A conversation with Austen Allred, co-founder and CEO of Lambda School
I spoke with Austen Allred, co-founder and CEO of Lambda School. Lambda School empowers students to alter their career paths through learning core technical skills with no tuition upfront. Students only pay after making at least $50K a year within 60 months of graduation from the program. In this way, Lambda School’s incentives are fully aligned with those of students. Lambda School wins when their graduates succeed. Graduates have been hired into developer roles in Fortune 100 companies and the world’s top startups, including Google, Microsoft, Goldman Sachs, IBM, and more.
Austen shared some of the lessons he learned from building Lambda School.
Prior to founding Lambda School, Austen was a senior manager of growth at LendUp, co-founder of Grasswire, and social team lead at Stryde. At LendUp, Austen learned to think about underwriting risk and understanding people, which helped to form the foundations for Lambda School.
But even before LendUp or any of his professional experiences, Austen served an LDS mission in the Ukraine when he was 19. There, he worked insane hours in challenging conditions. Through this experience, Austen built resilience in working diligently with no immediate, tangible outcome. He learned to be more process than result oriented, which has provided a great mental model for his founder journey.
At Lambda School, beyond the pure curriculum itself, community building is crucial. Austen recalls many instances of students encouraging each other, especially during tough times in the learning and skill development process as well as the job search.
Reflecting on brand building at Lambda School, Austen underscores the importance of being thoughtful in showing the journey, not just the destination. Too often standard marketing only shows the polished outcome, but your supporters want to see the full process, the ups and the downs. To this end, it is crucial to be authentic even and perhaps especially in building your virtual brand and messaging.
Reflecting on Y Combinator, Austen recommends leveraging the network of companies (in Lambda School’s case, as hiring partners), tactical advice on Bookface, and other founders just from a friendship angle. Being a founder can be quite a lonely journey, and having founder friends who share similar experiences can be immensely helpful for mental wellbeing.
In the early days, companies can overbuild or listen too much to people who do not understand their fundamental mission and vision. Austen highlights the importance of balancing openness to feedback with conviction. Approach feedback with an open but analytical mind.
As you bring investors onto your cap table, be as concrete as possible in how you would like them to help you. When you reduce the friction and make the ask crystal clear (for example, including specific LinkedIn profiles to the people or types of people you want to connect with through them), investors can more easily and effectively support you with the exact right intros to customers, hires, and others.
As the company grows, prioritization becomes more challenging. For Austen, he focuses on achieving home runs through the biggest swings and to this end, he underscores the importance of optimizing for “times at bat.” The more risks you can take, the faster you can iterate and grow.
Looking ahead, Austen is most excited about optimizing Lambda School’s cost structure to create an even broader impact.