By Sanne Breimer
He prefers to have more ‘humanized and colloquial conversations like this’, Will Fan tells me at the end of our interview. And that is also one of the goals of NewCampus, the company he and his co-founder Fei Yao started: ‘In the end of the day the magic happens before and after our classes. It is about the people you meet all around the world and the conversations you have behind doors.’
Getting your hands dirty
Will and Fei were working as consultants in Australia, always curious about doing things outside of their jobs. They started a ‘side hustle’ in helping people to buy vintage furniture and visited artisans and users during their weekends. Six months later an accelerator from Singapore invited them to join and so they quit their jobs, packed their bags and moved overseas. ‘When we first moved to Singapore it was really the emergence of the start-up community in Southeast Asia. A first wave of foreign entrepreneurs and investors came to town.’ The entrepreneurs realized quickly that they didn’t really care about solving the furniture problem. They discovered a bigger challenge: how to help people learn about new careers and trying new experiences without the risk of losing their day job? It was the same problem they had faced themselves. ‘We called it the quarter-life crisis’. It led to the founding of a company with the abbreviation of that term, QLC, the frontrunner of NewCampus. QLC connected professionals and students to remote internship with start-ups around the world. ‘Most importantly it was about getting your hands dirty, remotely and outside of what you’re currently doing.’
How to make your life more fulfilled
Will himself studied law and commerce for six years knowing it wasn’t the career path he wanted. ‘At this day and age, the way you get education is very one dimensional. You’re expected to be prepared for a job for the rest of your life. It made us think about how to integrate education into your lifestyle, so it will become lifelong learning’. He and Fei wanted to apply the concept of gym memberships to education: how can you make learning accessible, exciting and at the same time create a community. It is everything that is currently lacking from regular education. ‘We find it important that people come to our campus regularly, because we need to change the way people are learning. To make it part of their everyday life.’ Will explains how they changed their approach from ‘you’ll probably hate your job soon, start to change now’ at QLC to a more solution-oriented one of ‘make learning a habit’ at NewCampus: ‘It’s not so much about ‘you need to change’, it’s more about how you can make your life more fulfilled. How can you make this a positive, transformational experience.’
Online can only help you do so much
Nine months ago, the Crown Prince of Dubai asked them to come over to be part of a challenge hosted by the government of the United Arab Emirates: How can you help people with jobs that don’t exist yet? In the Gulf State they discovered a ‘beautiful unutilized co-working space called Area2071 and noticed the missing link in their company so far: humanized interaction. ‘Online can only help you do so much, you need to always have an offline part, so we started our co-learning school in Dubai in mid 2018.’ From there they searched for partners around the world with impact outside of the Middle East to spread their mission of reinventing oneself in a very iterative way. And soon after they opened a co-learning space in Singapore, partnering up with WeWork. The Fast FWD festival they organized ahead of that was sold out within a week.
Building education from the ground up
The way Will sees it is that after finishing work, you go over to the NewCampus co-learning space in your city, do a class, meet new faces and have a quality conversation so when you go home you feel enriched. ‘A lot of different people come to us right now. It could be freelancers that don’t get training from corporates, it could be returning mothers, interested in new technology. It could be someone looking at switching careers. But what we’re saying is the challenge with education right now, online and offline is that it is still a big investment and it is still not exciting and engaging.
Another aspect is, we actually work with instructors at the forefront of industry. So by the time content is integrated in the curriculum it is already outdated. Whereas all our classes are live and from all around the entrepreneurship world. So things you learn could be blockchain, AI, Mindfulness or it might even be real estate on Mars. You are guaranteed to learn new things every day, constantly. We’re rebuilding education, we’re building it from the ground up.’
Which doesn’t mean they’re competing with existing universities or business schools. ‘We always know that every city, every country will focus on improving education, improving the welfare of people, like a lifelong learning eco-system. We’re not too worried about this, because we have our own unique viewpoint of where the world of learning should move towards.’
Stupidity and a unique view on where the world is moving
As a start-up you face challenges, Will and Fei also do. ‘The biggest challenge right now for us is to really try to radically change everyone’s perception of what education is. For entrepreneurs — ourselves included — it is already hard enough to try to learn how to build a business, let alone building a globally scalable company. But the harder part is that we’re trying to build something that fights against a hundred, two-hundred or three-hundred-year-old system. That is something that takes either a lot of stupidity or just a very unique view on where the world is moving and actually for us it is a combination of both.
We have been building this for more than 4 years now, we have done the hard work and for some reason we are still alive. That holds through with us still trying to solve the same problem we’ve had in our consulting days. But we have a lot of confidence in what we’re doing, which is to really try to understand how we fit in this world.’
It seems like Will isn’t going to return to his vintage furniture business anytime soon. He laughs when he is asked that question. ‘Maybe in my pastime. Every time I go to nice co-working spaces, I’m like ‘hey I know the price of that’. The fact that this busy start-up entrepreneur still has time left for other things than his business, raises some eyebrows. ‘Well, that is also part of our ethos, when you do something you love, it is not actually about work, about nine to five. It is all integrated into life. Like learning should be integrated into your life. That is where we see the biggest gap in today’s education: it is always a big investment. If any other industry can change, so can education.’