Alec Whitters serves as the CEO/Cofounder of the leading mobile learning platform, Higher Learning Technologies.
How did you come up with HLT?
I was in dental school and I became frustrated I couldn't use my smartphone for any of my studies. I called up the publishing companies and they told me mobile learning was a bad idea and they couldn't see students wanting to use these devices for school. Out of frustration, I started working on the product with my two closest friends. These humble beginnings were how I landed my job as CEO of HLT. Since launching our first product at the end of 2012, we have expanded 35 mobile learning titles which are used by more than 3 million students across the world.
What are your responsibilities at your job?
My daily responsibilities have rapidly changed as the company grows. For the first year, myself and my two other co-founders, Ben O'Connor and Adam Keune, did essentially all business activities, including writing content, creating software, and marketing. As we got traction from our initial work, my days consisted of more planning work, management of staff, hiring, and fundraising. In these times we didn't have much of a management team and I found myself having to put out fires constantly and be very focused on the day-to-day.
Now that we have over 40 team members and a highly capable leadership team, I do less work in daily operations. I am having frequent meetings with existing and potential partners, working on long term financial planning and fundraising, and establishing the long term vision for HLT.
How did you choose this career field?
I have always enjoyed understanding why people do what they do, so I think my disposition leaned toward psychology and sales related fields. Dental school is a great path and I was planning to use these skills in that field. When I was in school and ran into this problem around mobile learning, I realized that starting a company to help train dentists and other similar professions might be a better way to impact the world. In short, many factors made an opportunity emerge, and I jumped for it.
What advice do you have for current students?
1. Live through your own eyes. So many people have advice and there are so many people to try to please. I think in the end, you need to pay attention to others suggestions but make the decision yourself for what you will do with your life. At some point, you will find something in your life you naturally gravitate towards.
2. When you find something you are passionate about, focus on being so good you can’t be ignored. In my opinion, anyone can become good at anything. You need to 1) learn about the space academically through class and books 2) Get mentors who can help you translate this to the real world and 3) Do the thing you want to become good at each day. Over the short term, doing these things will make a small impact, but if you do all of these activities over a 5-10 year period you will gain profound capabilities that cannot be ignored.
What advice do you have for current job-seekers?
1. Getting a job is more about relationships and skills than anything else. Become really good at something and build relationships with people in that space.
2. Be bold and reach out to people who you think would never respond. Make yourself vulnerable and learn from smart people. Asking for advice is the best way to build a network.
3. You will have setbacks and may not start with something you love, but remember it is a long journey and everyone starts low on the totem pole. Just keep learning and pushing forward for your dreams.
4. When you do get a job, instead of constantly trying to show how good you are, fight to make others around you, particularly your boss, look good and achieve their goals.
How did your past experiences help you get this job?
I spent a year doing cold calling via door to door sales and telephone sales. During that time I had mentors teaching me and read 100+ psychology/influence books to understand what compels people to do things. This experience helped make me rejection proof and open to putting myself out there
Spending years in school learning. The biggest thing I got from undergrad and dental school was not the specific knowledge, it was learning how to learn. It taught me that with hard work, I could become much better at things and this helped me to gain confidence.
What is the most important thing you’ve learned since graduating and entering the professional world?
When you find something you’re passionate about, it’s much easier to work hard and learn obsessively. This is what is needed to stand out. It’s about working harder AND smarter, to do that you need to really care about what you’re doing.
What networking tips do you have?
Ask for advice, rather than ask for someone to do something for you. Find ways to create value for others and help them. Also, put yourself out there in situations that make you feel vulnerable.