," he says.

His entrepreneurial saga is one of resilience, innovation, and an unwavering commitment to reform. It's a story that transcends the individual, touching the lives of countless learners and challenging us to rethink the very foundations of education.

In David's journey, we find a compelling argument for the power of education to ignite change and the role of entrepreneurship as a catalyst for that transformation.

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Topics: Leadership, Entrepreneurship, C-Suite, #BigInterview

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