All non-technical founders have experienced trouble finding talented engineers. Even with the huge surge of Computer Science students in recent years, there is still somehow a gap between supply and demand for Software Engineers. This is in part because good Software Engineers often become highly skilled at development from side projects and work experience, not only from their college curriculums.
Raheel Ahmad, Hamd Tahir, and Muddassar Sharif, the cofounders of DevNation, believe that one solution to this shortage lies in Pakistan. This is due to the unique demographic structure of the country. In Pakistan, 60% of the population is under 30 years old, with 52 million people who are underskilled. “Our mission is to upskill them, teach them in-demand tech skills, and then connect them with high-paying remote jobs,” says Muddassar.
Raheel, Hamd, and Muddassar are all NYU graduates. The trio met during their time at NYU Shanghai and got involved with the NYU Entrepreneurial Institute when they spent the later parts of their undergraduate education studying away at the Washington Square Park campus. Through one of Raheel’s professors in the class “Minimal Viable Product”, Raheel was introduced to Andy Moss, the Director of the NYU Entrepreneurial Institute at the time. Raheel and Mudassar pursued two ventures together at the Entrepreneurial Institute, which led them to meet Rebecca Silver and Frank Rimalovski. “We have quite a lot of history with the Leslie eLab,” Raheel explains.
After graduating from NYU with a Business degree, Raheel worked at a startup in Beijing. Mudassar, with a Data Science degree, worked around startups as a Software Engineer. Hamd pursued a Biology and Data Science degree and worked in multiple Software and Data Engineering roles. In January of 2021, the three met up to cofound DevNation.
DevNation is an EdTech startup that provides training programs for participants to learn the ins and outs of Software Engineering roles so that they know “40% of the work they’re about to do”, according to Raheel. The startup offers three programs as of today: the Grow program, which teaches Web App Development to STEM professionals with 0-2 years of experience and college degrees; the Student program, which teaches skills needed for freelancing work and a career in tech; the Data Science program, which teaches industry level Data Science and Machine Learning skills to professionals. The programs include a mix of pure programming, peer-to-peer learning, group projects, and single projects. At the end of the program, DevNation pairs its graduates with high-paying jobs at startups and partner companies.
What differentiates DevNation from Codecademy, Khan Academy, and other EdTech services is their revenue approach that caters to the Pakistani market specifically. “Since Pakistan is a developing nation, finances are a huge part of people’s [decision making] process,” Raheel explains, “so we are introducing the Income Share Agreement (ISA) in Pakistan, which is once you land a job, you pay us. It’s a game-changer in Pakistan because it helps us create more accessibility [and] connect people with opportunities.” The ISA model adds a level of accountability to DevNation to make the programs extremely successful since they only get paid if the graduates secure jobs. The reason for this is kind of a protest to the University structure in Pakistan, which requires a high upfront payment but often doesn’t adequately prepare students for jobs. DevNation’s participants can choose between the ISA method or paying a flat fee for the programs. Aside from revenue from the students in the program, DevNation also receives placement fees from the companies that they send their graduates to. Hamd describes DevNation as being at the intersection of HR firms and EdTech companies.
DevNation ran their first cohort of students in February of 2021 and took around four to five months to really hunker down on the recipe of course structure that produces the most success. Now, as Mudassar continues to refine the contents of the programs, Hamd is working to bring the product to the general market. Raheel is mainly focusing on growth, marketing, and fundraising. When I spoke with the three, they were in Pakistan together participating in a Techstars Accelerator program, from whom they received their first round of venture funding with CrossFund also participating in the round. Around 80-90% of the first cohort of students have secured jobs, and DevNation has logged $144,000 in ISA value and $3,000 in MRR in the process. With the new investment from Techstars, DevNation can now tap into its over 3,000 portfolio companies as target partner companies for their graduates. “We’ve figured out how the program works, now, it’s just about activating that growth channel that can actually help us get nonlinear growth in the next couple of months,” Raheel summarizes.
Even though DevNation is targeting the Pakistani market right now, they wish to expand to serve everyone in their mission. “Innovation depends on people,” says Muddassar, “and people are in shortage.” The three entrepreneurs look to not only empower Pakistani’s who are underskilled or unsatisfied with their college educations but also to bring more talent to the world at large in the process.