Changing the world with decentralized learning communities with Candice Faktor, Co-Founder of Disco

“The best way to change your circumstance is through learning.”

– Candice Faktor

While we know that learning and upskilling are the greatest levers for change in the world, learning in community is transformative. On this episode of the On Work and Revolution Podcast, Debbie interviews Candice Faktor, co-founder and co-CEO of Disco.co, a learning community platform that is pioneering the world of online learning.

Debbie & Candice discuss:

✓ the definition of decentralized learning
✓ the huge opportunity that exists at the intersection of purpose and profit
✓ a practical example of Margaret Atwood’s learning community pilot that got the attention of Tim Ferris, The New York Times and the likes…

 

About our guest, Candice Faktor:

Candice is the co-founder and co-CEO of Disco.co, a learning community platform. She believes decentralized learning communities have the power to shape the future of education and are only growing as the world looks to remote work and more sustainable ways to gather. 

Candice helped scale Wattpad, one of the world’s largest storytelling communities, which sold for US$660MM. Candice’s love of learning led her to create live courses years ago and the Gamechanger.co learning community both of which inspired her to create Disco.co.

 Candice is a venture partner for Lobby.vc an incredible learning community and venture capital firm.

Candice is from South Africa, lives in Toronto, a yogi at heart, a mom to awesome boys and a recent pup and married to a filmmaker.

Helpful Links:

Follow Candice on LinkedIn

Open for Full Episode Transcript

Open for Full Episode Transcript

Debbie Goodman  00:04

So welcome to On Work and Revolution, where we talk about what’s shaking up in the world of work and education right now. I’m your host, Debbie Goodman. And today we have Candice Faktor as our guest. So, you know, I love my intros. Candice is co founder of Disco, which is a learning management system and community platform integrated into a single solution. We’re going to talk a bit more about Disco, in case you’re not sure what that means. She’s also venture partner for Lobby.vc – an early stage venture firm and managing partner of Game Changer, a leadership strategy and innovation advisory firm for a huge learning community. The theme around Candice’s career is about storytelling, online course creation and learning communities. And prior to all of her current entrepreneurial endeavors, she helped to scale Wattpad, which is one of the world’s largest storytelling communities, which sold for a lot of millions of dollars. Candice and I share a common heritage from South Africa. And we both have entrepreneurial DNA as the lifeblood through our veins. And today we’re going to talk to Candice about the very pioneering platform she has co founded, Disco, which is innovating and revolutionising learning in so many ways. Okay, big intro. Welcome, Candice.

 

Candice Faktor  01:30

Thanks so much for having me here. I’m delighted to be in conversation with you.

 

Debbie Goodman  01:36

So for listeners who have not heard of Disco, tell us more.

 

Candice Faktor  01:40

So Disco is a baby or a pandemic baby, I would say. It was born of the pandemic, looking for making lemonade out of lemons. So we were all sitting at home. And what sort of hit my co founder and I was this is most probably one of the single best times in the history of the world to create a new company, because many new habits are being formed that would have taken likely decades to become norms. And one of those was actually what you and I are doing right now, which is we are gathering together virtually. And what we witnessed was 300 million people were taught that they can actually engage in relationship and work virtually. And they can do it synchronously. And when we thought about learning, learning is my absolute passion. I’m a lifelong learner. I thought, you know, it’s so interesting that I’ve never really engaged in online learning. And I thought, why is that and I said, I haven’t because it’s been a asynchronous and a solo experience, most learning online. A lot of people have done pre recorded courses, but they never really finished them. And the best learning that I’ve ever had in my life is in community, it’s when I learned with other people. And so what we got excited about was this moment in time where people were actually gathering from around the world, and creating learning communities virtually. And what we found is that learning virtually together, it’s just so much more accessible, like people from Japan and South Africa and, you know, England, and Canada can all come together and have this peer to peer learning. It’s so much more transformative, because it can be a project based learning, you can have the accountability of others, you can do so many different things that you couldn’t do pre pandemic. It’s so much more sustainable, because that the carbon footprint of us coming together is not planes and trains and automobiles. And it’s also so much more affordable. It’s just like the economics are wildly different. And so we saw this and we said, let’s build a platform that lets any entrepreneur or operator build a learning community of their own. And that’s, that’s how we got started.

 

Debbie Goodman  04:10

What an amazing story and seizing the moment, as many others did, but really making something quite substantial in a really short space of time. I read your websites, and I just love the language that you’ve used, and also what else I’ve read about Disco online, and you say the following: Decentralized learning communities will be the most effective way to create change in the world. So firstly, let’s unpack what do you mean by decentralized learning or the decentralization of education?

 

Candice Faktor  04:42

Yeah, no, thank you for bringing that up. So you know, I come from media. And you know, I witnessed this massive transition in the media industry where we went from, you know, very few media platforms to many, many niche media brands and then to you, you know, creator owned content brands, and all of a sudden, media became decentralized. 

 

And what’s interesting to me is that all of a sudden, you don’t have the same gatekeepers that you had before. So for example, in the publishing industry, you used to need to have a publisher in order to publish a book. While we know today, that’s not true. 

 

And so who gets to be the teacher, and who gets to actually have access as the student changes in decentralized learning. In fact, you know, groups of really, really talented people who have applied skills, you know, skills from being in certain roles or having different skills, with tools like Disco can actually build their own learning community where they’re not just learning from a stage on stage, but they’re actually learning from each other. What does it take to be, you know, the best chief learning officer, what does it take to be the best product lead marketer, and what we loved is just the idea that you can have all these different niche craft learning communities, if you look at like even ecommerce, we went from, you know, mega stores to like very niche craft direct to consumer brands. And we see the same thing happening in learning where you have niche learning communities that are really, really good at teaching very specific skills. So we see a future where there’s just like, a lot more really powerful learning and transformative learning opportunities designed by the very people who have those skills.

 

Debbie Goodman  06:34

Look, in terms of online courses, online learning, and the creators of those, I mean, there’ve been platforms like Kajabi, or Thinkific. You know, they’re around. I can see with, you know, just with some of the language that you’ve used, that there’s for Disco, not only is it pioneering the next phase of online learning, it seems, but there’s also something else that came through for me that I wanted to ask you about. And that is, there’s a really strong message around purpose and profit. And that’s not something I encountered. Well, I’ve encountered it in other areas, but haven’t really encountered it in the online course creation space. So I’d love to hear more about that.

 

Candice Faktor  07:14

Yeah. So you know, we’re big believers in the power of entrepreneurship to change the world. And we think learning truly is one of the greatest levers for change in the world. And, you know, the best way to change your circumstance is through learning, it’s through upskilling, it’s through learning different perspectives or ideas. And so a big part of our platform is enabling the next generation of learning entrepreneurs to actually monetize their skills and their network and their thesis around learning in a way that is very purpose and profit driven, because a lot of people, you know, teach what they’ve learned, right? And so the connection between purpose and profit is really, really integral in the these founders who are building these incredible learning communities. And I think there’s a lot of good that can be done. 

 

You know, we look at the sustainability movement, like so many of our customers are running actually sustainability boot camps and schools and we even have a company that does like just an electric MBA and electric battery MBA. So you think about just the combination of profit and purpose like it’s a very noble profession teaching. And I think, especially when you unlock it from being part of the institutional system, you create an amazing opportunity for purpose and profit in learning entrepreneurship. And we get very excited by helping our customers do that.

 

Debbie Goodman  08:45

Yeah, it definitely does seem that there’s a niche, perhaps around the combination of purpose and profit. We have to then just talk about the program that you just ran with Margaret Atwood, which is the Practical Utopias program. So a little bit of context here. You and I met for the first time at ASU+GSV, the summit earlier this year 2022. I had been invited to do a book signing for my new book, which was not so new anymore, The Living Room Leader and when I arrived at the little pop up bookstore in the center there, my book had just been unpacked right next to Margaret Atwood’s book, which honestly was like the highlight of my entire book tour. I didn’t care about anything else. It was like I could take the photograph of my book next to The Handmaid’s Tale, which was definitely the greatest thing. But I hadn’t realized that she was actually going to be at the summit. And then I figured that out. So I arrived at the venue where she was doing and then and you were there interviewing her. And she started speaking about, about this program, Practical Utopias and I get that it’s completed, right?

 

Candice Faktor  09:52

The first version, yeah, we just finished the cohort. It was quite something.

 

Debbie Goodman  09:57

I mean, I’d love to know a little bit more about that in a few minutes, because she is an extraordinary human, quite a character, and I was totally enthralled by that particular program and it feels like it’s such a signature style for what Disco is doing.

 

Candice Faktor  10:14

Very much so. So yeah, we feel incredibly honored and grateful to Margaret. You know, when I approached Margaret, I said to her, you know, we’d love for you to think about something you want to teach and create a community around and she said, “Candice, if you asked me to teach a creative writing course, like I’m kicking you out of the building.” And I said, Okay, well, what what does interest you, right, like learning and community do have the power to change the world. So, you know, what are you thinking? And after like quite a couple hours, actually just talking and brainstorming and talking about her, you know, being the queen of dystopia, there was this really beautiful moment, and it ties back to purpose and profit, which is like leaving a legacy. And actually one of the missing ingredients for a lot of people is hope of a better future. And you know, one of the things that I really, I’m just so in awe of Margaret about, is one how prophetic she is around the future, and how she really realizes that we need, we need better models for designing a better world. And you know, dystopia makes for good fiction. But we actually need more role models and inspiration. And our media climate doesn’t really allow for a lot of positive messaging. And so we designed this incredibly ambitious program for, you know, 200 fellows, and then, you know, 1000s of participants to actually go through a project based learning curriculum, to design a better world, what would be a practical utopia? What would you wear? What would you eat? Where would you sleep? How would you make decisions? What would be the role of women? What would be, you know, the role of government like these very, very difficult questions. And we sort of created a framework that said, you know, when you’re thinking about these solutions, it doesn’t need to be perfect, it needs to be better. And you need to think about how could you make this attractive to people? How can you make it sustainable? And how can you make it scale. And it was unbelievably successful and transformative, what these groups came up with. We also had incredible illustrators to actually design these very worlds that the teams came up with. And the sort of the participant guide allowed you to sort of do this with friends or in your school or in your work on your own. So we had different price points. And I think we had something like people representing over 40 different countries from all around the world, all different kinds of expertise. And it was really an exercise in you know, integrative thinking, and you know, how possible it is to design a better future. So it was truly wonderful. It was, you know, on the Tim Ferriss show on CNN in the New York Times, we had amazing partners like the the UN and Unity Games, and like the list goes on. It’s like an embarrassment of riches Project Drawdown, Bill McKibben, Dave Eggers, so it really just showed the power of this community coming together virtually in a way that had never been done before.

 

Debbie Goodman  13:32

Okay, and you alluded to the fact that this was kind of like a first phase, but there’s potentially more.

 

Candice Faktor  13:37

Yes, the learning community is very vibrant. And there’s, you know, quite a lot of interest for something like this to evolve into different ways that community can participate, Yeah.

 

Debbie Goodman  13:47

Well, that really sounds to me like such a great example of what you’re talking about, firstly, around learning communities, both pure learning, integrated learning, the integration of purpose and profit, the need for almost like collaborative idea generation. I think if you know, if any listeners who started out at the beginning with my very generic introduction around decentralized and learning communities, and what on earth does all of that mean? I think that that’s a brilliant example. And the last two minutes, you are an activist, you are a revolutionary in your work. How do you see things panning out in the year ahead with the economy going into slightly more, well certainly softer, somewhat shaky. How does that impact this kind of work?

 

Candice Faktor  14:35

I think it’s actually a really good thing. And why I say that is, you know, in times when things are frothy, it’s easy to actually focus on areas that are not, you know, like, it’s easy to hide when the tide is like, you know, full and I think what this forces people to do is look for real transformation, real value creation, real benefits. It’s a much more pragmatic time in the history of, you know, the world when, when things aren’t as frothy. And I think sometimes that can feel very hard. But it can also feel very sobering in a positive way, right? Like, let’s focus on the areas and the skills and the opportunities for growth and development that are, you know, that are actually going to get the transformation or the goals that you’re aiming for in a more sobering way. And that doesn’t sound as sexy, right? But it also can cause you to build a better business because there’s less slack, it can cause you to like focus, because you don’t have the resources to do everything. 

 

As you can tell, like I’m, I’m the eternal optimist, looking for lemonade out of lemons, but I do think it’s actually really powerful to recognize that your mindset and the way in which you approach opportunities, actually has a tremendous impact on the outcome of those opportunities themselves. So if you look at this from a place of fear, and scarcity, I think you’re going to have a very different relationship to the recession versus a very pragmatic, optimistic view, which is I’m actually going to build something that needs to have a lot of real value to deliver to my customers or to my teams or employees versus in previous times.

 

Debbie Goodman  16:27

That is such a great note on which to end the somewhat brief but absolutely insightful conversation. Thank you so much, Candice. It’s been such a pleasure, and all the best for an amazing 2023.

 

Candice Faktor  16:39

And thank you so much. I’m super excited to learn more about your work. And thank you for having me as a guest. It’s been really great.

 

Debbie Goodman  16:51

Thanks for hanging around all the way to the end. It would mean the world if you would rate and review On Work and Revolution on your favorite listening app. It helps people know that the show is worth listening to. And so I really appreciate that. Thank you so much.

 

SUMMARY KEYWORDS

south africa, community, decentralized learning, decentralized, online course creation, future of work, learning economy, learning in the workplace 

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