In her professional life, Francie Jain has switched careers three times, and she loves the challenge of change. Francie Jain is the founder and CEO of Terawatt, a business platform that connects business experts and coaches to professionals looking to improve upon specific soft skills in an affordable way. The two-time entrepreneur, Terawatt is Francie’s second for-profit endeavor. Her previous role was the founder of a third party marketing consultancy, West River Partners, that raised capital for Emerging Markets-based equity hedge funds. Francie previously worked in the fashion industry. She is a graduate from Princeton University in Politics and The University of Chicago Booth School of Business. We had a chance to interview Francie and asked about her story, how she started her business and the future of Terawatt.
Tell us your story. Why did you start your business?
During the 2016 election, there was a national news story about the potential closing of the Carrier factory in Indiana. I was curious about the impact on people when an industry is in decline, and I started thinking through how it would work if I were a Carrier worker. Where would I go to find a new career? What resources were out there to relieve my anxiety? How could I get started about making a wholesale change?
I recalled hearing that during times of mass layoffs the U.S. government mandates that employers offer placement services to their former employees. Thinking through that idea, I figured that there must be an online version of that help. I envisioned something like Monster.com or LinkedIn, but for change as opposed to filling jobs with existing skills. I kept searching and trying different keywords, and I just couldn’t find what I was looking for.
I was surprised that there wasn’t a dominant website, or really any website that I could find, to help people with change. That was the first spark: It should be a lot easier to change professionally, and if it doesn’t exist, I wanted to build it.
How did you come up with your business name?
It wasn’t easy! The company’s first name was Nxt Chptr. When I came up with that name I was focused on marketing to individuals in transition, and I liked the positive connotation of change in the phrase and envisioning a better future.
However, as I was getting more data about corporations’ needs, and how Terawatt could be outsourced learning & development, I wanted the company’s name to be more expansive and imply growth without the concept of “leaving” an employer.
At the same time, I had already done a ton of work on SEO and online marketing, and so I decided to take everything I learned to come up with a great name.
These were the three key decisions I used to rename the website:
- What kind of word did I want? Did I want an actual word, like Adobe, or a made up name, like Google. I chose the Adobe route. I wanted a word that wasn’t used very much, but that is a word in the dictionary. This decision tree is intimately related to Trademark.
- When a new brand name is an intentionally misspelled word, it is hard for people to find on a search. Usually people don’t remember how exactly it is misspelled. I learned this from Nxt Chptr. People knew how to say it, but not how to write it. This decision tree is intimately related to url availability.
- Connection of the new name to the business’s mission. Again, people remembering the word is key. This part is like poetry and art.
Once I figured out the above, I spent months working on possibilities. I had a Google Sheet with thousands of “final names” that catalogued 8 attributes:
- Available URL. Could I buy a “.com” url without adding too many additional words to it, like “my” “go,” etc.
- Actual definition of the word. Did it relate to the mission of the company.
- Potential reference meaning of the word. This is more akin to poetry and associations people might make to a name. In my case, Tera is similar to Tierra, the Spanish word for land. Did it work with the “vibe” I was going for: namely organic growth, helping people reach their potential.
- Did other companies have a trademark of the word or could there be a trademark conflict based on similar businesses?
- Google searches of the potential name, with an eye toward both businesses as well as top results.
- Crunchbase search of the name
- Use of the word on Social media: Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram
- Number of characters in the url. The fewer the better.
Tell us about your products and services. How do you help clients?
Here is the problem, as we see it:
The work and insights of career coaches are valuable, but this service is out of reach for most people due to cost. C-level employees, CEOs, CFOs, etc. can afford to pay for this service, and many times their employers reimburse the cost. This is because while it is an expensive service, $5,000 to $15,000 for multiple month commitment, the cost of coaching is a small fraction of C level salaries.
How can we make it so that cost is not the limiting factor of this kind of education? Everyone can use feedback on how to improve their skills and correct areas of deficiency. Coaches work on addressing problem solving, managing people, presenting to groups, etc.
Terawatt uses the marketplace business model to make coaching affordable. We host live, virtual, group classes that take the coach’s hourly rate and divide it by the number of students. This way, each adult student is paying a fraction of the coach’s rate in exchange for a group session.
Our three stakeholder benefits:
- Mid-level professionals access valuable insights from excellent coaches at an affordable price. They can also use these classes to determine if there is a fit for 1:1 coaching with the coach they selected.
- Career Coaches get paid market rates to teach their own insights and their virtual students could potentially be new 1:1 clients or those students could recommend the coaches to the corporation for in-person workshops.
- Employers reap many benefits of their employees’ improved skills: higher innovation, greater revenue, greater profitability, and lower turnover
What makes you unique? What is your unique selling proposition (USP)?
- As I was working on the business model, I had an epiphany that businesses that solve problems for three stakeholders can be wildly successful. Our marketplace is two sided, coach and professional, but because there is now a ton of research about the benefits of “building from within” and the Return on Investment (ROI) of supporting employee career development, employers stand to gain a lot when their employees improve their skills.
- Terawatt is a marketplace that genuinely wants everyone to succeed. My personal belief is that we are all better off when each one of us is great at our job, fulfilled professionally and happy. So, I use that core belief in the marketplace design.
The marketplace is working because each of our three stakeholders gets great value from Terawatt, and no one group is being disadvantaged in order to market to the other groups.
For instance, Terawatt’s website is the same for both coaches and professionals. We do not have separate websites for the different sides of the marketplace. The platform is fully open and transparent for everyone to see what we are saying to both sides.
Where do you see your business in the next 3-5 years?
In 3-5 years, my goal is for Terawatt to have helped millions of professionals, coaches and companies around the world be better, more efficient and more creative.
Any advice you would give to entrepreneurs and business owners?
Good enough does actually create growth because it is easier and cheaper to test “good enough.” I found that once I started thinking about my business like a lab with many different kinds of experiments going on simultaneously, the easier it got to experiment, ask for feedback and really listen to what customers are saying.
What is your favorite business quote and why?
Warren Buffett, “When the tide goes in, you see who is not wearing shorts.” It reminds me to:
- Build in a plan for the long haul
- Build a plan with intellectual honesty
What have been some of your achievements that you are most proud of? Why?
I am proud that I came up with an idea and brought it to life. Right now, we are advertising our live classes on Google AdWords. It is amazing to me that my company is legit enough that I have an advertising campaign with an actual product.
Anything else additional you want to tell our readers?
I am writing this in late March 2020 when “social distancing” and “flattening the curve” have depressed many sectors that rely on in-person interaction. As a result, many people may decide to switch careers. My advice is to remember that, while this can be a scary time, a time of great change can also be exciting and invigorating. Try to embrace the uncertainty and use it as a blank canvas to find a new path that reflects your interests.