How Tigerhall’s Nellie Wartoft Plans To Kill Off The MBA

“The day that an 18-year-old planning their career downloads Tigerhall rather than completing an application from for university is the day my work here will be done,” says Nellie Wartoft, founder and chief executive of the Singapore-based social learning app. Tigerhall, a two-year-old start-up that has already signed deals with some of the world’s best-known companies, is today opening its doors in the US and Wartoft is on a mission to rid the world of “useless MBA courses”.

It is an aggressive business pitch built on Wartoft’s personal experience. Aged 18, she left her home town in Sweden, buying a one-way ticket to Singapore with an ambition to pursue a business career. But those ambitions were thwarted for many years; Wartoft felt short-changed by her university course and when she left, she lacked both the skills she thought she needed, and access to the network of contacts and mentors who might be able to help her acquire them.

Moreover, working in the recruitment sector in the years after graduation, she saw more and more people held back by the same issues. “Time after time, I saw candidates struggle to get dream jobs because they didn’t have the relevant skills from their educational investments,” she recalls.

At the same time, Wartoft was also appalled by the quality of training materials many companies were accessing for their staff. “You were expected to watch endless videos, all of which were facilitated by white-haired old men with no experience of what they were talking about – they had never led a team.”

In 2019, working on the principle that if no-one else is providing what the market really needs, you have an golden opportunity to do so, Wartoft launched Tigerhall. She describes it as social learning – it is an app-based platform through which subscribers can access bite-sized pieces of content from accepted experts in their fields. As of today, the platform offers around 1,300 examples of this content, including podcasts, livestreams, videos and “power reads”; all of it comes from professionals with real world experience, who Wartoft dubs “think-fluencers”.

The idea is to provide the sort of content people are used to consuming in other areas of their digital lives. Subscribers can view these short pieces of content, lasting an average of 15 minutes, when it is convenient to do so – while they are waiting for the bus, washing the dishes or going for a run, say.

This is the sort of content – Wartoft calls them “micro-moments” – that will be familiar to anyone who uses TikTok or similar social media platforms. Rival learning resources require users to log in for hours at a time and to complete lengthy courses, Wartoft points out. She believes consuming much shorter forms of content is a much better approach. Tigerhall users appear to agree – Wartoft cites figures suggesting the average user on her platform consumes 43 minutes per week of learning, almost twice the amount of time the average professional spends in this way.

It helps that Tigerhall is able to boast some big names among its think-fluencers. Experts who have provided content include Ted Osius, the former US Ambassador to Vietnam and vice president of public policy at Google, Zarina Lam Stanford, chief communications and marketing officer at Rackspace Technology, and Roger Fisk, a long-time aide to former US President Barack Obama.

For now, Tigerhall’s business model is to target corporates keen to provide a better learning experience to their staff. Businesses pay monthly subscription fees to access the service, which vary according to how many staff they want to enrol. The business’s leaders can then personalise learning plans for their staff, pointing employees towards content on leadership, digital transformation or sales, for example, depending on their needs and knowledge gaps. Managers can also monitor their employees’ progress.

It is an idea that appears to resonate strongly with leading corporates. Revenues have grown 10 times over the past 12 months, with leading clients now including Spotify, HP and Cisco. The company has also raised more than $3m of investment from a group led by Sequoia Capital.

Expansion into the US, including putting people on the ground and targeting US experts to create more content, will extend Tigerhall’s reach, Wartoft believes. And in time, she sees it pursuing more of a business to consumer model, with individuals subscribing for themselves, rather than accessing the platform through their companies. It is the kind of resource she desperately needed – and was missing – at the beginning of her career. “Where you come from should never get in the way of where you want to go – and success in today’s competitive business landscape relies on knowledge sharing and community support,” she argues.

It is certainly a bold vision. “What we are seeing in the professional development space today is a sad state of affairs: consumer behaviours and business best practices have evolved tremendously in recent times, but a majority of the tools provided are unengaging, uninspiring and offer more yawns than eureka moments,” Wartoft insists. “We want to make social learning the default way to learn and ensure that traditional corporate learning programmes become obsolete.”

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