Emily Foote had a long and impressive education before finding a methodology that truly changed how she thought about learning.
Foote, who cofounded edtech startup Practice in 2011, grew up in a high-performing school district. She got both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at esteemed universities. After teaching for five years, she gained an understanding of the depth of the educational disparities that exist simply based on zip code.
But it wasn’t until Foote enrolled in law school that she began to think about education and learning in an entirely new light.
Today, years after putting what would become Practice into motion, Foote works to ensure that the company’s elearning solutions are in a constant state of improvement — and that the company’s team members and culture follow suit. As the company’s Chief Client & Learning Officer, Foote’s biggest job is to help Practice’s clients as well as its own team create a practice-driven environment by promoting transparency and encouraging candid feedback.
In an interview with Technically Talent, Foote explains her career trajectory, gives us a glimpse into what it’s like to work at Practice and offers some tips to those who might want to work with her someday.
Tell us about the journey that led to you cofounding Practice.
After college, I taught for five years through Teach for America and later KIPP Public Charter Schools. I always thought about going to law school, and to be fully transparent, I needed a break from the incredibly tough job of classroom teaching.
So, I went to law school. I had a professor, Karl Okamoto, who heavily focused on practice over theory. He followed a teaching methodology where he’d give us a case study, assign an action such as drafting an employment agreement, then have us negotiate the agreement with a partner in front of the class.
After each demonstration, the rest of the class would give feedback. As each pair went, we learned how to improve our own skills. The next week, we’d visit a law firm to do the same thing, but this time, we received feedback from practitioners. Finally, we’d watch two partners perform the task we performed. I thought it was a brilliant model, one I wished I had throughout all my educational experiences.
Later, Karl received a Small Business Innovation Research grant from the federal government to help close the skills gap by taking his teaching methodology and translating it into a scalable online video based solution. When he explained the grant, Karl noted that there were two drivers to measure our success:
- Can we create a commercially viable company?
- Can we make a significant social impact?
We would start first in legal education, an area Karl cared passionately about and then, assuming the product was effective, we could take it to teacher education to ultimately impact all K-12 students regardless of their zip code, an area I cared passionately about.
Knowing this was the plan, I took a hiatus from practicing law. That was six years ago.
How do you manage your teams throughout the day?
I like to start my day reading the latest news from our market. This helps me stay current on how our product can can continue to make a positive impact on our clients’ realities. Then my day is typically broken into a few different roles: Managing the client success team, including the account management team that helps new clients kick off, and then there’s the team that supports all active clients. This role includes deep collaboration with product and engineering teams to ensure bug improvements or product enhancements.
Managing the client success team takes time, but as the cofounder, my other role is in sales and business development. I often participate in direct prospect calls to discuss the learning theory behind our solution, and I help manage our partnership deals. More broadly, I focus on general management of the company, investor meetings, and high-level strategic conversations with our leadership team.
While I’m on email, calls or in meetings for the majority of the day, I try to create uninterrupted times to focus on larger projects and encourage our teams to do the same.
How fast is Practice growing?
We’re growing relatively fast. We have a relatively robust engineering team and client success team. With respect to current team needs, we’re focused on sales and product.
How do you onboard your team?
For the sales and client success team specifically, each new team member takes a few weeks to go through a series of exercises on our learning software.
For these two teams in particular, there’s a lot of client interaction and thus, soft skill development is critical. Our solution, allows our teams to practice those skills through video demonstration and feedback. After practice and feedback, each team member is able to refine particular skills.
Specifically on the client success team, you get certified at the end as a Practice Specialist. This allows us to be true partners to our clients. It’s not just a transactional process where we sell the software and then walk away. We work hand-in-hand with our clients to help them implement our technology in a way that not only helps them scale learners’ competence and confidence, but also create a culture of continuous learning within their overall organization.
What makes someone the right fit for the Practice team?
Like all companies, we look to see if a person’s skill set matches our current need, but we also look for culture fit and, most importantly, if the individual is a curious, life-long learner who isn’t afraid to take risks and ultimately push our company to continue to be innovative. But, I’ll be honest, it’s really hard to hire the right people and it’s painful when you make a wrong move.
With that said, we use our platform as an interviewing tool to see if people fit our culture and embody life-long learning. We ask candidates to participate in six different exercises that help us discover these things. If there is a general excitement about that individual, then we put the candidate through a series of more typical interviews.
What kind of questions should a potential hire be prepared for?
We ask them to explain why they’re interested in Practice. We also want to know if they embody grit, and to explain how they have demonstrated that in the past. There’s a lot of self-direction needed at a startup, so we want to know if they can manage time and stay focused. We try to learn how they deal with adversity, how they work in a team, and how they make decisions about data — we want to know how critically they think.
We want to know if they are thoughtful about learning; this doesn’t necessarily have to do with their education, but rather how they approach learning new things and developing new skills. We also want to get to know their outside interests and if they have any roles in community involvement that embody our mission.
What makes a successful Practice candidate?
We value curiosity. Are you a constant, life-long learner? Are you not only curious about how you can self improve, but how you can improve our product and how you can help your teammates thrive? Our culture? The company?
We want somebody that’s going to go out and embody what we hope to help our clients do, embrace continuous learning. We’re also attracted to confidence and ownership. We look to see if those things will allow you to take risks, fail fast and try again.-30-