Investment

Investment Notes: Forage

Blackbird is proud to lead the Series B round into Forage, a company pioneering a new market category at the intersection of education and recruitment.
Forage team

We are proud to lead the Series B round into Forage, a company pioneering a new market category at the intersection of education and recruitment - “preskilling”.

Blackbird led the US$25 million round with participation from existing investors Lightspeed and Funders Club, and new investors Telstra Ventures, Citi Ventures, Gaingels, The Cap Table Coalition and ETF@JFFLabs. With this round, I (Tom) will join the board.

Lightspeed partner Mercedes Bent wrote a great investment memo following their Series A investment into Forage in 2020. Since then, Forage has only continued to go from strength to strength.

A new category of “preskilling”

Forage is defining a new category of “preskilling” that sits at the intersection of education and work. Until now, the worlds of education and work have been largely disconnected - students attend schools and colleges and engage in rigorous coursework only to emerge on the other side with limited exposure to, understanding of, or preparedness for the realities of work. This lack of connection between learning and work creates a misalignment between candidates and careers, which in turn results in downstream impacts such as unhappy employees, attrition, and suboptimal workforces.

Forage is hoping to change that and envisages a future in which education and work collaborate more closely. Forage flips the traditional “hire then train” recruitment model to be a “train then hire” one. On one hand, it partners with companies to develop curated “experiential programs” and skills-based content to heighten the career discovery and work-readiness of students; on the other, it partners with schools and colleges to distribute and bring those programs to life.

In a nutshell, Forage is the glue between the futures of education and work, creating a win-win-win situation for all involved - candidates, employers, and colleges.

For candidates, a better way to navigate career decisions on a level playing field

At the center of Forage’s strategy is the candidate, or “forager”. To date, almost 2 million foragers from over 200 countries have joined Forage’s platform and enrolled in programs, the vast majority of whom arrive at Forage organically through referrals and word of mouth. Almost half of these individuals enrol in two or more programs, proving the value of Forage as an engaging resource for discovery.

Foragers love Forage because it helps them to learn and explore different career opportunities through great content, build valuable vocational credentials, and connect directly with top companies to land jobs on a level playing field.

Forage participants Nana Kessie, Yasmin Ibrahim and Neissa Dorsinville

Ask the Forage team to share some individual success stories and you will not be disappointed! From Nana Kessie’s story of finding his way to White & Case, to Neissa Dorsinville’s journey to joining JP Morgan, or Yasmin Ibrahim’s experience that landed her a data science role with Expedia, you will be overwhelmed by the ways that Forage has meaningfully touched so many people’s lives to date.

In reflecting on his journey from Howard University student to White & Case law firm associate via Forage, Nana Kessie said, “you can't have a say at the table if you don't have a seat at the table. These programs, for people who look like me, act like me and think like me, are an opportunity to get that seat at the table, so we can build a better future for the people behind us. Forage took me from a point of not having any experience, not even knowing the basic terminology, to feeling a bit more comfortable, as I had actually done the sort of work that an Associate would do.”

For employers, a better way to recruit

Today, Forage has over 100 programs live on its platform from an impressive array of organizations including General Electric, Citi Bank, Goldman Sachs, Quantium, Boston Consulting Group, JP Morgan, and Electronic Arts.

For employers and talent teams, Forage provides a powerful platform to reach a broader and more diverse talent pool, assess candidates on skills and intent, and build a stronger brand connection:

As opposed to running a handful of college recruitment drives each year, Forage opens up employers to drawing in talent from all over the world and builds richer diversity into the recruitment funnel.

As opposed to assessing candidates on CVs and what university they attended, Forage offers powerful candidate tracking and assessment features, sifting through and surfacing candidates based on actual skills required and hunger for the job

As opposed to juggling sporadic and often ineffective marketing and recruitment campaigns, Forage helps employers to craft and control their brand positioning and manage a fluid and ongoing talent journey.

The recruitment outcomes are compelling. On average, Foragers spend five hours with a brand, are 2-5x more likely to receive a job offer, and account for 33% of recruitment at partner companies.

For colleges, a better way to combine intellectual and experiential learning

And finally, for colleges, Forage provides a valuable resource for students to find their dream career; to complement the intellectual coursework of the classroom with experiential learning from the real world. Today, Forage partners with over 250 top institutions around the world including Yale, Harvard, University of Michigan, University of New South Wales, and the London School of Economics.

So, why now?

The world is changing in ways that reinforce Forage’s vision. A few key themes that will define Forage’s future include:

  • Future of work - COVID-19 has dramatically accelerated the shift toward remote workforces. Amongst the many benefits of remote work (more on this here) is the ability to recruit from a talent pool that is no longer geographically constrained by office locations. But with that opportunity comes the challenge of how to actually reach, connect with, and assess that more globalized talent network.
  • Future of education - we are also seeing significant innovation in the models and institutions of education, for example - online and hybrid learning, boot camps, cohort-based programs. This in turn can make the traditional ways of recruitment mode difficult and it harder to recognize credentials and assess candidates.
  • Momentum on diversity - diversity and inclusion objectives are top of mind for all employers and talent teams, yet the right approaches for achieving these are often unclear.
  • Competition for talent - it is getting harder and harder to recruit, train, and retain talent and employers are increasingly seeking more effective tools to reach, attract, and filter candidates that align to long-term hiring goals
  • Speed of innovation - the supply of skills today does not match the demand for skills tomorrow. The speed of innovation is creating significant organizational skill gaps and heightening the needs for more rapid skill acquisition and employee reskilling
  • Enter Forage.
  • Forage has a huge and exciting market and product roadmap opportunity before it. Today, it focuses on the college student recruitment market, but its ambitions are far greater. Globally, the talent acquisition software market is US$8B, the online recruitment market is US$28B, and the elearning market is US$250B and growing at 21% pa. Now to build!
  • We are very excited to welcome Forage to the Blackbird family.