Interview with Letha McLaren, Co-Founder of Learnfully
This is part of the EdTech Female Founder (#EFF) interview series brought to you by SuperCharger Ventures.
What inspired you to start your EdTech Founder journey?
I think it was somewhat in my blood: my family has produced a long line of engineers and entrepreneurs — and I’ve had that itch as well. From an early age, I’ve always been passionate about and interested in STEM. And while it was simultaneously intimidating but also invigorating being a woman in engineering — I still vividly remember being the only woman in coursework for my degree in Electrical Engineering — I always knew I would become a tech founder.
Describe your company in one sentence.
At Learnfully, we are on a mission to unlock the potential of every learner — our personalized learning platform assesses a learner’s strengths, challenges, and learning style in an expedited manner and then matches them with tailored strategies and highly skilled educational specialists.
What should an aspiring EdTech founder know before initiating their startup journey?
I recently re-read Simon Sinek’s book “Start with Why” and I found it so relatable and important to the startup journey. I believe that every founder should start with the “Why.” — As founders, we spend so many long hours thinking about and working towards making our company a success, keeping your “why” — your purpose — at the center of your decisions, your investments, your growth strategies, helps you build a sustainable business. It creates the ability to iterate, evolve, even pivot as necessary in regards to business models, products, GTM strategies while still maintaining your core beliefs. Your company’s “Why” should be your North Star.
What has been the most difficult moment as a founder and how did you overcome it?
No startup journey is easy. I’m sure our most difficult moment is still ahead of us. But one challenge we’ve faced is finding talent and hiring key roles within the company. While we are still navigating this in an uber-competitive job market, we are leaning on our advisors, investors, and professional networks to help.
What can the EdTech industry do to improve the gender gap?
I’d like to see more frequent and bigger investments in female founders and senior leaders. Access to capital — especially through funds or accelerators that also have a support ecosystem — is an incredibly important step to improving the gender gap for EdTech leaders and founders. I’ve been fortunate to have amazing investors and advisors that have supported and mentored me as a first-time founder & CEO.
Can you tell us an example of when you had to pivot?
I think that the “pivot” often gets a bad rap — I see it as a natural part of a company’s evolution. Whether you are early in your startup journey or later in a growth phase, a pivot can be an appropriate and necessary iteration of the business. Which leads me back to starting with “why” — with the right company culture in place, pivots are not catastrophic. For example, when we first imagined how our customers would engage with our product, we thought it would be a straightforward customer journey from point A to point B. What we found, in a short period of time, is that our customers wanted flexibility in how they engaged with us. Given how our product was sold & designed, it was a bit of a pivot. But our mission, our why, remained the same, and therefore the change felt more like an iteration of our model, rather than an entirely new one.
What will you consider as success in 5 years from now?
As an EdTech company, the positive impact that you have in the trajectory of a learner is very rewarding. Within 5 years, we hope that Learnfully will not only be a household name but will have played an impactful role in helping many thousands of learners achieve their true potential.
Can you tell us about a role model of yours?
Narrowing down one specific role model is nearly impossible — I’ve been so fortunate to have the opportunity to learn from so many exceptional entrepreneurs and leaders over the course of my career. From family, who’ve always embodied grit, to early mentors who encouraged me to take risks, to past clients who continue to enthusiastically support me, I find motivation by wanting to make each of these influential mentors proud.
Looking back, what advice would you have liked to have received before starting your company?
When starting a company, it’s easy to get caught up in the myriad of day-to-day tasks. I wish someone would have reminded me to celebrate each win. It’s easy — when there is always more to do and never enough time in the day — to overlook the wins & accomplishments. Celebrating each win energizes you to continue. Also, I wish someone had advised me that “it’s a marathon, not a sprint.” It takes self-control, self-care, grit…and…maybe a bit of luck.
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