Founder Stories with Jonaed Iqbal | Founder and CEO of NoDegree.com

Founder Stories with Jonaed Iqbal | Founder and CEO of NoDegree.com

Founder Stories by TeamWave, are a series of interviews of founders of small businesses and other thought leaders who share their practical insights from their journey of entrepreneurship. Here they talk about how they scaled up their company, what challenges they faced during their initial years, marketing strategies that worked to scale up their small business and much more.

These success stories are dedicated to all the entrepreneurs, small business owners and startups, to show them a glimpse of what it takes to survive in this competitive business ecosystem.

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In this episode of FOUNDER SERIES by TeamWave, our guest is Jonaed Iqbal who is the Founder and CEO of NoDegree.com

NoDegree.com is a career resource for people without college degrees. Search jobs, sort through career advice and more at NoDegree.com

Founder Stories with Jonaed Iqbal | Founder and CEO of NoDegree.com

Transcript of the Interview

Reshmi: Hello, everyone. Welcome to the Founder Stories by TeamWave and today’s guest is the Jonaed Iqbal. He’s the founder and CEO of NoDegree.com. No degree.com is an online resource for people without college degrees. They can search for jobs and seek career advice. So personally, I love the mission of this company. When I was going through your LinkedIn profile, I read the mission twice because I wanted to make sure whether it is actually for the people who have no degrees. So I would love to hear from you what is NoDegree.com?

Jonaed: Yeah. So I help people without college degrees find jobs. You know, right now, I’m focused on the US but eventually, I do want to be focused on other countries in the world, because look, I was born in Bangladesh. I came to New York City when I was three years old. And in India, it’s always education. What school did you go to? And, you know, become a doctor. Everything’s always education. But you know, if you look just because you’re a doctor does not mean you’re ethical, right? My dad has done work for doctors that have not paid him. Right. So a lot of times, so much of intelligence is tied to your education, but there’s so much, you’re going to see a lot of people who go to these top schools. They have tutors, there are a lot of things.

And the, and the other thing is, some people may not be good in their studies, but they’re good at other things, right? They’re creative. There are so many ways. Maybe some people are better in business because there are some people who are so good at school, but in the real world, they’re not so good. So there’s so much more that makes the person. So that’s like the real mission. How, if you didn’t go to the top school or if you did bad in school, all of a sudden you’re a bad person? You’re sort of worthless to society.

And then also in the US education is really, really expensive. You know, the same degree that was used to cost like a few thousand a year ago. Now it’s like 10, 20, 30 times the price, and it’s just not affordable. And the thing is, you’re not even guaranteed a job, right. There was a time you go to college, you get a job. Now, as you go to college, you’ve got to get multiple internships and you still struggle. So it’s just a different timeframe. So I want to remove the stigma attached to people without college degrees.

Reshmi: Hmm. I believe this is an idea that comes to everyone’s mind. For example, we all think, what if you could get a job without degrees, but what motivated you to you convert this idea into a business?

Jonaed: I just saw that there really wasn’t anything out there. And then I searched up domains. I first searched up trades.com. That was for sale, but that’s like at least a hundred, a million-dollar domain trades.com. Then I searched nodegree.com. I put an inquiry in and a few days later I got an inquiry and I think I didn’t respond. And then the next one they say, “Hey, we’re offering it for like 1800 US dollars.” So I called my friend and was like, “Oh, we can split it up and we can do something.” And at first, it was just, you know, just those things, you know, how you talk to your friends, like, “Hey, let’s do this business.” But I kind of like, my eyes lit up. I was like, “Oh, this is, I can really make a business out of this thing.”

I just kept on doing research, years of research. And then eventually slowly, I learned more. I learned how I can make it, how I could monetize it and just kept on doing a lot of research reading. And then I figured out the business model, I quit my job to do it. Full-Time once I did enough research, I didn’t make money for like a year and a half. And then thankfully I did start making money at the beginning of 2020. And now it’s, cashflow positive, the funds itself, and you know, it’s growing.

Reshmi: In the research phase, firstly did you check whether there are recruiters who were looking for such employees? How did the research phase go?

Jonaed: What I kind of wanted to do was if you want to become like a financial advisor, there are websites dedicated to financial advisors. If you want to become a welder there are websites dedicated to welders. But the thing is you have to know to search up these careers. So what happens if you don’t know where do you go?

So I kind of want it to be, if you have no idea what you want to do, and you don’t have a degree, I wanted people to come to know w.com, where all the research was done. And so they can learn about these careers and then they can figure out, “Oh, you know what? I want to be a welder” or, “Hey, I don’t want to be a plumber.” So I kind of wanted to give them a taste and say, “Hey, you want to be a welder, check out American welding society, read this book on how to become a welder, peer, some interest.”

“Here’s different things. Here’s how you can get promoted as a welder and make more money.” Because the thing is, a lot of people just don’t know about these careers. Like if, if you look at high school kids, even college kids, they’re like, “Oh, I just looked doctor, lawyer, engineer, accountant, couple of jobs.” They don’t realize even with engineering, there are 50 different disciplines. Even within lawyers. There are so many disciplines.

Most people, they just, they don’t know anything about careers. So, and a lot of people without college degrees, they don’t come from an environment where they really know a lot, a lot of these careers. It’s all my uncle’s a plumber. That’s how I got in my cousin. Got me in. But what if you don’t have a cousin? What if you don’t have a family member? What are you going to do? So I kind of want to give them this step-by-step.

Reshmi: So now how many employers and employee are there in NoDegree.com?

Jonaed: So right now it’s more an information hub. So I’m not focused on employers as much. I’m more focused on content. So I’m focused on podcasting. I mean, I’m partnered with, you know, I have like the ZipRecruiter, like the API, so you can search for jobs and it pulls from ZipRecruiter. So right now it’s more of, I want to focus on content first, grow the traffic through data by providing content before I start going after employers.

But I mean, I’ve done hundreds of resumes for people. And, you know, I have a podcast which I have, you know, moreover close to 12,000 subscribers. I have LinkedIn. So a lot of times now it’s more information based and more coaching based. And then I’m going to focus more on some courses. But I do want to give away as much for free as possible. Like the podcast has no ads and is free and all the content on the site is free.

Reshmi: Yeah. So what is like the pricing, or like I’ve seen on your website, you charge the recruiters, right? For a job posting

Jonaed: Yes, recruiters or employers to the employer for the job posting. But the real way I make money is actually through resumes and interview prep. So through LinkedIn, someone’s like, Hey, I have an interview coming up. Can you help me? Or, Hey, I have, I, I want to apply. I’m not getting interviews. Can you help me apply for jobs, helping with the resident? Oftentimes for them, the resume is really the issue. Like I’ve gotten people into Amazon, Tesla, Microsoft, you know, JP Morgan, MetLife, the IRS. I’ve gotten people into a lot of companies because I know the resumes inside and out and through there, I also share in my content like how I do some of these things.

Reshmi: So then actually when this pandemic came, a lot of businesses shut down, many people losing jobs. So how did it affect NoDegree.com?

Jonaed: I mean, the good thing is we’re a low capital business. We don’t have high monthly fees. So at first, you know, a lot of people were not, a lot of jobs went away, a lot of things, but the fact is there are always jobs. There are always people hiring. So there are always people looking. Now, the thing is, I don’t need to do a hundred resumes on a month. I only need to do a handful of resumes a month. And thankfully we have several income sources that it actually launched another business during it. That was more like virtual events for employers that also tied in. So that ended up taking off. So it’s you as an entrepreneur, you always have to be ready for the cause, these things happen.

Reshmi: Yeah, sure. We have to be ready to face such challenges. Right. And yeah, I would love to hear one big challenge that you faced as a founder. And how did you overcome it?

Jonaed: No, I mean, look, the first year and a half, when I quit my job, it was tough. Like we, the first year, my 2019 tax return, I lost $7,000. The company lost $7,000 and I only did like little odd things. Like I tutored did whatever I filled up. I had a small ATM business, so I wasn’t really making much, I was dipping into my savings and stuff. I’m using credit cards. So that’s always tough because, you know, as an entrepreneur look, I’m, I suck as a regular employee because I’m always late to work. It’s not like I don’t like corporate structure. I’m always questioning things. I mean, not that I won’t be a good worker. It’s just mentally in my head. I’m like going crazy.

Like, why are things this way? I’m always like, I’m always outside of work. I always think about creating. So that, it’s always tough that obviously if I had to go back to that, I would, but that was like sort of the tough thing. Like I, me having to go back to that because, you know, I, unfortunately, you know, as a Bengali person, I’m my parents’ retirement. They don’t have retirement. So if I don’t succeed, then they’re in trouble. So that’s like, that’s something that I’m always thinking about.

Reshmi: And what, what drives you forward? Like there would be bad days, especially when you are an entrepreneur. So what drives you forward to keep on going?

Jonaed: Honestly, it’s just lifestyle and habit. Like, you know, cause the thing is it’s, you’re going to have bad days. You’re going to have good days and you can’t just like, I don’t use motivation because motivation goes away. Like, you know, if you were motivated, like, are you motivated to brush your teeth every day? Right. You just do it, right. It’s not like, Hey, I’m gonna go brush my teeth at every I’m motivated. It’s like, you kinda have to do it. So it’s just kind of, you know, doing what you can. And honestly, I don’t want to go back to a corporate job.

And what really motivates me is like, when I can help someone land a great role, like I made a difference in that life. Like I took people who were unemployed and got them jobs and they’re like, wow. Like I got some people 30 to $40,000 salary raises, you know? So that’s big. So when I saw that, that really motivated me, because like, I see the direct impact, like when I work corporate, you know, producing these reports, I didn’t see direct impact. And so that’s like, okay, like, and you produce these reports, they look at it for a few minutes or they don’t even look at it and you don’t know, but you have to keep doing it and you can’t do anything about it.

Reshmi: So actually when I hear that you have left your corporate job and then started your own company, that’s a huge step. Right. So actually what, what was that about? What were you feeling at that particular moment? Right? So at that particular moment, how did you feel when you took this step, were you happy?

Jonaed: Now, look, I will tell you that I live at home. So that impacts my decision because if I had rent to pay and these monthly bills, I wouldn’t have been able to do that. But since I, so I made that sacrifice, like, you know, I’m 29, I’m almost turning, I’m turning 30 in a few days and I still live at home. But you know, I don’t care where I’m on 30. I care where I’m at, when I’m 35, I care where I’m at 40. So you have to make sacrifices.

Right. So I was extremely happy and delighted. It was freeing. Like I got to work on what I wanted to, and I got to focus on my strengths and I didn’t have to focus on my weaknesses. And for me, like the thing is, it’s a personality. Some people like stability. They like, Hey, I know I’m going to get paid every two weeks. I know what I’m going to get paid. I don’t have to worry about these other things, but me it’s like, I’m always doing these other things. So for me, it’s happy. Like I see much more reward for doing these other things.

Reshmi: Which is one book you would recommend to other entrepreneurs, and founders?

Jonaed: I would recommend the book Never The Split The Difference by Christopher Voss. And that’s a book on negotiation and it goes into the philosophy of negotiation and it really breaks down the way he approaches negotiation. It’s not a battle. It’s more about understanding communication. So that’s one book I would recommend. The other book I would recommend is secrets of power negotiation or power negotiating by Roger Dawson. So one is philosophy, the philosophy of negotiation, the other one are the tactics of negotiation.

So then you know what exactly people are using because people are always negotiating, whether they’re intentional or not, right? Your kids are negotiating and all that stuff. So, and I think as entrepreneurs, and even as regular people, you’re always negotiating ways. And then, and people are always negotiating with you. So it helps you understand, you know, a lot of things and see things. And then you can kind of react appropriately because oftentimes when you do the initial reaction, these people are ready for your initial reaction and they have a counter. Whereas if you play it a certain way, it will improve your life in so many ways.

Reshmi: Okay, great. And what is like one productivity hack that you personally use?

Jonaed: So as what, oftentimes procrastination is a big issue, right? That you don’t want to do something. So one thing we always put off different things. One thing that I use to really do things is to say, I’m only going to do something for five minutes. So if you say, Hey, I’m only going to work on this for five minutes. I’m only going to edit this for five minutes. Only going to clean my room for five minutes. I’m only going to exercise for five minutes because the thing with your brain is it’s easier for your brain to continue in action.

It’s already doing then to start a new one, because there’s a mental, like if you say, Oh, I got to spend three hours on this project. It’s like, then you start putting it off. You want to do something which says, Hey, I’m working on this project for five minutes. You’re going to do it. And then you can say, Oh, five more minutes. Then eventually you, that’s how you get in, like, starting as the hardest part, but it’s easier to start a small task. And then you extend the task. So that’s one thing I always do. Start with one little thing and then that’s how you grow

Reshmi: Yeah. So that’s something I would add to my personal productivity hack as well. And so we are almost coming to the end. So one question is what, like, do you think we missed out on anything you want to share with others as well?

Jonaed: I mean, one day I really hope to make an impact in India because I know like people are for years trying to get into it and you know, the schools are like that. And it, it kind of sucks. And I think the younger generation, it isn’t as bad, but the older generation it’s, it’s really bad. Like I’ve seen it just cause a lot of issues with parents and stuff. Like I grew up, I remember my mom, just always all you got a 98 all, why didn’t you get nine?

I want you to get a hundred or this kid, that kid, I think, you know, just realize that it’s okay for people. You need people to be good at different things. If everybody in the world were doctors, who’s going to fix their cars. Right? How are they going to get to work? Who’s going to, you know, all these other things who’s going to fix the roads.

And every job has value in society. You know, plumber, how can you live in a house without plumbing and see how it does it. Right? So I think we as just a global society, we really just need to value. Every money has a contribution and doesn’t put down anyone for a sort of what they do everything because society needs everything. That’s how it works, right? Like for a house, you need the furniture, you need the walls, you need the heating and you know, you miss one thing and it’s no longer a house, right? It’s no longer the same. It’s not, it doesn’t have the same value. Same thing. Society is not the same when it’s missing something.

Reshmi: And the best part is, you know, I think the perception has started changing. At least it’s just the starting, but I think it has started changing a bit. Yeah. Like in India itself now there are more college dropouts people who want to follow their passion, that a lot of people who are creating content, like at the age of 16, they don’t go to college. They rather prefer creating you know, content regarding digital marketing or productivity.

Jonaed: Hopefully they are more because you need just more of that. Yeah.

Reshmi: And I loved your LinkedIn post, I was like following a few of the posts that you’ll be, so I’m a clown on LinkedIn, but it’s like very genuine posts that we all face. So like today, itself morning, I saw your posts about how people just send an intro and then, they don’t maintain the connection

Jonaed: Yeah, look, I have close to 28,000 followers. If you never intro me back, if you like, I won’t forget. I won’t even remember it. Like people will say, Hey, Hey, if you have a job for me, let me know. I’ll be like, look, I’ll be on it. I’m not going to remember you because how am I going to remember someone like five months from now when I get like thousands of messages, unless I interact with you on a regular basis and you have something so memorable, I’m not going to remember. You keep that.

Reshmi: Any advice, for entrepreneurs?

Jonaed: Self-Awareness: understand your strengths and understand your weaknesses. You don’t have to be good at everything. You just have to be good at a few things and be, you know, double down on them that you outsource what you’re not good at. I think as entrepreneurs, we just get, there are some things we just hate doing, and it’s better. If you can find ways to do something else and use that money you make from doing something else to pay someone to do that. And you, cause the thing is you can never do everything yourself anyway. Yeah.

Reshmi: So when you talk about outsourcing, how many people do you have in your team?

Jonaed: So NoDegree, cause I’m partner like it’s partnered with another company. So NoDegree has five owners. Okay. We have about three to five people working with us at any given time. And then there’s another company that NoDegree owns. Half of we have 20 to 60 people working with us because we do virtual events. So that can scale ups. Like one, sometimes we have 60 people working with us. In case there is an event, so that one has a regular team of 20 to 30. Yeah.

Reshmi: Okay. So that’s all, that’s all from my end. Thanks a lot for joining us. It was a pleasure. Yeah, it was my pleasure.

**In case you are a founder of a small business and want to be featured on our Founder Stories, or if you want to recommend someone for our Founder Stories series, you can connect here.

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