David Blake Transcript

Clint Betts

On today's show we talked to Degreed CEO, David Blake. This is a fascinating conversation. I've actually known David, given that he was rolling around in the Utah tech scene in the early aughts, 2010s let's say. One of the first events I ever did actually was with David Blake at BYU, and another founder of an incredible company come out of Utah, Ryan Caldwell from MX, great memories actually. And so it was great to sit down with him. This is one of the most thoughtful CEOs in the world; this is probably the most well-read CEO in the world or one of them. What he's working on is really fascinating; he approaches problems in a different way, and he approaches the education system. This guy actually is the very first person we've ever had who ran for vice president; he's our first vice presidential candidate to ever come on this show. It's a fascinating character; you won't want to miss this interview. Here is David Blake, the CEO of Degreed. David, thank you so much for joining us; it's so great to see you and great to have you on the show. Obviously, we've known each other in the past through various things, including the Utah tech scene and the Utah tech community. But it's been a while since we've caught up. I'd love to have you introduce Degreed to our audience and explain how you became CEO and co-founder of this thing.

David Blake

Sure. Yeah, thanks for having me on. Actually, native Utahn and once again live in Utah, but spent 10 years in San Francisco. So in many ways I feel like I'm just getting reintroduced to the Utah tech community.

Clint Betts

We got you back.

David Blake

I appreciate you having me on. Yeah, I'm back, baby. Yeah, so Degreed was this obsession, this passion around lifelong learning. And I was working for a Silicon Valley-backed roll-up of universities; they were buying universities and merging them together, taking them online. I, as such, went through this accreditation process, both national and regional, and was exposed to what accreditation is and isn't, and I started to become obsessed with the thought of the signal in our education. And started asking people, "Tell me about your education." And inevitably, people would answer one of three ways: they would tell you where they went to university, what degree they have, or that they didn't go to college. And the more I began to hear it, the more absurd it started to feel to me. And just to draw it out, because we are conditioned to the absurdity of it, but if I were to ask you, "Clint, tell me about your health." And you're like, "Oh, yeah, Dave, I ran a marathon 21 years ago." I'd be like, "Cool." And that doesn't answer the question. But when you ask people, "Tell me about your education." They, with a straight face, will say, "Oh, yeah, I went to SMU." It's like, "Okay, and?" Marathons aren't bad, and neither is university. Though I have my critiques, they betray the fact that we have no language to answer for lifelong education. And so that was the mission and the obsession behind Degreed, which was how we help people transact on all of their lifelong education, irrespective of how or where they got it. So all of, yes, your academics, but also all of your professional training, as well as all the informal stuff. And that's really where a majority of your learning is going to be; you're going to learn more from books on average than you will from professors or teachers in your lifetime. Yet, there was never any way of reflecting on that and being able to transact on it in your professional life.

Clint Betts

Yeah, and so the idea... You're way ahead of your time here when you think about this, though. Because we now look at universities, we all have critiques, and we all have... But it wasn't too long ago when universities were still prestigious. I mean, maybe they still are, but my sense of it is they're not, or at least in our world. And so you're way ahead of your time here in thinking about this: what drives you to start a company around it?

David Blake

Yeah, I'm an elder millennial, and so this betrays a little bit of my age. But early in my career, I kept a binder, a physical binder with newspaper and article clippings of any time I saw anyone willing to critique higher education or the degree. And I found six articles; it wasn't that many, and now you could fill a book full of it. So yes, once upon a time, the degree was the pathway, the one and only blessed and sanctified pathway into middle-class life in America. It's what every parent wanted for every child. And anymore, it really is shifting. We can talk about how much I think and what it's going to mean. But yeah, what led me to do it? The short version of what is ultimately a lot of inputs. Takes me back to when I was in high school and when I sat for the ACT, I just found the experience just blew my mind. I was like, "At some point, all the grownups got together and decided that this three-hour test was going to be how they sorted all the 17-year-olds in and out of their future." And I was like, "No way, not for real. This is it? You grownups, this is it? This is what y'all came up with?" And I was just so floored by the fact that... For me, it was American Fork High School at 10:30 AM on a Saturday when I was 17, and I was just like, "This can't really be it." And that was kind of the spark that got me interested in education. I started... Again, as an elder millennial, I went to the library and started reading books on the history of education. And I had this dawning realization that I was graduating top of my class, so an excellent student. But those books were the first thing I'd ever read that a teacher hadn't assigned to me. And so I had this dawning realization, and I was like, "Oh, what's that feeling?" It's like, "Oh, that must be curiosity; that must be what that feels like." And I realized that here I was, an excellent student and honestly a terrible learner. I was good at memorizing and test-taking, but the education was never the point; winning the game was the point, and I was starting to fall in love with actual learning. And so I aspired to be a great learner, even if it meant I had to give up being a good student. And that's been this sort of passion and obsession with my adult life. As I continued to develop myself as a learner, at some point, it's like, "We need to empower people to be able to unlock the doors and unlock the gates with their lifelong learning and with their skills." Because we had set up this kind of tollgate, which was universities had a monopoly on the degree, on the sheepskin, and that was the doorway to a better life. And it's like, "We need to democratize that." So I became really obsessed with the credential, the signal. And this wasn't a moment where everyone else in EdTech... And even that was just sort of coming into its own as a category. But everyone else was really focused on content, democratizing the actual learning, so Pluralsight, Udemy, Coursera, MasterClass, Khan Academy, we had all this content proliferation going on, which was really important. But yeah, I was over on my own little island talking about jailbreaking the degree. And for the most part, when I'd go pitch VCs, it mostly ended up in arguments, VCs saying why their Stanford degree was forever going to be [inaudible 00:08:06].

Clint Betts

"I went to Wharton; what are you talking about? It doesn't matter?"

David Blake

Yeah, exactly. So it took a minute for others to maybe see it. But I think at this point, as you said, it's a little bit more commonly critiqued than it once was.

Clint Betts

And so, what does Degreed do? What was the idea for... So I hear all that, and I agree with everything you just said. But how do you turn that idea, and this passion for learning, and this how do we turn the university system on its head and focus more on what we're learning rather than credentials, how do you do that and turn that into a company?

David Blake

Sure. We're many years from becoming an overnight success type story, but the genesis, Degreed, was born in 2012. So I started it initially on my own, would recruit a co-founder in Eric Sharp here in Salt Lake, and then Kat Kennedy as our third. So, to go back to 2012, that was kind of the peak of the quantified self when Fitbit was at its pinnacle. And so we had that kind of analog of, "Okay, let's just track all of everyone's learning, and we'll be the quantified self for your learning, for your education." One of my early investors was actually the founder of FICO, as shown in your FICO Credit Score. And so then I had this analog of, "Well, what if there's a way of scoring people's educations or quantifying people's skills?" So, I mean, there were different analogs. But we started with consumers and launched direct-to-consumer because I believed it needed to be lifelong. And for it to be lifelong, you needed to own your profile and your data. So, people started tracking their learning on the platform, but we weren't monetizing. And so we're a non-profit at that moment in time, just no revenue model. I figured I'd need to crack enterprise for two reasons. One, a business model, and two, I didn't just want this to be kind of a toy. Almost use the Clayton Christensen terminology: toys are neat, but at some point, if it's going to matter in our career, it needs to have consequences in the market with employers. And so figured if we could get employers to buy into our point of view, it would give credence to the model, and it would make an impact in the world. And so the fork in the road, which we didn't know, was, is this going to be something we go into recruiting? So, help sort out inventory and track people's learning so recruiters can find you and then recruit you into organizations. Or do we do this inside of companies as part of their corporate training, learning, and development? And we explored the recruiting first and ultimately were just kind of frustrated, frustrated, frustrated, frustrated. Only after really exhausting ourselves on that recruiting side of it did we think of going and examining it inside organizations with corporate L&D, learning, and development. And almost as soon as we did, I mean, it was kind of like a hot knife through butter. They didn't know once upon a time that the corporate LMS housed everything that a company would administer, but all of a sudden, there were companies like Pluralsight and Coursera, which were their own consumer destinations. And so companies knew people were learning beyond their walls but didn't have any line of sight into it. And so when we showed up and said, "Hey, we're this platform that's built to track everyone's learning across the entire ecosystem." They were like, "Holy shit, that's exactly what we need." So, our first client was a used car dealership for $15,000, our second client was a small account for $10,000, and then our third account was a global account with Bank of America, a multi-million dollar global account. And so it took us three years to get to revenue. And then our third ever client was a multi-million dollar, multi-year global Fortune 20 account, and then it was kind of off to the races.

Clint Betts

That is incredible. And what have you learned since? Once you found product market fit, what have you learned about leadership and what it means to scale a company?

David Blake

Yeah. I mean, Degreed is now 12 years old. Thinking back on the early days, one of the things I maybe just didn't even fully appreciate myself... I've since started other companies, and Degreed just had this uncompromising mission to jailbreak the degree. And having that set in stone from the very beginning, orienting everything to it, all of the principles of the organization. One just tactical example of this is I wrote down principles to help guide the organization that I believed would give us the guardrails of being able to stay focused on this mission. And one of them is, "If it ends, it ends; we don't exist to be self-perpetuating." One of them was, "We don't exist to be revenue-maximizing; we exist to accomplish the mission." And I took all of our investors through all of our principles, including those, and read them, stated all of our principles before I would allow them to invest. And I did so as sort of this pre-qualifier of, "You've got to know this is what I value, and this is what I'm optimizing for, and this is how I'm going to make decisions. And if you sort of can't ultimately support me as a leader operating this way, then you shouldn't invest." And it sounds very noble, and I don't know, maybe in some ways self-aggrandizing or something, but the truth was it was scary and hard. I never had competing term sheets. And so this was not a way of me choosing between six different VCs; I pitched 100 VCs, got 99 nos, got one yes, but before I would take their money, I told them that, "This company doesn't exist to be revenue-maximizing, and if you aren't okay with that, don't write the check." And so it was really scary, but it was a way of qualifying that side of the business to stay aligned to the mission. And there are many other ways in which keeping the employees and keeping our business model sort of oriented. I'll give you one more; it is just data ownership. So, for it to be lifelong learning, the employee needs to own their data. And so that's very anomalous to have a corporate enterprise SaaS business where the employer doesn't own the data but where the end-user owns their data. And that makes getting through info security and procurement just all the harder; every account we close is even harder because of our data ownership model. But we held onto that principle so that this mission can ultimately be fulfilled, so that's how we kept it pointed at that North Star.

Clint Betts

Obviously I think I've interviewed before, I think one of my first events actually was you and Ryan Caldwell at BYU or something like that. We've done a variety of things. And so I think I have a sense for what your answer is here, but for those who are listening, or watching, or maybe hearing you for the first time, what is wrong with the university system?

David Blake

Oh, man. Oh, so many ways to answer that. So first, I'm not anti-university; we desperately need them in the solution set. But the narrative, and generationally it's so warped because it worked for our grandparents; it even worked for our parents. And so they know it worked for them and the advice that they're now giving, but it's just skewed. In 1976, you could pay for full Harvard tuition if you worked full-time for three months in the summer at a minimum wage job, and now, if you worked full-time 12 months a year on a minimum wage job, you couldn't pay for tuition. I mean, it's just generationally the equation has just gotten so skewed. And just two more stats. I mean, I could go a lot of directions with this. But right now, in higher education, we have about a 55% graduation rate after a time and a half. So that's at the six-year mark; how many people have graduated from a four-year degree? And right now, the number's about 55%; it's even worse if you measure it at four years. And then, for those who graduate, the mal-employment rate is also north of 50%, so that's how many people get a job that requires their actual degree. And so about half of people graduate, and of those who do, half will use their degree. And then it's just the price tag has gotten too expensive. And so the ROI of it all is just compressing, compressing, compressing, compressing. And now you have to be really careful. Thirty-five years ago, it was just universal, so if you got accepted, go. Every degree from every university had a positive lifetime ROI, but that is no longer true. There are a whole bunch of majors that you can graduate in, so it's a major plus the institution combination. But man, now the list is long; there are many majors you can graduate from that have negative lifetime earnings. It's ROI negative. But the narrative hasn't quite caught up; we still have this narrative of... KIPP Charter School has its students chant a mantra every morning about how they're going to go to university. And it was cute 20 years ago, but now I think it's immoral. You're telling these kids, "The whole point of all of this is to get into university because if you do, you're going to be okay; you'll make it." And it used to be true, and it's not anymore. And so it's just structurally the payoff is no longer guaranteed to be positive, but the narrative hasn't caught up. And so, man, we are saddling so much debt around so many people's necks, and it's just killing a generation.

Clint Betts

Interestingly, our government leaders who don't know how to solve anything have decided they're going to cancel the student loan debt, which then puts it on society itself and anybody who didn't go. And I don't really know that I have an opinion one way or another about canceling student debt. But it's reached that level of a crisis, to where, "Hey, we have all this student loan debt; how do we do this? They're not going to be able to pay it back. So what do we do here?" And the idea currently... And again, I don't know if I think it's a good or a bad idea, but the idea currently is let's just cancel it. What are your thoughts on that?

David Blake

Yeah, so we might come around to it, but I stepped down as CEO of Degreed in 2018 to do political organizing. So I'm also deeply politically motivated, fiercely independent, and believe that the ever-widening partisan divide is what's going to fissure American two-party democracy. Worthy rivals are okay; to treat each other as enemies is not and will be the ultimate sort of chink in the armor. One of the things I've appreciated about the EdTech world is that, so far, it's been able to resist the same binary polarization. I mean, you've got these questions of teacher unions, and student debts, and some of these things, and at least in the community, you'll find people typically tend to be still thoughtful and maybe nuanced instead of just immediately tribal and red and blue. When it comes to student debt, I don't actually believe that forgiveness is just the right policy mechanism to get us to that better place. We can't just keep doing what we're doing and then just kind of forgiving the debt. I mean, that isn't a good solution. I think the start to a better solution is student debt is the only kind of debt that you can't discharge in bankruptcy. And so that keeps the incentives kind of all skewed. And there's never any downside risk to being the lender, and so then you really don't care about the outcomes. And so you're willing to lend irrespective of whether or not it's going to be a good investment because you know ultimately you're going to get paid back one way or another. We need the sort of financial repercussions to flow back through to the lenders for good outcomes. And if that were true, all of a sudden, people wouldn't lend to, "Oh, you want to go to University XYZ and get major ABC. Sure, you're welcome to do that on your own dime, but as a lender, we're not going to subsidize, we're not going to pay for you to go down that route because the actuaries sitting behind me now say that that's one of the negative ROI majors, so no thank you." I'm a fierce believer in a broad-based education in liberal arts, but ultimately, if the ROI on something gets better, people will consume more of it. So we've got to fix the solution. This isn't a hey, everyone needs to be a business major or an engineer, and otherwise, we shouldn't have any federal support for our education system. But we've got to clean it up and get the ROI working for people again. When we do, people will learn more and more about all of these things. But right now, are we headed in that direction? I mean, there's a lot of people chipping away at the problem, but for the most part, no, we haven't meaningfully started rebuilding this in the way I think we need to.

Clint Betts

Yeah, it does seem like the whole idea is like, "We're just going to cancel the student debt and then all this problem goes away." It doesn't seem like that at all. In fact, part of what we're saying is you should keep going in debt to go to university, because the government will pay it or you don't have to pay it back. But we're not addressing, should you even be doing this?

David Blake

Yeah. And I'll add one more thing to this conversation, which is I think there's a really dangerous trend, which is now you're seeing some employers offer free university as an employer benefit. So, companies like Walmart, companies like [inaudible 00:23:52], and companies like Home Depot and Chipotle offer free university to their employees. But what that did is we've shifted who's now willing to pay. So Chipotle isn't paying for their people to go to university because they care about education; they are doing it because it's the cheapest way of retaining employees for the longest. But what it did was right as people were starting to vote with their feet... So, undergraduate enrollment is now down year after year. And that's part of demographics, but it's also because the ROI, marginal benefit, equals marginal cost. We finally have just gotten to where people are starting to vote with their feet, and we're starting to see other pathways get developed. And right as that moment was coming, employers were like, "Hey, don't you worry about footing the bill; we'll pay for it. Come and scoop guacamole for us, and we will pay for your online degree." And the graduation rate for people pursuing higher education that way is abysmal, truly abysmal, single-digit graduation rates. It isn't a good pathway to degrees. But Chipotle is willing to do it just because, "Oh, our employees used to stay on average for five months, and now they're willing on average to stay for 10. And you know what? That's cheaper than paying the recruiting and turnover fees to pay for two semesters of an online degree." And that's, I think, a pretty dangerous shift because what it's doing is it's propping up the system. Now, universities don't need to bring their tuition rates down; they just found someone who's willing to pay that exorbitant rate. And so now tuition's going to hover around where it is for probably another two decades. And I think we're finally at the moment where we were going to see some real downward pricing pressure.

Clint Betts

And to add to the problem even further, how is artificial intelligence going to change education? How is that changing companies like Degreed or even these companies like Pluralsight who are working on the other end of the spectrum? This has to be... I mean, it's going to monumentally shift every industry. But it seems like education may be one of the first ones.

David Blake

Yeah, it's in the... When you see OpenAI just announced the four zero, and when they named the use cases, it's always one of the seven use cases as a personal tutor. What we're seeing so far in the data is that, in many ways, it's kind of leveling the playing field, that AI is the biggest benefit to those with actually the lowest skill level. So I mean, that's positive in some ways. I think the challenge is that it's going to be a commodity when all of us have AI in our pockets. Is that going to really differentiate you? No. So I mean, I think meaningful career success is still going to correlate with deep foundational skill building. And then the big shift is, I think what it's going to do is... part of the reason why college degrees have been so powerful is because it's this one universal heuristic. Whether you're from Japan, or from Mexico, or you're from the UAE, I can say, "I've got a JD." And you know what that means. It's the only universal credential we have in the whole world. We have other ubiquitous credentials like a CFA or a CPA, but if you're not actually in those industries, you might not actually know how hard it is to calibrate what that credential really means. If I tell you I'm GGNA certified, you probably don't actually have any real sense of what that means in its industry, the way that Series 7 might to someone in finance. So that's been the power of college degrees is: they're ubiquitous. And then we haven't had a way of sort of normalizing or measuring people's skills. And that's really the shift that AI, I think, is going to meaningfully bring, is all of a sudden you're going to be able to inventory everyone's skills in real-time, and then give them a personalized learning and development path forward from that place, and be able to manage people's learning that way, and will be able to manage the workforce and who gets put on which projects because they have the unique skill set. I think it's going to create a much more fluid kind of workforce. And I think the last thing I'll say here is sort of the downstream as that matures, you're actually going to start getting paid based on what skills you have instead of just what job you have. And ten years from now, we'll think how absurd and quaint it was, and that essentially was me. And if you're in a big company, that you might have 40, 400, 4,000 people with the same job title as you getting paid the same thing. And we'll look back and think, shit, that was crazy. You were paying 4,000 people the same; there's no chance all 4,000 of those people have the same mix of skills; what were we doing? How quaint and outdated that will feel here in a minute.

Clint Betts

Do you think we go from job postings to skills postings?

David Blake

Absolutely.

Clint Betts

And what will that look like in terms for companies? So they advertise here, "We're looking for these types of skills." They bring them on, and through AI and their own internal training, they build them up and give them advancement that way. That's basically what you're saying.

David Blake

Yeah, so McKinsey's done the first. Most of the research that's happening on this question is... Everyone's done one good wave of research though, McKinsey, and World Economic Forum, and Korn Ferry. McKinsey's got research out, it's now actually about a year old on skill-based hiring. And what they found, I hope to no one's surprised at this point. So, they looked at hiring based on credentials, hiring based on work experience, and hiring based on skill. They found that skill-based hiring is more than five times more predictive of job success than hiring based on credentials. And hopefully, people kind of just grok at this point; everyone knows that college was this broad heuristic and probably shouldn't surprise too many people. But it should blow your freaking mind because 99.9% of every job posting and every company hiring anyone is hiring people based on their work experience. So that is the de facto way that we find, source, and filter candidates to be hired for a job. However, what they found is that skill-based hiring is more than 3.5 times more predictive of on-the-job success than hiring based on work experience. And that should blow your mind. Out there available today to anyone, just shift how you're hiring people, and you're going to get a three X better outcome and process. I mean, that's huge.

Clint Betts

How'd you leave Degreed in 2018 and go into politics and into the political arena?

David Blake

So, the short version of a rabbit hole I'm not sure you want to go down is I ran for the Vice Presidency of the United States of America. I operated as a candidate for a short period of time and realized that the conversation and change I was hoping to effect was going to be broader, reaching just as a democracy reform initiative. And so for about two years, ran vice run, which was a signature-gathering effort to affect the ballot in every state to be able to vote separately for president and vice president, which is what the 12th Amendment and the Constitution gives us a constitutional right to do, but partisan influence over the ballots has kind of polluted and corrupted over time. That is why I stepped down in 2018 to run for vice president of the United States.

Clint Betts

How did that go? And how is the initiative going in the various states? I mean, what was that like? Because you never hear anybody say, "I'm running for Vice President of the United States." Without first being picked by somebody, which is what you just described. These political parties have captured why we all think that way.

David Blake

Yeah, I mean, you've kind of maybe traced through how my brain works. The same way that "Tell me about your education." And people will tell you where they go to college is an absurdity. The fact that you just said the presidential nominees pick, no one is conditioned to hear it anymore. But that is corruption in our government; it is corruption. We have a constitutional right; the 12th Amendment gives us the right to directly elect our president and our vice president. And we would think it crazy if it was okay that we elect our senators, and then we just let them pick which Congresspeople they want, and we jam it all together on the ballot. And yeah, you still get to vote for what senator you want, but we're essentially giving the senator the right to just line up the item in the Congress people they want. And that's what we've done, truly. The offices of the president and vice president are as separate and distinct as the governor and senator or president and city council members of your local city. The offices are separate and distinct, and we have a constitutional right to elect them both. Now, why does this matter? Because I mean, we're also conditioned to just not care about our vice presidents. But every check and balance, every single check and balance on divided government that was given to us by the Founding Fathers, is vested in the vice presidency. We are in a time of extremely divided government, and those checks and balances may be unimportant in more cooperative eras but are critical to the survival of our democracy. And even January 6th, and Mike Pence's decision not to endorse Trump's plea to overturn the electors' show. I mean, Mike Pence was the protector of democracy in that moment. And the amount of power that the president exerts over the vice president when we run it this way is immense. Our vice presidents are supposed to be accountable to us, the people, and be democratically elected, but we've just given it up; we've just given that right away. It truly is our constitutional right. And no one knows this; it's a part of our history that's just been. And so I was very fascinated; it was just really an interesting thread to pull at. And across America. We got the signatures required in seven states before I ran out of money and sort of had to turn it in, but about 75% of people supported it from red, blue, and independent. People don't like... Once you realize that you have a right and then someone took it from you, it really doesn't tend to matter your politics, left or right. Once people know, oh, I had power, and it was taken away from me, yeah, I'd want that back. I'd want it back just so I can use it the way I want to use it. Even if they're partisan, it's like, "Yeah, give it back to me so I can use it to the ends that I think the country needs." But most people, once they learn, "Oh, have you ever paid attention or read the 12th Amendment?" "No, maybe when I was in eighth grade, and my history class assigned it to me or something." But yeah, we found broad-based support for it, and we hope that it's kind of a thread that might be useful in the conversation as things kind of continue to evolve.

Clint Betts

At what point did this change? Because if my memory serves, Thomas Jefferson was John Adams's vice president, and John Adams didn't pick Thomas Jefferson. In fact, they were different parties. And then, when Jefferson got elected, he had Aaron Burr. Was it always this runner-up? Is that how it used to be? Or at what point did all of this change? This is actually really fascinating, but I have not really thought about it.

David Blake

Yeah, this is exactly the journey I was on with people for two years. And you've got about a 35% better recollection than most being able to get from George Washington to Aaron Burr. So yeah, I mean, it was George Washington, John Adams, then John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, then Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr. Initially, it worked because everyone ran for president, one office, and whoever had the most votes was president, and whoever had the second most votes was vice president. And the challenge was that Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr both ran for president, and they tied. And to break that tie, it goes to the House, and the House voted, and it tied again in the House. And they voted again, and it tied, and it tied, and it tied. And so it was 34 votes or something, and this is featured in Hamilton the play, which is why now some people have this kind of refresher of this part of history, which is Alexander Hamilton actually backed Thomas Jefferson, who was of the opposing political party, Federalist and Democratic-Republican. And Thomas Jefferson won, but he now has this very acrimonious vice president in Aaron Burr, and Thomas Jefferson's like, "Shit, that was an acrimonious... We can't put the nation through that again. We need to separate these offices." And that's when we got the 12th Amendment, which separated the offices. From there, people ran for president and vice president separately; you would seek the office of president and win or lose, or you would seek the office of vice president and win or lose. And people ran... And then this is the part of history that people just don't know: people ran for vice president separately and distinctly, and we voted separately and distinctly for president and vice president for about 60, 70 years before the party ticket started to influence the ballots. And so for about a hundred years or about maybe... It depends on what state we're talking about because every ballot is owned by the state; it was the party who was picking the vice presidents. And that actually is when we had the very worst vice presidents because it was usually graphed; it was usually whoever had the most political sort of favors or was willing to pay the most amount of money into the party would just get sort of picked by the party. It wasn't until JFK that the nominees started picking their running mates. But everyone has to appreciate that neither of those approaches are what our Constitution says. And you can't just ignore the Constitution. And so what people also don't appreciate is that the Electoral College still votes separately for president and vice president because you can't just ignore the Constitution. So the system's already built this way, the system already works this way, and the one thing you have to change to restore it is our ballot. It's the ballots. The ballot is the only thing that's kind of been corrupted; when you go to vote, you don't get to vote for vice president anymore. That democratic right has been stolen from you essentially by the party and by the nominee who has taken that power and said, "I know best; I will choose the vice president."

Clint Betts

It's interesting that it was JFK who was the first to just pick, and two years later, he gets assassinated, and that guy ascends to the presidency, which is its own crazy history.

David Blake

LBJ.

Clint Betts

But yeah, we lionize LBJ, but I'm not sure that we should. What does a typical day look like for you?

David Blake

Yeah, so after doing the politics, I started a venture studio. Launched two more operating businesses, both ended up taking venture capital. And so one is called Learnin.com, and the other is Bookclub.com. Degreed 2022 acquired Learn In and brought me back as CEO of Degreed, and so I was CEO of BookClub and Degreed, in parallel for a moment, transitioned out of being CEO of Bookclub.com to a great guy, Jonathan Monk, who's now leading and running that business. And I am back full-time as CEO of Degreed. And it's now a global business serving... We serve about 30% of the Fortune 100 globally, from top to bottom, enterprise-wide. A typical day is right now: three days in the office and two days at home. So we're in that kind of post-COVID hybrid kind of situation. I travel a lot, travel globally, and spend a lot of my time with clients. And then the work I really love is really the product. And so, as much time as I can is spent on podcasts, and I'm working on the product.

Clint Betts

How do you find time to write a book? Because in all of this, you've written The Expertise Economy, which is a great book, and I highly recommend that people do it. We'll put links and stuff into the show notes. What drove you to write the book? And what was that process like? How long did it take you, given everything else you're working on?

David Blake

Yeah, so I co-wrote that with a woman named Kelly Palmer, who was previously the chief learning officer of LinkedIn. She's now the head of strategy at a university, a very innovative university called SNHU, Southern New Hampshire University. And it's really about wrestling this story back. I mean, I think that's been one of the themes of my career, which is taking people to think this way. It's no longer serving us especially well. How do you wrestle the narrative back? And spilling the ink in a book was one way of doing that. It was a way of just advocating for this more skills-based future, one where people should be able to walk any pathway and get credit for it. It shouldn't matter where you went to university if you have the skills and can demonstrate the knowledge. And so it was one more way of telling that story.

Clint Betts

We only have a couple more minutes here, and I want to be respectful of your time. So I have two more questions for you. One is, you mentioned you work from home two days a week in the office, three days a week, which to me means you've chosen the hybrid approach in the debate between work from home, all virtual or all in the office. How did you come to that decision?

David Blake

Yeah, Degreed was co-located in hybrid from the beginning and before it was cool. I remember pitching VCs in the early days, and when they heard that we had our engineering office in Salt Lake City, it was not met favorably. They were like, "You're in Silicon Valley; these are the best engineers in the world. What are you doing hiring people in Salt Lake City, Utah?" And then by about 2015, 2016, when I was raising the Series B and the Series C, and people would hear that I had engineering in Utah, they'd be like, "Oh, my gosh, brilliant, great move." So, the tides shifted over time. Certainly, the culture of remote versus in-office has shifted, and COVID has certainly informed it. So, I have always had this muscle and have always appreciated a bit of the flexibility. But it's a weird and strange thing to leave a company and come back. And it's one thing to kind of build a culture from the ground up. It's kind of like biologically having a kid; you get them on day zero, and you get to learn kind of a little bit at a time versus maybe adopting or marrying into teenage stepchildren. Coming back now, it's like those stepchildren; it's a teenager, and it has a mind of its own. And affecting the ways in which you want to operate, I've just found, actually takes more effort and intentionality. Gathering people is one of the ways I think it is important to share that and view that in an organization, but I still value some autonomy and flexibility in empowering people and what's going to serve them in their lives as well. So we're kind of balancing; we're one of the ones that's just kind of in the middle balancing it all.

Clint Betts

I said only two more, but I actually have one more after this. What are you reading? What reading recommendations would you have for us?

David Blake

So love, love, love books. Right now I'm reading Working Backwards, which is a very operational sort of focused book on how Amazon operationally works. I'm also reading The Obstacle is the way, which is sort of a modern take on Stoicism.

Clint Betts

Ryan Holiday, right?

David Blake

Ryan Holiday, yeah. Just finished the Walter Isaacson Elon Musk book. And if I were to recommend maybe just one of my favorite reads, there's a book called Blitzed, which is a take on Blitzkrieg from World War II. It's the story of how drugs, in the Third Reich, both Hitler himself as well as the whole German Army were on drugs for all of World War II. And we don't talk about it in our history books, but the drug use meaningfully affected... Blitzkrieg, I always just assumed they were just hardcore marching and going fast; no, they were all on meth and cocaine and didn't sleep for nine days. And Blitzkrieg literally came from the fact that they were just all drugged up, and so it's this overlay of how drug use was determinant in the outcomes of World War II. And it's just a crazy lens that you've never thought of that altered history forever. And it's a fast read, it's a fascinating read, it's just a crazy book. Highly recommend that one, so Blitzed.

Clint Betts

Finally, we ask everybody the same question at the end of the interview, and that is at CEO.com, we believe the chances one gives is just as important as the chances one takes. When you hear that, who gave you a chance to get you to where you are today?

David Blake

I have many, but we'll honor the name of Chris Eyre, who I met on an airplane as we were... You hear stories sitting next to someone; it wasn't even that. We were getting off the airplane; he saw a Canadian flag I had on my backpack, which was from the LDS mission that I served in Canada. And as we are walking off the jet bridge, he sees it and he says, "Oh, are you Canadian?" I said, "No, but I lived there for two years." He said, "Oh, were you a missionary?" I said, "I was." He said, "Which mission?" I said, "Toronto." He said, "Oh, I was the mission president there." So we had this common connection: we're walking off a jet bridge. He says, "What do you do?" I said, "I'm an entrepreneur; what do you do?" He said, "I'm a VC." He ended up being the first person to support me and write a check into Degreed; after I had pitched literally dozens and dozens and dozens and dozens of VCs, everyone had told me no. He believed in me and gave me a chance when no one else would. And without him, absolutely there would be no Degreed today. So very grateful to Chris Eyre.

Clint Betts

That's incredible. David, thank you so much for taking so much time with us. Really appreciate it, man. Best of luck with everything.

David Blake

Thanks, Clint. It's good to be on, man.

Edited for readability.

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