Bringing In-Demand Business Skills to the Wider World

An Interview with Graphite Academy Founder and CEO Vikram Ashok

Recently we sat down with Vikram Ashok, the CEO and founder of Graphite, to ask him about the company’s newest endeavor: Graphite Academy.

With millions of business professionals now working from home or turning to independent consulting, Graphite Academy is helping them build marketable and high-demand skills. We discussed this new e-learning platform, why Graphite has entered this growing space, and how business professionals and consultants are benefiting.

You can learn more in these quick interview highlights.

Until recently, Graphite was best known as a platform for connecting firms with some of the world’s leading independent consultants. But now you’ve created the Graphite Academy. Can you explain what Graphite Academy is and why you’ve launched this new service?

Graphite Academy is an e-learning platform that helps people learn in-demand business skills from some of the world’s top consultants and subject matter experts. You can do it online from anywhere in the world, and it’s a great way to take your existing business skills or your basic knowledge of specific tools and software to the next level.

The whole genesis for Graphite Academy is that there are Graphite experts who use in-demand skills, software and tools in the day-to-day execution of their consulting work. We can tap into their expertise and create value by helping people learn those same skills and tools, and apply them in useful and practical ways in their own career.

Who is Graphite Academy for, and who is it not for?

I think virtually anybody who is looking to learn high-value business skills can benefit from our courses, whether you’re early or mid-career or you’re doing your own freelancing or independent consulting work. But I would say our courses are not for people who already have expert knowledge in certain areas. And they’re not for people who are brand new to a particular skill or software tool.

Our experts teach you how to get from a basic or intermediate level of understanding to true expertise. If you’re brand new to one of our topics, there are other resources out there that can get you to that base level of knowledge. But we can take you from there to an expert level of understanding. 

What about students coming out of business schools and other graduate schools? Do you think Graphite Academy can benefit them and impact their future careers?

I definitely think so. A big part of having a successful career is continuing to learn, continuing to get better at a specific topic, and moving your way towards expert-level knowledge in a given field.

For example, if you’re a launching a career as a data scientist, you might have taken some data science courses in college, and maybe you got an advanced degree. Then eventually you get an entry level job and you start working, but the reality is that a field like data science is constantly changing. It’s not static, and there is a massive set of tools and software that have changed the industry.

Our courses and experts help you learn the latest tools and build your skills by getting training from people at a more advanced level. We also help you stay current by staying on top of changing trends and new ways to be better at the job. Then you can apply that knowledge on the job, deliver outstanding results for your employer or clients, and advance your career. 

Why is now the right time for Graphite Academy?

We feel the world has changed forever. We think people are going to be spending significantly more time working at home, even after we get through the coronavirus pandemic.

Workforce and office culture are going to be completely different, and people are going to be spending much less time with colleagues in an office where they can learn by osmosis. Now it’s more important than ever to have solutions that help people learn and advance their business skills at home. And Graphite Academy is an amazing medium to deliver that learning online.

It’s also timely because of what’s happening in the broader employment and talent marketplace. The traditional employment model is very rigid. It works for a lot of people, and a large percentage of the population is in traditional full-time employment. But the reality is that more and more people are looking for a different path.

Not everybody wants that traditional trajectory of working at one company or a series of companies for their entire career, and then retiring. And many people are looking for different ways to live their lives.

Our Graphite talent platform gives them a way to connect with clients and work independently as consultants, and Graphite Academy helps them learn advanced skills that will make them more marketable and successful.

You started your career in private equity and became an independent consultant before co-founding Graphite. How do you think Graphite Academy might have benefitted you in your earlier career?

Having access to something like Graphite Academy would have been a huge help in my early career. I was doing private equity investing in New York, and that’s what first exposed me to the expert network space. We were customers of expert networks and used them to find experts and learn really specific things about certain industries. 

But then I ended up becoming an independent consultant too. My portfolio companies started reaching out to me for consulting work. They needed help and saw me as an expert in certain things, so I started helping them with finance and strategy.

That’s what ultimately led me to the broader vision of creating a platform to help all independent consultants build more successful careers and help companies access the talent they need.

If I had access to a learning resource like Graphite Academy back then, it would have helped me deliver more value to my clients and build a more successful consulting business. My skill set was limited to financial analysis at the time, and I was using traditional tools like Excel, which had been around for a while. I could only offer one very specific thing to my clients.

But courses like we’re providing at Graphite Academy would have helped me expand my skills and move beyond those limitations. I probably would have been able to take on more interesting projects, deliver more value through data visualization tools like Tableau, and charge more attractive hourly rates. But I’m happy that we’re able to bring those benefits to other consultants and business professionals today.

Where does Graphite Academy fit into the overall vision and purpose of Graphite as an on-demand platform for hiring business talent?

Our Graphite talent platform exists for two reasons. On one hand, there’s a shift in the workforce happening, from traditional full-time employment toward independent and freelance work.  More and more people are looking to work independently, especially with coronavirus. They want to figure out how to have a career where they have more flexibility or can build their career from home.

Secondly, companies are rethinking the way they build their workforce and find the expertise and skills they need in real time. They’re increasingly turning to independent consultants as a way to meet their business talent and project needs, and they need a platform to find, hire and manage these highly skilled workers.

Graphite exists to bring these two sides together. We help independent consultants connect with firms and find meaningful work by providing a platform where firms can hire them for specific projects and short-term or long-term consulting arrangements.

Now Graphite Academy is building on that success by providing ways for independent consultants to get smarter, get better at what they do, deliver more value for their clients, and reap the financial and career benefits. It’s a win for everyone involved.

What about your own learning objectives? Even though you’re a CEO now, do you have anything specific you’re trying to learn to help you in your work or elsewhere in your life?

Leading a company involves so many things. There’s leadership, management, organizational design, fundraising, and many other skills you need to build.

When you’re a first-time entrepreneur, you’ve never been through it. So you’re building skills in real time. As we built Graphite, there were tons of things we had to figure out ourselves.

But there is always more to learn, and I’m especially interested in becoming a better entrepreneur. We try to surround ourselves with people who are further along in their entrepreneurial journey than we are.

In the same way, that’s what we’re doing with Graphite Academy. We’re helping people learn from those who’ve been there and have a lot of wisdom, insights and guidance to share.

What’s next for Graphite and the Graphite Academy, and what excites you about that future?

We see ourselves as part of a massive shift in the way companies get work done and how people build their careers. So we are very focused on continuing to execute our vision of being the leading platform for finding and hiring highly skilled experts on demand.

The really exciting thing is that the Internet has made all of this so much easier, and now it’s making it easier for us and other players to deliver really valuable learning via video.

Video technology has gotten so much better, and there are so many amazing and talented people who work independently and have expertise to share. Now we can bring those two things together.

We can help people package their knowledge and deliver it to the rest of the world by creating online learning content. And we’re helping change the way people learn skills and educate themselves to better their careers. There’s just never been a more exciting time to be in this space.

Where can people go to learn more about Graphite Academy, and what do you recommend if they really want to get involved with what you’re doing?

If you’re interested in learning in-demand skills from some of our top consultants, you can visit us at Graphite.com and check out our Academy section to see our current course offering. Our initial courses include:

Also, if you’re passionate about e-learning, we’re always looking for people to get involved in what we’re doing. I would recommend that you just reach out to us. We’re all ears, and we’d love to have a conversation.

Greg Andrade

Greg Andrade handles Graphite's marketing and communication programs. A graduate of the University of Michigan, he worked in corporate marketing for 15 years before turning his focus to virtual marketing consulting for startups and global businesses.

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