HRTech Cube Interview with Founder and CEO, Northpass – Stephen Cornwell

This Thanksgiving Northpass’s CEO Stephen discusses varied aspects of learning & development to gain a competitive advantage & equip firms with the tools to do so

1. Tell us about your role in Northpass?
As the chief executive officer of Northpass, I am responsible for being the primary operator of our business. This includes serving as an advisor for the management team — and other leaders across the organization — so that they can achieve their respective performance goals, or surmount hurdles that occur from time to time. One day I may be fleshing out a new corporate strategy, another day I may be helping prioritize the next-generation product roadmap, or perhaps I am serving as a bastion for Northpass’ vibrant culture. There is no such thing as a typical day at a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) startup and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

2. Can you tell us about your journey into this market?
Prior to the launch of Northpass, I previously worked for a company that produced a data analytics product for the retail sector. Long story short, we had a great strategic exit to a company that was looking for a product extension. Just before that acquisition though I had actually realized there was white space for a learning solution that could properly train customers and partners — I knew firsthand as I was attempting to deploy a learning program to do just that. Ultimately, I wanted to build an academy and roll it out, but because traditional learning solutions were created for compliance reasons and regulatory requirements, no application was a fit.

Post acquisition, I noticed that our parent company had even more significant learning challenges than what I was dealing with. This cemented it for me. From there I founded Northpass at the end of 2013 and the product hit the street at the beginning of 2015.

3. How do you think technology is changing the HR Sector?
Historically, the HR org has lagged compared to other business units when it comes to the adoption of technology and innovation — There’s a multitude of reasons for this. The good news is that this is changing rapidly.

With all-new technologies being developed and deployed, the HR org is entering a period of digital transformation as it relates to people and their respective roles.

As the C-suite realizes that HR can actually drive growth for today’s businesses, these projects will start to get greater exposure and funding.

4. How is digitization empowering learning for employees?
Learning going digital has marked a significant shift in the way employees, customers and partners build their knowledge base. While it started with basic things like compliance and onboarding programs, it has morphed into something much more compelling.

Take, for example, enabling a business to train and continually educate its workforce via an “always on” website that leverages the power of its internal experts. We’ve worked with a blue chip customer to deliver this and the results have been phenomenal. What was originally meant for straightforward training purposes has turned into an engine of growth for this company as it scales best practices and cutting-edge knowledge to its workers. People have now added to their skillset and are enabled to boost the sales of their individual businesses.

For us, this is just another proof point: When people are empowered to learn in their own way or on their own time, it results in improved employee satisfaction. Improved employee satisfaction translates to better customer experiences, which means larger customer lifetime values (CLTV) and a greater share of wallet, thereby yielding an increase in top- and bottom-line results.

5. What is the difference between your Learning Platform and a LMS?
While functionality may appear similar between our learning platform and a traditional LMS, there’s a fundamental difference in our underlying technology that makes Northpass stand apart. The most significant is that our platform delivers a truly seamless experience for our customers. This spans from how we approach authentication, to the level of automation available on our platform, to how learner data can be understood and mix/mashed elsewhere across a business, to our fully customizable look and feel.

There’s other elements, too. For example, our infrastructure allows Northpass to deliver learning experiences on a massive scale. For example, we had a marquee customer with several million active learners online and the Northpass platform didn’t have any issues whatsoever — That’s true scalability.

But, we’re merely scratching the surface. There’s more to come.

6. What is the significance of an intuitive platform for enabling high-impact onboarding?
To me, an impactful learning program is a key factor that determines the difference between success and failure. Whether you’re seeking to onboard a workforce, customers or partners, enabling and empowering your audiences with the right information starts them off on the right path.

That said, a learning program is only as good as the platform. As a significant chunk of learning solutions offered today were created with compliance and regulatory concerns top of mind, a common sense approach that placed an emphasis on ease of use fell by the wayside.

A couple of questions anyone leading an onboarding program today should ask themselves:

1) Why should someone going through the onboarding process have to log into a completely different platform?

2) Why isn’t learning thought of as a continual process that’s embedded directly into a product?

I see it this way: To the learner, the platform should be invisible. To the business, the results should be obvious.

7. Why is it necessary to amplify the upskilling of teams, especially during present times?
It’s clear that there’s a vast opportunity for companies of all stripes, today. It comes down to whether or not they want to seize it. The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated what was, essentially, inevitable. Traditional methods of training or upskilling a workforce through offline events are not as impactful as when you allow people to learn in their own way or on their own time, online. Now, early adopters are reaping the benefits of their decision making whereas everyone else is playing catch up.

Additionally, we’re at a critical intersection for today’s businesses, small and large. With customer expectations at all-new highs, a need to extend CLTV and an urgency to maximize limited resources’ impact, it is more crucial than ever before that companies empower their workforces to meet these challenges with online, learning-based initiatives.

Essentially, learning has evolved from a “nice to have,” to becoming the driver of a company’s next wave of growth.

8. Can you explain to us in detail about your Gig Workers solution?
We really made sure to understand what makes Gig workers unique and there’s a couple crucial traits to this workforce: Primarily, they’re deskless, which means they’re mobile. Secondly, they make their own schedules and have a “hustle” mindset.

Knowing this, we determined it was critical to make sure our solution streamlined the learning experience versus making it clunky for a learner that’s always “on the go.” This is why we’ve made sure to deliver a mobile experience that’s of quality. Additionally, we recognized that in order to maximize this workforce’s experience it would be best to embed learning into existing workflows so it happens Just In Time (JIT). As the pace of doing business has increased dramatically, it’s important to ensure that people are receiving the right information at the right time on the right channel and on the right device.

9. How do you prepare for an AI-centric World?
I see artificial intelligence as simply the next step beyond automation as we know it today. The real benefit of AI, as it relates to HR technology, is that it will position every business to have the opportunity to make learning more impactful through greater personalization. It’s clear that the more relevant learning content is for today’s workforce, the more empowered workers become. This sets them up to thrive in their respective roles.

10. What are the major developments you are planning, in recent times?
I would hate to spoil the fun for what’s coming soon. What I can say is that we have some exciting launches and feature updates in the works.

11. Can you tell us about your team and how it supports you?
Boy, everyday I feel so humbled as I get to work with the best team in the business. From our engineers to our account executives to our customer success managers to our marketing team to our operations professionals, I am incredibly proud of what we’ve built at Northpass. And, it’s only the start.

The management team and I have cultivated a vision for what learning will look in the coming years. Essentially, all of our staff is executing on that vision in their respective roles so our product meets that all-new benchmark and our customers deliver tangible business results. As a startup on the smaller side — in terms of headcount — every individual’s impact is felt, so, I take it as my duty to ensure our team is well informed of successes and areas for improvement.

12. What book are you currently reading?
Currently, I am rereading Marc Benioff’s “Behind the Cloud.” Additionally, I just wrapped up some great reads about competitive strategy by Michael Porter.

13. This Thanksgiving which specific trend around Hr tech do you think the hr/tech professionals should be thankful for and why?
I’ve noticed in 2020 that there’s been movement around improving the employee experience. Just for clarity, that encompasses things such as workforce reskilling or upskilling. Essentially, what I am seeing firsthand, is that businesses are adopting all-new tools and software in order to help their workforces meet unprecedented challenges in their respective roles.

From my perspective, I believe that we should all be thankful that there’s some good to come out of an extremely difficult situation, and the result will be better enabled employees.

14. What movie inspires you the most?
I am not sure if you can consider it a movie but it was one of the latest projects that caught my attention. ESPN’s “The Last Dance,” which detailed the 1998 Chicago Bulls’ championship run with Michael Jordan, was incredibly motivating for me.

To me, it was an extraordinary story of Jordan’s competitive nature and unwillingness to lose. Additionally, it showcased how teams need all of the right pieces to consistently come out on top. Not only is this true in sports but also in business.

15. Can you give us a glance of the applications you use on your phone?
You could say that I am a minimalist. I tend to keep things simple and I haven’t taken the plunge into the app craze just yet.

For work, I rely on: Superhuman for email, Grammarly for writing and Slack for communications. Aside from those three, there’s not much else. Outside of the office, I do my best to put the phone down so I can give my full attention to my family and friends.

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Stephen Cornwell Founder and CEO, Northpass

Before founding Northpass, Stephen ran sales, marketing, and operations for Edifice, an enterprise data services and SaaS analytics platform serving the retail industry. He collected data from over 200 global retailers and sold analytics applications to over 500 leading consumer brands.


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