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The secret growth strategies of general assembly

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This is the true success story of General Assembly — a booming education company teaching 21st century skills. In just four years, General Assembly (GA) has grown from a local co-working space, to a global education provider. It currently has branches in 14 cities around the world. It also enjoys an alumni network that will soon rival Harvard Business School’s.

In this interview, Claire Collery — a product marketer on GA’s corporate training team — shares the strategies behind GA’s growth and success. She also explains how they use to help that success. The interview includes real screenshots.

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Question: How did it all start for General Assembly?

Answer: It all started in 2011. Originally, General Assembly was a coworking space in NYC’s Flatiron district. General Assembly was a coworking space in NYC’s Flatiron district. It was a community for entrepreneurs and startups, to work alongside each other. One of its unique elements was that every company had to share its knowledge with the larger group. Word got around and there was tremendous interest from the larger tech community to access these “classes.” So the idea was to meet this demand by opening up our doors to beyond our coworking tenants.

By December 2013, the classes were so popular, that the founders decided to shut down the co-working space and put education at the center of the business.

Q: Where is General Assembly today?

A: Now we are focused on empowering a global community to pursue work they love. We do it by offering access to opportunities. The opportunity is learning 21st century skills. Like Web Development, User Experience Design, Product Management and Digital Marketing. GA teaches students both online and in person, at our 14 physical locations including campuses in the U.S., UK, Australia and Hong Kong.

We offer a range of long form courses, that run for 10-12 weeks. These are on topics like Web Development, Data Science, Product Management and Digital Marketing. Our immersive courses are full-time, transformative experiences. Our part-time courses, are scheduled to meet twice a week, so that students can carry on with their full-time jobs. We also offer a bevy of courses and workshops online, and at our campuses, to help supplement ongoing growth opportunities.

Q: What’s your approach towards this kind of grownups’ education?

A:  We have a unique education-to-employment approach. What this means is that we work with our network of more than 5,000 companies to understand what jobs they need to fill. We do this to ensure that our curriculum lends to the most in demand skills. Combined with industry research, we are able to supply an experience where students not only gain relevant and practical skills, but also an understanding of how to apply them.

After the course is over, we leverage our network of hiring partners. These are great companies looking for talent. It helps us support our 99% job placement rate of GA job-seeking grads.

Q: How did you grow from a local learning center to a huge global company?

A: We attribute our growth to a few different efforts: First, we keep our ear to the ground to understand what skills are in demand at any given moment. We keep track of how the digital landscape is evolving, and what challenges companies around the world are facing. We listen to these trends all the way from the recruitment level, up to the boardroom.

Another big contributor to our overall growth, is our alumni base. We have an incredible alumni community. We’ve seen them engage with GA on a regular basis. In fact, 40% of our alumni come back to GA at least once a quarter. Our alumni have wonderful stories about job transformation, finding their passion and being empowered to create something new. There is no way to discount the value of our alumni network.

The third thing has been expanding into a corporate development and learning business. This was a natural outgrowth of our model. It means we work directly with companies, to help improve digital literacy. Our corporate development and training business is one of the most exciting activities of GA today. We’ve been providing hundreds of Fortune 500 companies with courses and training for their employees. Bringing them up to speed on new digital skills.

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Q: Could you share an example of such a successful partnership?

A: One partnership I was heavily involved in, and is a great success story, is our partnership with L’Oréal. They have a very forward-looking mindset. Initially, we developed a pilot program for a small group of their marketing team in the U.S.

Based on the success of the program, the partnership expanded. Now we’re helping L’Oreal train 7,000 of their employees around the world on digital marketing skills. It’s pretty exciting — you can check out more details in their press release here.

Q: How do you measure the success you’re generating for your customers?

A: We work closely with our partners, and it’s important to understand their objectives, as we go into curriculum development. It can range from employee retention, to helping shift the internal mindset of an entire organization.

For example, L’Oréal knew that they wanted a certain percentage of their revenue to come from e-commerce by 2020. That’s a concrete milestone. So we were able to design workshops aligned with this goal. We tie ourselves to that business objective, and measure our own success based on L’Oréal’s success. When our partners aren’t able to set concrete goals, it’s much harder for us too to measure our own success.

At a high level, we look at both quantitative and qualitative data. Two of our key data points come from asking employees these two questions: 1) Did you find the time spent on GA programming valuable? And 2) Can you apply what you’ve learned to your job?

Q: And how do you measure your own success?

A: Our primary internal quality metric is Net Promoter Score. It’s a metric that indicates how likely customers are to recommend you to others on a scale from 1 to 10. We want our participants’ experience to be so excellent that they will go back to the office and tell their colleagues about it.

Q: How does help you achieve your goals?

A: Our Enterprise team looks to to help codify and share our tasks. As we’ve grown, we needed to better communicate across different time zones. allows us to do that, with one centralized place for all our task management.

The other big thing has enabled us, is building a more formalized process. As we scaled the business, we needed all our internal processes to be consistent. We needed to use the best practices that we’ve developed consistently. This applies to all aspects of our work — from the way we work with our partners to how we develop and implement a curriculum. helped us achieve efficiencies: we created the process, and now we don’t have to invent the wheel each time we have a new client. Instead we use the Board we’ve already created on, and just customize it to fit the exact unique need of the new customer.

Q: What was GA’s biggest setback on its way to success or, what’s the big lesson learned?

A: We are still a relatively new company. So there are challenges in making companies aware of GA, and of the many ways we work with different organizations, teams and companies.

On top of that, there’s the challenge of every company being different. Different points of contact make sense for our Enterprise business than the contacts that make sense for job placement on the Campus side of our business. Finding the ways to connect the GA dots within a larger organization is one of the big nuts to crack.

That said, we are confident that if we continue to focus on delivering best-in-class experience, we can become a human capital solution for any and all companies in the world.

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