Why I Chose RED Academy Over Grad School
Some people are born with a tenacity and grit that many of us have to work for our whole lives.
Raisul Chowdhury is one of those few. He’s the Campaign Optimization Manager at StackAdapt in Toronto, where he takes marketing campaigns for the world’s most renowned brands and makes them remarkable. But if you could see the tiny neighbourhood in Bangladesh where he grew up, you’d get a glimpse of just what it took for him to get where he is now.
At the age of 11, Raisul convinced his parents to allow him to attend a highly selective military school famed for producing some of the country’s brightest minds. The school had a formidable entrance exam, a tuition fee that was a quarter of his middle-class family’s income, and would require him to stay within the school perimeter most of the year. For a middle-class kid from Halishahar, his dream was highly unrealistic—nevertheless, he tried with all his might. After months of gruelling preparation, Raisul passed the entrance exam and hopped on an auto-rickshaw to start his journey to the unknown. By the end of the first term, Raisul earned himself a scholarship that cut his tuition by 70 per cent.
He shook things up again years later, after having gone to the country’s top business school and working his way up as a promising young marketer in one of the largest multinational corporations in Bangladesh. He was living what many would call ‘the good life’—married to his best friend from college with a great job and comfortable lifestyle. But he took another leap into the unknown and moved to Toronto to continue chasing the dreams of his 11-year-old self. He even turned down a scholarship to a top school for entrepreneurship, and joined RED Academy’s Digital Marketing Program instead.
Here, we pick Raisul’s brain about what drives him, his unconventional decision to join RED instead of a grad school scholarship, and how RED Academy has prepared him to continue his pattern of disruption on a bigger scale.
What made you decide to disrupt your ‘good life’ in Bangladesh to move to Toronto, of all places?
I have always been a huge fan of innovative tech companies and the large scale impacts they have on societies, so I really wanted to be at the centre of the tech hub and learn how those products and companies are built. I wanted to find my way to the most innovative tech startups in the world, and it seemed impossible being where I was. I knew I needed to change something, so that’s when my partner and I decided to move to Toronto—the tech hub that is growing faster than Silicon Valley.
Did you have a plan of action when you got to Toronto?
After deciding to move, I immediately knew that there was a missing link in my transition to the fast-paced tech startup-world in North America. The experience of working at an FTSE 500 company had helped me developed solid leadership skills and strategic thinking patterns but I felt I needed more hands-on training for the technical skills that early-stage startups require.
And so you began looking into schools… What options did you consider?
Initially, going for an MBA seemed to be the most obvious choice. I had already been admitted with a scholarship to one of the top ranked MBA programs in the US. I felt like that was my pathway to launching my career in the tech industry.
But after carefully considering the time commitment, financial impact, and the opportunity cost associated, and realized that a year-long commitment might not be the best option for me at that particular point in time.
That’s when I started looking for compact and recognized programs that offered great networking opportunities and the hands-on skill set required to get my foot in the door. I started visiting all the boot camps and taking sample classes to find out the right fit for me. When I visited RED Academy, I knew right away that this was the one. Three months later, I ended up choosing RED over my MBA.
What was the clincher in choosing RED’s Full Time Digital Marketing Professional Program?
I felt like it offered the best of both worlds. The 3 month-long curriculum was way more intense in terms of the depth and breadth than any other courses I looked into. It covers all areas of digital marketing and, through real-life client projects, it prepares you for real-world challenges. I was impressed to see that the curriculum was designed to add practical experiences, along with the usual theories and principles covered in university courses. At RED, it’s not just studying concepts in the classroom, but also working closely with startups to apply them and solve real problems. That attracted me right away.
And how did RED measure up to your expectations? Were there any highlights from your experience?
Joining RED was definitely the right decision. My whole experience at RED was quite rewarding.
Specifically, I found the career sessions really helpful. RED really cares about the career path for its students as much as it cares about the curriculum itself. By organizing regular company visits, personal development sessions, and one on one career counselling, RED gave me all the resources to launch my career. Each and every person, including my peers from other programs (UX,UI, Web Development), the staff and most importantly the instructors, were all really keen to help me discover my true passion and advance towards it—both in and out of the classroom.
Also, I loved my instructors—Valerie Blackstock and RJ Mojica. They were definitely some of the brightest marketers I’ve ever worked with. Mind you, this is not your typical classroom where you would come to attend a lecture and go home afterwards. Classes at my program lasted for the whole day, everyday, for 12 weeks straight. Starting with the morning tech talk, covering content between occasional coffee breaks, and ending with a lot of group activities. I felt like I was working at a cozy boutique marketing agency in downtown Toronto, not attending classes at a boot camp.
And that is something I miss every day—the culture, the vibe, the warmth at RED Academy. You know that the people you see around you are more than willing to help you and would go above and beyond to support your goal. That’s a great feeling!
How did RED help you find your way into the tech startup world?
RED has one of most close-knit alumni networks I’ve come across. Even before my classes started, I connected with a bunch of alumni and they’ve been quite supportive in suggesting how to prepare for the industry. Our instructors also invited alumni from previous cohorts to discuss their journey with us—which was really helpful. Through regular sessions with industry experts and through company visits, I got the opportunity to start building a solid network within the tech community in Toronto. I don’t believe anything can top the culture at RED—be it in the form of Friday Beer, after work hangouts or the countless sessions with world-class career coaches.
What drives you? What is your ultimate career goal?
The ultimate goal for me is to become a serial entrepreneur. I have always been passionate about helping others realize they’re full potential and I believe creating smart businesses and products is a great way to do that. I want to make a difference in people’s lives by bringing in products that solve problems that are often ignored, with a focus on emerging markets. I believe businesses that focus on creative problem solving are the ones that can bring those much needed changes around the world.
Rather than making another photo editing app that helps create the perfect Instagram post, I would prefer creating access to education for kids in Dhaka—even if the latter might be less sexy and could mean less money. I believe in building businesses with purpose, and that’s what I’m going to do.
“I believe in building businesses with purpose, and that’s what I’m going to do.”
What advice would you give someone looking to get into the tech startup world? How is it different from working at a FTSE 500 company?
If you’re looking for a job at a tech startup, it is quite important to know what you bring to the table. When someone’s working at a huge company of say, 5000 employees, it could be possible to get by solely based on soft skills. However, when you’re aiming for a startup, you need to know your stuff because everyone has to make a difference. I guess that’s the rewarding as well as the challenging part of working at a startup. The content I covered during my time at RED, along with the 4 years of experience I had, gave me the confidence that I can indeed make a difference in any company I join. So, bottom line—confidence is key, and it comes from preparation.
The next thing that’s important is to have an idea of the companies you want to work for. Take a proactive approach to shortlist companies, study the company, the product, where it fits in the industry, and most importantly, whether or not it is a good fit for you. One needs to be proactive in building connections and meet people. In my case, the RED network really helped me to get recognition and open doors. In the end, I was lucky because I landed my perfect job right after my first interview.
What has your career journey been like since going to RED in summer of 2018?
Since I started my course at RED, I have helped quite a few startups with their business and marketing strategies. Right after graduation, I was helping a friend launch her startup called ThriveHire, which is a global career platform for the health industry. And right after a month, I joined my current company—StackAdapt.
Tell us more about your work, and your experience at StackAdapt.
No two days at StackAdapt are the same. In my role as a Campaign Optimization Manager, I get to work with some of the world’s most renowned brands. My role involves managing campaigns across the platform, hundreds of them. I would look at the campaigns, measure their performances, and often come up with new strategies to improve performance or stand out in the conversion funnel.
It’s exciting to work at a startup like StackAdapt. We are a technology company that’s disrupting the whole industry of Programmatic Native Advertising. We are a team that’s growing fast and bringing Native Advertising solutions to the mid-size marketing agencies in North America.
The culture at StackAdapt is great. People are helpful and everyone appreciates the fact that it’s not possible for an individual to know everything; as long as you’re willing to learn new stuff every day. Working at a startup you have to embrace the fact that change is the only constant. You have to be agile enough to embrace constant changes and fresh challenges every day. Life at a startup is challenging, but one thing it definitely is not is boring.
Every day is exciting and packed with new challenges and, being the kind of person who enjoys solving problems, I love it.
How happy are you now with how your life has changed?
Quite happy. Being born in a tiny corner in the world, I’ve always felt that I did not have access to the best the world has to offer. I have always wanted to do great things but wasn’t sure about the path. But now, I think I have found my Why, How, and What.
I know what I want to do, why I want to pursue it, but most importantly how to get there.
What do you do in your spare time?
I am a musician. I enjoy creative expressions—be it in the form of finding unique creative solutions for businesses or simply through music.
Lately, I’ve been working on my new project called ‘The MoonShot Blog’ – a Medium Publication focused on big ideas in Tech, Startups, and Marketing. We’re in the process of launching the blog soon. You can visit https://medium.com/the-moonshot-blog to learn more!
After all the brave leaps you’ve taken in your life, what’s the best advice you could give someone who wants to do the same but could use a little nudge?
The best time to pursue your dream is now. There will never be a perfect time to do something. Don’t be afraid to shake things up in your life, even if it seems scary at the time. Know that everything will eventually fall into place if you’re brave enough to take the first step.