Episode 018 - Jeanette Cheah - Bridging Gaps & Advancing Education - NOT The Rob Bell Podcast | Limeworks

Episode 018 - Jeanette Cheah

Bridging Gaps

& Advancing Education

Jeanette is the CEO and Founder of Hacker Exchange. They're supercharging the next generation of startups and leaders. 

We talk about bridging the gaps between employment and business, how diversity improves products and outcomes, and the power of networking. That and so much more in this amazing discussion!

Hacker Exchange: https://hacker.exchange/
Jeanette Cheah: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jeanettecheah/

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Transcription

Please note, while an effort is made to provide an accurate transcription, errors and omissions may be present. No part of this transcription can be referenced or reproduced without permission.

Rob: Jeanette Cheah from Hacker Exchange, thanks so much for coming to chat today.

Jeanette: Great to be here. Thanks for having me.

Rob: That's really, really cool to have a chat. And so obviously, you are founder and CEO of Hacker Exchange, which is a student exchange or a student education program to educate them in the startup world. But I want to hear more about that in a second. But I really want to learn about how you got to where you are today. I understand you had quite a global upbringing. Can you give us a bit of insight into the early years of Janette Cheah?

Jeanette: Sure, Rob. And yes, it's a really good way of putting it, a global operating from day one. So I was born to Chinese Malaysian parents. They had gotten married in Malaysia and headed straight across to the state. So I was actually born in Honolulu, the US, where I spent the first few years of my life before heading down to Australia, to Brisbane. So I spent some of my childhood in Brisbane as well as Tokyo. So my dad was a professor of economics. Following his career around a little bit before the family settled here in Melbourne, where I now live with a puppy, a ginger cat and an Englishman.

Rob: Not necessarily in that order.

Jeanette: He likes, that's the pecking order in our household.

Rob: Makes sense. And so when you, obviously some real interesting worldly perspective there, and no doubt a professor of economics has given you. Having a professor of economics, as your father has no doubt given you some interesting insight into business and finance. But where did you start professionally, where, how did that journey really take hold?

Jeanette: Yes. So I think you really hit on something there. You know, mom and dad were both incredibly focused on academics. I don't want to be a cliche, but I did start learning violin from the age of two, Age of two. So my mom has an MBA, dad's a PhD they've got big focus on learning and education. So that's something that was really drummed into me from an early age. So I guess when it came to studies, I followed a fairly traditional path to start. So I studied economics and sociology. I did some post grad marketing and assumed that it would be a great thing to go into banking. So, went straight into financial services when I was young, straight out of university. But Rob, the cool thing is actually that, you know when you track back your career and you think about how things started, my first professional job actually came out of networking. And I didn't even realise what I was doing. So I would have been 19 working at an Italian restaurant in the Eastern Suburbs of Melbourne and just through pure, authentic engagement with customers, which I can put those words around it now, but at the time I was just chatting. They realised that I was actually the kind of person that they wanted to bring into their financial services organisation, despite the fact that I was 19 and a waitress and still at university. So I think now tracking all the way back to that professional stop, it actually is an interesting seed of what's happened now with my career, which becomes very much around connecting humans around the world and sort of using that really, authentic communication to build careers.

Rob: And so, I mean, obviously, there's some real natural, you know, energy to discuss. You know what you're doing, engage with customers and that sort of thing. And no doubt, spring boarded a career. But how did you make that leap and how did that come about, like what companies did you go through?

Jeanette: Sure. So I started working for a really small financial services firm, which was bought over by IOOF. So I worked for IOOF, I then jumped ship over to ACSA, which was then purchased by AMP. So I kind of did the whole corporate acquisition thing. And when you hear about all these acronyms, I'm really talking about all the royal commission days, right. So after that, I moved over to Origin Energy to work in their customer innovation space and finally to ANZ, where I spent sort of the last five and half years of my corporate career before jumping ship to start up. And Rob, kind of the interesting thing, again, is like when you, when you look through that. I realised that I actually spent my time working for a guaranteed superannuation pension fund during the time of the GFC. I jumped across to Origin Energy at the time with the carbon tax was put in place and then repealed. And now I'm running a global education business during a time of COVID. So, you know, we're having a great time following all the, causes, the trends of the world.

Rob: Hey but I mean things happen in threes. So that's it now, right? It's all plain sailing from here.

Jeanette: Do you recon?

Rob: Maybe.

Jeanette: Ok. Let's go without.

Rob: And so a corporate founding or, you know, learning how the corporate world works obviously gives you some interesting insight into now what you're doing, which is focusing on startups and the Hacker Exchange. How did that transition take place from, you know, maybe a little bit of an itch to do something outside of the corporate world to actually doing it?

Jeanette: It's a really long journey, I think, for anybody who's taken that leap from being a career sort of corporate person to starting something new. I always had, I always sort of had a feeling that I wanted to build stuff. And I did tend to build a lot of new products and initiatives during my corporate career. But what I actually, what probably kind of tipped the boat for me was this realisation that working in a corporate career is kind of like a game. You know, you can figure out the rules of the game. There are existing power structures. And let's face it, they don't move that often. Right. So once they kind of in place, that's sort of the way to get through. And I kind of looked around and I went, you know what. I think I can play this game and I can figure out how I can get some good points. But I actually think it's a little rigged and I keep looking around, the leadership I saw around me kind of looks pretty similar to each other. That's lots of white shirts and blue suits and cufflinks, and the whole lot. And I didn't see a really clear pathway for a diverse leadership to kind of come in place, in the place I was. So. So I thought about that. I was like, okay, that's a problem. But I'm ticking along on the side and kind of getting engaged with women in different professional services. And, you know, those sort of diversity groups. And then I thought, well, from a looking back perspective, if I look back on this time in my career in five years, and I could have tried something and I didn't, that was gonna be a point of regret for me. So it really was a long transition of like tinkering, starting some side projects, testing my mettle, I guess, in terms of like how I would go to make anything as small as a fundraising event to something as big as a, you know, like a conference that I just invented with a friend. You know you just sort of test yourself with little projects. And eventually I sort of had to come to my boss and say, I need some time off, I need some unpaid leave so I can go and test this thing. And many other people go on parental leave and take time off to raise a human. I want to give birth to a startup and give me some time off. And I had a wonderfully supportive boss at the time who'd said, yes, go ahead and do that. And that was that was sort of my gateway into startup.

Rob: That's very cool. And the analogy of giving birth to a, to a company is very, very funny and I really, really like that term. When, I gave a really poor explanation of what Hacker Exchange is at the start of this, can you give us a much more insightful elevator pitch of what Hacker Exchange is and does?

Jeanette: Yeah. Thanks, Rob. So not for it all, but I can definitely clarify that a little. So I guess, you know, that's probably two key problems that the Hacker Exchange sees in society. One is that problem I mentioned before about existing power structures in society in business kind of, of the same and don't allow for diversity in leadership. Secondly, I see a disconnect, a really big disconnect between the traditional education platforms and the realities of what a future career looks like. You know, even in times like now, we're seeing careers do not look like they did before. So those are the two kind of key problems that we wake up seeing. And the Hacker Exchange essentially exist because we want to see businesses founded, funded and led by a more diverse group of people. And therefore, we play in the university space because it's my fertile training ground to get those young minds at the point of which I haven't quite figured out what they're doing yet. To then get them connected with global networks, entrepreneurship experiences and really get their hands dirty building their own startup. So in a nutshell, students will come on the Hacker Exchange and they will launch their own startup. They'll travel to a global innovation ecosystem like Silicon Valley, Tel Aviv, Singapore, and they'll get credit towards their degree's. So it all adds up towards the bridging that traditional academic piece, and with the realities are the future of work.

Rob: Thank you for a much better explanation than what I managed to do at the start. The, I think it's a very interesting position that Hacker Exchange sits in where, as you say, it's almost like an incubator in with university credit. Is that sort of a...

Jeanette: Yeah,

Rob: Because I mean...

Jeanette: That's a good way to put it, actually.

Rob: Because I mean, I think the powerful side on business that we see with incubation is arming them with the business side of knowledge and all that sort of thing. But, you know, the Silicon Valley cliche is we've dropped out uni to go do it. But this kind of approaches that in a different way by making the uni, the university path more applicable to what they're doing. And I think that's quite interesting. How did that all sort of come about. Was that from inception that that was a key or did it sort of evolve over time?

Jeanette: That's a good question, Rob. I mean, when I look back to the way that my former business partner and I put, put it together. So he was based in San Francisco, and I remember us having a coffee where he specifically said something like Jeanette. I see all these pictures day in, day out. And it's the same guy, he's in the same hoodie, he's got the same haircut, he's pitching something about block change. It's really frickin boring, you know. Where are the Aussies, where is Asia Pacific. Where are the people who can help to shake up this business. Meanwhile, I was here in Melbourne doing a lot of work with the entrepreneurship community, working with General Assembly, doing some, like teaching some courses to developers and designers. So I was like, I know where they are. They just don't have this Silicon Valley mindset, networks, etc. And so in response to your question about was the universities thing from day one? No, like we just came with the proposal of we need to connect this amazing group of humans with the networks and mindsets that exist over here. And so we went and we did the typical exploration. You know, we looked at could the founders afford to pay for this themselves? Is it something that would be funded by the government? Would a corporate sponsor? We looked at lots of different models and then we landed on the fact that the university need is that they need to continuously stay relevant. And often they are looking to external providers to do that because to just update a course in even some of the best uni's in Australia can take up to two years. And that's not fast enough when it comes to checking innovation.

Rob: Yeah sure.

Jeanette: So we end up getting RMIT University on board. And when I say that, it sounds simple, but it probably took about 30 or 40 coffee meetings before we met the right person. And they looked at our program that we had just kind of created and sort of written down. And they said, yeah, we think that this has got academic merit. And so as a result, we've kind of followed the market through that. We now have over 20 university partners, some in North America, one in Canada, mostly in Australia. And they've looked at our program and they said, you know what. This is the kind of education that we need to augment, our existing education with. So that's been really, really great.

Rob: It's certainly an achievement. And I know that UTS, Monash and some other prominent universities are now involved, or you guys are collaborating in some way as well, which is hugely impressive. We'll probably come back to the education side a little bit later. But obviously, in a startup world, we do talk about real world experience and real world business experience and that sort of thing. And one thing that you have touched on before is the physical aspect of taking founders or startup, startup founders to, say Silicon Valley, Tel Aviv, Singapore and and other real core innovation hubs, Silicon Valley as well. How much of your sort of worldly upbringing plays into that aspect of showing a different perspective of how things are done?

Jeanette: Probably more than I gave it credit for at the start. You know, I went to six different schools, you know, growing up, I think I went, I changed schools almost every year. And there's something about being physically placed in another unfamiliar environment which makes you very I guess self-reliant. You don't have familiar things to lean on and you don't have the same people telling you that you're doing well. You just kind of have to find some kind of inner strength. So the the immersion and I guess the residential component of the Hacker Exchange has been so crucial because you see these founders and students, they personally develop exponentially in so many different ways. So we've had a student from Adelaide who'd never left Adelaide, and he chose to come to Tel Aviv on his first trip overseas. He travelled alone, like he figured it all out. He went through like about four different airport changes. And, I mean, even just those kinds of things. It's such a great personal development piece. And I think anyone who's travelled would appreciate that. And then when he gets there, he's put in front of you know venture capitalists and he's put in front of people that work at Google and Wix, and people inventing 3D printed vegan steak. And like his mind just gets blown to the nth degree. And then he comes back to Adelaide and he's like, what am I going to build. You know, how am I going to pay this forward, share its global mindset. And I think the cool thing that we see with our alumni is that, that perspective of them self changes how powerful they can be globally and also the perspective of like their, I guess, their own privilege and opportunity changes because they start to realise how much of an impact I can have. And I'm really, really proud to say that, like some of those connections that are formed on program, they continue ongoing. We see founders who still maintain mentor relationships with international experts and that's supercool.

Rob: Yeah, and it's certainly going to give a new perspective on things and even the example that you just gave where someone's gone to Tel Aviv, having never travelled outside of Adelaide and then come back, come back, totally inspired by what they've seen. From what I understand, you guys not just create that level of excitement, but you help foster the energy that comes from that into something productive.

Jeanette: Yes. Absolutely. I think, again, this is this is probably something we stumbled upon as we grew the business, but nurturing that alumni network and the connectivity of that has been probably one of the most valuable things that's come out of the Hacker Exchange, because all of a sudden you have 200 plus, 300 like students or founders around Australia who've gone through kind of this bonding experience. They all, branded themselves, so they call themselves Hexes. I didn't do that, they did that to themselves. So they branded themselves, they know when I made another Hexy that they've kind of gone through some bonny experience and all of a sudden you have the potential to find a co-founder or the potential to, you know, share experiences or share knowledge or hire each other. They contract each other for the skilled work. We have a really active like alumni Facebook group. And now where really proud to be developing sort of, you know, really great alumni engagement where they produce content. We help them get roles. We really advocacy piece in their careers because as I said before, if we want to see these leaders take their place when they're going to need more than just a couple of weeks of inspiration, they need like a tribe of sponsors who are going to bring them to the next level. And that's kind of what we're with them doing now.

Rob: I was going to ask whether Hexes was a was it was a deliberate, you know, mathematical irony or or programming pun, or whether it just came about?

Jeanette: No it just came about they've, they used Hex, Hex has sort of accidentally become a branding thing where everything is Hexcellent. You know, we talk about Hexponential growth and what Hexperience that you have today. It's very it's ridiculous. But I think, you know, some of the things like, having that common language as a tribe actually is quite connecting and bonding. So, yeah, it's not nothing, nothing too clever. It's just funny.

Rob: I mean, sometimes the best things are never engineered. They just sort of come about. So.

Jeanette: Exactly.

Rob: And so on the topic of Hex, funnily enough, it brings me to code development. And I understand that you're involved in UX and coding. I don't want to put words in your mouth. Can you clarify, does that fall into Hacker Exchange or is that something else you do personally?

Jeanette: Yeah, sure. So I guess for a, from a UX perspective, that was something that I chose to to do to upskill myself from being kind of your basic marketer, to someone who needed to kind of bridge this world into the technology realm. And I looked around and I thought, OK. I feel like UX is an easy step for someone who knows marketing and business to start to communicate with the Dev and the engineer space. I'm not a coder. I do know how to do a little bit of code because I know upskilled a bit in that. But I think one of the things I have realised and this is been quite sort of, you know, changing for me is that you don't have to be great at everything. Part of being a great founder and putting a great team together is leaning into their strengths. And I really wish I'd known that earlier because I used to think all the things I was bad at I had to do better. But I think now I just realised I do the things I'm really good at and find people who are really good at the other stuff. But yeah, from it, from a tech perspective, it's not, we use tech throughout the business and it's certainly tech literacy as part of the program is core because if you don't understand what's coming through the pipeline and what is being built, of the moment, then you've got no chance of winning these companies of the future.

Rob: Yeah, and I guess where I was going with that. And we will come back to Hacker Exchange in a second. Was I know you've delivered some keynotes on, to Code Like a Girl and some other, like, gender balancing initiatives that exist.

Jeanette: Sure.

Rob: And I just wanted to kind of cross on that for a little bit. Not so much around coding itself, but even female led engineering initiatives and things like that, because I think your perspective is quite unique from that worldly upbringing. And obviously that flows through into all aspects of diversity and, you know, getting different perspectives for a greater overall outcome. Is there, how important do you think that diversity, gender, racial, everything, is to creating good, healthy businesses as startups grow?

Jeanette: Yeah, I mean, I think it's crucial to have diverse brains in any room and on any project. I think that certainly gender is a piece where I'm very personally passionate about that. I want to see more women in positions of leadership. But really, it just makes economic sense. Like, you know, there's been study after study proving that the diverse led teams actually perform better financially. I think it's important to understand that if you're building a product that goes on the Internet, you'll users are likely to be 50 percent women. So why would you not have 50 percent or have a good representation of brains on your development team, it doesn't make sense to me. I'm going to paraphrase Ayumi Moore Aoki from Women in Tech Global Movement. So she's based in Paris and she did a talk for us recently and she I'm going to paraphrase her example about seatbelts, right. So seat belts were designed for cars by men, and women were considered to be smaller men because physically, where just a little bit smaller. But the actual design of seat belts does not account for the millions and millions of pregnant women who actually might be more damaged or more injured by an accident if they're wearing seat, as it's currently designed. So that's a really basic example of a physical product that exists in our world today that was created by a non diverse team. And if you think about the fact that, you know, anything that's on the Internet, all the apps, anything e-commerce like all of the services and everything that's hoisting data, if that's all been coming from a certain kind of brain, it's certainly not going to serve the population. So, yeah, I think it makes economic sense, it makes human sense.

Rob: It certainly broadens the perspective on, as you say, product design and pretty much anything that you're going to put together. And we certainly see this. We actually put out a product in the STEM space, which is a magazine, and we deal with coding and Internet of Things and all that sort of thing. And it's really, really cool. But we do see a very heavy bias, even in terms of trying to get talented people to engage as authors for projects and that sort of thing. How do you see educate, like educators being able to bring more diverse people into engineering fields and, you know, tech fields to sort of help bring that you know balance, that skills diversification across genders and everything like that?

Jeanette: Yeah, something we've noticed and even in our own marketing is that you need to be super conscious about the language that we use when we're communicating anything, STEM or sort of technology related. And particularly in the startup world, there's this real kind of hustle culture, you know, you got, you got to be killing it, you got to be crushing it. So there's definitely, I guess, like a focus on language. I think that educators and marketers and anyone who is recruiting this space really needs to pay attention to make sure that they are opening the doors for, I guess, a comfortable. So it feels comfortable for people to kind of walk through them. If haven't been to that room before. That was a weird analogy there. But I guess, you know, it's a very it's a very common statement that you can't be what you can't see. Right. So I think there's this idea of just flooding people's world with leaders that look feel, sound different. Keeping track of everything that you're doing, whether it's you know, we track every mentor, every person we put on stage. Everyone gets a microphone to make sure that we've got balance not just in gender, but also in people of colour. We look at sort of different backgrounds, and want cross, across disciplinary minds speaking to our students. And I think, you know, people might be surprised when they look through their own collateral and their own marketing, and even from an education perspective, the case studies they're using, the experts are quoting. They might be surprised when they realise, when they actually do a bit of audit on that. I had a story for you personally, when I was putting together a video for ANZ when I was still there around the use of a new technology that we've just created. I was responsible for picking out the stock imagery and stock videos to make up that video. And somebody sent me an email saying, Jeanette, you might want to check the diversity in your video. You've just sent me a whole bunch of like, white dudes, maybe a couple Asian dudes. And I thought, No I didn't. I'm a woman of colour, like I'm all about this stuff. I definitely didn't do that. And I did, like it was complete unconscious bias. And I had just gone through and picked the images that, you know, that sort of spoke to the words technology. And I think. Yeah. I think educators, marketers, recruiters all have a part to play in that.

Rob: It's very interesting insight into how that unconscious bias can exist even when stereo typically it shouldn't. You know, if I was to pick out, you know, the middle aged white male, then yes, that's predictable behaviour from my part. But I suppose, as you say, as a woman of colour, the expectation is that, that wouldn't occur or the assumption is that that wouldn't occur.

Jeanette: It still does. It's totally ingrained because this is what we've been brought up in. So, I mean, this probably speaks a bit to my sociology background. So I kind of really enjoyed studying the media, and norms and how things get formed. And once you sort of look through the world with that lens on you, it's like having 3D vision or 3D glasses, you can't stop seeing it. Right down to every promo video that you see on Facebook, and every ad you see on Instagram. You will start to immediately recognise the tropes that were fed through marketing every day.

Rob: It's very interesting and it, this sort of does segue us back onto the Hacker Exchange topic. And the breadth of experience that you're trying to expose people to by taking them to different cities, because we do understand. We'll there's a bit of criticism around Silicon Valley in that it can be a little bit insular in its own right. And is that a deliberate act to sort of broaden horizons and show different perspectives with people engaging with your program?

Jeanette: Yeah, and that's fairly true. And, you know, I think one of the cool things that we can do is show them an ecosystem, primed them with their own sort of values, and then kind of allow students to have a discussion about what would they change, what would work in Australia or what might not work. What did I really identify with, what did they find offensive. And some of the best education, in my experience, happens over a beer. You know, after the day's over and we sit around and we really dissect what just happened during the day. And that's where you'll find that students will actually say, you know what I noticed in the panel that they gave us it was all men. Okay, let's talk about it. So I think having, sometimes it's not for us to tell, it's for us to show and then to let them come to their own conclusions. And we're dealing with a really aware generation here, like they know what's going on. That a generation of body positivity and you know, that they understand brand influencers. So they're not going to be fooled by anything that we try to tell them. I think it's got to be a very authentic learning experience.

Rob: Absolutely. And certainly the, the post discussion, no doubt you see that a lot at, and know you have spoken at South by Southwest and you're a, I'm going to mess up the title, but you're a curator for Pause Fest, not a curator a.

Jeanette: Oh, yeah. Advisory board for the programming team. So

Rob: There we go.

Jeanette: We. Yeah, we curate speakers and content. And yeah that's a lot of fun.

Rob: And so certainly there's quite a lot to analyse for that type of thing, for Pause Fest as well to, you know, enhance diversity and make sure that those things are covered. Back on the Hacker Exchange, I know where jumping around a little bit. But.

Jeanette: That's alright.

Rob: Are there any instances where that sort of spring to mind where taking someone to somewhere like Tel Aviv, which has such a different approach to life and in general and not just business. Are there any examples that come out of that, that have benefited a founder for the long term?

Jeanette: So thinking about examples of the benefits that people can get from traveling to an ecosystem like Silicon Valley. I can talk about a young woman named Sarah who went to RMIT. So Sarah is a graphic designer. She's an illustrator. She's studying all the creative arts. And I think she just you know, she went on the trip because she thought she was going to get credit and it was an experience. Right. What she did not realise was the amount of creativity that's required to actually build companies that are successful in tech. And so heading over to Silicon Valley, she was introduced, I guess, to people that worked in creative tech. She had the ability to go and visit the Google offices and speak to people that were understanding, how she'll use her skills. She worked with other, you know, she's a woman of colour herself, so she met other women in leadership positions and ended up coming back to Australia to secure herself a role at Google. This is the woman who'd never thought that she'd work in tech. You know what, I'm going to use my illustration design skills. I'm going to target technology companies because that's what I know I can do now. And she understood the value. Not only that, she then unleashed her entrepreneurial spirit and started to do all these projects and virtual reality and augmented reality. Ended up going viral on the news to creating something for the underground, like the metro in Sydney.

Rob: Wow.

Jeanette: Where you scan your Opal card and it shows you a map of, you know, it's just like opening the door a crack for the right kind of talent so they can come back and build things and create things and find careers that I just wouldn't have thought they could do otherwise.

Rob: That's certainly a shining example of how this can really foster some amazing outcomes. Obviously, something that you educate on is the power of networking. And and you can clearly demonstrate how important that is for startups. Is there some, is there a tipping point where people sort of realise just how important that networking side is and not just, say, a pitch meeting?

Jeanette: Yeah, I think probably one of the greatest things that I learned from my first trip to Israel was that the terminology of social capital and I know it's probably quite commonly used in other fields but, when it was described to me, I suddenly had this aha moment. That is what we do, it's we build social capital. And it's really that intersection of the two things that I really enjoy is that economics and sociology. It's like, how do you use the connections of humans to, you know, smooth the way for business and investment and collaboration. And so I think we really we really like to educate students in this concept of building your own social capital on purpose from the very, very early stages before your career even exists, before your startup exists, because you actually never know when you're going to come back and use that social capital for economic gain potentially. It sounds a little bit cold when you think about it like that. But at the end of the day, business is all about humans. You know, we got human customers. We got people running it. So I think from a from a realisation point, you know, we, that's definitely something we don't really allow them to discover. That is that is like a definite something that we tell them straight up, because they only have a certain amount of time in that city. We want them to ramp up their activities straight away. But what we do see is when they come back to Australia or wherever their home city is. That doesn't stop, so I think once you light the flame of helping people understand the power of social capital and how you can really use your connections as credit. And as genuine, like trying to think of the word, like you know when you light a fire. What's the stuff that you used to lot a fire?

Rob: Kindling.

Jeanette: Like flint. When we get students, understand like the value of their connections. It doesn't stop and you see them actively creating that for each other. And probably the coolest thing that we hear from them is, oh my gosh, that person was so generous to introduce me to someone else or, I can't believe I gave me fifteen minutes of their time. I think their surprised at how, how open people can be when it comes to sharing their knowledge and their networks in a pay it forward kind of mindset. Because that is such a key part, crucial part of the startup ecosystem is that, you know, I got to here, I might just be a couple steps above you, but I'm going to pay it forward and help you bring it and bring you along.

Rob: I think it's certainly a critical lesson for people to learn around, yeah, the social aspect of what they're doing. And so it brings us, obviously we're in the middle of COVID at the moment as well. And obviously, the borders are closed and you guys have evolved what you're doing to cater for that as well. Can you give us a bit of a rundown of what you've done?

Jeanette: Yeah, it's been a, it's been a fun few months. Pivoting pretty rapidly, but, you know, we had to get very good very quickly at running great online programs as many of our other contemporaries and universities have done. But we basically have launched Hex Virtual, which is our flagship program, run online, but with kind of an all star cast. So instead of just getting speakers from Israel or Singapore, we're getting the best from each city, which is kind of amazing. And we could have done that before. We just didn't think about it. So you know, thank's COVID. I guess.

Rob: It's got to be some upside.

Jeanette: We also, well I guess so. I think you'll find a lot of companies are finding upside unexpectedly from a, things that they could have done, but just haven't some thought about.

Rob: Sure.

Jeanette: Rob, where also doing a lot of learning in public is kind of how I call it. So we're experimenting and running new programs very openly in public to say this might not work, but let's give it a crack. So an example of that was a three day conference that we ran, which was across eleven different countries. It was, you know, all those different time zones, and we had 30 plus speakers and be attracted to 300 plus attendees from around the globe. So all different timezones like Ghana, Ghana, Canada, Estonia, Australia. It's very cool to see, you can pull together great content and pull together great community and still attract a paying audience from around the world. So, yeah, quick pivots, but the most important thing is really understanding what the university sectors are going to need and what the students are going to need and how we can kind of such pre-empt their future problems, I guess, and maybe put some things in place to help.

Rob: Sure. And it sounds like there's probably some takeaways from this process that will stick with you even once the borders reopen?

Jeanette: Yes. Absolutely. We're already planning like hybrid programs, which will include some portion of immersion and some portion of online. It's really forced our hand into more curated content, and it's also forced a hand into, you know, like no touch, low touch online content. So that's been a really interesting development for us as well.

Rob: Nothing like a crisis to drive some innovation. So that's good.

Jeanette: That's what they say.

Rob: So we're coming up on time. But I do have a couple of quick questions that I'd love to get out if I can. If you had to think about start up context and lessons that come out of the startup world that maybe a corporate could learn something from. Is there something that stands out there?

Jeanette: Sure. I've got a, my favourite analogy for corporate and startup is when you're working in corporate, you're running really fast all the time. But it's kind of like you're running around, say, a police station. It's like files you're gonna knock over, there's a guy who's having an emergency. There's, you know, things happening all over the place. It's all very structured, lots of rules. And then working in a startup. My experience has been it's like running really fast, but in a completely open field, no signage. You could go anywhere you want. You can go as fast as you want. Nothing stopping you. But you could also fall in a hole. Or step in a cow pat. And it's completely up to you the choices, which foot put in front of the other. So I think it's an element of. So I guess the lesson for the person in corporate would be to maybe think about, you know, how much can I trust my instincts, my research to put my foot in front of the other without all of these rules and areas around me. What risk tolerance do I have. And sort of some to trust the people you work with and trust the insights you have so that you're making the best decision you can with the information you have. So certainly a self efficacy kind of piece that I would want to bring into corporate. So it's not so much of a I can't do that because this wont let me.

Rob: Awesome.

Jeanette: Kind of feel.

Rob: I love it. And so obviously you do, you do. And we'll see a lot of startups and a lot of diverse approaches to business. Is there a common thread that you see helps contribute to success?

Jeanette: I think one of the common threads is a bit of a bias to action, is how I describe it. So there's nothing worse than saying a super intelligent person with amazing ideas just never do anything about it. So I think you will probably often find execution is key. So if you see people with a bias to action and that are willing to kind of just put something out there and try it, that's that's incredible. And I think also there's a, because there's a real resilience piece, you know. How many times can you get hit and how many times can you fall down. How attached are you to your personal brand. You know, like if, for example, there's some places where they will not invest in you, if you haven't had at least one failure in public.

Rob: Sure.

Jeanette: So I think that there is, there's that resilience piece. So, yeah, bias to action, resilience they're just a curiosity to never think that, you know, everything.

Rob: I think there's certainly some valuable lessons there in every failure to, you know, to keep forging ahead and overcome as well. And so if there's something about Hacker Exchange or yourself that you'd love for our audience to learn about you. Is there anything that you'd like to say?

Jeanette: The Hacker Exchange is here to sort of support students as they start and launch and eventually as the've, as they fund their businesses. So our intention in the future is actually to help create a student led venture fund, where we can actually send students into their campuses to unearth that great talent that might be hiding in the lab or in the library and help to sort of find us the new founders of tomorrow. So that's something that I'm really excited about. And I guess I would just say, you know, we're in a really interesting and unique time working with this generation. You know, they are, they are the COVID generation. They are going to be asked in every job interview, what did you do during your time at COVID. And I'm not saying this to put pressure on, pressure on people because I know it's a really rough time, but it's, I'm saying it because I think I want them to start to reflect on what impact do they want to have in the world and how can they take small steps or small connections today to sort of get closer to that. So if I can end anything, it would be very much about an inspirational note for anyone listening to now's the time to try to do something, connect with that person. Worse they can do, is say no. And we can all have more impact than we realise.

Rob: Definitely some sage advice there for anyone looking to make a mark, and so importantly, where can people find out more about Hacker Exchange?

Jeanette: Yes, you can jump on our website. It is literally hacker.exchange, no dot coms or anything like that. Or you can look us up on Instagram or Facebook. Very, very simple Hacker Exchange handle for both of those. Or connect with me on LinkedIn, I love to meet you people, let's build some social capital together and always open to looking at collaborations with anyone who's got like minds and like values.

Rob: Fantastic. Sounds excellent. So Jeanette Cheah from Hacker Exchange, I've really enjoyed this chat. Thank you so much for your time.

Jeanette: Thanks, Rob. Good to talk to you, too.

Rob: Thank you. There you have it. I hope you really enjoyed this episode. And if you did, please like it, share it or leave us a review on your favourite platform. It helps us show more of this content to people just like you.


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