When Krikor Dzeronian, EMBA ’20, and Jason Lavender, EMBA ’20, began their 20-month journey in the MIT Executive MBA, they joined from two very different backgrounds.
Krikor, who grew up in Bulgaria, spent 15 years in software engineering leadership roles, primarily in financial services. He was building advanced trading platforms for hedge funds. Jason, a Boston native, spent a decade in HR consulting, leading the health innovation team at Willis Towers Watson before moving to Buoy Health, a healthcare startup in Boston.
Krikor and Jason’s paths may not have crossed if it weren’t for the MIT EMBA. Thankfully, it brought this pair of entrepreneurs together.
"I wish we could learn from people like that...at work"
During Family Weekend, halfway through the MIT EMBA, the two of us walked into one of our leadership classes like any other day. But that day, we had a surprise guest lecturer: a mountaineer who led Mt. Everest expeditions would be teaching us about strategic planning and teamwork. After the lecture, our classmates were buzzing with fresh insights. People couldn’t stop talking about the lessons they’d learned from this mountaineer.
Later that day, in line for hot dogs at the family BBQ, the two of us started a discussion that at the time seemed pretty harmless: “I wish we could learn from people like that at work. Doesn’t it seem like workplace training is always so boring?”
That question would soon launch us into a deep exploration of the corporate training market—a $150 billion industry in the U.S. It was shocking that so much money was being spent in this space, while knowing that if you were to ask 1,000 Americans about the best training they’ve had at work, you’d likely receive 1,000 blank stares.
A year later, we launched Electives, a B2B SaaS startup that connects interesting teachers to companies for better learning in the workplace. Electives teachers include FBI Agents, Hamilton performers, historians, top professors, Navy SEALs, improv comedians, social justice advocates, Olympians, and more.
The company’s namesake is a nod to something we all know to be true: an ‘elective’ is the class you want to take.
"The best way to start a company is to find a problem you want to punch."
In just over a year, we’ve recruited over 100 teachers to the platform and the business is experiencing rapid growth in the HR, DEI, and Learning & Development markets. As first-time founders, there are countless lessons from the MIT EMBA curriculum that have made us better entrepreneurs, better decision makers, and better leaders.
The first spark of inspiration came from Fiona Murray during IDEA Week, when she said, “the best way to start a company is to find a problem you want to punch!”
Krikor was providing his engineering teams with access to learning platforms, however, people were not using it. “No one was watching the training videos that we purchased for them—the engagement was nonexistent.”
Jason recalls a sad Diversity & Inclusion training he experienced at work. “We watched videos for hours, took quizzes throughout the day, and then were presented with a meaningless certificate. There were no impactful conversations. And the person conducting the training actually announced at the start there was a new feature, ‘the fast forward button is disabled!’”
We both realized that we had a love of learning—as most employees do—but the moment learning is put into a “training” box, that love of learning disappears.
Take what you learn and apply it to what you do
Several MIT EMBA courses have been incredibly impactful to us as founders:
- Disciplined Entrepreneurship: We conducted better customer interviews, defined our beachhead market, and calculated our ideal LTV/CAC ratios.
- Analytics Edge : We built Classification and Regression Tree (CART) models to understand optimal timing around ad campaigns and how to classify sales leads.
- Data Models and Decisions: We used decision tree models to assess investment decisions.
- Finance: We calculated the net present value (NPV) to justify our valuation when raising capital for the business.
- Financial Accounting: We’re using it every month to close the books and make sure A = L + E!
Two other MIT EMBA courses became foundational into everything we are building.
In Competitive Strategy, one particular line stuck with us: “Strategy without numbers is poetry.” Data drives every decision at Electives—from teacher selection, to sales and marketing, to product management. We built a real-time analytics dashboard that makes all data across the company transparent to the team. There are no surprises at the end of a quarter. And after every new thought experiment, data provides clarity back to the team.
Lastly, learning from the System Dynamics course is used every day across all Electives teams. At a recent company retreat, each functional team presented their KPIs. But we wanted to make sure every team member knew how they contributed to the system. We walked the team through the reinforcing loops and balancing loops that exist within our system. If we discover experiments that accelerate a reinforcing loop in the system, we’ll continue investing there.
A connection to the MIT Sloan mission
Lessons from the MIT EMBA have impacted every part of growing our startup. And so far, so good! We recently closed our Series A and the team will increase six-times in size!
It’s amazing to reflect on how impactful this program was to our founder journey. The MIT Sloan mission to “build principled leaders who improve the world…” lives on with us every day.
We truly believe that what we learn at work matters. And more so, who we get to learn from at work matters
Krikor Dzeronian, EMBA' 20, and Jason Lavender, EMBA '20, are co-founders of Electives, a B2B SaaS startup launched after the two students met in the MIT Executive MBA.