Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Sefunmi Osinaike, Co-Founder of Co.Lab, located in Toronto, ON, Canada.
What's your business, and who are your customers?
Co.Lab is an online school that empowers and prepares career switchers for success within the tech industry. We facilitate collaborative, hands-on product development experience for product managers, designers and software engineers to gain real-world experience shipping products in eight weeks. Our primary customers are career switchers who wish to use their transferable skills to transition into the tech industry.
Tell us about yourself
I studied electrical engineering at the University of Waterloo in Canada. I was surrounded by tech and quickly got inspired by the incredible work happening in silicon valley. I wanted to be an entrepreneur, so I tried to start my own company in college, but that failed before it got off the ground. I learnt a lot and managed to build a product with friends during that time, which gave me invaluable experience I could showcase to hiring managers. It led me to kick-start my Product Management career through internships at Microsoft and Apple.
After my series of successful internships in the states, I struggled to transition into Product Management when looking for full-time roles straight out of college in Canada. There weren't many opportunities for new grads to land a PM job easily. The road was long and had, but I was determined to persevere until I landed my first role at ecobee, a smart home company based in Toronto. While at ecobee, I had multiple coffee chats each week with other aspiring Product Managers who were all wondering how I made the leap. Many of them were MBA students who wanted to figure out their own path to the coveted role.
After over 50 chats, I wanted to scale myself and truly solve the problem for others. I reached out to Helen, and we embarked on a journey to research the most effective way to break into product management. Back in 2018, we arrived at the solution to be a cross-functional boot camp where learners will get the opportunity to work with other disciplines, mimicking the real-world environment. That is when the idea for Co.Lab was born. However, at that time, we didn't feel like we had the capacity to orchestrate such a program effectively, so we decided to write a book.
Two years later, we revisited the idea, and now we've been running Co.Lab since 2020. What keeps me motivated are the students I encounter every day who want to be given a chance to be confident and work in their dream careers. We have a responsibility to play in their journey into the tech industry, and we want to do whatever we can to impact them in a profoundly positive way.
What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?
My biggest accomplishment is seeing the impact Co.Lab students go on to make. We've only been around for two years and have graduated with over 500 learners in 30 different countries. We now have alumni at companies like Apple, Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Shopify, and many more fast-growing startups worldwide. It's inspiring to reach out to our alum to see how they are crushing it and beaming with confidence because they were properly prepared to succeed in the role. It's truly inspiring watching that growth across many learners.
What's one of the hardest things that come with being a business owner?
The most challenging part of the job is making sure that we continue to uphold an incredibly high standard for the quality of education we provide, no matter the cost. Above everything else, we wish to service our learners and make sure they have an outstanding experience so that they can be successful.
What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?
- Start building credibility and work incredibly hard on where you'll find your customers because that is perhaps the most challenging part of running a company.
- Make sure you're solving an actual problem. Make sure it's backed by customer data because the worst thing is working on something to figure out that no one wants what you've created later on.
- Stay alive for as long as you can, and everything will be fine. It's the persistence not to die that eventually allows a business to be successful. Do whatever it takes to keep moving forward.
Where can people find you and your business?
If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solo or small business entrepreneur that you'd like to share, then please answer these interview questions. We'd love to feature your journey on these pages.
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