Interview with SharpestMinds co-founder and CEO Edouard Harris

Edouard Harris is the co-founder and CEO of SharpestMinds (YC W18), the world’s first marketplace for peer-to-peer income share agreements. He was formerly a software engineer and physicist.

Edouard Harris (Centre Left)

1. What is SharpestMinds?

We’re a mentorship program for data scientists based on payment through income share agreements. Senior data scientists coach you through a project and we help you get hired. Once you’re hired, you pay your mentor back a percentage of your first-year salary. You don’t pay anything until you’re hired.

2. How did you come up with the idea?

We started with a different idea: a company that pre-screened data scientists, trained them for jobs., and then charged companies for the placement – like a recruiter. There were a few problems with this, the main one being that after doing it for a while, we decided this wasn’t what we wanted to be doing for the next 10 years. ISAs weren’t as well known then as they are now, but we thought about launching a peer-to-peer marketplace for ISAs that let mentors invest their time into mentees’ future success. We gave it maybe a ~10% chance of working at the time, but it turned out to be a good idea!


3. What obstacles did you have to overcome to get to where you are today?

To be honest, most of the obstacles were probably internal ones. Figuring out how to communicate with each other effectively, how to psychologically prepare yourself for a big change in the business, learning what really matters and what doesn’t. In the long run, most external obstacles are downstream of internal ones.

4. How did your experience in Y Combinator help you and your startup?

YC was an intensely positive experience that forced us to confront key questions about our business much faster than we otherwise would have. Relatedly it taught us the importance of speed and put us in touch with world-class experts in every area we could possibly have wanted. But YC is probably even more valuable after the accelerator part is over – you’re permanently embedded in a community of high-functioning experts who are all incredibly helpful to each other.

5. How have you combatted the current climate of coronavirus within your company?

Operationally we haven’t been very affected. We went fully remote in mid-February after doing the math on the COVID growth rate. Hiring in data science has been affected though – I actually wrote a Medium post about this very recently, but the short version is that hiring slowed down by 60% in the month of March and seems to have only slightly improved in April. This will hopefully reverse soon, but in the meantime, the job search process has become harder – although definitely not impossible.

6. What advice would you give to young budding entrepreneurs?

Start building something right away. And build something for yourself – something that you wish existed, or exists. A good way of figuring out what that is: imagine what you wish someone else would build for you, and then build that yourself.

We would like to thank Edouard for speaking with us.

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