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Inside YFS’s Ambition To Democratize Entrepreneurship Education: An Interview With Billy Naveed, Founder and CEO, Young Founders School

Billy Naveed is co-head of hedge fund sales and leads Equities digitization for Credit Suisse in Asia. He is also the Founder and CEO of Young Founders School (YFS), a non-profit seeking to change the way entrepreneurship is taught to high school students by way of a startup bootcamp and mentor programme.

In this immensely fascinating interview Naveed explains how he started YFS, what went into building the initial operation, the state of the YFS today and how YFS operates as an organization, how YFS aims to change the way entrepreneurship is taught across the world, how YFS has grown over the past years, the biggest challenges for YFS and its ambition going forward and reflects on the lessons he has learned from his journey so far and why we should follow your instincts and much more.

Ruhul Kader

Please briefly tell us about yourself and your background and your journey to what you are doing now. Besides YFS, you are also a Co-Head of Hedge Fund Sales and Equities Digitisation Lead at Credit Suisse, how do you juggle between your responsibilities?

Billy Naveed

I was born and grew up in the UK, son of Pakistani immigrant parents. I was very entrepreneurial as a child and started three small businesses before the age of 18. I had taught myself to code and was fascinated by computers and the possibilities of the internet. My first business was coding software at the age of 15 and it was the first time that I was being judged by the quality of my work and not the age on my passport.

Finance and Economics was my other passion. I was fortunate enough to get a summer internship at Goldman Sachs in London and then join Morgan Stanley as a graduate working for them for nearly 10 years in both London and Hong Kong. In my career I did everything from trading to sales, advising some of the largest money managers in the world. After moving to Credit Suisse 7 years ago my role has been morphed by a return to my love of technology.

Today a large part of my job is working with startups and larger technology companies to help them raise money and IPO as well as advising investors on the best investments to make in the technology sector. I am extremely lucky to be able to be in a role that I get to meet and learn from the best entrepreneurs and investors in the world.

Juggling Young Founders School and work is a challenge that is made much easier by our excellent team at YFS and the support of Credit Suisse. At YFS we have a distributed team working across 3 different countries but everyone is extremely motivated and passionate about our mission.

Credit Suisse is a headline sponsor and the senior management is fully behind our vision and what we are trying to achieve for which I am very grateful.

At the end of the day, as we tell our students that life is about choices. Everyone has the time to follow their passions, it is just about what choices you make. I can’t remember the last time I watched a full TV series or had a weekend where I wasn’t working on YFS. I feel a sense of responsibility every day not only to my team but to the hundreds of thousands of kids around the world that we haven’t reached with our programmes. My job is to work hard to reach them, no excuses.

Ruhul

What is Young Founders School? Could you please give us an overview of YFS in terms of products/services you offer, team size, operations, size of your business etc?

Naveed

Young Founders School is a non-profit that aims to change the way entrepreneurship is taught to 11 to 17-year-olds, globally. We are teaching 21st-century skills and helping them build an entrepreneurial mindset. Based in 4 different countries, we are a team of 7 who work relentlessly to educate, connect, and inspire the next generation of young founders.

We are different from other programmes because our curriculum has been crafted using the latest startup techniques from experts around the world and we worked with leading Google certified educators and used the most cutting-edge research in education to craft our pedagogy. We also connect students to startup mentors who, over the course of our bootcamp spend over 10 hours with our students to help them build their business, no other course has this level of mentorship.

We have 5 core programmes at the moment. Our headline course is a two-day startup bootcamp that is preceded by an introductory 3-hour course called Ideation Express. We also have one of the first globally available “Introduction to AI for high school students” and also training for our mentors and teachers.

At the end of the day, as we tell our students that life is about choices. Everyone has the time to follow their passions, it is just about what choices you make. I can’t remember the last time I watched a full TV series or had a weekend where I wasn’t working on YFS. I feel a sense of responsibility every day not only to my team but to the hundreds of thousands of kids around the world that we haven’t reached with our programmes. My job is to work hard to reach them, no excuses.

Ruhul

What motivated you to start YFS? How did you start YFS?

Naveed

When I was 15 I won Entrepreneur of the Year for my local area and won a Dale Carnegie management course. I was the youngest person on the course by 20 years but the people that I met were awe-inspiring to me at the time. They were all very successful business people and entrepreneurs and made me see the possibilities of life that lay ahead of me. They taught me that by working hard that I could achieve anything I wanted to, regardless of where I came from. As I grew older, I could never understand why structured mentorship wasn’t available for other high school students, despite this being their most formative years.

Secondly, I have been heavily involved with recruitment since very early in my career. I can see that the most successful people are those with an entrepreneurial mindset, people that are creative, learn from failures and can think outside the box. However, entrepreneurship is not taught in school, in fact, in most schools, they don’t even teach business but they do teach accounting. Which I always found puzzling and illogical.

I actually spent a lot of time trying to find an organization like Young Founders School to partner with but couldn’t find anything. So just like any other entrepreneur would do, I decided to start it myself.

Our first programme was conceived and executed in 4 weeks, which in hindsight was crazy. I wasn’t a teacher, had no background in education but we gathered together 30 students and did our best. We were overwhelmed by the response knew right away this wasn’t going to be a one-off event. Soon after that, I met Crispian, my director at Young Founders School who is the head of technology at ESF schools. We immediately clicked on the vision of what we were trying to achieve at YFS and he joined the team and helped us find our head of business development, Jeff who is the keystone of our organization.

The issue today is more about keeping up with the demand we have from around the world. We have limited resources and so have to pick and choose our battles. hope we can expand more rapidly both into more countries and add more curriculum to our programme.

Ruhul

What went into building the initial operation of YFS? How did you manage initial funding, create the product, put together a team and start the business?

Naveed

Initially, I funded the program by myself and in an ad hoc way by Credit Suisse. Last year however we decided to create a more sustainable organization and incorporate a company and apply for charity status which meant that we could then officially take on partners such as Credit Suisse and Alibaba Entrepreneurs Fund.

Making sure that YFS survives and flourishes as a standalone entity has been the key focus for the last 18 months and have slowly grown to team to reflect that objective. In less than 2 years, we are already established in 4 countries, the 4th being Bangladesh. Our Bangladesh Bootcamp would not have been possible if we did not have Osiris Group and Pathao support us through this.

Funding. Like any other startup finding people or organization to fund our operations has been a challenge. Our mission resonates with a lot of people but demand has completely outstripped our expectations and we currently focussed on finding new partners to bring on board to help us change the way education is taught.

Ruhul

What’s your business model?

Naveed

We are a nonprofit and rely on donations. We do not charge the students nor the schools for any of the courses that we provide as we believe that entrepreneurship is a gift that should be passed on to the next generation. We are still looking for supporters to join our cause, so if you are reading this and believe in our vision then we would welcome you to get in touch via our website.

Ruhul

How have you attracted users and grown YFS? Could tell us a bit about your process and the things you have done to grow YFS?

Naveed

Studies have shown that 47% of the current jobs will be replaced by technology in the next 20 years and I think everyone understands the need to learn 21st-century skills. For us, we just need to raise more awareness of what we offer and show why we have such a world-class programme.

We reach our students in a number of different ways. Most of our students come from our partner schools directly. Anyone can become a partner school, but part of the onboarding process is to explain to them in detail what our programme is about and how their students can benefit. We have had a tremendous reception from schools in all the countries we operate in and many have even incorporated our programme into their CAS hours for IB curriculum.

We will soon be launching our Bangla language programmes as well so we want to continue to expand our network to reach as many schools as possible and would encourage teachers and principals to get in touch so we can onboard them.
Secondly, we have other channels to acquire students such as youth groups, study forums or just social media. We realize that each country is different so our outreach has to be localized to each country.

Young Founders School is a non-profit that aims to change the way entrepreneurship is taught to 11 to 17-year-olds, globally. We are teaching 21st-century skills and helping them build an entrepreneurial mindset. Based in 4 different countries, we are a team of 7 who work relentlessly to educate, connect, and inspire the next generation of young founders.

Ruhul

What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced?

Naveed

Funding. Like any other startup finding people or organization to fund our operations has been a challenge. Our mission resonates with a lot of people but demand has completely outstripped our expectations and we currently focussed on finding new partners to bring on board to help us change the way education is taught. We aim to reach a lot of local schools especially those that are less privileged. This is going to cost money but we aim to get the cost of education per child to under US$10 per student which is less than a cup of coffee in Hong Kong.

The second issue is convincing schools about our programme. Sadly, there is a misconception that because our programme is free it must not be valuable or that we have some other motivation for teaching it. Ironically a lot of schools would rather we charge for it. I can assure you that the programme is not cheap to run, operate and execute. Usually, once schools come and experience our programme they change their mind but that just takes time. At the same time, we need to persuade parents that they should be sending their kids to a programme like this and not just getting them to study for yet another test. Parents are programmed to focus solely on school grades but that is not what modern employers are looking for and nor is what brings out the best in kids.

Ruhul

What are some lessons you’ve learned?

Naveed

The two biggest lessons that we have learned is that all teachers, parents, and schools ultimately want their students and kids to succeed. If we can find a way to work with them then everyone wins and we can create an exciting future.

The second biggest lesson is to trust our instincts. We were told when we started that you can’t do things like putting students from different grades together and people were horrified when we told them we were mixing international and local school students. However, we find that when students are focussed on finding a solution to a major problem that is affecting them or this world, then it doesn’t matter what your background or age you are. All those are artificial barriers just created by adults to bucket kids.

Ruhul

What are your goals for the future?

Naveed

Our most immediate goal is to find sustainable funding to grow our operations

In 2019 we will develop a program that will align to local curriculum that school's can self serve. This way we can reach thousands of schools that we could never otherwise tapped into

We will continue our international expansion with the next step of being Jakarta, and then the rest of South Asia.

We will focus on translating our programs to local language in order to reach underprivileged students and make sure that they are at least half our intake

Our long-term goal is to reach 1 million students by 2025, we think with the right partners and the right team in place, this is achievable

Ruhul

Have you found anything particularly helpful or advantageous in the process of building YFS?

Naveed

One of the biggest advantages that we have had is that I have been in the fortunate and unique position to leverage my network of tech companies and investors In order to connect them to Young Founders School. This has been a big help with curriculum, mentors, and funding.

Secondly, the biggest advantage we have had is our team, who are all tremendously focused, talented and gifted individuals who are working tirelessly to make Young Founders School into the success that we know it has been and will continue to be.

Ruhul

Where can our readers go to learn more about YFS?

Naveed

You can visit us at www.youngfoundersschool.com or even follow us on FB or Instagram just search Young Founders School.

Note: This interview was conducted via email.

Ruhul Kader is a technology and business analyst based in Dhaka, Bangladesh. He is also the co-founder and CEO of Future Startup and author of Rethinking Failure: A short guide to living an entrepreneurial life. He writes about internet business, strategy, technology, technology policy, and society. He can be reached at [email protected]

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