Brandy Whalen is the co-founder of Kitcaster. The Kitcaster agency begins each company engagement with a deep understanding of your ideal podcast audience to deliver 100% customized appearances to match you with the perfect podcast placements. We explore the founding of Kitcaster, why the current PR process is broken, and how the new podcast media opportunity is fundamentally changing the way companies, people, and brands can get their message out to the world. We also hear about a very personal and compelling life story which led Brandy to become a part of the Big Waves Foundation in Colorado.
Liza Huber is an entrepreneur, award-winning cookbook author, wife, mom of 4 and the CEO & Founder of Sage Spoonfuls;one of the most trusted brands in mealtime products for babies and kids available at major retailers both nationwide and internationally. Liza shares some important lessons on how perseverance and grit combined with adapting to change has both led to successes in business, and in life. This conversation explores business lesses that every founder needs to know and a heartfelt story on personal challenges that makes this episode a must-listen for anyone.
Links from the show:
- I Fund Women: https://ifundwomen.com
- I Fund Women of Color: https://ifundwomen.com/woc
- Female Founder Collective: https://www.femalefoundercollective.com
- The Wing: https://www.the-wing.com
John McAfee is an entrepreneur, privacy advocate, and a man who’s personality is larger than life, backed by an incredible life story and set of experiences. John believes that cryptocurrency offers a unique historical opportunity to the individual – a chance to liberate one’s self, without violence, and to become more free.
This conversation explores the destruction of privacy, the need for freedom, the opportunity for cryptocurrency, and how governments and corporations are on an unprecedented path towards overreach. John’s passion, knowledge, and experience are obvious with all that we discuss and a huge thanks go out to Janice McAfee, who is both his wife and Director of Media Relations, who put John and I together for the discussion.
McAfee 2020: http://mcafee2020hq.com
McAfee DEX: https://mcafeedex.com/
Larry Smith Jr is both an incredible technologist and a superb human being. Larry shares his thoughts and lessons on how he has turned his own journey towards self-learning into both a way to give yourself goals and it has become a career creator for him as a result. There are a lot of profound lessons that will come from this for anyone who’s in technology on either a development or the ops side of the world because it is both informative and fun!
What if you finally got your dream job and realized that the dream changed, or it only appeared like the dream job because you didn’t have it? Lior Kamrat is a Senior Open Source Cloud and Solutions Architect who also does a vast amount of community-facing work to help others become a better self. Both as a technical and a lifestyle discussion, Lior shares how his first ideal job didn’t actually work out the way it had been envisioned but that is completely fine!
This is a deep discussion on the challenges of evolving your career, yourself, your personal brand, and how sometimes the folks who you surround yourself with may not always be on the same path that you are. Lior is a fantastic guest because we are able to have a no holds barred discussion that will resonate with technologists everywhere.
Patrick Hubbard is the Principal Head Geek at SolarWinds, but more importantly, he’s someone who has great lessons in how to communicate in a world where tech teams seem to be on a different page. This great conversation will be exciting for anyone who’s involved in developer advocacy, ops advocacy, or any cross-team work. We cover how to communicate, how to create meaningful content, and meaningful relationships through the power of people and technology.
This chat explores DevOps challenges and also will be a super fun listen for anyone in tech as we talk about the history of how we got here and Patrick’s very broad background that led him to be where he is today. I’ve long been a student and a fan of Patrick so this was a particular pleasure to share a microphone with him for this episode.
Peter Sisson is a product-focused entrepreneur who has started four companies, all of which were acquired. He volunteers his time mentoring startup founders at the European Innovation Academy and StartOut Growth Lab, where during his tenure 24 companies graduated that have raised more than $45M in funding and created more than 200 new jobs. This dynamic conversation covers everything from the founding of Yaza, the tech behind it that makes it differentiated, but goes into much more around life and startup lessons including:
- Culture of tech startups and Silicon Valley
- When a product is ready and the art of product management and release
- Challenges in both building and selling a company
- How being serial entrepreneurial delivered great lessons in practice
- Why Yaza chose to launch as a Public Benefit Corporation and what that means
This is definitely a must-listen from end to end and Peter shares business and life lessons that will be eye-opening for many. As part of the launch of the platform, Peter and the Yaza team are offering free lifetime storage in the app until June 2020 so get signed up and see what the world looks like in HD today!
Check out Yaza on the web
Download the app and join for free
This is a startup and product builder’s dream episode as we speak with John Steele, founder of Series Code. John shares how his team at Series Code creates what I would almost term a Developers-as-a-Service with a powerful twist on how they operate: they split the cost to their customers between equity and cash. Beyond Series Code as a business model, John shares his lessons on product building, being a successful development team leader, how to motivate and build great teams and products.
So John you have got a really, really cool story personally to me. And this is one of these lucky things where
How I got started with the podcast was really around being lucky enough to be out in the industry going to events and talking with really amazing people.
And especially as I got more and more into discovering kind of founder stories and and the startup.
The challenges and and the successes and and really really exploring how people can can do things. Now today, that they couldn’t do you know 10 years ago even and
Obviously the prevalence of can you know cloud software, you know, South software as a service, the fact that you can build something without having a team of developers on staff full time like there’s so many things that you didn’t need to do anymore. It didn’t need your own data center.
The long story, that brings me to you is, you’ve done exactly what is the most common problem. I think that people don’t realize that they can get past with the help of what series code can do
And being a startup founder yourself right you’re you’re in that neat thing where you you literally found to the startup to help people found start
Got that. Right. Yes.
JOHN If you want to give us a quick rundown on who you are, how you got to start and when we’re serious code came from.
So series code provides world class software development at a startup price. And what that means is that we’re focused on startups, because it’s the area that I enjoy being in I’ve been
Entrepreneurial since I was a kid, right. I started my first startup. When I was, you know, 21 years old and it just, it’s the kind of environment. I like to be in. And so that’s what the company that’s what we focus on. But we found that our ability to keep our costs lower
That benefits. It doesn’t really benefit large corporations, the big corporates are willing to pay double double the price so they can have someone sitting in a cubicle down the road that they have a neck during when something goes wrong.
With our remote distributed workforce were able to keep our costs down so that we can give startups, the best price that they can get. And I go to a lot of startup events.
Like these events where founders are pitching their ideas and such.
And you know at these, you hear these stories of folks who scraped together you know 1500 thousand dollars on their home equity line of credit or their credit cards or whatever.
But they couldn’t afford the big shop to write them software. So they went and found whoever it was that they could
And six months down the line. They spent all their money and they have nothing to show for it. And so we’re trying to interrupt that we want to get in before that happens.
With a, you know, world class agencies are we have 28 employees right now, but with a financial package that makes it possible for a startup to actually be able to afford it. So we will take equity.
In exchange for part of the invoice payment so that we can push the cash payment down to what they would have to be paying somebody else or maybe even lower.
And this is the really, really cool approach and i i see more and more people getting into the game of, like, hey, look, I’ve got an idea.
I and I can actually make this happen. And, you know, we call them side hustlers call them whatever you know their, their startups. Now I’ve, you know, I’ve got an idea that I’m
I want to bring to fruition and like you said, it’s this big challenge of the capital outlay to invest in this and has to time and time again. I hear the same story. It’s always like
Oh yeah seconds, you know, I’ve got leans against everything I own and and that’s it is a big leap of faith. It’s not that it isn’t a leap of faith, but you’re now have a leap of faith, where the company has skin in the game, right, that you’re hiring and it’s this is a very
I hate to use quid pro quo God because that’s just way over us in the world right now.
Like the foundations of behavioral psychology and the fact when you bring in somebody into an organization where they have more skin in the game is proven
To have better outcomes. So you literally are bringing a team that through the fact that you’re using equity share you now your entire team.
Has skin in the game. And that’s a, that’s a huge win. I think for a founder, how, like, how did you figure out that this was a way that you could actually run your side of the world.
Right and skin in the game is really, you know, a great way to describe it and we have
clients who have prefer us over the other ones because they can go to their investors and say, look, these folks are invested, they’re not going to be gone.
You know who wants to go pay some some place to build an app, and then they’re, they’re gone, and you have nobody to fall back on nobody there to, you know,
Keep it moving. But, you know, fix fix the problems that come up, just kind of be there with you to go along for the ride. And so that’s that’s what I realized is is part of how we can make this financial offering to startups.
That’s, that’s part of how we show we’re really a long term partnership, so we don’t there’s, there’s a lot of different shops out there and they do things a lot of different ways.
There’s, you know, kind of something that’s big right now is
You go and you just ask them to build a an app for you. And then they go away right and you pay them however much you’re going to pay and then you, you walk. They walk away.
And I just don’t think that that is the long term partnership that startups need they really need software development. It never ends. As long as you have somebody who wants your product.
There’s always something to be done on it. Now, I tell people, You should budget and kind of like electricity. It’s like a utility
You need to just have it in the budget and be ready to pay for it, ongoing because that’s how software development is it’s just an ongoing thing. And a lot of people who aren’t in
Software Development industry, they don’t quite understand that they think no, I come and pay for it, and then I’ll wait. You know, six months or a year and they’ll come and buy something new.
Like no, it’s it’s ongoing it’s always going to be there. So we want to be a long term partner, instead of just somebody who comes in real quick and leaves.
And the thing is that when you’re doing software development, the thing that is the most valuable is the knowledge in the developers heads.
All of this stuff that they’ve created the understanding that they have. So you don’t want that walking out the door. Anyways, you want. You want to be able to hold on to that long term so that they can continue to improve and improve
You what this is the, the funny thing too is that if you’ve got such an easy if you can relate your idea so easily that it can be just handed off in a
In a short set of requirements and they carve out an application. And then you’re done.
But that’s, that is so counter to a true interactive and formative application development processes. I mean, it’s if you can just carve it off into one time thing.
That’s basically like the affiliate marketing site right apps like it’s just like, I can do this thing and it does one thing and maybe people find it versus like really
How do you possibly think about building, you know, empathy into your development process which is again like such a core foundation we don’t
You don’t think of it necessarily when you’re when you’re doing requirements to, like, make sure this is empathetic to the end consumer like no that’s that’s how a developer things
When they talk with you. They talked with your customers. It’s a better development process involves a continuing relationship between you and your developers, right, yeah.
And if you’re building something that’s kind of just one off could be building and developers can go away. You’re probably not building something that’s some huge you know thing that’s going to happen.
Maybe you’re just trying to get an MVP out the door right some kind of proof of concept or something like that. That might be one one thing but if your app is so simple.
Then, you know, it’s fine. Not a big idea, the big ideas are the ones that it’s something that hasn’t been done before and you really need a lot of technical competence to be there for the whole ride.
Yeah, you want it. You want something that when you present to develop seem they go, ooh.
We’re gonna do that, like, yeah, like I said, versus like I’ve got this thing. It’s like it.
It’s the difference between going to fiver and getting someone to do like a thing for you and actually investing in an agency.
And it it’s not unlike marketing, right, like you can go and hey look, I can get someone to whip off a great logo to do a poster for me. I can go to FedEx printing and they’ll do a phenomenal job I can go to move and get amazing business cards done
But that doesn’t actually talk about brand. It doesn’t talk about what you’re trying to emote when you’re creating your imagery
And that’s the difference between going to agency versus going to move calm and just picking a nifty looking template. A may work, but it’s almost accidental or if it does work and then that’s it. The relationship starts and ends with the click of the pay now button.
And that’s where we often, you know, find our customers are at. We usually aren’t getting on board right at the beginning.
Got this brand new idea just just figured it out last week.
And need us to, you know, usually people are going to go out there and they’re going to prototype, they’re going to use these tools that are available. Kind of stuff you talked about at the beginning of
There’s so much you can do right now that you don’t need to be a coder, but those all typically go into a prototype. Like, let’s just prove that there’s something there maybe be able to get first customers.
Show that there’s some kind of value, but where we come in. Usually right after that, in this transition point of okay let’s turn this into a serious software development effort now.
It sounds like a lot of this comes from your own experience and doing some of your own building has how much of it sort of came from the walls that you may have hit yourself as you were doing some of those early ideas into you’re trying to turn them into an actionable thing.
Yeah. And so a lot of how I run series code comes from years and years of. There’s a lot of beating your head against the wall and software development.
And you know, we have a kind of an internal method we call the Denver method of doing things. It’s, you know, I don’t
I don’t dislike agile. In fact, we’re an agile shop, and I believe in the principles of agile, but there’s become this kind of dogma around it.
That says you must do things this way, this way, this way and like that’s not that’s not true. You don’t have to do them those ways. And a lot of those things.
So you down and create generate waste. So I’ve spent lots of time thinking about it and kind of working through my own process to get that down so we can do it a better way more efficient way.
It’s really interesting too because like you said, if you get into the sort of these dogmatic processes and God love him right there, there, especially when you’re managing teams at scale, right, it can be
A really really important part of it, you have to create a certain amount of rigor and process and so that you can be free within that rigor and and I think that’s really
When you’re scaling your shop and you have 200 developers. Yeah, you’re going to need a bit of a difference, you know way of thinking versus
Agile. I always like, I like into that, you know, I worked with a team and they were great love these guys are phenomenal, you know, and
They would say, like, hey, we’re agile and like, No, you just don’t have any idea what you’re doing on Monday. That’s not a job, it’s like not having a plan is not agile.
They’re like, but we’re iterative. I’m like what yeah it or meaning you you just, you have no idea what you did yesterday. So you can start again today it’s
This is great. It’s like Groundhog Day every Monday, which if applied to the other things.
It was more like they were pushing back against the hardened waterfall process that was in the project management office and right. God help you if you work anywhere that as a PM. Oh. Oh. Hi. Good luck and may your God go with you. Right, that’s
Things are not going to go smoothly.
Yeah, you. I mean, you, you hit on it. Right. That is the iterative model which is is the heart of agile.
Not just, you know, hey, you’re back to Monday. What are we working on now, but that you
Figure out small chunks of value that you can deliver and you build that first instead of the whole waterfall, you know, fat delivery of hey, we’re going to go build something for a year and deliver it. And who knows, right. The all the studies show that
You know, most you know it’s like two thirds or more of features and stuff that we think people want. They don’t actually want. They never use
These are professionals in the office right who of course and figuring these things out and the product management groups.
But it’s, it’s much better than an iterative cycle to say, Okay, what’s the most important thing we can build right now. Let’s build that over the next two to four weeks, you know, let’s let’s have a short cycle here.
Get it out there in front of people see what they like and then iterate on that and build either improve it, or build the next thing well in the thing you brought
Up but to like the dog was like just such a perfect description of it like you, you end up with these sort of warring factions of of management styles and development methodologies.
Where people spend more time arguing over the the the attachment to the methodology than they do to the outcomes that they’re trying to create and you end up with
People who are like arguing over who’s more agile than the other. And they’re like, this is not a says not a scale of measurement of success. The success is
Did you bring a feature to to the market, you know, to the customer who’s gonna going to do it. And again, like you said, this is
You probably get a ton of people who are like, alright, so I went to up work and I tried this thing out.
And I’m 300 hours in and I don’t know what I’m I don’t think I’m managing this anymore. I needs, I need help. And this is where
You are such a perfect sort of transition for folks who I think they almost got to fall on their face a little
And and no and they got to find the limitations and and maybe that’s natural right it’s maybe it’s the just have to, I think we all have to trip a bit
Whoo. Okay. Now I know why I want to lean on a professional. Like I said, with this beautiful sort of agency approach and again
Adding this sort of the true skin in the game, the equity bound metric of measurements of how you engage with it. It’s just such a beautiful bi directional relationship.
Now the neat thing and a call on is see you’ve done some development, you’ve built products, you’ve built teams, not your schooling background. Yeah, you have a law degree.
That’s right. That’s right. And that’s isn’t. It’s an interesting part of how I got into serious code because
So software development was my first love. My dad taught me how to code on a commerce 64 when I was seven years old. So I was one of those guys right nice and
You know, I dropped out of high school when I was 1516 years old and so I only went to a year and a half of high school.
And I started community college because I just was bored and I want to do something and
And the same time I got an internship. I knew how to code and I needed a job and I saw one for a programmer. I was like, Wow, that sounds interesting. So I kind of just fell into software development.
It seems like a natural progression. But back then, it felt like just just found this thing.
And you know i i never, you know, I remember going to my computer science classes and, you know, I remember once just getting so frustrated with the professor that they were doing it wrong. I just
blurted out in the middle of the class what the right way to do it. And he looked at before I go yeah that’s that’s right
You know I never did real well. And you might like grade wise because I just was so bored. I just, you know, wasn’t really enjoying the time I was like man I can be having a lot more fun at home or at work, you know, doing some actual coding
But you know, I did it because I, you have to have a degree, you know, it’s just one of those things.
You want to make sure your, your resume gets past the people who are just talking out resumes, because you know they have a whole stack of them, they got to go through. It’s nice to have the degree on there. But the thing is, I, I worked for about 15 years I moved up as high as I could.
Being a hands on contributor. And when I looked at how software development was happening in corporations. I didn’t like what I saw.
I saw developers who weren’t really engaged. They didn’t really like doing the work. It was just a job. They did it and I saw
You know, executives who use things like the dogma of agile. We talked about that. The one of the ones I you know that gets me the most is velocity. Right.
I’m a big believer in measuring, you know, because, because what’s measured improves right but
The velocity is one of those things you can track it. You can see how the team’s doing you can help us to forecast, but it gets
Distorted and now all of a sudden, as well. Why was your velocity lower than this, why wasn’t your velocity higher. What can we do to raise your velocity
And that’s just the wrong way using it as the stick to beat developers with
And I just didn’t like this whole environment. So I said, you know what i’m gonna i’m going to complete switch careers. I don’t want to be in that anymore. I’m going to go be a litigator. I’m going to go to law school in the evenings.
And I did that. And so I continued working full time, I was going to law school in the evenings. And then I started this business halfway through it.
Because thinking that my career was going to be over in software development, I was able to take a few risks of ideas that I’d had that I thought might make software development better
And they actually worked out. And so I got to work with some of the best developers I’ve ever worked with who are, you know, grateful and love what they’re doing.
And I was able to provide them an environment that made them want to be there. We took a the Q 12 survey by Gallup for
Engagement and we ranked in the top 7% of organizations globally for engagement of our, our people.
Which is something I’m really proud of and that it was kind of a complete turnaround from
how I felt when I was going into law school coming out the other side. I was like, Okay, I have to build a business around this, because there’s a lot of people who
A developers who want to work in a shop where they’re appreciated and a lot of people who could use the what we’ve discovered to make something cool.
Sounds like the relationship is an important part that you’ve built into how you, you look at the success of anything is that
How did that, did you discover that, did you you’ve got you’ve actually unpacked a lot of things which some people go to three to four years of advanced behavioral psychology. It sounds like you figured a lot of stuff out and put it into action.
Well, that’s the thing. You know, it always frustrated me the software development shops and you have
The free food that you get in the foosball table and the cafeteria and the dry cleaning on site, they do all these things to want to make you want to work there, but then they beat you down when you’re at your desk right with the
Why are we, why are we a week late on this, even though they were the one that asked you to do these other side projects or
Why is your velocity, not as high as this person’s, what can we do to, you know, all that kind of stuff. It’s like
Well foosball tables aren’t going to make somebody being, you know, feel like they want to be doing the work when they’re being, you know, kicked over here. And so I knew, part of what I needed to do was build a culture that
I mean, it really comes around engagement and you know the studies on engagement show that’s only about one third of workers who are actually engaged, who actually want to be there and want to
You know, further the mission of the company. There’s actually a third on the bottom, who are actively disengaged, they’re actually like trying to hurt the company they work for
And then there’s this middle ground. The third in the middle that just they’re just, you know,
They don’t really care. It’s a job and and they’re doing it like I want people who are all on that top one third, who really want to be there and love what we’re doing.
And so, you know, we put things in place to help make sure that that’s the kind of people that we have, it’s it’s neat that you
You pull that out because if we look at any measurement of statistics and engagement and and health of have a team or an organization.
It’s funny that we say like, you know, 30% are actively engaged and people like who, you know, has needs. And then you say, like, well, there’s 30% who are basically just ambivalent
Like they’re just hanging out there.
And they’re not going away, but they’re not really, you know, at 501 they’re tapping out. God bless them. Right. That’s just what’s going to be
You know there’s going to be that that sort of middle ground, but they we quietly didn’t talk about the fact that there’s people who are like f this place.
I’m stealing code. I’m injecting just garbage into the system like I just, I don’t. Not only do I not care I actively actively don’t care about what’s going on here.
Right, I’m gonna hurt this place. And it’s funny, I was at a restaurant yesterday. And one of the workers is leaving walking out the door and what are they saying as a rockin like I hate this place. I like that is not good.
And you’re just thinking, boy. A boy, I hope that wasn’t the guy that cooked my food.
Within this is I think such a foundation to
What culture. Culture is, you know, many people talk about what what culture means and and I think I often use Ben horowitz’s things as culture is the way that the way that they cultures, the way they act when you’re not looking
And and it’s true, right, really like. So these top down culture initiatives and and these, like, hey, we’re going to team building like hey look, inviting a bunch of people to an axe THROWING THING, BUT THEN treating them terribly
Right. The other three months of the year of the quarter. Like, it’s not going to to do that. So it’s
Culture that so how how do you internally measure what is motivating and keeping your people engaged.
Well, so it sounds really simple.
But it’s basically falling. The golden rule. It’s that simple. And, and many people, I think, think, then they’re like,
Come on, give me more than that. But that’s something we just don’t do right, we don’t think about what I like it. If I was somebody was doing to me what I’m doing to this, this person right here and we have, you know, one example of that, for example, is
I saw him salaried employees right who are expected to do 40 hours a week, but you know when it comes to, you know,
The war room time right there’s something that they got to get down, you know, are expected to work the 5055 60 but it’s just kind of this, they’re
They’re expected to sometimes they’re expected to it all the time, right. It’s just, that’s the way life is.
And there’s no no reward. There’s no compensation. There’s no hey you worked really hard. This time wants to take some time off over here. So, for example, what we do is every hours paid right
And that was part of even though the way we structure our things we have all contractor. So we have to do it that way but
Even for folks who come in who are on a salary. We want to make sure that we aren’t
Taking advantage of people just because of the way that the business relationship works so we make sure that they get paid it for every hour that they work so that they don’t feel like they’re taken advantage of that happens so much
We also do some other things like I don’t believe developers can estimate their tasks better than somebody else like their team captain or project manager and there’s studies that the back that up. And so I feel like that whole game of
Having developers do these estimates and then using it, you know, as its kind of the stick to say, hey, why didn’t this get done last week.
We toss that out. I actually tried to keep estimates away from developers and make sure that the team captain is the one who kind of understands the speed that that they work at
Sure. We’ll ask if once in a while if we need some help getting direction, but we avoid the the deadline thing that’s a huge thing the developers hate
Is you know it’s if we’re doing something new, something creative that hasn’t been done before. How can we really say it’s going to take this long, there’s really should be estimates, but they aren’t used as estimates by
The business side. The other folks right and so will and and there’s also something called Parkinson’s Law right that the work will expand to take the available time
I don’t even want them to have those estimates, because on the off chance that the estimate is actually the high end
The work will expand to take it up and then you’ve just you’ve used up any kind of, you know, spare time, you would have had normally so you know there’s a lot of reasons that
I do it that way. But I found that it makes developers much happier not have constant looming deadlines over their heads.
Well, this is the the neat thing and I. One of the really cool initiatives, I saw that came out of base camp.
So Jason freed and David Hannah Meyer hands and DHHS on Twitter. He’s sort of famous for getting involved in an exciting political debates and and startup debates, then, and they really
They, they use a lot of the stuff that you just talked about is the idea that like estimates and an unrealistic deadlines. You know, when we create these artificial boundaries and then you measure somebody against it and call it velocity
You’re, you’re not actually you’re not actually achieving what you wanted to, which was to build something and and build in a way that’s going to be valuable to the person that uses it and
This is this interesting thing of being empathetic throughout the entirety of the development process, including like you said estimates whenever because otherwise it’s the old gold rat thing, right. Show me how you measure me and I’ll show you how I behave
You want ready velocity, kid.
All right. Oh, you know, you want to measure me in lines of code.
Right, what I’m writing garbage code, right, because they’re versus
Actually saying what do we want it to do. Whether it’s like hey, you know, Mozilla was famous for saying like, whatever we do it has to be under a certain
Amount of delivery time in in milliseconds. Right. So every time we add code. It can’t blow that up.
So that was their measurement of success. You know, so you can set product level metrics in then. But then it becomes a consumer thing. So how much of the the project management on the product management then lives inside series code when you’re engaged with a customer.
Yeah, and and and so, you know, this isn’t an easy thing, right.
It’s actually, you know, it’d be great to just completely get rid of estimates. Right. The no estimates crowd and, you know, I like that. And if I run my own business. I’m building my own product that’s how I would do it.
But the thing is that startups have investors who want to know how far the money is going to go. So there’s still a need for this kind of information.
It’s it really our client base. It really depends. Sometimes we are the project managers right we we sit down with the, you know, CEO or whoever, we’re working with.
And elicit the requirements and document it and put together the timeline and then track towards that to let them know
But then there’s other clients that we have that have a project management department. They do this stuff already.
And so we don’t have to get involved there. But typically, the you know the small company that’s coming to us as a startup, we
Have a project management product management function within there as well. And that’s the whole point, like a lot of these companies when they’re coming to us. They’ve had a CTO who’s been the person doing the work and
For, you know, a year or something like that and and
Usually they’re just tired and ready to go get a job job and you know want somebody else to do it. So we’re coming in. And that’s what the startup is getting is you’re going from one person. So, you know,
One brain on the idea to at least three or four right so we have a team captain. So our basic technical team as a team captain, and then a front end developer and a back end developer
And then you can add into that a project manager to so you’re going from one person to three or four. So right there you have a better better you know brain trust to get problem solved.
This is the, the interesting thing to have with development. This is
This is not a throw more people at it to make it move faster. And in fact, it, it has a is detrimental to suddenly
Toss, you know, unaware resources into this pool of supposedly you know just code monkeys that we, you know, people think it’s like, Oh, it is. You can write code. How many lines of code. Can you write in a day I extrapolate the like that it’s
It’s very much, you know, okay, what it, what are we trying to achieve. What are the, you know, what’s it look like what’s the user story, you know. Okay, cool. What’s the user experience going to be
What you know and and understanding all these things and then actually get into code. Okay, well, how much is existing code, the larger becomes now, the more you have to think about testing and other stuff and
Also, hey, most technical co founders, like you said, are our nose down in code doing stuff and probably aren’t really thinking about the rigor of a scalable code base.
Right, which is including stuff like building you know unit tests and building stuff building thinking about how to do
Continuous deployments and stuff like that versus you your team has a vested interest right in doing that, out of the gate, so that you effectively speed up your ability to get to what matters, right.
And it’s always a balancing act because unit tests and stuff so I believe now 100% when I learned Test Driven Design.
Been a 10 years ago now, you know, I was like, wow, this is a game changer. It’s amazing of the quality that can come out. The problem is, it is more expensive. So it takes more time to get it done.
And sometimes you don’t want to do that on a very first version of something, because especially like a prototype a proof of concept.
Because you don’t know if that’s actually what you’re going to have or how drastically. It’s going to change. But once something is
You know, yep. This is built this is this is the way it’s going to go. It’s going to be our product for years to come, you absolutely want some kind of unit test suite.
We come in and yeah, oftentimes sentence just does not exist. And oftentimes, not on the mind of the non technical co founder, so we have to talk about it and explain why it’s good to have that kind of stuff.
And you know, it’s a balancing act. We can’t just stop everything for three months and build a test suite right there’s
Much nobody’s gonna let you do that.
So you have to figure out how you can kind of work it in as you go so that you know there’s a balance between that and the features that actually make a company money.
Here. What if when they designed the first SpaceX, you know, Falcon rocket. They didn’t start with the seat belts.
They started with the bloody rocket
Like is this thing going to get off the ground. Okay, now let’s work on the seat belts. Like that’s if you can’t build the thing that’s going to do something, then there’s like you said, it’s
There’s sometimes we get a little ahead of ourselves with process. The hard part, like you said, this is the balance. It’s really easy to just forget to go back and and and and retrofit some of that stuff and
In and, you know, forget to go back or just you’re moving so fast, right, because the market is demanding. We need to get this out this out this out.
And if you don’t have the money to you know scale that the team up to have somebody say dedicated to more or more people. I usually don’t like to dedicate somebody just to
The unit test side of things. I like it. For each developer to do the unit test as part of the code that they’re building. But you’re right, if you have some super aggressive timeline. You just can’t don’t have a moment to stop and catch your breath.
Those usually know they need to stop or else they’re going to find a way to stop themselves.
Yes, it’s, it’s very self correcting
Sadly, this is how it works well. The Oh don’t worry. Well, we’ll build in those those gates by accident, they
Do you meant to be there or not.
Right. The when you’re bringing on on people. This is always interesting because you you have to hire a very specific type of developer. That’s probably
Fresh but not too fresh right it’s because they’ve got to be able to think and move quickly but also have enough experience in that they’re going to get, like, hey, look, this is, this is the stuff we don’t want to do. But we do need to get there.
Yeah, you know, I tell people that, when when I have to pick a developer
Usually I’m going to pick somebody who’s more junior has fewer years because we can groom them in the way that we think government should be. And we don’t. There’s not those bad habits that we got to break right
But our model actually helps balance that out we put on a team a team captain who has you know 10 years or more of experience, but it’s somebody that we’ve worked with and see that they get it. They understand how to do this and how to do this well and then we put
More junior developers with them something, you know, in the four to five year range.
But the thing is that we find there’s a four to one ratio between them. We don’t want a team captain running a huge team you know 10 or 15 developers, because they just don’t have the time to
Focus on each person individually. And that’s one of the problems of those larger teams and
Developers are just out there doing their own thing. They feel like they’re, they’re kind of lost in this big see like, what am I supposed to be doing. I have no no guidance here.
We want to make sure that the team captains are guiding each developer. And so that’s really there’s, you know, four to one, there’s a five person team is kind of our optimal team.
And their job as a team captain is to review you know they they assigned tasks they think about technical architecture and direction.
But on the other end, they review every line of code to make sure it meets their standard and if it isn’t there, they kick it back to the developer and show them how to do it again. And that way you have this balancing of
All of the code kind of coming up to the quality that you would expect from somebody who’s been doing this for 10 or more years.
Well, this is the the neat thing to in the patterns of of development.
And we talked about like Conway’s Law as sort of a famous depiction of the idea that we build systems that that that mapped to the communication patterns within our team and and it’s
So this is neat because you effectively can really create
A systemized a system, a systematic view of what every product should look like. And it gets better and better.
Versus an internal development team where you literally have to first figure out how to get people to work together and then from there, get them to actually build a product and then think about scaling. At the same time, this gives them.
As a, as a consumer of series code as a as a partner. They can just say, I can focus 100% on product and then from there I can then start to maybe start bringing my own development teams and start to integrate and start to carry sell that over onto my side of the fence, so to speak. Yeah.
And I liked that you brought up Conway’s Law because
When I was talking about that four to one ratio. That’s one of the other things that helps address is, you know, people wonder why they have these huge development team will huge
But let’s say you know 1520 people and they they wonder why they built a monolith. And it’s because your team is a monolith.
You have you have one leader who can’t manage all of you can’t mentor, all the people here are can give you know 30 minutes a week to each person.
And it’s just this huge monolithic team that all talks to everybody. One of the reasons we like to keep our team small is it, it matches a micro services type of architecture where if you have, you know, instead of, instead of
You know, one big 20% team, let’s have four or five teams and each can be working on their own thing and by design through Conway’s Law.
That they each become their own modules components that they’re building that are more like microservices and less like a monolith.
And so startup usually don’t need to be thinking about that at the stage that we’re starting with them.
But that’s something you know, like I said, we want to be a long term partner. We want to be the software development department for them.
So, you know, a few years down the road after those next funding rounds of come in and they’re really beginning to scale. We can build into that proper model.
But we also know that now. So what we’re building now should be able to easily convert to that and, you know, oftentimes, you have this. We’ve built a monolith up front. And now we need to split it into microservices, a couple years down the road. And that is a real pain to do
Yeah, that’s of the things that you you don’t want to be retrofitting it’s the breakout to microservices. And it’s this is an interesting one. I wanted to explore this with you. So I also did a poll from
DHHS energy fried ism, I would say is that they they very much welcome the monolith, in many cases, because there are times when
Depending on what you’re looking to do with the platform you’re building
You may be over engineering correct by building out this microservices, and they talk about the size of base camp where it has like
It has like 370 controllers and and it’s all one just giant, monolithic code base, but they’ve literally built the entire team around how to do that.
Right, and that’s their choice in the way that this product behaves and it works at a certain speed and it scales with them as they need. So they’ve
They’ve very much set the gates and guardrails
To where they know they need to be, and they understand the limitations. The platform. It also helps that they built the bloody framework you know Ruby on Rails that but go on it there. So it’s when you when you build the machine. It’s easy to understand how to use the machine.
Yeah, as AND IT’S SO TRUE AND SO THERE IS DEFINITELY over engineering of making everything a micro service when it doesn’t really need to be
I like that. And that’s again why I like the team size, the five person team, you know, a person by themselves. You can’t really do enough to
Say, you know, this is the service that this person provides right they’re just not enough time in the day for them to write enough code for it to be large enough
I like five person team size because what they can handle just naturally fits into what might be the right amount the right size for some kind of service.
And then if it gets larger than that. That’s when I like to think about breaking it out. There are lots of places that a monolith might make sense. And a lot of times in your MVP, it’s, it’s there as well, because
It’s cheaper and you can get something done faster. And the idea to keep in mind is is knowing, are we going to need to switch from this or is this what we’re going to keep using moving forward.
Now the interesting thing is, because you’re so tightly intertwined with the end or your customer, I guess, whatever we want to describe your yo yo your client who you’re working with.
And you’ve got your team captains, you’ve got your level of Product Management and project management that are going on.
It’s really interesting because if people don’t really know how to work.
And what are the boundaries of, you know, whether it’s like traditionally sort of the pragmatic model of, like, here’s where product management. Here’s your product marketing is and the
How, how much time do you find yourself spending just working out the handoffs and the relationship in those early phases and also curious how much of it goes as those customers expect it to go before they realize like, oh, wow, there’s, I need to be way more involved or way less than
Right. Yeah, and you know it’s it’s a case by case kind of basis. But, you know, yeah, we have one that we’re working on right now that it’s, you know, it was a month.
It was a couple of weeks type of project, but
When you factor in all the other stuff the handoff from the key. Now it’s your turn. You have to review this you have to go through this process and you have to
Make sure this is what you want, you know, a couple more weeks can get added on. And suddenly a project size can be double of what was expected. Right, so there there is a lot of that. And it really just depends on
The client and the kind of work that you’re you’re doing at that moment, we’re
In this is the challenge of I think product management is one of the more interesting areas that I i love studying great product managers.
Because of they have to have a an ability to work and understand code, but not necessarily the code themselves, right, they have to understand
The customer experience and ultimately what they’re building towards they also have to understand how much it costs. What’s like
They have to know what they have to understand burned down, they have to understand the burn rate of the organization. There’s, it’s such a very interesting. They’re like, they’re like the CEO of the product.
But it is a very unique sort of personality that can do that very, very well.
And in a startup that has just a few people usually you don’t have the luxury of having somebody dedicated to that. And so, we find that we’re usually that’s the partnership of
The team captain has to play a bit of a role of that, especially on the side of understanding
You know, like the burn down or the the burn rate, you know what, it’s costing, how many hours are going into something, but then you also need the it typically turns out to be the CEO in a small start up this pre funding.
They have to be there to be able to define requirements and what is it that we want to build and where do we want to go in the to work together to figure out, okay, what is the most you know
The highest ROI basically where really should we be focusing on this and how do we narrow this down to just the stuff that is really going to make the most impact.
Now, how much of your, your legal background. So that was acquired along the way comes into play with your day to day I would I would bet that especially working with startups it, it’s probably pretty important.
It can be, I find myself. A lot of times, talk to the people that I have. I’m not your lawyer, I can’t, I can’t, you know, I’m not advising you on this.
To formation of the contracts. I think my legal background is why series code, the financial package that we offer actually exists. I, you know, towards the end of school. I took
Venture law class which is all about how this works like how a safer kiss works and how the financing rounds work and by taking all that knowledge and figuring it out is how we could offer
The actual will work for equity and what we do there. So most shops that do this kind of thing. They just have a fixed rate. They just say you’re going to give us 5% or 7% or 10% of your company.
Period and then we’ll work at a reduced rate for you. And I don’t think that’s fair to the company because
Software Development is different. Everybody needs a different amount there. I don’t think there is a one size fits all. So what we do instead is
Is, is we have like our standard program is 5050 so you take 50% of your invoice and you pay
At least 50% in cash, and then you can put up to 50% on an equity balance that we carry forward and then each month, you know, they can continue to accumulate that
And then at a series a round or whatever their next round is going to be. We just participate, like we were an investor on and say convertible note.
And this way, it really depends on how much work, they need. That’s what determines our percentage, we could be as small as 1% in the company. We could be as large as
10% we would have had to do millions of dollars of work to get there at least hundreds and hundreds of thousands
But I think it’s more fair and it lets somebody kind of scale grow up or scale back as needed, without worrying about, well, you know, I gave away 10% of my company. I really need to get you know every everything I can out of that.
And it prevents the other side, right, imagine somebody takes 5% and they put in a bunch of work and feel like they should be done like they don’t need to do anymore. They’re kind of going to stop versus US
You need us to work, we work more we can emulate a little bit more towards the bottom line.
Well, this is the very interesting thing of have this dynamic relationship and it really does become bi directional and this is right, like you said,
Too many times people have this kind of fixed thing. And so what you end up with is
If a founder and a founding team, and especially investors once investors are getting involved, they’re going to look and say, like, hey, you’re cutting 5% out towards this.
This entity that who knows, like what we’re actually getting what we want out of them. Right. And most likely, those investors.
Are thinking, well, let me put my development team in there like I’ve got a set that I’ve worked with before, and
In a way, they’re probably already thinking ahead of how to dilute out that 5% to actually make it what it is versus
Being dynamic and variable so that it’s the founders choice. I tell you lock in. And in freedom are
Things that we we think we’re all time we hear all the time like this idea of like cloud locking or product lock in. Right.
Well, we don’t actually move stuff around like no one has, like, hey, if there’s application I built that I can put it anywhere. You’re going to put it on iOS, you’re going to put it on Android, you’re going to put it in the cloud, you’re going to
But you like the feeling that if you had to you lift it up and move it around if needed. Yeah, that’s so true. Yeah, that’s so true.
Now, how does, how did your experiences shape you know in some of the difficult interactions, you’ve had. Because I imagine at some point.
There’s bound to have been even, like, not necessarily. So here was serious code in your clients, but you’ve generally great ideas also come from people learning the hard way. You’re right. Let’s, let’s talk about some of the tough reasons that got you to think about building this platform.
Well, and that’s part of, you know, you said, How does law school, help me on the day to day, but there’s there’s a this larger kind of overarching when I was 21 I started a startup and
I got taken advantage of my client, you know, who didn’t pay their bills for, you know, months and months and months and
You know, the things that they did. And they said, We’re I had no idea because I was a 2122 23 year old kid right
And you know I did get burned on that and as part of coming out of that. It’s like, I don’t know if I ever want to have one of these businesses again because it’s so easy just to lose everything or for somebody not to pay or for somebody to declare bankruptcy. Right.
And going through law school, I realized quite a ton of the things that that client did. They’re not legal like
They wouldn’t have held up in the quarter law right
So having that background. Now, and knowing I mean there’s there’s a huge part of your lawyer. People don’t screw with you. Right. It’s just one of those things, not the not the not the people you want to go around, you know, messing with
And that helps out. But just knowing that the things that people are that happened before they shouldn’t have happened and that knowledge helped me have the faith to move forward in this one and know that you know
The, the world won’t end if we have one of those clients. Usually, you just want to get rid of them, right.
Yes, really. Yeah, some point, you just want to shake them out because you’re like, look, they’re not going to pay this invoice, no matter how much I chased him. I’m going to stop chasing
But knowing that that they shouldn’t be doing the things that they’re doing. And you don’t have to put up with it right is is one of those
I would recommend law school is a big investment, I’d recommend it to anybody even if you’re not going to use it because you learn so much about how the business and legal world can can work and can help you out.
What becomes an interesting problem of legal and enforceable their and their differentiated
In a contract and in terms of any contract employment contract product contract relationship with your cell phone vendor for there’s there’s certain things that they may be written in there, but they’re actually
They’re legal however not enforceable especially state by state as a whole. Yeah.
I remember going through my classes every single class had at least one of those things. I was like, wait, that’s in like every contract of this type, and they can’t enforce it, but
There’s, there’s a thing people feel like it was in a contract. I read it, I signed my name to it, therefore I’m bound by it and I was like, wow, that’s really not the case, it’s, it’s actually amazing how many times that isn’t the case. And people just don’t know it.
I when I worked for one organization every relationship we would have with a vendor would like that, like, here it is, you know, just here’s, here’s your standard T’s and C’s, they would call it, you know.
And then it would it would come back to them like a grade nine English essay just littered with reading can scratch marks and it would be like know
Here’s our you know indemnification that we’re adding in and all this different stuff.
And I would I would look at the consciousness vendors not gonna let us do this and they’re like trust us. This is they know they’ve got the lawyers that we’ve got. We just. This is the dance. We do. Yeah, yeah.
And that’s the thing after coming out of law school. I don’t know if I’d ever hired a lawyer before then right at the analytical I hired for lawyers.
Because we’re all the different things. Yeah, the business side and the IP side and and that you know that’s
It’s strange. You think you go through law school. Okay. You can be your own lawyer. Well, no. The thing is law is so specific. You really need a lawyer who’s an expert in the field that you need something in
So I, I recommend always it’s expensive right lawyers are expensive, but they they pay off in dividends.
Within each. This is neat thing too, because, I mean, heck, you can get that as a service to
Right. But even that this is an interesting challenge of I actually used to a company called up Council and I think actually got recommended to through
A podcast I was talking with with somebody and they said like, hey, look, I don’t, I don’t need a lawyer full time, I was able to use like up counsel.
And then I got the first ever like, you know, when a when a startup closes their doors. It’s usually like hey we’re we’re
We’re so bummed. You know we did our best. We had a great run, it was great for years.
He thank you very much to all of our customers. We will keep the service live for another 30 days, but unfortunately we we’ve had to close the doors, right, I got the account. So, which was basically like lawyers as a service.
And specifically target at like startup setup and and small business, I guess they just
Were at for whatever reason I didn’t read much more intuitive than, than the really cool email which was
Basically a terms of conditions from them saying, you know, Heather to, and wherefore under like it was a lot of legal ease basically saying, hey, we’re really bummed. And we got to close the door right
Away. A LAWYER SAYS IT
And even I remember going to, it was like a team building event one time and
Are the chief counsel for my company was on my team and because we like mixed and matched people and we’re literally going on a scavenger hunt. It’s. It was the most hilarious thing. So we go on the scavenger hunt.
And it was like, okay, here we’ve got you know john and Eric and Joanne are on the team. And then like they like, oh, just feel this quick little you know like the waiver. You just like check off a side of the back
And literally, like, here’s my chief counsel, she’s going through it going no one sign that no one sign that like it’s
You’re going to be running around the city. And it just was a normal indemnification you know clause, and she’s just like the same thing. She’s like, this is not enforceable based on British Columbia Law. We’re going to rewrite it. I’m like, it’s okay. We’ll just sign it for five
Years are paranoid. They really are. And probably for good reason. Right.
Well, in this. The interesting thing like the greatest contract, written by the greatest lawyer can be then torn down by another great lawyer and it depends.
You never want to be in those situations, but like you said, I think it’s a fundamental lessons, especially for people that are getting into, you know, becoming a startup like just take a quick
Take a quick course on you know like venture law, especially when it comes to like understanding term sheets and doing stuff like that. Like that’s
Boy Boy, there’s just story after story of people who are like, I had no idea what was going on when I even just setting the founders equity right
Yeah, and I think you said it I you know I hadn’t actually thought of that before but I had taken the investor course right so one of those kind of
Boot Camp one day to day kind of things. And then I taken the venture law class and that class taught me so much more. And there’s so much to learn about it.
But anybody who’s starting up and thinks they’re going to take venture capital or
outside investment. It really would make a lot of sense to find a class like that and audit it at least right and just, just go and get that information because there’s a ton. And you really need a guide to take you through it. Well,
And people think that like you know a lot of people like to watch Shark Tank. I know how to start a company. I know.
You, you know how to start a company that just got 51% of its equity taken over by by somebody. And there’s a reason why those numbers.
I’ve become sort of intimately involved in understanding the venture in the lawn and all the startups. So I love watching those things because here like
You can tell the people that have done it before, when they’re there. They’re like, Ah, yeah, it sounds good, like let’s go for it. And the other ones here like I’m Nope, can’t do it.
Like they’re trying to sort of hammer this deal because guess what it’s like poker, the House as it’s always in favor of the house, no matter how many times you when
Somebody else has has lost in order to allow you to win. And generally, when you’re in VCs VCs aren’t in the game of giving away money right that’s
There’s definite terms and conditions that are on, you know, getting that term sheet put over in your hands. Yeah. So john any, any advice to people that you know
They got an idea and they want to think about can I make this into a business. What’s, what’s the litmus test that you lay in front of them.
Well, oftentimes, you know, they’re coming to us farther down right so they’ve already gone through that there’s, you know, there’s all of that stuff.
On starting up a business that is outside of our hands. It’s a completely and there’s figuring out if it’s an idea that’s got legs on it.
Figuring out. This is the path. You want to go down because it’s a tough path, being a founder of, you know, a new product company, it’s going to be years of your life if you’re if you’re married, you better make sure the spouse and kids are are on board.
And it’s going to be, you know, it’s going to be a trial.
Really when when it comes to if you’re non technical founder
You know, you can try to go out there and do it yourself, but you know, I started keeping count for every 40 applications. It takes 40 applications for a developer for us to find the one that we keep we have this long process that we go through it tests and
trial period and the whole thing.
And if you’re gonna if you don’t know code, you don’t know how to do it yourself. You don’t really know what you’re going to manage to
It’s like finding a needle in a haystack there. So that’s where we can help out. If you come to us with the idea, you know it’s it’s not a huge vetting process.
Because who really knows right there’s venture capitalists out there making bets all the time on things that fail. It’s really tough to know which one is going to have legs or not. So we look for what are the ones that we can really get excited about.
You know, what are the ones that we are going to make us want to keep going. During those hard times. And if we’re on the same page there, then we’d love to help out. That’s cool. Yeah.
John it’s I could I could spend all day to stealing lessons from you, and you know, we’ll get together again because I really do you want to talk a bit more about
That vetting process is very interesting and and i think folks would love to hear sort of your thought process again is like when you
Taking this idea and mapping it relative to anecdotal experience market timing. There’s, there’s just so many things where
You know and i would i would imagine you’ve got a lot of hard lessons you know learned and stuff that you you approach it in a systematic way, which is really good.
But before we close up. What, what’s the best way for folks if they want to get hold of you john and get get in touch with series code and then learn more about what you and the team are doing
Yeah, they should head over to series code calm. So it’s just like it sounds series se R is code C O d.com
And there they can get more information about the process that we go through and then there’s an email address right on there that again sent to if they’re interested in finding out more.
And of course, we’ll have stuff on the show notes for folks that that can easily click out
And this is, it’s been a real pleasure john and like i said i’m excited when I saw when I saw what serious code was that really
This is something I’m like I said, I hope one day to be a client, this is, this is something where I really, I believe in the way you’re doing things is really, really good. And also, it’s just such a great give back to founders.
Because this is one of the things that, you know, people can lose the ability to bring an idea to reality right cuz they get stuck.
Doing stuff that’s just out of their wheelhouse. Yeah. And there are there are teams that can do this stuff for you and the equity relationship is just so cool. I’m, I’m excited. I’m excited by what what you’re doing so.
Well, thanks for having me here. Eric, I really do appreciate it.
And yeah, so we’ll then we’ll send folks along and thanks again john and again for folks that we want to make sure you check out serious code.com
Make sure you also rate this podcast. It’s always nice for us to be all speaking of
You know metrics we like to get measured by it’s nice get pushed up to the higher in the ratings list. So if you like this, if you want to hear more great stories like what john and the series code team have going on.
Let’s do that. So, John’s to thank you very much for this has been an absolute pleasure to spend time with you today. Thank you.
Kellen McCarvel is the founder of Joybees Footwear and an entrepreneurial leader with an expansive experience in total business management roles who’s focused on profitable growth and product development. Kellen shares startup lessons that could easily be the foundation of a great business leadership and business building course. We talk about building products on customer need, the challenges and advantages of entering an existing market, and crowdfunding as a platform to launch with key lessons on what to do right and what to avoid.
Thanks to Kellan for this great conversation and the open sharing of great learnings for anyone who’s in business or looking to start something themselves.
Aditya Nagrath is the founder of Elephant Learning Academy and shares a heartfelt story of how our school system and the math learning programs are not doing what they need to do. You are hearing the story about how this project is the pinnacle of Aditya’s life’s work as a mathematician, software engineer & technologist, and entrepreneur.
The lessons he shares are amazing and the numbers and statistics that we discuss about the effect of mathematics on the entire future of a child’s learning may be frightening, but the fact that Aditya is doing something to change that is something you will thoroughly enjoy out of a great conversation. Great lessons on being a founder, and doing good with technology which is something I think we all need to learn from.
This is a really interesting opportunity and I’m excited about this conversation. I’ve been a
Kind of subscribe to way too much information, sometimes in the world. And one of the reasons I do so as I I kind of look to my myself as being a lifelong learner.
And as a result of a lot of stuff I’ve done around mentoring and teaching and engaging folks in the community in the tech space and in and out of, you know, tech and startups and such.
I’m always excited when I meet other folks who are in the industry who very much see the value of learning and what it means to further, you know,
Your own life in being a teacher, as well as connecting people to something that can really kind of foundational to change what they do in their day to day
And I’m here with Dr. Aditya mcgrath’s I always love the doctor because it reminds me that you are you are literally a lifetime learner. You’ve, you’ve you’ve gone the distance on on a set of learning yourself and I wanted to talk to you a ditty about Let’s quickly talk about you.
how folks can get ahold of you online if they want to. And then we’re going to talk about elephant learning and the story behind it.
Okay, great. I’m looking forward to it. So how do you want me to start
Let’s start with
Your own background so
How did you get into the learning space. Obviously. Again, you’re, you’re well educated. So what was your background that actually and whether that actually brought you to where you are today as as being the founder of elephant learning
Perfect, yeah. So I, as you mentioned, got a PhD in math and computer science 2008 so it’s kind of a joint degree, but the focus was mathematics.
And that was kind of longer story. But from there. I actually went into contract software engineering. So while I was getting my degree I had also been working full time part time at different
Contract firms or software development shops and so I started a contract software engineering firm in 2009 called elephant head software and from 2009 to 2016 we put out 35 different product lines and that’s over 50 different applications.
To market and
In 2016 I joined entrepreneur organization. So EO Colorado and basically as I was joining this organization. There was a lot of people talking about triple bottom line companies. So the idea kind of is.
Can you build a company where there’s a measurable environmental impact a measurable social impact and then a miserable. Bottom line, and this idea really interested me so from 2016 after I joined do
I had really been thinking about how can I build a company like that. And that’s when I started talking to one of my ex professors from the University of Denver about particularly this project. And that’s kind of when I came on board with elephant learning that’s really
That’s really interesting. And it’s, it sounds obviously that you started very much in in the sense of you aimed immediately towards doing doing good.
By what you could do in developing your business. And how did that come into play. Do you have kind of a studied background in in
The impact of of what we do. And, you know, sort of environmental and and suicidal or how did that come to be an important aspect of of how you build Ellison learning
Sure, I’m happy to talk about that. So one of the first EO events. I went to
There was a gentleman there, who was the co founder of plastic bank and he told his story and his story was that he was watching the news.
And he saw that there was this piece of plastic out in the Pacific Ocean. That’s the size of Texas. And he said to himself, there’s no way that’s not worth a lot of money. I just kind of got to figure out how to monetize it.
And what he did was he devised a system where people in India would pick up the plastic from the shore and deposit it into the plastic bank for which they would receive
I believe his two cents a pound. And then he would turn around and recycling at nine cents a pound and it just turned out that the amount that he was paying that people to pick up the plastic from the shores.
Was actually more than they were earning in the shops at that time. So he had a measurable impact on the environment in that he he’s measuring exactly how many pounds of plastic. He’s taking out he had a measurable impact on
The society there because he had a measurable financial gain for the people doing this work.
And then on top of that he had his bottom line has profit and this thing grew to $200 million company.
And what I realized was that that was that the rules of the game the way that the business operated right the rules of the game. We’re kind of set up for everyone to win.
And and that’s what it kind of boiled down to was that as long as the rules of the business are sort of set up so that everything is winning you kind of create something that
What a government would typically do right where most people would pass it off and say, well, this is government’s problem, right.
But whereas there’s also a bottom line of profit motivation that then pushes out that good. So becomes an organization that’s not only self sustaining
But also profitable that then doing that, that quote unquote good for the world. So basically when it came to elephant learning. That’s what we had to do as well as we just have to set up the rules of the game so that we can get everyone to win.
In this is it’s really neat because there are so many ways that we can impact the world in a positive way.
We’re and it can be everything like the plastic bank stories, really. I love that one. Actually, it’s, it’s funny. I talked with another fellow column Macintosh founded a company called sheets and giggles. Aside from being one of the funniest
You know, names of the companies that are based in Denver and he is also a member of the CEO.
And he had introduced me to the to that and it was funny, those, those stories kind of carry around and they’re very meaningful.
So, but that it doesn’t literally have to be, you know, physically interacting with a
An Earth, saving you know activity. It can be something that we can do to empower people, and it was
Interesting that you know in the plastic bank story of courses, like you said, what, what seems like a to a North American
Person probably it’s almost like a pittance of a wage, but not realizing that in in that in the other parts of the world $2
A pound to collect something can be an incredible boost and what they can earn relative to the local wages now.
What I’m really excited about what you’re doing is bringing what I feel is such a future focused and profound concept is
Bringing mathematics and and the true, you know, advanced mathematics learning and just common, common mathematics to children.
Which because it feels to me like one of the biggest challenges I’ve found in the in the general school system is that
It’s, it’s just fallen off like there’s been so many incredible advancements in science and mathematics, but the curriculum doesn’t feel like it’s caught up.
In traditional schooling. And so let’s just get into elephant learning. I’d love to hear what was your story and what you’re solving with with your approach to the entire platform.
Okay, well, I’m just going to tell it to you, just the way it happened because it makes more sense that way.
And then, you know, in that you’re going to hear all the stats. So, you know, I was having a conversation with my next professor. As I had mentioned
And really I was trying to move away from the contract software engineering business. I was looking to move into something more of a product
And we were kind of failing with an IoT product. We had an IoT product that was going out there and it just wasn’t working for us. So
My professor had met with me and he had an NSF grant that we were applying for
And NSF grant was to take research done by the National Science Foundation and try to make a company out of it. So,
Immediately, I’m asking me. And so, like, tell me about this company because like, you know, if you’re going to put me in charge of the company.
I’m not the guy who’s just going to do it for the grant money, I’m going to have to take it seriously and he’s trying to pitch me these math games that you that you put into school and I had a lot of problems with that. I said, One, we don’t have any relationships in the school to
I don’t know, like math games, right, like whether kids even really want to play it. So if I’m not going to the school if I’m trying to pitch it to kids. I just don’t know if there’s a real market for it.
And three, I was a TA over at the University of Denver for six or seven years as I got my graduate degree and to be honest with you in math class.
Not many people really wanted to be there. There was there’s only like a handful of kids that actually wanted to be there and the rest were just kind of there because it was a requirement.
And so I said, you know, like I’m having a real hard time with this. And so what he tells me is that four out of five children start kindergarten unprepared for the Guinean kindergarten curriculum now immediately. I’m like, well, Alberto that’s that’s really difficult to believe because
Where does the kindergarten curriculum even start. He says the curriculum starts at counting to 10
I said, so you’re sorry accounting to 20. So I’m saying. So you’re telling me that these students can’t count to 20 says no, they can’t count to 10 because it starts accounting to 20 the prerequisite is that they can count to 10
Say, that’s also extremely difficult to believe, can you can you explain to me why this disparity exists. And he says, well,
For the common parent. If the child says the numbers 12345 through 10
That’s a thumbs up. That’s good to go. But when the kindergarten says counting to 10 what they mean is, can you give me 10 things the child slides over 10 things and stops at 10
So, okay, well, the second one’s definitely much harder than the first. I can see the difference in the first. It could be just saying the numbers. The second one, they actually have to understand what tenants.
And that ends up being the basis for the entire system. It turns out that the preschool math scores predict fifth grade.
Overall scores and that preschool math scores predict third grade reading scores better than preschool reading scores. So all of the metrics that
The education system is using right now as a means of, you know, how is the student doing third grade reading being probably one of the most important seems to stem from the preschool math. Now, if you look at it from the students perspective.
What we’re really saying is that they have a they have a miss comprehension, if you will, a misunderstanding. They don’t understand what the numbers mean but they’re sitting in class and they’re being taught that
A similar situation, where would be me or you went into a third year bio chem class, right. So on average, children about three years behind depending on what neighborhood they come from and what income bracket. They’re in
So if we meet you went to third your bio chem class, we would hear the professor. It sounds like he’s speaking English.
But we wouldn’t understand much of what he was saying, because we missed about three years of jargon.
Well, it just turns out that this jargon of mathematics is so fundamental that is considered vocabulary.
But more than that, mathematics, happens to be very visual very light touch and feel right. So,
It’s kind of like the color red. I can’t teach a very young child, what the color red is unless I show them read things
In the same way, right. I can’t teach them what the numbers mean I can’t teach them what addition or subtraction is I can’t use the multiplication, unless I really show them what’s happening. So
You know, going from fifth grade, eighth grade math scores predict whether you drop out of high school only 75% only 25% of high school students are proficient in high school mathematics that the NAACP stat any ACP and
69% of STEM majors switch to a major with glass map. So we’re, we’re not graduating number of technologies that we could graduate
And now because society is so data driven with computers being everywhere, even businesses. So statistically driven that the defenses are having a hard time reaching the students
And the business students are switching majors to a major plus path. And what that really means is that the majority of our students are going into humanities, which in itself is not a bad thing, except for that the economic impact is that, you know,
A yearly salary is kept in the humanities around 50 $60,000 per year. So when we look at, for example, Elizabeth Warren trying to forgive the student debt.
This is what that’s around. We have an entire generation of children.
That we told you can grow up to be anything you want to be, they tried to become scientists technologists engineers mathematicians, they tried to become business people.
And they ended up in the humanities, which is kind of a devastating story every time I encounter one of these people like I wanted to be a physics major
Because because I didn’t want to be doing math, physics is all differential equations I became an English major, it’s a completely different life. Yeah.
And this isn’t the interesting
Thing that did he is the
This sort of the, the breakdown. As you reach each gate effectively strips off a percentage of potential students who can excel or even participate at that level and
It’s we had this challenge in STEM, STEM is probably, you know, reach the most
Like sort of highly visible state of, you know, being a challenge. Part of the industry because like you you laid out is this idea that
We have, we have first a pipeline problem and the quite the so that’s what we say. People always say like, Oh, it’s a pipeline problem well
That’s great, but what is the pipe. Now let’s break down the pipeline problem and you effectively have done this and
And like you said jargon is incredibly important. Like, I can go and I can listen to
I can, I can listen to Dr. Michio Kaku and and listen to folks like Bryan Callen and talk to these people and learn about things like
You know, differential mathematics little if the point of like understanding what spinners are learning, like what
You get through these incredible things about, you know, reading Hawking and you can read it and it makes sense, while you’re reading it, because I’ve had a level of understanding of the jargon, but
It, you know, an hour and a half later, most of it sort of falls off because it’s not a part of my vernacular is not a part of my continuous learning
And so if I read it every day. If I studied it every day. It ultimately would lead to me knowing more. So here’s the trick, right, you go into the school system. And like you said.
When children struggle. They hear the words and they can maybe pull off enough to kind of get a passing grade to get through that the just enough
To get through it and then we kind of move them through the system and and really don’t go back and kind of revisit how we can make that either is it interactive learning and like you said.
Counting to 10 counting from the other than going through the numerals of one to 10 for, you know, a child can can be done. It’s, it’s done by rote its effect it’s memorization.
But then the abstract concept of finding 10 items and collecting them together. It’s
It seems easy for you and I and people that are listening to this, but it’s like
That’s no different than me asking any one of our listeners right now. Okay. I want you to go and study the idea of you know spinner theory and and how is it different than than than other quantum theories and they’ll just be like,
It’s so abstract like I have no relationship to that thing that
You just asked me, like, but if I explain it to you, but only
Complete anyone with a three year old honestly should should be able to understand this, right, I have a three and a half year old at home and I mean
He’s using some words, I’m not sure. He knows what they mean. You know, you’re not using them correctly, it’s just they’re learning the language at that age.
I was thinking this morning. I have a four year old son and he says, Daddy, I need you for one second. She has no idea what it means to say that, but he knows it and get me like he knows that that will make me stop and he knows that it
Like he’s he’s in it for the long haul.
It says no, there’s no one second. In his mind.
I need you to sit down beside me until I’m done with you.
But he knows to use the words I need you for one second.
So my my three year old can’t understand later on, like, I’ll do that. I’ll do that in a little bit later. And you won’t get it.
Well, and this is
Eating and time.
It’s an abstract concepts that are
This is the the really also the tough part when we talk about Sam. We talked about the pipeline problem. We talked about learning and schooling and the change in the sort of what the net.
Effect is of these things when you shade, you know you you shape people’s futures at all these different gates.
And then the problem we’ve got is you go on Twitter and you talk to people in amongst our peer group.
And we generally collect with other peers who are alike. And so that’s a natural, natural thing, it’s, it’s what we do is we grouped together.
In communities of people that are like minded. And so, especially if you go online and you get to the people they’re talking about stuff.
And he realized like, hey, if you’re on Twitter. Number one, you’re probably in 1% of the population of the world.
Because you’re a subset of people, you’re a subset of people that has access to the Internet.
And most likely, is also on a mobile phone so STRIP, STRIP, STRIP down the sub nets and the subsets and you are now in sort of a somewhat elite group of people. And so the tough part is
The peers have these conversations. And then when you try to explain to them like you did. It did. It is okay, well, I’ve got a I need to have a three year old.
Taken that simple abstract concept of counting 10 items and and most kids can’t do it. And it’s just for many people who are listening to this, it’s unfathomable but it’s the truth. And the numbers have been borne out that that’s the case. So now,
You You’ve Got a you you laid a big bet right that you you wanted to be able to now go in and and and affect the situation, how did, how did you suddenly say, I think I can help to close this gap.
That’s a great question. So basically, after, after I received all of this information and understood it, I
I immediately began to think, okay, well, so what you’re telling me there’s a big enough of a problem here that
That that there’s a market and I might not be able to approach the schools, but I can certainly approach the parents with this story. Right. I mean, if this is true, they’re going to have to resonate with the story and so
There’s that the second part of it is, I also realized that there cannot be anything else on the market that was effective.
Because if there was something on the market that was effective. The schools would be using it and we wouldn’t be looking at the statistics we were looking at. I mean, as soon as you are able to digitize something effectively right i mean it’s copy paste after that.
So at that point, I asked Alberto about the game that he had already built and he had built some games for Preschoolers and kindergarteners and
I asked him, Well, how effective are these games like what are we talking about here. And he said, Well, the problem is, is there’s no standards for preschoolers. The kindergarteners so I can’t really say that
And I said, okay, but you’ve already told me today what the average three year old knows what they are his four year old knows what the average five year old knows what the average six year old knows
How like how would you say that progressing and he says we use it in a classroom 10 minutes a day, five days a week.
And they gained a year of math in three months, on average, and that’s when I said, Okay, well if that’s true, then I definitely have something that I can take and and and work with
We ultimately had to rebuild the entire system from scratch. So we, we started all over again. And one of the main things was was we were focusing on math.
So like, whereas most games are trying to make math fun. What we’re trying to do is trying to make math as the fun
So the research that Albert was quoted to me said that many children if they understand the math feel like it’s a puzzle. So it’s like a puzzle game.
Right, and many of the activities that the early age, education, researchers that we’re putting out, which is actually what Oliver was taking to to create these games.
Were were activities that could be game a fight. So we turned into a gamification of a proven curriculum and after stripping away some of the stuff that the game that we felt were less
Valuable to both the child and the parent, we were able to increase the average to one and a half years, over three months and they only use it about 25 minutes a week on average.
And so we said okay if we guarantee that your child will learn one year of math and three months using a 30 minutes per week we’ve increased the amount of time.
That they’re using it by eight minutes a week we’ve increased the amount of usage from 10 weeks to three months.
And we’re guaranteeing a lot less than what averages, so this should be from an actuarial a preset perspective, a bet that easy to win right so
That’s why we now guarantee that your child will learn a year of mass in three months.
We’ve seen children do a lot more than that, especially young children because they haven’t developed the math anxiety. Yet, if you can imagine what’s actually happening in our classrooms is pretty close to torture.
What it is the strategy is here. Add until you understand what edition is or multiply until you understand what multiplication is memorizing stuff. It doesn’t make any sense to them. They’re literally asking out loud when am I going to use this
And worse than that were basically putting their future. We’re saying, hey, you’re not gonna be able to get a job in this you can understand this, you still have to pass the test.
But no one’s going back to help them at the level where they do understand and that’s what our system does so.
Beyond the gamification of the proven curriculum, we have these advanced algorithms that are quickly able to determine what your child understands and doesn’t understand
And then meet them at their level. So if you’ve got a third grader who’s having problems with counting, we will actually meet them accounting and build them up from counting
Back up to multiplication, division, where they should be in the third grade. These children that are catching up in our system.
They’re reporting increased confidence because they can go into the classroom. They can now understand the teacher at the level that the teachers teaching and they can now participate in class.
With this is the the thing that
You’ve really pulled together some of the most fundamental concepts and done it for all of the right reasons. And this is why I was extremely excited when I
Knew that I had a chance to have this discussion with you because
We today have so many apps and games and things that are obviously aimed towards children and their aim towards utilizing the very simplest core functions of behavioral psychology gamification is a nice way but you know people say about keeping people engaged and and
Performing behavioral imprints and and changing behaviors through gamification and rewards.
Now this it can sound either very dark, which is how most of these most applications are built like apps game, you know, aimed towards kids are always around like
Will reach you, to a certain point and then you have to unlock a thing to unlock a thing you have to do another thing. Oh, you could get there faster if you put a couple of dollars.
Towards this right and it’s it’s this unfortunate, you know,
All of these people that learn from the foundations of, like, stuff like what BJ Fogg brought to the world and who BJ Fogg himself is very aggressively going out to sort of
stave off the negative use of behavioral psychology and persuasive computing. So what I love is that you have very much gone and exactly the positive use of behavioral rewards towards something that can vary literally change the path of somebody’s future
It on a daily basis, just by small incremental learning small incremental, you know, behavioral help and and really bringing kids who are something that
You know, let’s put it in the context that matters to them and then the outcomes are are what we get. So I’d love to hear about that. Did he have what
What did your early work and sort of early use of the platform, get you. I’d love to hear some of the stories and what people said when they put their kids into into the platform.
Well, yeah, so
So so early on we we we even started with some pretty heart wrenching stories, but the one that that’s memorable is one of the first stories that came out was there was a child in our system. I think his first thing was Ethan and Ethan
I he was, if I remember correctly, four or five years of age, and he was doing multiplication, division.
Three months in, so he had picked up two or three years with the math. So again, with the young students right because they didn’t develop that anxiety towards math is yet. Well, they, they don’t even know that this is two or three years ahead, they’re just playing the game.
Since then, we’ve we’ve had a lot of stories. Another one that’s really memorable is
I was just reading a scholarship application, the other day, and apparently enrolled in that they have a 12 year old daughter and the daughter.
Was operating at the third grade level. So this is before they even came into the system and basically at the end. She’s like, You have to help me please help me so we we do offer a scholarship program where
If you’re a low income family. You can get it at an extremely discounted rate, even if you’re if you’re having troubles affording it at $35 a month, we can discount the rate. It’s an application process. Though to be honest with you. Many people will receive some funds so
Anyway, so she you know like please help me and I just like this was a marketing exercise we weren’t looking at the data, but I read this thing and I was just
Kind of so heartbroken by what she was writing. I mean, I think she said the father passed away when the child was in first grade. So the child repeated first grade and
Has been lost in the second grade and is operating right now at the third grade level. And I just had to go look. Look, this person up. And what we found was that
Her student did actually catch up to age she got to an elephant age of 12 and a half, which is our, our math age. So that’s all. And yes, those are the
Those are the. Those are the reasons that we we do the things like obviously there are people that you’re probably bringing within a within a band or a range.
But the fact that you can also have those stories that very, you know, very profound effect that you’ve had on that just that child in that family, ultimately, who
You know, and, and also I applaud you for forgiving the, you know, given the opportunity to get people into the platform that may not have had access to it because of the, the, the money impact. It’s this also is
You know, when you talk about the three, the three pillars approach of doing good and sustainability and in creating this platform is you know your
Those kids are going to remember, you know, in one way or another, what got them there. And those parents are probably very much, you know,
They’re, they’re looking to the sky thinking somebody what they should be doing is looking to look into the SAS platforms and thanking you, and the team for for introducing their kids to this. Now, what’s the
What’s the impact for you in how you look at this and scale, you know this because obviously there’s
You know, you can get access to certain pool of kids who are ready to use the system, what are you looking to as the next phases. Did he had to kind of like get this into a broader audience and get more more folks in to help them through this, this process.
Sure. Well, part of it is is doing things like this. So what we what we found out pretty quickly is that Facebook is sort of losing its numbers.
It’s not the party that it used to be in that the audience that they’re telling us that we’re having is not the same as the size of the audience that we end up reaching
That is what it is. I mean, no one can make people use Facebook if they’re not using it so
Really the next step for us is to start to communicate with people that maybe aren’t on Facebook or stop using Facebook or
Anything of that nature. So, you know, the expansion of audience in that manner. We also do have a classroom product that’s currently in beta. It’s being piloting two or three
Classrooms around the country right now very selectively and we’ve piloted before. So this is the second one of the tests and it’s really about can we put a process around
For the teacher to use the tool more effectively, right, because in a classroom setting, they’re really at a disadvantage. The big problem happens to be that you have 30 students there. There’s no way to work with them one on one.
In any realistic fashion big especially you know as classroom size of even getting bigger right 30 to 40 to 50. And so what our system is able to do they able to
Maybe mitigate some of that one on one, one on one work we’re able to then tell the teacher that well this student is in third grade, but they’re operating at the first grade level.
So giving them the typical lecture that you’d give the rest of the third graders.
Probably is not the best thing to do, and ultimately come up with cohorts, you know, so where
75 to 80% of the classrooms behind at least the teacher can know it and then lecture to them and then catch them up. Right. I mean, the system will also help catch them up.
And then catch them up to where they’re supposed to be which honestly happens very quickly then
We’ve seen even catch ups like 234 or five years with the math happened in three or four months. So it’s just a matter of usage and then noticing where
The hiccups may be and then a little bit of coaching, we don’t really want to give students the answer.
Because we don’t want them to revert back to memorization, but we want to give them a hint, where they can get that aha moment that that clicking the head that they get it. And then from there, their, their progress speeds right back up.
The unlocking have that capability.
And there they create their own reward system by doing it because like you said, If you created in this in a way that it becomes a puzzle.
We, as humans, just by nature. We door completing puzzles and getting through these sort of discovery.
You know phases as we do a thing and it’s it’s a beautiful feeling that you can create and it’s literally, you know,
lighting up dopamine receptors like it is a neurological effect that you can create ends, then
If you do that, then, like you said, you can get the acceleration and it’s neat that you talk about the classes because that’s it. It’s a very different thing individually association is one thing, but going out into the classroom.
Effectively means that you’ve got a range of capabilities and learning levels and to be able to create a greater cohort of kids that are in the
The same level is is really, really difficult especially you know teachers have math. You know, science, you know English humanities, social sciences like all these different things.
They generally don’t have time to put extra time towards any one single thing because we’re really kind of cramming a lot of stuff into our kids heads that just too and also trying to make them not hate school. So we have to
If there’s a way that you can create
Do things and make learning enjoyable and have them discover the rewards themselves so so cool. Now you have young kids. So this is probably meaningful to you.
I’m curious if you do when you founded this and you decided what you were going to build how how young was your family or did you approach it with the idea like you had a personal story yourself that brought you towards this.
Absolutely, yeah. So actually when I was young.
My mother would actually go to the school every year in the summer and try to get the books for the following year, so they should find my next teacher she’d find out, she go find that teachers say, What books are you going to use
And back then the they would just, you know, they use that card in the book, right, and just put your name on it.
So they just give me my book at the beginning of the summer and my mom would sit down and make us do the math for the following year. And I remember that, you know, like there was there was sometimes, there was tears. I wasn’t always the one crying them. But sometimes there was tears and
I just remember how intense that was and then the impact that had on my life because I mean to get where I am. To understand what I understand, to do what I do at the level that I do it.
To be honest with you, I think math for that. Right. Like, if you look at computer science. It’s the division of mathematics.
Especially in Europe, like if you go to a European university, the math department. There’s the computer science department is within the applied mathematics department within that that housing and it just turns out that like
Through abstraction, you can really get the computer to do more with less. And so I I kind of look back at my history how I got here. How did I build that software firm. How did we put out so many products so quickly.
And so effectively and it was it was the abstraction. It was the skills that I learned through mathematics. So I thank her for that. And now back into the context of, you know, that conversation with my professor
The real context there was my wife was about six months pregnant when when this went down five or six months and and I was sitting there thinking, well, gosh.
What he’s really telling me is that I can’t really depend on the school system to to handle this problem for me right handle the problems education handle the problem of passing on the math that was given to me by my parents and my responsibilities sort of his
His education is my responsibilities, what I was thinking is education part of my responsibility. So how am I going to handle this.
And as soon as I was started talking to me about what the solution was and how these how he got these activities and how he did the same thing with his daughters and what he had to do to go through it.
And say, well, all we really need to do is push that information straight to the parent right at the level that the child is working at
Right, if you just did that. If you could just tell me where my kid was and and and how was the effective method of teaching this concept I would be able to take that I would be able to use that and and
And and do what you did.
Even if the activities in work, but the activities do work. So overall this is a win, right. So, like, even if the child gets stuck. And that’s what our dashboard does is we help you figure out where’s the child stuck. If we detect that there’s some
Some, some failures, some some missing questions we will start to flag it like hey you should take a look at this subject and in there, we give the parent games.
Advice, if you will, game that they can play with their child outside of the system. A good example is board games. If your child is learning to count or, you know, basketball,
If your child is learning to skip count or right even if you’re trying to build fluency with like, you know, speed of addition speed of multiplication.
You could play blackjack, you could play. You can play war with with flashcards, and we just try to give you these tips.
At the right time. So, like, hey, the child can now understand enough to do this. So if you did this, it wouldn’t it wouldn’t be an exercise memorization wouldn’t be scary to them.
They’re totally going to understand what you’re saying. You could totally play this game. And that’s kind of the idea at the end of the day.
We just like with the plastic bank. We tried to build the mission and the game around the mission to just be good. So the mission is empower children map the vision is can we change the way the world teaches mathematics. How do we do that well we power.
attics that the world have to turn and look and say, hey, wait a second. What’s going on over here.
We’re taking children that said they couldn’t do it. And now they’re saying they can do it. And that is a shift.
That is a true impact. And the thing that we also have the problem that you know the parents often don’t have a way in which they feel that they can impact.
The outcomes with their kids because they may not have their own math skills or they don’t know how to move
Back down to the level because once you learn those abstractions. It’s really difficult to separate yourself from the right. So you’re
Trying to teach a four year old or a three year old how to, you know, count 11 read items.
You know, it’s, it just makes complete sense to the parents and so sometimes it’s hard to
Slow down and teach them like, Okay, here’s one. Which ones read, which would like there’s all of these things that we just we already get so it’s hard to detach yourself from what’s already known.
And and this is where where it’s good. And like you said, as you get further on those kids every says, Well, I want my kids to get into
Programming or get into, you know, gaming, whatever or computers is math, like you said, all the way up to the highest level is math is requires computers computers requires math.
You know, any comp side grad has to do a significant amount of statistical analysis and understanding of mathematical concepts and algebraic concepts and
It’s not necessarily that they’re doing, like, you know, high levels of calculus and physics, but there’s there’s got to be a foundation there in order to do the exercise that you’re doing in computers.
And then the reverse is also true. Anybody that’s doing serious, you know, mathematics are doing psychology
Guess what you need to know statistics, you need to learn how to, you know, programming are to do
All of this analysis work on on large data sets and stuff. It’s like you, we cannot detach these things from each other and the fact that we know that we get impacted at the ground floor.
Is I think we all have a responsibility to do it and and I’m glad that you’re you’re doing something. What now let’s talk about the business view. I’m at allow. How did you
How did you choose to approach you know getting getting things rolling and taking your first, your first product to market and and how are you looking at how you’re going to be able to scale this company.
Sure, yeah. So again, right, mainly mainly our attraction is Facebook and it’s difficult because
So many people go to Facebook and they have a hard time there and and there’s so many different
Things out there that are telling you to do XYZ at the end of the day, the place where Facebook’s really good is they have these algorithms.
And because of, you know, my background when they started talking about these algorithms and and how you can juggle the system in order to get it to work that’s ultimately what we did. And the real trick is just, you know,
There’s this debate between, like, do you want to hit more people or do you want to get more qualified people right so like
Immediately what happened when we got three to 500 sales is Facebook brought us in to a call and said, what you want to do is you want to create a 1% look alike audience if you create this 1% look alike audience.
Will get you 2 million people. That looks like the 500 people that purchased. But when I found out soon after creating that 1% audience with that.
Some of my friends who had children that were well beyond what we taught at the time.
We’re getting the ads and they were coming to me like Hey man, we’re seeing Elton learning on Facebook. Congratulations and must be blowing up.
And I’m sitting there thinking the. Why are you even seeing my ads. There’s no potential way for you to even buy. So we went back to Facebook and we narrowed down that 1% audience.
To say, hey, they should be in your 1% audience Facebook but they should also be a parent of a child is between two and 12 it’s standard demographic information that’s that’s in Facebook and that cut our audience by a third. So like we went down to like 500 600,000 people and
It wasn’t advised, but the the ratio of convert went high enough for the algorithms to start tuning in at some point.
The pixel is so trained that we can literally tell Facebook target everyone in the United States and and we’re and we’re making sales that basically the same level. And we target. So at this point, Facebook knows who our customer is and they’re able to bring them to us.
And again, it’s about can we get them the right message, but then after that, it’s about
Can we expand our audience beyond that, right, because again, if the eyeballs have moved to Instagram or Pinterest or detect talk or maybe back to TV right we’re missing the people that could be benefiting from this, but just don’t know because they’re not on Facebook.
If this is the interesting problem that you you brought up and
Using the tuning and tightening of your audience is really challenging because the price to do so, can be vastly more and obviously as they look at said
The more you tighten the audience, the more of the algorithm, you’re leveraging they you know like basically almost an exponential increase in the price to do so. So because they
They, they have to do a lot of work, you know, and there you’re figuring out, you know, the effectiveness of it and it’s it’s always tough to when you
Like you said, Facebook, you know, Google, you name the platforms there there’s bound to be Miss targeted recipients and it’s it’s neat when we actually hear about it because then you can say like I
I, I know that these people shouldn’t be seeing my advertisement what’s what’s going on. And it’s this is probably one of the
You could probably give a class on this alone. I think that’s your that’ll be your next startup identity is like
A effective ad targeting you know platforms and how to actually get the most out of them, because I think this is a problem that a lot of founders are facing is
How do I make sure that I’m effectively targeting to bring new new eyes to my platform. And it’s, it can be inexpensive set of lessons, how
How did you approach like did you use another tool or another you know sort of a coach to learn how to use some of the targeting mechanisms inside Facebook.
Well, so the the targeting mechanisms in Facebook.
They’re, they’re not terribly hard to us, it’s just
There’s a lot of categories was the issue and this is before Cambridge analytica and they they removed the whole ton of categories. So when we got started like you start opening up the categories on on on things and like
I mean, gosh you you can select people that follow a page and how many pages are out on Facebook, right. So, like it’s kind of this big hodgepodge
And ultimately right it does come down to like their pixel. Right. So the first thing is getting your pixel hooked up properly right for us. I think the main mistake I made originally was we we call the purchase.
We called it registration completed because I was like, Oh, that’s a cool thing to call it right registration completed.
But, and you can have these books Elton tuned to anything but the default reports they report how many purchases have been made so
You know, about six months in, I said, You know what, we’re going to have to change this to purchases. We’re going to lose that past data. I mean, we’re not going to lose it lose it, but like this just like now whenever I show it to
To a to a potential vendor whenever I show them my Facebook, they look at and they go, well, it looks like you had zero purchases before this date, and I’m like, no, no.
That was the date that we switched it to purchases. Before that it was it was registration completed and then they’ll go, oh, OK, now you see right so so there’s that problem, but now
You know, like now I can open up the data and I can see it. I think scoreboards are very important. It’s one of the things that we use.
Internally as a team. It’s one of the things that, you know, for example, EOS traction says that you should be using the square the data component
It’s also something we leveraged within elephant learning. It’s why we came up with the elven age. It’s a one number metric that I can put in front of the parent or I can put in front of the child and it becomes a motivator. Because as they play it goes up, so
I think that’s very important. So as long as you have your key numbers in front of you, like, you’re going to start to be successful. Another thing that we ended up using that, I think, like, I mean these guys aren’t paying but they should be about to say.
Mr r.io app, Mr r.io it hooks into my stripe and it gives me a dashboard with almost every single KPI I could think of as important. My Mr are how much I actually collected from that Mr are what the refunds. What’s the number of refunds, what’s our customer churn rate what’s
Our lifetime value. What’s our. I mean, gosh, they have like
Maybe 15 things on there. I can’t remember them all off hand but like
You just go to this page, and all of them are right there. And that’s what it is. Every day I would just, I literally have it open on my phone. I just hit refresh in the morning and I know exactly where I’m at from top level perspective.
And then, of course, from there, right, we have to keep the scorecards for how efficient Facebook’s doing how efficient our websites doing
I mean, we’ve really built up an operation around marketing. From there, but like that’s that’s the key like knowing your numbers.
Being able to affect those numbers and then having some people around you that can help you bringing it back to Facebook yeah i mean it’s it’s
It’s basically a text entry and as you start entering in all the categories drop down and you can just I want to filter. More specifically, or I want to exclude a set of people
So it’s basically you’re and or set dynamics, right. Like, if, if you think of it as set theory. Right. And that’s how I think of it is like what are the set of the people in my target market.
And then what does the sense that I’m able to target using the Facebook demographics and then what’s that overlap and I want that overlap to be as big as possible. Right. I don’t want to have too many people in the set outside of my target market, but also who Facebook’s targeting
And this is the it’s
It’s neat that you highlighted, you know the the Mr folks in it because that is exactly it. It’s like if you’re
If you’re not tracking across the entire lifecycle of your engagement, then it can really, really change the way that you’re doing projections and application development. And so it’s it’s so important.
And I’ve. You just spoke with somebody, he talks about, we call it the smile curve, especially when you get, you know, stuff that has a network effect is that it’s the smile curve is that you get this very strong immediate use and then
It will sort of potentially trail.
And then those people will then re engage with the platform. And then you see them so they
And if when you see that it then becomes the second half of the smile. And in fact, that’s the best user because you’ve got them in
Then they found a reason to reengage and being able to see that measurement and that effect.
Gives you you know that predictability. So you can say, hey, this is how I’m going to scale, my, my underlying platform. If I bring a new feature. This is how I can measure the effectiveness and you’ll know especially with this like
It’s difficult to know how to measure the duration of effectiveness, you know, if you’ve got kids that go in
You can’t measure across five days here is it 30 days. Is it 90 days is 120 days like there are, you have to learn about how your engagement in the platform and
Can create an outcome that is both measurable for the person using it so that they’re getting the benefit and then also that you can say
Alright, so I know as i if i want to get 200 more kids in this platform or 2000 and then 20,000 I know what what my back end scaling needs to look like to support that.
Right yeah I all that’s important. Now,
Your, your background. And so I just
Realized we’re, we’re getting towards the end. And I don’t want to. I don’t want to have you suddenly have to run if you got a couple more moments we can i just want to explore. One more thing, if you don’t mind. Aditya
Oh, I don’t mind.
This is I’d love to get your advice. You know what, what’s the most challenging thing that you faced in building elephant learning that you could you’d love to share with with new founders who are thinking about, you know, putting a platform into into the marketplace.
Well, for me, it was the marketing. I mean, I think where I’d be able to help other founders is like through advice on technology because that was my background.
But you got to remember, like, I came into this and I had zero marketing. I went from a PhD program where I was a software developer
To now. I’m a software developer for someone else. Now I’m managing people who are software developers to okay now I want to build a product and
Ultimately, like when I started here and just like you said like, Did I have any help. I was consulting with a with a marketer, he wanted to do Google AdWords, we weren’t seeing much traction there either. And
A lot of the people actually that he was bringing in for learning. They were extremely helpful. We had a we had a brand manager come in and and we ultimately ended up paying him to come in and align the team around the brand ideas being effective.
We had a customer experience. Gentlemen, Joey Coleman. I mean, he’s been a lot of help as well. And like just at every step of the way, trying to figure out, like, okay, well here’s where we are.
Here’s what we can afford to do to better ourselves or better the platform to the point where we are now, where it’s well
We we we qualify for yield. Again, we’re hiring people we’re going to try to put team in place to solve.
These problems right as a machine, right. Like, can we look at reasons why people cancel. Can we figure out what the underlying problem is and design a solution that’s where I have a lot of experience. I think we can do that right but for example from the marketing side.
Some of these problems people have seen before. I’ve never seen before, and now I’m learning for the first time, how can I overcome this, and the problem is is every time it kind of has been you because the typical marketing.
Advice that might be out there. It just, it just goes away so fast, right. It’s like, for example, at one point it was like, Oh, you guys should be doing webinars. That’s what’s the hot thing these days.
Or then just as soon as everyone’s got a webinar, no one’s watching webinars anymore because no one’s getting information from these webinars. So now that that strategy is different. Yeah. The good news is you you
caught on to the wave. The bad news is you’re caught on to the back end of the wave
Exactly so. So that’s the hard part about marketing is that you always got to be inventing you always got to be creative and
I’ll just be honest for like someone that’s new to it sort of exhausting because it’s like, just as soon as I figured out the problem is solved. Gosh, I got another problem 610 months down the road that I just didn’t know was going to happen.
With this is the think also where folks can leverage other platforms and luckily in this this economy in this day and age, we’ve got access to
You know products that are out there that are services that are SAS that we can get access to
So I think luckily at this phase in in business building. There’s so many good options but like you said, the best thing you can do is find somebody else who’s in your
Ecosystem or or meet new peers who have gone through and and lived, these, these lessons you know they’re not always going to play out the same way for you and your platform necessarily relative to their experience, but
Entrepreneurs organization is a great example of folks that you can literally get in there in this they’ve reached a certain phase of growth.
Because there’s revenue requirements in order to be part of it and membership. So people very much have a vested interest in the outcomes from this and that’s a great
GREAT ORGANIZATION. There’s even, you know, simple as meetups and looking to other mentoring teams, I would, you know, I would encourage people to I’ve got a whole host of
Resources. I’m about to put up on the podcast sites just because
There’s been so many good lessons that have I been able to share through these stories for folks. So, and Aditya you’re going to be on that list.
Of great people that these are our solid lessons and and just, I applaud you again for number one, congratulations on the fact that you’ve, you’ve reached revenue in order to get to eat. Oh.
And and more than anything, just congratulations on building a sustainable business and a platform that can truly change the future for somebody
And and to do so at scale, which is which is pretty cool that so big, big plans 2020 years here.
Have you, have you got. What’s your sort of next big target for for yourself and the team.
Well, that’s a great question. Yes. No for us in the team. It’s actually to to to to try to slow down a little bit. I’ve got an advice from multiple people including some of my
By your network that I’m just moving way too fast. So like, to your point, that of what you just said.
I think right now is probably the best time ever in the history of mankind to be an entrepreneur, because of all the SAS solutions that are out there because of
How much you can leverage computers to help you to get this done without people we’ve managed to make it this far with just very, very small amount of team.
And now what we’re trying to do is put some heads into some roles, because like I can’t
I can’t honestly say that this is a business that was intended them to go out and change the world, so long as it depends on me doing the work. So it’s time to put it in the hands of people and have those people drive the company.
To some degree, I’m so obviously going to you know point the ship in the right direction, but until I’m kind of fully out of operations. This doesn’t fulfill the mission of empowering children with mathematics.
Well, and that’s that’s actually a very difficult thing to to discover and embrace and. And also, again, it’s
It’s so hard as a founder, you just get in such a mode where you’re like,
I gotta be Go go go all the time. And this this sort of like hustle porn, you know, lifestyles that you hear, but like, you know, I
I enjoy listening to some of the incredible motivational people just because it’s funny to me because I know. Look, I’ve lived the life I work in a start up
And like, it’s, it’s always there to be done. Like, if I were to 24 hours a day I’d find a reason to need for more. But if I work eight hours a day.
And 10 hours a day.
And do it effectively, you know, I’ve started to change my patterns of work to be more effective and create things that I can do that are scalable beyond me.
And it took a while. So again, a duty of the fact that you’ve reached this point where number one you’ve created a business that can now be
You know, can be into put into the hands of somebody else to help to keep it driving and growing. And that’s, that’s going to be a great chance for you because you’ve, you’ve got so much to bring to it. And hey, you deserve a break. You’ve done
You’ve done good things take a breather.
Spend some time with with your son. And, you know, so it won’t just be it won’t be apt time that we spend with our kids. It’s the fact that you’ll finally have a break and be able to spend some real family time and it’ll be well deserved so
I did, yeah. I want to thank you very much for for sharing some of these great lessons today and just congratulations again on on your
Growth and I wish you all the success. We’ll catch up again to in the future because I really do want to explore a bit more of like kind of them.
Your experiences. Again, going through EO and some of the mentoring opportunities because I think
I’d love to get folks introduced to you as well who who are are getting started, you sounds like you will be a good match what’s the best way. If folks want to reach you, and and sort of get in contact entity, if they if they do so desire.
Sure. I mean, typically it via email. It’s just my first name in my lap first letter of my person in my last name that elephant head soft calm a monograph that ELEPHANT HAVE SOFT calm. That’s really the best way to get ahold of me and
I really appreciate it. I’m always happy to chat. Again, I mean, this was this was great.
You know, like if I can tell my story and helps people. It makes me feel honored because I mean I got so much listening to other people’s stories over the last three or four years and learning from them.
That’s it. It’s
It’s an amazing thing.
And it’s I’ve always been surprised when I hear you know people and the more that we do this too is we become connectors to other things because
You ultimately will get in front of more podcasters and more audiences and then you’ll have someone to say like, hey,
The way you tell the story reminds me of somebody else who I talked to and you know you find yourself in a pure
You know matchup now to somebody else who was also a podcast guest or hostess, and like that. So it’s, it’s an amazing thing that the network effect is so positive on this stuff, and it’s
I feel like it’s like striver in the idea that it’s all positive thing. No one says like, oh, you know,
Let me introduce you to somebody who’s going to tell you, horror stories like no, no, it’s like we are all here to kind of coach each other through to the next phase.
And sometimes we have a difficult run or a difficult ride, but you’re there’s always someone there to say like, Ah, cool, you know, and just most more than anything.
It’s just good to hear stories of folks that are that are in the in that grind with you and unable to
Reach these neat milestones together and again for folks that want to get hear more great stories like this, please do subscribe to the podcast, you can do so through iTunes also through Stitcher. If you read it. It’s also very advantageous for us.
So I recommend folks.
Go in, give us a rating leave
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welcome and appreciated.
With that Aditya. Thank you very much.
I look forward to
Using the platform myself.
And really seeing, you know how I can
I can share this with the world, and I’ll
Make sure to evangelize what you’re doing for for kids everywhere.
I appreciate it. Thank you so much.