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David Kofoed Wind is the co-founder and CEO of Eduflow and Peergrade, a service for providing peer-evaluations and peer-feedback integrated into an enablement platform. David did his Ph.D. at The Technical University of Denmark with a focus on machine learning, data science, and educational technology and previously worked as a software developer for cBrain, Edlund A/S and at CERN.

We discuss how Peergrade was founded, the transition to Eduflow, lessons in pragmatic product management, and David’s personal challenge which led to founding a company.

Check out Eduflow here: https://eduflow.com

Connect with David on LinkedIn here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/utdiscant/

Transcript powered by HappyScribe

Welcome back. It’s another episode of the DiscoPosse Podcast. My name is Eric Wright. I’m gonna be your host. This is a really great chat with David Wind for fear of really poorly butchering his name, I’m going to say he’s David Kofoed Wind. He was very kind enough to walk me through the pronunciation. And David is a fantastic human. He’s a founder, part of the co-founding team of EduFlow, and also a professor and really has a great history on what he brings to the educational world around his work with Peergrade and EduFlow. Tons of startup lessons, tons of lessons in how to build a good educational platform. So this is a founder’s rich pool of lessons.

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Hello, my name is David and I’m the CEO of EduFlow and you’re listening to the DiscoPosse Podcast.

I’m really, really enjoying in advance this discussion because this is a passionate area that I’ve really enjoyed a lot of work in around education and collaboration and creating engaging, collaborative ways to help people learn and advance their skills. So when the name EduFlow came up, and I looked at what you and the team are doing. It was like, all right, this is literally the platform and the concept that I’ve been waiting for, for a long time. And I’m only saddened by the fact that I only just recently learned about you. So, David, if you want to give a quick background for folks that are new to you, let’s talk about your story, who you are, and then we’ll get into the EduFlow story and the value. It’s really, really compelling for me.

Yeah. So I think I’ll try to see if I can wrap it all together in one coherent piece. Right. So who am I? Is kind of the start, right? So I’m David, as I said, right? Today, I’m the co-founder of a company, but this whole thing kind of started as I was a programmer. I was one of those kids who started the program when I was little. I was thinking about this the other day. I think I launched my first product or app when I was in 8th grade. So I’ve been, like, 13 years old or something. I built like, a skateboarding website or something.

Oh, wow.

It totally broke. Like, I had no idea about security or anything. All the passwords got leaked or something, but it was a good way to get my hands dirty. I had a sponsor that sponsored a pair of shoes, and it was really cool. So I’ve always been a coder, basically. And then I went to University. I studied math. I did a PhD in computer science. And then during my PhD, I got a chance to teach my own course. And I always loved teaching. And I probably also loved teaching more than researching. I found out during my PhD I wasn’t really good at research, but I had this course, and it was about big data, and everybody apparently loves big data. So I thought I would have 30 students, but I got 150 enrollments the first time, and that was cool. But it was also a lot more than I had planned for. So I had this course summary where it’s like, okay, weekly written assignments solve all these big problems. And then you did back at the envelope of math. When you see, okay, 150 students, weekly assignments, it’s like at least 40 hours a week upgrading. Does not make any sense, right? So I thought, okay, what can I do? And I’d heard about this idea of peer review before Costaro had these courses with peer review. So I thought, okay, maybe I can get the students to grade each other, and then I save some time and they can also learn something. So that’s what I did. I sat down aside of programming, as you always do when you’re a programmer, and thought, I can build this in a weekend, it won’t be too bad. And here I am, seven years later, I’m still working on it, but I started cooking up this peer review product, basically to help solve this problem. And then what happened was that my supervisor thought it was really cool. And he was like an entrepreneurial kind of guy. And he said, you should sell this to somebody. You should sell it to the Department. And it didn’t really make any sense, right? I was just a PhD student. I was doing this kind of at work, and it wasn’t a product. It was more use for me. But he kind of pulled me to the Department heads office and said, David’s going to sell you something.

And I was like, I built this thing called Peergrade, and you can do this and that. And the department head was pretty skeptical, to say the least. And he’s just like, oh, what does it cost them? $1,000 per calls? He just looked at me really scary. And then I said, okay, but then I won’t take any teaching assistance because I have the product. This would be enough. And he’s like, wow, that sounds like a good deal, because the teaching assistant is more expensive than $1,000. So I sold a product now that I didn’t have, and I didn’t have a company. And now I had no CA’s as well. So I kind of went back to my office, and then I called, well, I had one CA left there. I think I got one left. So I called my old high school friend and said, I messed up. I promised to sell something that I haven’t built your program as well. Can you come and help me? You can be my one CA, but just call this thing with me. And then I’ll run the course alone. And that’s how we started back in the day with PeerGrade. So we sat down, we built this peer Review, and we sold the first license to my own department. And then it became a company. We had to make a company to send the first invoice. So the whole story of Eduflow starts with another product, actually.

Well, that’s the interesting thing that you’ve literally given, like, every Silicon Valley story, right? Is that I had a concept. I found a prospective customer. You sold on the idea. They liked it so much that they wanted to buy it right there. And then you go hunting down. And the funny thing is, you had a chief revenue officer who was just basically saying, hey, David, come over here. He’s going to sell you something.

There’s so many incidents that are so random that you can’t bank on it. It just has to happen on its own at some point, right? And in this case, it was like, I’ve seen Cassera do Peer Reviews. I worked on some algorithm a year earlier that I could use for this. I was doing a PhD and I had this problem on my own. I had my old friend, I had a supervisor who was super easy going with entrepreneurship. All of these things combined made this happen. Right. But if any of those things didn’t work, it wouldn’t have happened. Right. So it’s kind of crazy how many random accidents have to happen at the same time for anything to work out. Right. But that’s what most companies are born, I guess you solve your own problem at the right time, at the right place, and then it becomes bigger than you think you go.

Yeah, I think part of the thing that we have as a challenge in telling the stories of startups is often the compression of the time frame. And there are sort of heroic moments that occur like weekends of coding. And like you hear about many, many companies that they’ll have a hackathon and it becomes what it will be, the landmark product for them. Usually it’s just this idea like we’ve got this brand new thing we want to develop. And so they hack it and they code it together really quickly. Then they solidify it and all of a sudden they realize it was built generally because you understood there was a problem that existed. When the reverse happens where you say, I’m going to take a blank slate of paper and I’m going to write down an idea and I’m going to code something towards that idea. It’s very different than you having true lived experience and an immediate problem. So the speed that you had to move at was abnormal just because of that. But it’s really a fantastic story and that’s why I love the background. Now, your own ability to influence what the product is.

That’s where I think is also interesting for folks that you were an instructor, you were a student. So you really understood both sides of it. When you talk to other founders and other folks that are thinking of developing a product, that’s actually a bit of a rarity. Do you find that yourself, like when you talk to other founders or other people that are in the tech space, that the fact that you really had direct experience, that helped a lot, probably in the ability to develop quickly.

Yeah, it totally does. Right. It doesn’t only have upside. Right. It’s massively helpful to be your own customer initially because you don’t have to talk to anybody else. The first 20 features you build, just build whatever you would like to have in the product and then you have one customer that you’re really building for who is yourself. And it makes iterating extremely fast and communication is always tricky, right. When you have an idea in your head and you have to get it in somebody else’s head, that can be complicated. But you don’t have to do that at the beginning if you are the customer as well, you can just take your idea and code it. Plus we had our students, right. So the first four months, five months of Peergrade’s live, we met them every Tuesday for 4 hours. Right. And they would line up outside our office and next to me and just give feedback and tell me how much it sucks or whatever. And then we would fix it and we would see all these weird box. It helped a lot. The challenge is if you’re very weird, then you’re building for an audience of only you. Maybe you are so rare, but the world is big. It’s unusual that you are so rare. Right. But that is the challenge that you could be building for a very niche audience to just build for yourself.

You really highlight an important piece there that getting feedback. So that feedback loop in iteration and feature development, you sort of had a captive audience because they were obviously engaged in it. Right. They had little choice because you had little choice. This is the only way you could host 150 students at once.

And they had even less. Right. I just forced it on them. They’re like, now you’re going to miss this whether you like it or not. This is how I run this course. You have to deal with it.

Well, David, the one thing that I think of, however many University profits that I’ve bumped into, your interactive process is beautiful because it’s so much better. You built this for the benefit of the students to be able to let them do what they could do in a large cohort versus a lot of I find a lot of professors, their whole goal is to write their own text and then they can make it mandatory and charge $180 for the text so that they’ve always got 30 brand new customers every semester. Everything about your approach to it was meant to make their experience better and coincidentally make your experience better. And that in itself, too, is a rarity that most folks just don’t have the ability to change the flow of engagement so well.

I think that’s one of the things that made Peergrade work is, there is a lot of these tech products for education. They only win on one of the sites. Either they help the teacher or they help the students. But then often the trade off is kind of a reverse on the other side. What’s kind of magical, not about peer grading itself, but about peer feedback as a concept is that, it has benefits on both sides. It’s not perfect for students. It’s not perfect for instructors. But it’s pretty good for both parties. And that’s quite magical, I think. And you would see people coming for both reasons, right? You would see some instructors saying, I don’t care, I’ll spend a lot more time. But I really think the learning benefits here are big. And you would have some who snuck up after the worship said, I love this. I don’t have to grade anymore. Right. They were just there for their own benefit, but still the students will learn something, right? So it has the disk of magic doubleness to it. I think.

As an educational content creator, how did it shape your ability to create new curriculum, new content more rapidly? And I say more effectively. That’s really the goal. I’ve created online courses then, you know, of course, it seems like it’s okay when I put it down on video. And then when you go through the peer review process, that’s when you find like, yeah, we have the curse of knowledge, especially as an instructor, it’s difficult sometimes to step back versus that when you have that highly engaged peer review process, it gives you a lot of checkpoints in which you can say like, oh, yeah, I moved past the concept too quickly, or I spent too long on one concept. Did you obviously felt the benefit. And how did you know that this was going to be worth building?

I didn’t know it was going to help in learning, honestly. I was at PhD in math, right. I knew it was going to help with my grading because that was kind of obvious. I could just decide not to grade anything. And there was like 40 hours a week saved that’s a lot of time. And I haven’t read any papers about the pedagogical, psychology or whatever. That happened later when I started interacting with the students and figure out, okay, it works for grading optimization. Now, how do we make it learning effective as well? Some of the things that they kind of come before you even touch the student side. Right? Because you’re like, okay, we have to have them greet each other. Well, how? What criteria are we going to give them? I guess we have to develop some kind of criteria. Oh, you learn something. It’s called a rubric. Then what do we do with what kind of rubric do we build? And then you talk to the students and you say, I’m going to have you do a peer review. And they say, we’re not doing that. And you’re like, oh, no, why not? We don’t trust each other. Okay, what do we do then? What about so we developed this feature earlier on called Flagging, where if the students got feedback they didn’t trust or like, or accept or whatever, they could click a flag and then I would review it. That was kind of like a safety valve for them. But that also gave all sorts of benefits where we would have interactions about all the feedback. That was confusing. We build in such something where, like, if I give you feedback, then you gave me feedback on my feedback with feedback, reflections, and all of these things kind of came as we started running the courses and started seeing, okay, this is where they get annoyed. This is where it stops working. How do we fix it? And then we kind of pile different features on top to make it a good experience. So that all came as we were running it, which I think was super interesting. It’s a good phase, I think, in the product as well. It’s very interesting, like talking to students face to face every day. I kind of missed that, actually.

Yeah, I think that’s really the advantage when you’re doing product development that a lot of traditional engineers start to forget is the interactivity is what really speeds the process. It ensures that you’re actually developing towards something that, you know, be used. And it’s also just great, like to hear real direct, honest feedback, even positive or negative for you. Like, hey, I’ve got this amazing feature. I spent all the time coding it, and it’s beautiful. And we’ve introduced 17 new JavaScript frameworks to make it a really neat user flow. And then you talk to the user and they’re like, no, I would never do that. That’s not the way I use the product. And a very common thing I see is then sort of the engineering team or product management, if not engaged, interactive will be like, well, you’re using it wrong. I know I’m building the product. Only I can know this product as well. You’re like, no, why are the users so dumb? Exactly why do they keep using this product the incorrect way? I always quote that sort of Steve Jobs thing where the Apple when the antenna problem.

They call it antenna gates. And this whole thing is that you’re holding the phone wrong. I’m like, well, I don’t think I agree with that. A lot of people are holding it wrong.

We could probably hold kick it wrong as well. There’s ways to best use the product, for sure.

Yeah, because I was doing some work myself around creating, engaging and mentoring with a lot of folks. I mentor people, and then I would talk to other people who are doing mentoring. And I would often say, like, how do you find the way that you best match with somebody who would be a good mentee or mentor? And it was funny. The more I did research on it real quick research, not super formal. I would say they look for the skill sets, they look for their current role. Is it something that I would like, you ideally want somebody who’s done the thing you would like to do and help them guide you towards it. But the most common features that made it a good relationship and a good outcome was common hobbies, other shared interests, other historical things, geolocation. There’s a lot of things that increased the chances of a successful mentoring outcome. And so I actually built this app that was really mostly a dating app that in the end you didn’t get a date, you got a mentor. And using all these criteria, it was like, this is fantastic. I could actually match people up very beautifully.

And so I built this thing, and I had a couple of other quick features that I was thinking would be important at the moment that I shared it with somebody. They’re like, I need these three things. And they never clicked on the tab that I thought would be, like, spectacular. You get to go beautiful dashboard, and you can see this information. They used it anecdotally much differently than I thought the data would drive. So it was a good lesson. And then I realized as a solo non-coder that I was in real trouble. So I sort of abandoned the project, unfortunately. But it was a good experience.

Yeah. And I owe you the rest of the story. Right. So we got to the point where Peergrade is up and running. Then it became a real company. Right. We found our third co-founder, Simon, because I’m a mathematician, he’s a physicist, and we can build things so we can’t make them nice. So Simon is a designer, and he kind of came in and helped us. Then we went down the classical startup path, right. We raised some capital from some angel investors. We went to Y Combinator in San Francisco, and that was a physical thing. And then we raised some more money and kind of hired a team and so on. And Peergrade worked kind of, well, it was growing. It still grows today. But I think after was it like three or four years. We started to see the limitations to the product in the market that we are product team. We like building products. We like coding. We like that kind of we can sell our own product, but we’re not driven as a sales culture or whatever. And peer grading software was not a big demand in the market overall. There was some demand, but not enough. So we would have to go and create demand everywhere. It’s like, hey, you need to do peer feedback. And then when we convince them of that, then we could start selling them feedback software. But there wasn’t even really a need. So that was one part of what happened. And then people really loved the product, but they just kind of wanted a little bit more than what we had. Like, oh, you can do peer feedback. What about teacher feedback? What about self reviews? What about other forms of peer feedback? And what about submitting again and all these things? And we’re like, yeah, I guess so. We kind of tried to make it work, but it was already too late. Period was getting a little bit technically complicated at that point. So we sat down in the summer house in 19, I think, and said, okay, what should we do? What about starting over? And then I think it was April 19, and we came up with the name a couple of days later, and we had zero lines of code again. And we said, okay, we’re building Peergrade if we had all the knowledge we have now, we would start over.

So basically EduFlow started as Peergrade 2.0. It’s just like, let’s build it again, slightly more flexible, better codebase. And then over the next year we realized a lot of things. But one thing we realized is that maybe we should do a better version of period, maybe we should build something different. But we rethink things a little bit more and that’s what eventually became Eduflow. So EduFlow is a learning platform called it has many names, right. But it’s a way to run online courses. And where we differ from the 9 million other online course tools is that it’s a way to run online courses that are very active and very collaborative. And that’s where the story is important. Right. Because everybody will say they build active and collaborative and social learning experiences. But we have a whole product just about collaborative feedback that we took as foundation for Eduflow. So everything you could do in Pivot, you can also do an Eduflow. So there’s a lot of functionality that is inherent to social, collaborative and active in there. So the courses that people run in Eduflow today that you can’t run anywhere else are the courses that are much more than videos and quizzes. Basically. I think that’s a huge differentiator too. That the thing we’ve got a lot of these days. I’m a user of a few platforms myself, right. Is this purely like video hosting and flow, of course. And purely in the like, getting from beginning to end chopping, measuring, maybe a couple of surveys in the middle. But most of the collaboration is just comments, which is not actually collaborative. It’s like when people always tell me, they said, like I said, I’ve got too many meetings. They said, well you like collaboration so you must enjoy it. I said, I like collaboration, I don’t like meetings. And that’s the difference between comments and collaborative feedback. Collaborative feedback allows you to take that comment and comment on the comments and then take that and feed it back into a total course. Like there are a lot of things that go beyond just someone writing. Good module really fast. I struggled with it, you get those. So that’s interesting. But then there’s no carry on.

And that’s what we saw. Right. So we’re looking at all the competitors and seeing what are they saying on their landing pages. And 50% of them say we have peer feedback functionality and what they have is people can submit something, which means they can upload a file and then you see a list of all the files in the course and then for each file there’s a comment feed like on Facebook where you can comment and people write awesome exclamation mark. That’s peer feedback in their world. For us that’s like nothing like peer feedback needs so much. You need rubrics, you need careful allocation of who’s giving feedback to the room. You need feedback on the feedback you need flagging. There’s tons of things you need to take care of if you want peer feedback to work. And that’s the key, I think. Peergrade was complicated because there’s a lot of things you need to do to make peer feedback even work. If you don’t do all the things, you’ll get nothing. You’ll have no effects. And if you do all the things, then it suddenly starts magically working. And that’s I think another kind of underlying thing in EduFlow is that the learning processes you build and can build in EduFlow are very scaffold and very structured.

It’s not just like come and take what you want and go here and there. It’s very carefully, like you do this. What you do here is then fed into this other activity where you then see something, but it depends on what you did in this third activity, what you’ll see. And you can create these very custom learning experiences that it requires a little bit of like almost like programming. Right. But like setting up the flow on the instructor side. But then the learning experience for the learners will be like personal and very interesting. So that’s where we try to differ. But the challenges on the landing pages, we all say we could do everything right. So you have to really get in to the product and start playing with it before you really see the differences I think.

I would say that EduFlow is to online course hosting what Salesforce is to Outlook contact management. So while there are notes features in my local contact view, it’s not collaborative, it doesn’t get better. It doesn’t let me take that thing and do another thing with it, because you can drive flow through feedback, because you can create that customizable flow and then engagement. At our true rubric of measurement, it is really head and shoulders above what these other things do, which is purely course hosting, like video hosting. Like I said, it’s fantastic. There’s a lot of folks that’s maybe all they need. But if you truly are creating corporate enablement, even sales enablement, like true enablement content versus lecture content.

I think that’s super interesting. That’s very important. Right. Because and that’s also why no product is for everybody. Right. There’s a ton of people who are using the thing they want to do is they want to sell a calls, they want to make some money on Twitter by selling a course. If that’s your goal, I don’t think it’s a bad idea necessarily to do a video course, because if people pay for the course, whether they complete it and whether they learn something will not make you richer. Essential, right. Of course, it will be good if they like the course and they’ll share it. But people buy houses for non-obvious reasons sometimes. It’s not always trivial to figure it out. Right. And another example is Coursera. Right. The way they make money, if they sell the certificate at the end of the course, if nobody completes the course, they don’t make any money on certificates. So if you look at Coursera’s paid courses, there’s no peer review. Why? Because peer review is hard. Right. You have to write something. It’s very effective for learning. But learning is also hard. Right. So if your business model is getting people through the course, you don’t necessarily want to make it hard. If your business model is built on getting people to learn something, well, then the causes might have to be hard. And that’s why I think we have fewer customers in the category where people are selling online growth marketing courses or whatever on Twitter. And we have more customers in internal company trading. So, for example, Google is one of our customers, maybe the biggest customer. And what’s interesting about Google is when we talk to them a while ago, I asked them, why did you buy Peergrade and ask you for, like, what’s going on here? When they bought into it a long time ago, we were basically a school product, and I didn’t get it. And they said, that’s exactly why we liked it, because you guys, everything else we look at is like corporate training software built by corporate training people, and they don’t really get it. But you came from education. You came from a place where you had rubrics and you had all of this. Because in a University, you don’t want students to complete the course. You want them to learn. Right. As a Professor, I’m okay with stating half the students, if they don’t know anything, it’s fine. Right. So the incentives are different, and I think we cater more to the community of people where they actually have to learn something. So process you can build an edge of law can be really hard. It’s not for everybody, right?

No. And I think that’s the best thing you can do as a founder as well as immediately disqualify folks that seem like they could be customers but will take you down a very different path. And understanding who your real customer persona is. Google would be in hindsight. Now, it’s like they’re obviously a great fit. They’re dominantly, well-educated engineers. They’ve been through that system, so they would map to it very beautifully, and they would understand the value of that. And the funny thing is, if you thought, I’m going to go to somebody to sell them, Google would almost seem like the last one. Like they’re filled with millions of hundreds of thousands of PhDs. Wouldn’t they just have built this themselves? But for them, it’s not their core focus. They don’t want to build an educational product. They want to build products that will drive revenue in other ways. So it actually is a perfect pairing. So Congratulations on that customer, because they will be just by scale and capability. A really fantastic way to get into the industry.

Yes. We love working with them as well. Just really nice people, actually.

And this is where it’s interesting, too, this idea of customization, I think I mentioned sort of the Salesforce as a comparative. Right. I’ve even called Salesforce for a couple of small, like, say, real estate companies. There’s folks that I was helping out years ago, and they said, I need a good CRM. Well, I would call Salesforce and say I need to get set up to walk them through it. And they would say, no, you cannot do that. We need to interview them. And what was interesting about the onboarding process was they really wanted to qualify their customer. So I’m interested in your team, David. When somebody does come to Eduflow, what is that onboarding process look like?

Yeah. So we actually have two types of customers. We have self-service and we have premium customers. We’re a small team, and I don’t think we’ll want to be a big team. We don’t mind being bigger, but we don’t want to be big. So I don’t like many teams, honestly. I like working with good people, but I don’t want to have middle managers. Then I know I’m fucked it up. Right, exactly. I like working with the people directly. Right. And to stay small and grow, you have to do things at scale. And self-service is part of that. Right. So we have a self-service component to the product where people just sign up and use it. The last customer I think I saw on Stripe was like a Romanian Church. Never thought about that. Right. And never talked to them. They just found out they could use it and signed up. But then we have the premium customers and those who qualify more, we talk to them. And this is also where I actually turn down people regularly. I try to be very honest on a sales call. If I can hear they’re looking for something we’re not, I’ll recommend a competitor because that’s much better than trying to win a deal we’ll lose eventually anyways. So talking about, like picking your customers. Right. One of the features that we don’t have that everybody thinks we should have is payments. You cannot pay for a course in Eduflow because of the thing I said before. Right. That the people who charge for their courses generally don’t have the right incentives. You can still do it. Right. But you have to make an integration with another tool and then you can charge with the other tool and then enroll in Eduflow. But we know that once we start going down that path of charging people for courses, then we become a marketing tool and not a learning tool like many of our competitors are doing that they have a ton of features around giving coupons and sending out grip email campaigns. And it’s not really related to the learning, which is what we care about. But yeah, we talk to the customers in these early calls to figure out what do they want to do? How can we help them do it? If they want to do something we’re not, recommend them to go somewhere else. If they are doing something with us, then they should start. And we try to get people in small and grow with us. Often people come to us and say, okay, I think according to our plans, we’ll have 10,000 learners in a year, but right now we have none. And then it’s perfect.

Start with the free plan, set up your courses and start growing. And if you hit 10,000 learners, here’s the price you’re going to see at that point. But don’t talk about it. Don’t do that right now. You don’t need to pay us money before you have real scale. And for us, it’s fine. Because if they already started building their courses in our product and they start growing, then comes kind of complicated for them to get out again. So it’s easier for us to just say, like, we have a free product, go test it, go play with it. It’s the way to have a small sales team and have a lot of customers is to make the customers able to look at the product themselves.

Well, in looking at your tiers of the platform, you actually do something, which is fantastic. And I would use it to measure most of the people that have the bronze, silver, gold type of tiering. Your free platform has very few limits, almost no limitations other than just like the amount of course content, like storage wise. But you’re not limiting users, students, anything. And it’s funny that as you move into the paid platform, then you begin to sort of like segment it a little bit more. So I love that. And it’s kind of like the way that when somebody won’t post any pricing, guilty as charged. Right. I work for a company and we didn’t post pricing publicly because there was a nurturing process to understand the customer story. And so it was. But I sort of joke when I want to buy a platform or test a platform out, and they had this real difficult sign-on process, they want to interview you. They don’t have pricing. They say, look, I can tell you how much it costs to send this to Space. I can go to SpaceX.com/rideshare and I can find out exactly what it costs for it to send that. And maybe I want to add a couple of stuffed cats. I know how big they are. I can send them to Space, and it cost me exactly what it says on the website. So if you’re a goofy sass product, doesn’t have public pricing, I’ve got a question. What you’re doing in this onboarding process.

It’s something we think a lot about. Right. And I think the bad news is that it would probably benefit us, at least in the short term, to not have pricing. Because the premium plans that we have are significantly more expensive than our self service plans. And then when people see the premium pricing, they’re like, Whoa. I thought, but pro is so cheap. Why is premium so expensive? And like, I shouldn’t have shown them the pro pricing. So I think we could win in the short term by not showing any pricing. But I think personally, I never touch a product that doesn’t have public pricing. And that’s because I’m a technical co-founder for a small company. I’m the persona that also reads news. And these kind of people were like, I’m allergic to sales people. I do not want to talk to them. If I can’t buy self-service, I’m not doing it. Not everybody is like me, right? Google is not like me. They take calls. They have security processes and whatever. But long term, I think the way to dominate and win a market like this, where we have a list of competitors in our Notion database, it’s like two other products in there, right? There’s ton of competitors. The way to win here is to do something different. And one of the things we’re able to do is that we have a self-service product that people can actually start using on their own. So we will become the entry-level product will become your first learning platform for internal training. We won’t be the biggest one. We won’t be in SAP competitors necessarily, but people will when they’re small, when there are 50 people, they don’t need SAP yet. They need to run onboarding codes, for example. And then they’ll be like us, and they’ll buy the product that fits them, the self-service product with public pricing. And then when there are 100 people or 1,000 people, they’re already in it to flow. They’re already used if they’re happy. So they won’t ever go to SAP. Right? That’s kind of the goal. And I think it can be a winning strategy. Paul Graham has a good essay about being the entry-level product in your category. And that’s basically our approach, right. Premium entry-level pricing. We still make most of our money on the premium customers, but a lot of those premium customers start as small customers, right? They start on their own, they start free, they do $20 a month, and then suddenly, boom, they’re premium customer.

So Paul Graham, many of his essays stand out. And actually that’s one of the ones is this concept of and it’s led really to a lot of people that call the topic of value pricing, and you’re getting this touchless self service experience. And so it’s actually very smart to price it according to quick entry. And then the moment you go to this next level, HubSpot is a great example. They do the same thing. Now, I won’t quote their numbers because the pricing may change but it’s something like $20 a month, $40 a month, $1250 a month. The moment you have a certain trigger. And it’s either, like, number of contacts, type of email, like adding if, then else flow into your email nurtures, you immediately move to this massive price bump. But if you’re using the free or the lower tier product already and you’re really involved in it and you’re using the adjacent products, you start to say, well, what’s the value I’m getting from this? Like, well, I’m selling product. I’m getting customers. Then you attach the value to the price.

We’re using. Right. I love it. We use hubspot of course. It was easy to start when we didn’t have any money when we were young and when we needed our first CRM, we didn’t want to go with Salesforce. We had to call them. I actually did call them. And then we’re like, oh, but HubSpot is kind of the same, and it’s free. Let’s do HubSpot. And here we are. We’re still in HubSpot, right? Seven years later.

That’s it. That ability to do that is fantastic. And I think if you’re looking for just, like, mass market, quick turn, like you said, if somebody wants to sell courses on how to do amateur photography, how to do like, I have a simple course on how to do effective product demos. It’s very fixed. It comes with an ebook at the end. I have an interactive thing, but it’s like I set up a Zoom call every month. So it’s very different. But it’s fixed. It’s simple. You consume at your pace. There’s nothing more to it. I honestly don’t want feedback other than I liked the course or I didn’t like the course. And the number of people that buy it is my greatest feedback because I don’t want to really build a truly interactive educational experience. It’s meant to be like, I’ve got a couple of things that it’s basically a webinar that I’ve cut into slices so that you don’t have to watch a two and a half hour webinar and people like it. And it’s great. So fixed value, fixed price, that’s all that I need. But the moment that I want to, I look at corporate enablement products all the time and what they do.

And David, you know this pain, right? If they just take those platforms and then even worse, they give them these awful 1990 pictures of people sitting around tables and pointing at things. They’ve taken the worst clip arts. And then a little pop up comes over, click here. And they force you to interact with it. But it’s more for, like, compliance training and human resources stuff. Like legal and compliance stuff. That’s what drives that. They don’t care about someone actually being involved in the enabled as a part of it. They’re just like, make sure they take the anti-money laundering training every year. You’re required by law to do it.

Yeah. And that’s one of the challenges, right. A lot of the people who come to us to look at our product, they come with an Excel sheet in their hand and say, like, Dear Eduflow, we have investigated the range of products, and you’re one of our top whatever. Can you please fill out this short Excel sheet? And then I open it. It’s like 250 rows of requirements. And then I said, oh, there’s a column called Priority. Oh, it’s all high priority then. Never mind. So then I have like a 250 row high priority requirements where it’s very important that we can do all these insane things. You wonder, like, how do they do this again? It’s probably like they send it out to everybody. Everybody can add their own requirements and then they just sum it up and they generate this massive list. And then that’s how they buy. Like, how many points do you get in a massive requirement dark? It’s a terrible way to buy products, right? It will make everybody kind of mad. Nobody will be super angry, but nobody will be really excited. Right? And the way for us around that is if they’re already using our product, if they already know the value it brings, then the requirement darkware looks slightly different when it ends up in our hands of density, because they know now what they should be asking about, not all the other things. Right? So I hate the conversations that start with that doc, because just know, nobody’s going to win. Nobody’s going to be happy at the end of this.

I’ve gone through RFP processes in so many places and it’s like even just competitive. Like, how are you different than X? Right? And so what do you do? We do exactly the same thing that every company does. You hand them a feature matrix with Harvey balls, you’re on the left with all full Harvey balls and one, three quarter Harvey ball because you don’t want to be arrogant. And then all of them are like, one quarter Harvey ball. And then I tell people, when I do competitive training for my own company said, you know that if you just move the logos and switch them, that’s what the competitor will say. And they can say it because they’re going to box us out with a word they use in the sentence.

And it seems like non-meaningful things, like, great support we have that, the other don’t, like meaningful pricing. What does it even mean? Right? They’ll make up things that don’t exist or like they’ll just have vague terms like the best user experience. Well, that’s us and not the others. It’s like totally opinionated stuff. And I hate those. We don’t have any of those matrixes because I just don’t like them. That’s the problem.

Well, that’s it. It unfortunately becomes, especially when you get to a true RFP, the measurement, the questions become very vanilla. The responses become very vanilla. You try to nuance words so that will isolate you as being differentiated. But in the end, it isn’t. The only advantage that those things get is quite often it gets rid of some of the marketing language. We try to hammer it in there because that’s how we differentiate by messaging. And you’re like, no, use the bloody product, use the product and you’ll see the differentiation. And that’s what you’re hoping to get to. This whole pre-qualification process is sad that we still have to go through it.

Well, I’ve started saying no unless they want to talk to me. So if they sent over a doc, I say, like I looked at the doc for five minutes, it looks kind of fine. Are you willing to take an hour on the phone with me and figure out what’s actually important here and see a demo of the product? If you’re not going to do that, I’m not going to fill out your 250 row Excel sheet because then you just send it out to it’s easy for them to just send it out to 100 vendors rather than they hope they get the work done for them.

Now talk about meaningful work and stuff that has a greater impact. Your description of when you went from this idea of what can I do around peer measurement, we’ve got this great product, we’ve got a company, we’ve got a successful company that’s running. Then you say, we want to create what would become Eduflow, wiping the slate and beginning from zero. Did you think that you would do that? And what are the real sort of both advantages and disadvantages to you taking that approach?

It’s very hard, right. I think there are some easy wins. Right. You can start over on the code base and you can delete my old code. When I was programming, I didn’t know a lot. Right. So that goes away. That’s nice. You get a lot of customer feedback, customers, data, all of these things that you have a much clearer picture because when I started, right in Peergrade, I didn’t know what I was doing. I didn’t know it was going to be a product. So I didn’t even have a table of users because it was just for me. Right. So I didn’t even need to log in. If you have this happenstance beginning, it evolves to be some kind of Frankenstein. Right. And then when you start over and you know, we already have hundreds of customers and so on, you can paint a much more clear picture of the end. So the sign wires, it just becomes a lot more coherent. The big problem is that things take time. I think what most entrepreneurs do wrong is that they stop too early. It really takes a long time to get something to work often. And if you just go for long enough, random things will happen once in a while that will just tell you forward and what we underestimated is how much momentum we had on Peergrade, right? So we’ve been going for three, four years. We’re like, things are going well, it’s growing. And we think, okay, we’ll build a better product, then it’s just accelerated even faster, right? So we spent a year building Eduflow from scratch and they were like, okay, now Eduflow is ready. Keep rate is still going up. And Eduflow row is just like, nothing is happening. And we’re like, yeah, we just invest a whole year and it’s much worse. It has to start from scratch again. We had to get momentum again. And then slowly it starts building up. And now age, of course, growing faster than Peergrade. But it took a while, right? It took a while to get the ball rolling because we’ve gotten to the point with Peergrade where people started writing academic papers about, we started getting mentioned in books people were writing and like, that takes a while, right. To get to the point where it’s such a household name. We have all Danish universities as customers. We have most Danish high schools as users or customers today. But they know us as Peergrade. We’re the Peergrade people. They are from Peergrade, right? The brand becomes so strong as well. So starting constraints is hard. But you can start with a bang, right? You can start with customers, you can start with revenue, with knowledge and a brand and an audience, right? So it is easier to start the second time, but also it will still take time, I think, yeah.

Even if I think it’s sort of the biggest example, if the founders of Google left Google and started another startup right now, the only thing they would get a lot of is investors, not customers. Even though we know what as a customer of Google services, I can get from it, what we do know is as an investor, you’ll probably make a gargantuan amount of money in ROI. There’s that level of trust. So like, as a founding team, people are like, yeah, these are the guys that brought us something that we know and we trust and it’s got this incredible market momentum. But as much as they love it, they’re always going to still wait before they buy the product or they license the product. They’ll watch. And it’s always funny, even in stuff that I’ve done in tech community stuff all the time. I started running sort of an online competition. We literally did a reality competition for IT architecture. And we took like twelve people and then narrowed it down and made it almost like an Ink Master. We called it Virtual Design Master. And I would go to everybody and say, like, they knew what I did as far as speaking engagements.

They knew how I engaged people and ran these small community groups. And so I had this fantastic thing. I had all of this recognition. I have all of this trust of this incredible peer network. And I said, what we need is we need sponsors to have prizes. And every single one said, this looks great. Love the idea. We’ll be in for season two. It won’t be a season two if there’s no season one. And I need prize money for season one. And so it was through grinding and scraping, even with that history that I could have brought to it, it was really, really interesting. So I love that you’ve highlighted that as a thing. Like even YouTubers, right? They could have a fantastically strong YouTube channel and following. And then they say, I’ve got another channel. Well, it starts from zero and it may tick up faster as they’ve got if they’ve got a huge fan base. But it’s more than zero friction to move people over to that thing. And that’s literally click and subscribe. That’s the simplest possible low friction thing you can have. You are bringing people into a different product that has different outcomes.

I see it over and over also in consumer rights. So recently there was a housewife. It’s a big thing, right? They really managed to drum up a lot of attention with the help of their investors and reason horrors and so on. And then people are like, this looks like it’s going to be massive. And then it took a while, but then the inner mechanics retention started really showing, right? And then like, oh, it didn’t actually work, but they got very last before people started training. And now it’s slowly dying, right. And you see this constantly with famous people, especially who launch products. They’ll get a lot of attention coming out the gate. They’ll get a lot of sign ups in the early days. And then when the PR is over, right? Then it’s just a slow ramp down to nothing because the chain is too high. Why the people just disappear. So I think if your retention is good and all of that, like PR and so on, can help a lot. If it’s not, it doesn’t matter. It will just take longer for you to die eventually. The more you get up in the beginning.

When you begin, how did you introduce measurement of success in product consumption?

Measurement of success? I don’t know, actually. So we’ve always been asked by people in the old days like, hey, so how do I know if Peergrad and Eduflow works? Do you have efficacy studies and so on? And I was always like, honestly, I was just like, first of all, it’s complicated to run an efficacy study on an educational product because maybe it’ll work for Mrs. Anderson in 6th grade in Ohio or whatever. And then one word for the next person. So that’s hard. You need real big intervention studies. Second of all, what if it doesn’t work? I don’t want to run some kind of third party unbiased study. And then they published that period made to go sucks, right? So I was like a little bit hesitant, even though I had a pretty good feeling about it to do anything. Then I started thinking more about it. And then when I started to see how complicated it would be to do an actual efficacy study, we decided to ignore it and say we don’t know better than the users. But if the instructors, if the teachers keep coming back and they keep using this product semester after semester, something is working, right? They know their classrooms and they’re busy. Right? There’s an opportunity cost using one intervention in their courses, right. Using peer review means they can’t do another thing. So if they keep using that, then surely there must be some value they’re getting eventually. And this is actually also by combinators internal tech startup advisors. Like just talk about user growth. If your users are growing, something is working. Don’t worry too much about efficacy studies. And that’s kind of how we landed on it. We’ve done some and it works. So it’s all good. But we didn’t go all in and trying to set up some official study. I think it would have helped with sales. Sometimes they would have liked some kind of cool looking white paper, but for us it didn’t matter too much. As long as people like this we were having yeah.

And I guess in some spaces it’s necessary. Especially large like enterprise products. They have to have the sort of like the Gartner and the Forester like economic impact, valuation study and stuff like that. But it’s way further down the road and very different target audience. It’s that big enterprise buyer, but they’re looking to affect the PNL for a business unit in their company versus you’ve got a better niche and an easily measure more easily measurable value. Just like I said, retention. If I can get retention, then that’s where we know that if people are still using it, we’re doing something right. And now we can dig in further on it.

I think also as a researcher mathematician, I’m also just like a skeptic of any simple answers, right? Like my wife is also researcher and she researches in complexity theory in like the humanities. But the common thing at home is it’s complicated, right? It’s always complicated. All these companies will try landing page with like better, whatever. No, like it’s not that simple. Nothing works that simple, right. If I send more code emails, but they’re worse still won’t get me more money, right? Or if I do my support tickets faster, that doesn’t lead to revenue growth in itself. It’s so complicated. And I think that’s my stance on everything, especially with our product. We’re like a training product. Of course, if you train your employees better, something good will come out of it at the end. But I have no possible way to connect the use of Eduflow to top-line revenue or something for corporate. I could try and I can make some numbers up in Excel. Right. But don’t trust it. Right. It doesn’t make any sense. And if our competitors are doing it, they’re just lying. Right. But I don’t really believe in those kinds of things.

Yeah. And it’s a really tricky thing, especially talking about the educated founders.

Right.

You’re a mathematician, a physicist, and a designer. You’re the most perfect sort of set of folks to put into a room and said, you’re going to come out of here with a product, and you know, it’s going to be all the things. You could just go back to Y Combinator every year probably, and create new products. I love that. The diversity and the strength of your own backgrounds really are.

That also ties into the curse of knowledge that you mentioned. Right. It has many sides to it. One is like the knowledge of things, but also this idea that as a statistician, I did machine learning and statistics. I know stats are fake. Right. Most statistics are just lies, and it means that I don’t trust them. But you have to remember that other people do. You can have this weird bias to not do things that work because you will see through it yourself. And I think that’s a trap sometimes to fall into not selling enough, not marketing enough, not talking big enough words because you wouldn’t fall for it. But most customers aren’t like you.

That is a tricky one, too, especially when you’re a technical founder. You’re already like, I know this is BS. I don’t want to say these things because it’s like, but I joked with somebody recently and I realized I should actually quote this. So my podcast happens to be the top 1% of all podcasts. And it was like three different platforms that kind of showed me the statistic. And like, okay, this is really cool. I could say I’m in the top 1%. Well, there’s 3.3 million podcasts. So I could be the bottom of that 1%. And there are hundreds of thousands of competitors who have me. But to most people, you just say, I have a podcast that’s in the top 1% of all podcasts. They’re like, holy moly!

Very effective marketing. Right. It’s good pitch, and that’s kind of the challenge. What does that even really mean? Like, what is it measured on? What do anybody even have those numbers? There’s surely some power law. There’s all these things underneath that. Once you really dig into it, all these numbers are kind of weird to think about. But on the surface level, because I told this not 1% thing to my wife, she’s like, Whoa, for people who don’t do math, it’s like these things just are very impressive on the surface. Right. But yeah, it’s very interesting how to use that effectively because never lie. Right. But always like, don’t undersell necessarily is also a good idea.

Yes. I often tell people even who are in product marketing and engineering. The best thing you could do is go through the writings of Daniel Conneman and Amos Tuberski, like the idea of prospect theory and understanding how these heuristics work. It can help to guide you on these things. I had a founder. He was really incredible, such an incredible knowledge that he brought stuff. But he was almost like people thought he was an absent minded professor. He just had no bother with speaking. He’s just like he’s always thinking. And when he didn’t speak, it was meaningful and loud. He’s Israelis. He was argumentative. And it was a really fun relationship. And I remembered at one point, someone would talk about the product, like, what’s game changing and unique way we solve this problem. And he would finally say, like, stop, stop. Did you have a lot of friends when you were in high school? And you’d be looking around going, oh, no, I’m in trouble. I don’t know what’s going on.

You’d say like, yes.

And you’d say, Was it because you were unique? And you be like, no. Then why do you use the word unique to describe our product? And he just like, caught what’s an actual thing you can describe about what we do that’s meaningful to somebody game changing, unique industry first. Like, all these superlatives are throwaways, however, on the front page of every marketing website, right?

Yeah, unique and so on. And I think it’s also wrapping a few threads together. Right. It’s around, like when you’re looking at a product, trying to sell a product, and there are some things that are very important that are very hard to measure. If one of them is user experience, is it a good user experience? And I get this question weekly, at least from a customer or potentially customers, like, how’s your user experience is it good? And I always answer, like, that’s a terrible question because all of my competitors and me, we will say we have the best user experience. You got to find a way to measure it somehow, right?

Yeah.

And I tell them, you can’t trust me. I’m just going to say we’re the best, but you have to find a way to figure it out. And my only way to give some form of validation of our user experience is that we have a self service product. It has to be good in user experience. Otherwise people won’t start using it without, like, talking to a salesperson, whereas our competitors, generally, you have to buy it before you can use it. So they don’t need to have a good user experience. Maybe that’s why you should trust us, but honestly, you got to try it yourself. So there’s something about these things that are hard to validate. You have to find a method of validating them anyways.

I often describe user experience is like a painted room. When you walk out of a room and then someone paints it, you walk back into it. It just is done, it feels done, it looks done. So user experience when it’s done right is non obvious. User experience when it’s done wrong, very obvious. And retention. And there are measurements that you can have as far as the way that they engage in the product. But yeah, it’s such an odd thing to get asked, but we get it because unfortunately, this is how we’re measured of the words we describe as a fantastic user experience. Low friction, self sign up, no sales calls, all of these things you say in the end, it’s the greatest thing that you can say. It’s here, it’s $0. Try it.

Yeah. See if you like. I guess if somebody could come up, maybe this is a hypothetical. Right. But if somebody come up with a way to measure user experience in a number of a product, then it would help the enterprise buyers a lot because they could put it in their requirement Doc and give it a weight and say User Experience 30% will use this novel method for calculating user experience in a good way and then base it on that. But because there is none, then the vendor has to tell you how good the user experience is. And would you ever believe that? Honestly, that makes no sense, right? That’s right. So they should either test it themselves or they should have like a third party company that will just go and test products and give them a score, one to five or something. But that’s so bad. Nobody can do it.

No. It’s such a dangerous amount of influence. Even NPS scores are like, I know we all have to do this as an industry, but it’s like the NPS score is such a false because you go to your existing happy customers. I need you to fill this NPS survey. You never go to a customer. That said, can you fill out an NPS survey for me.

Please go to D two and Captera and rate our product. Now we know you hate it. Sure. Everybody has 4.8 or whatever on D Two and keptera because you only ask your favorite customers to go there. Right. It makes no sense.

Yeah. And the interesting thing about feedback, too, is it’s middle of the road feedback is tough to get. And what’s interesting about your peer review, I know we don’t have much time left, but I want to start tap into this real quickly. You either get edges of feedback, ten out of ten or one out of ten would not use again. How do you get effective use of four to seven? Like that middle of the road feedback? And how does that affect your rubric inside the product yourself?

Yeah. I never use a scale that’s more than three levels myself because I’ve seen the one in ten problem on Imtb and so on. Everybody’s just I hate it. I love it. So personally, I always go for very small scales. I think one of the things we’ve done a lot of work on with Rubrics is to make every level meaningful. So it’s not numbers like, how good is this? One to five. It’s like, how good is it? And then the five levels will be very explanatory. Let’s say it’s a video pitch, right. That you’re giving feedback to. They’ll be three questions. One is about style, and then you’ll have how good was the style? And then they’ll be like, the style was bad. It had some of these problems. The style was okay, it had some of these, but not some of these. The style was great. It had all of these. So it makes it very clear for the reviewer, am I giving one, two or three here? It also makes it very clear for the receiver, like, okay, I got a two, to get a three, I need to do these things. So to tie actionable constructive feedback into the numerical ratings is the way to make really good assessment rubrics, I guess. And this is maybe even more important, like feedback. You don’t learn anything from getting feedback. You only learn if you do something with the feedback. You have to at least read it. You probably also have to think about it. And mostly you have to work with it. And I think that’s what most people forget, right. They go to school, they hand in their paper, they get it back, they put the feedback in the backpack, and they never look at it. Feedback wasted. Nobody learned anything from this. Maybe the teacher learned a lot, actually, because they wrote the feedback. That’s pretty hard. But they’re not supposed to be learning. Right. It’s the students. So feedback. Everybody thinks about how good the feedback is, but nobody thinks about how do we get people to learn from the feedback? People totally forget that part, which is kind of scary, actually. So almost all of the work we’ve done since then has been since we realized this. It’s like, how do we get people to use the feedback? Learn from it.

Yeah. It’s the difference between an UDA loop and confirmation bias. Right. You’re just like simply I read out of feedback what I want to get out of it, and then I shed it altogether. This is meant to support my current feeling. Well, David, thank you very much. This has really been great. And for folks, I would love to actually have you back and talk a bit more longer form. But the Y Combinator experience, because that’s an interesting one that I didn’t want to dabble in because it’s a very unique thing. And given that you went through it and your team make up is very interesting to me. A lot of people could learn from that. So we’d love to catch up again on future. But for folks that do want to get connected with you, of course, we’ll have links to Eduflow and make sure people can get access there. What’s the best way if they wanted to reach out and give some feedback?

Yeah, they can always find me on all the social media like Google my name I have my own name, nobody else has it. So you’ll find me on all the social media profiles and everything but Twitter, LinkedIn or write me an email to even a day to flow a car.

Perfect. Yeah, that’s how I ended up with DiscoPosse, people. At this point I don’t even have to explain it anymore. I feel like it’s just sort of stuck. It was a band that I was in and if you Google Eric Wright it’s like Eze his name was Eric Wright. There’s a very prominent US NFL football player named Eric Wright. There’s a Canadian author named Eric Wright. I didn’t stand a chance of getting social media anywhere for Eric Wright so my DiscoPosse bands was the one I picked as my domain name way back when. That’s as unique as I can get. Well, good stuff, David. Thank you very much. It’s been a real pleasure.

Yeah. Thank you, Eric. Awesome to be here.

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Chris Hull is the Co-Founder and CPO at Otus. Otus is the first edtech platform to centralize learning management, assessment, and data for educators, students, and families. Chris was also named a “20 To Watch” Educational Technology Leader by the National School Boards Association.

Our conversation spreads across both the challenges of education, remote teaching, empowering students and teachers alike, and how Chris became an effective founder and CPO (Chief Product Officer) by leveraging learning and a great team.

Check out Otus here: https://otus.com/ 

Connect with Chris on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/chull9/ 

Transcript powered by Happy Scribe

Chris, thank you very much for joining us. I’ve really, really loved the idea of the problem that you and the team at Otus are solving. And I really want to kind of go at two interesting angles of our discussion. One is, of course, what’s the problem that’s being solved? How are you doing it? And kind of like, why is this an important piece and your place in the industry?

And also is a CPO, right? The chief product officer is an interesting title and it’ll be neat to go into the background of what led you to that role. So anyways, before we jump in, for folks that are new to you, Chris, if you want to give a quick intro to yourself and Otus and then we’ll start diving into the story.

Definitely. So I was a former seventh and eighth grade social studies teacher. I was really focused on helping my kids learn to the best of their ability. And I was really honing in on that problem. How do you maximize learning for each kid? I would have about one hundred and fifty students every year, and I started to use technology as a tool to help me do that and a variety of ways using. Online applications, finding ways to have my kids become more engaged, and I was lucky enough to be a coauthor to a grant that brought one device to every kid in 2010.

And I thought that providing every student a device would completely change my life and education and really allow me to impact every single student. However, upon the rollout of the one to one device initiative, I quickly learned I was pretty naive back then. I still am naive. I was pretty naive back then because it quickly became apparent that technology can actually expose inefficiencies within a system or a process. And that is what happened. I quickly learned that there were inefficiencies between collecting data, getting information about kids, we call it, articulating data from one teacher to the next or from one grade to the next.

There was inefficiency there and there was no system that really allowed the teacher to understand or get to know kids in a way that was really powerful and efficient. So I was lucky enough with two other co-founders to start OTUS. And we really focus on providing the tools to help teach, which is again facilitating, learning, giving activities, connecting to content grade, which is the ability to measure learning, understanding what a kid is able to do and what a kid needs to grow and get better at Analise, which is the ability to take information that might exist outside your classroom.

It could be national assessments. It could be passions or interests or things that may be the were found out by a teacher from a year or two ago. Analyze all this in a single place and then plan, which is our final thing we helped do, which is really to monitor the progress on initiatives such as like skill building or behavior or civics, or if you want students to be good kids, being able to monitor their progress while they’re in your district.

So with that, we have a platform that really focuses on the efficiency of the student teacher relationship and then also transparency for families and administrators into the world of their students. At the administrative level, we really can aggregate the data to look at cohorts. So a group of kids and then four families. Again, I have four kids who are very young. If I ask them how school’s going, they’ll tell me, fine. If I ask them what they’ve learned, they’ll tell me stuff.

If I had high school students, they probably might use different four letter words that tell me how things are going. But really we focus on a platform that is able to provide a comprehensive understanding of how a kid is doing. And by having that information about one kid, we can also aggregate that to the groups of kids so that if we need to find trends or things going on and we do that providing the tools to teach, grade, analyze and plan.

So the thing that really stands out to me about this story and, you know, the problem solving is a real disconnect sometimes. And when we talk about like I’m I’m from the startup world and from the business world and we talk about customers. Right. And when you’ve got a system and the first thing to do is identify this customer and in effect, it’s it’s your student because they have a customer journey from K to 12 and you’re their progression follows them through that versus I’d say a lot of the problem, like you talked about, like even in person learning and the general school programs is there’s not clean hands, there’s not transparency of the journey from that that child.

Like we we go to the paper copy and but like you said then it doesn’t go to the parents, then it doesn’t get shared between administrators. We can’t really use data to drive a positive progression for that student. And I love that. But like you said, the digital experience can add this now. All of a sudden you’re like, oh, I can see that literally and agreed to this child, struggled with this thing. And then we formed a plan so that in grade six, they’re in the right spot where they need to be.

But right now, I feel sometimes that teachers are basically looking at getting through their year with their class and once the class is gone, that’s kind of the end of the program sometimes.

Yeah, I think you hit on some key things, right, if we look at the the product world, if we look at something like JIRA or a CRM or I know I’m jumping around, but the idea is those systems are trying to provide insight into what’s actually happening. If we look at some of our eses and why do we use JIRA when we’re using Djura so we can track projects, we can see how things are going, we can identify obstacles.

I think one of the key things I’ve learned is many of the best practices that are happening in product are what really happen in the classroom to it’s one of the reasons that the the jump from the classroom to the CPO role has actually been less bumpy than I would have thought. Because you want to know you want to identify things early. If there is a blocker, you know, typical stand up. What did you work on yesterday? What are you working on today?

What blockers do you have? That same approach works with students like what’s your blocker now? Sometimes a blocker can be for a child. Maybe they’re struggling to get to school on time. Maybe there’s something going on at home. You know, it’s not always like why I’m struggling to understand who the answer the basic question of who is this article about now? Sometimes it’s more than that. Maybe they’re hungry. Maybe there are things going on, but there is the same thing can happen and product where you’re trying to identify is there a blocker and the processor in the system?

And this is where in an organization we have several product teams for our delivery side of the house. Well, if there is one blocker we have one of our teams is called the assessment team. And if they all of a sudden encounter a blocker, we unblock them, we solve it. It would be a failure of our organization to not share that solution with the other product teams. Right? Oh, this is how we unlock. We have this problem.

We are struggling with a PR. We’re struggling with something around that. And it’s like, oh, this is how we unblocked it. The same thing happens in the classroom. Everything, unfortunately, can be very siloed where if I’m a teacher and all of a sudden I have a student who’s struggling with. Complex text or maybe struggling to get engaged in a school if all of a sudden have a solution. It would be great to note that solutions so that if the student or another student ever encounters it again, we kind of have that in our back pocket.

And education does this in a really great way. I’m not saying it doesn’t. There are things called like places, but so much of the student information is siloed that it doesn’t carry on. And again, if we look at I mentioned earlier, like a CRM, like a Salesforce or any other one out there, we have things about the client. Right. So if all of a sudden our main contact is really into football, let’s go soccer.

You might mention that, hey, a great way to get them to open up and talk about soccer or hey, they really enjoy this type of food. All of a sudden it’s like those hints can be like to send a thank you note. They really like coffee and they really enjoy this brand. It’s like those secret things that you can put into a CRM or, hey, this is where they’re at in their process. It really helps continue the handoff within an organization so that you’re able to really maximize what’s happening for each person and client, customer, user.

They’re all the same, right? You’re in you’re engaging in interacting with someone and you’re trying to help them be successful. And that’s what we want to do for students. We want to help them be successful in their goals. And to me, that’s really learning how to critically read, write and think, having them become successful and what they’re passionate about.

Well, the advantage you get to when we systematize this process is that you can take the system and you can scale it outwards, right? You can now introduce it to other areas. I think the other challenge we’ve always got, especially, you know, we’ve got I’m Canadian originally. I’m living in the United States and we’ve got, you know, massive populations over massive geographies that act fundamentally different based on a variety of different scenarios. So they don’t tend to bring systems between them.

But meanwhile, they may actually have a ton of similarities that they could like, just say, OK, let’s just worry about the edge cases, but you can identify the cases if they’ve never seen outside their bubble. So you’ve you’ve really hit on a ton of interesting things. And it’s funny your language. You’re for an educator. You’ve got you sound like a great software developer. You’ve really seem to have tapped into both sides. And this is why, obviously the CPO is a great fit.

Now, when did you sort of decide that tech was a way to solve this problem, Chris, in the specific area that you wanted to hack into?

Yes. So I always thought I’m not the greatest technologist. It’s one of those things I’m constantly learning. I have an amazing team. I have a product manager, Zach, who is absolutely incredible, helping me learn along the way. Same with our CTO, Cory. They’ve really been amazing to help me learn because. There are these parallels, but to me, I was always a technologist in the way that I always wanted to become more efficient. I would sometimes say I always wanted to find the hack because trying to grade one hundred and fifty students papers is just really time consuming.

How can I save time but still do a good job? So I always looked at technology as a way to help me become more efficient, and that could be something like we’re going to use a platform to be able to better track something or to be able to better monitor something, or it could just be like we used to on our first. Technology we added to the classroom was actually first generation iPads, and we had a really simple problem, which was.

How do you put an iPad on a desk and how do you do that with twenty five students so that it’s not just laying flat? Well, my colleague, the other quote, the coauthor of the grant, came up with a great idea. And to me, this is always like a symbol of what technology can be. He took to doorstops that were like the triangles, and he created this little desk and we had a couple of pieces of wood, we had a wood shop, we could cut them all of a sudden.

Twenty five sets of doorstops created little stands on everybody’s desk. And now all of a sudden, they were the right angle. You could kind of type on them. And all of a sudden that was a source of technology. We took triangles at a certain slope and now we have these little stands for everybody’s desk and they could be movable. You could, like, tilt them a certain way. They were really great. Now, that was like, again, a piece of technology that helped do the job.

And one of the things I think has always been a lesson I’ve learned is if you’re just using technology for technology sake, you’re losing sight of what you’re really trying to do. That actually happened to us when we first rolled out our iPads in our classrooms. It became all about like, hey, look at this cool technology. And we were logging in to 15, 20 different applications and we’re logging into these applications. And it’s like we lost sight of our goal, our priority, which is helping learning.

And so I really like to look at technology not as what’s the latest and greatest, but what is going to help us do our priority or our goal or objective better. And I’ve been lucky enough to. Learn some of those things that have helped me in the from the classroom to the CPO about building a culture, setting a North Star or an objective, and then letting people really get there on their own, not by themselves with a guide, but not always giving them all the answers, because I have found that when a team is able to.

Discover and craft their own solutions, they have more ownership in them, and that ownership autonomy really allows them to thrive and succeed versus them going, oh, here is our process. I have to do it, and now it’s like harder to iterate on it. I really think the best, the best solutions allow for iterations because no one is going to nail it perfectly the first time.

And it’s very interesting, too, because, like you said, we seem to think like, oh, we’ll put an iPad in every student’s hand and that will that will be the solution. Like, no, that’s like saying cloud computing is the solution for business. Like it’s a path to the solution. The actual solution is how you leverage the tool, how you use it. And all of a sudden you’re you’ve got five browser tabs, two applications.

And in fact, you’re degrading the experience because now this child has you know, we’re really exposing attention, challenges and our acerbity on the right spot when we’re looking at. But it’s very easy for, like you said, for us to say technology for technology’s sake. And it’s it’s tough sometimes to be able to step back. And I guess we call it sort of the curse of knowledge that when you’re a power user of something, you just think like, oh, well, I use my iPad all the time.

It’s my I get on a plane, I have my book, I have my email, I have my three things that I need. So therefore, anybody could be handed an iPad on a plane and it’ll be productive for a three hour plane trip. And that’s actually not the case, but very, very easy for us to lose, especially with kids like because their iPad, when they go home, is a different, fundamentally different experience for what that iPad services.

So to suddenly give it a use case and a box around how you’re going to use this tool, it’s a it’s a really interesting and tough challenge.

Yeah, I think that’s where you have to have the clear objectives, right, and I, I know your audience is much more on the product side, but I always have found to be quite the the buzz word with certain people, like certain people, like I don’t like it. And I always have come to if you have a bad process and you try to put it into, juries are just going to make that worse. It’s going to expose all those bad things.

And that’s why a lot of people will tell you when you start with Djura, it’s always better to start super simple and then build it out over time instead of trying to overengineer it. And I think the same situation comes with the iPad. If all of a sudden we use your analogy about the plane, if you all of a sudden or let’s take the iPad and give it to a student, if you let the student decide what’s on their iPad, I’ll tell you what they’re going to put on it.

They’re going to put some really fun games that are going to be highly entertaining, but very distracting to learning. And if you kind of give that carte blanche out there, it’s like, oh, OK. But if you work with the kid and you say, OK, I think even games on the iPad are OK, I would sometimes have in my classroom I taught all the way until twenty eighteen. I would tell my students if they were productive, if they were productive, for we had 40 minute periods oftentimes if they were productive during the week on Friday, the last five to ten minutes of the final day, we would watch a funny video which I had reasons for doing, that there were students submitted.

So I kind of got to know the kids in a fun way. And then also I would let the kids sometimes on their iPad, take five minutes, play a game performance. That’s that’s OK. But again, the goal has to be clear. Like this is not the purpose of it. But yeah, you can have a game, but download the download the right books, make sure you have the right tools that allow you to like what you focused on.

We did a lot of writing, so we did a lot of Google Google Docs, but it really becomes interesting without that clear goal. Yeah, I’m going to use it for what I’m interested in and then that can really take you in a lot of different directions and cause yeah. You give somebody something for their plane trip. Hey, use this on your plane. Well, they might play solitaire all the entire time. They’re not getting that productivity right.

But they used it. That’s really by defining what the goal is, is really helpful.

Yeah, well, it’s funny you mentioned Jeeralang. That’s a classic thing we bump into is that the tool doesn’t solve the problem. Like, yeah, it’s like saying like running doesn’t cause any problems. It finds them right. Like if you’ve got something it will immediately surface when you do certain things. And like I said, applying a workflow tool like a JIRA, a ServiceNow or something like that, even any automation process is I’m a I’m a king of of hating being doing the same thing repeatedly.

So I’m lazy in the greatest way because I want to automate as much as I can. But immediately, once you have to, like, systematized that thing, it makes you stop and say, OK, what do I actually do? And you realize, like when I say I’m just going to go and grab this file and put it up on the server and that’s it, then it gets read by the system. You’re right. It’s like, oh, now I save it, I export it.

I add some stuff to the end. I do a search and think, oh, wow. And now all of a sudden you’re like, it’s good to visit because it allows you to say, do I need to do it at this stage? And sometimes you go to real first principles and say, like, well, what are we actually trying to achieve? Student needs to get content. Content is here. We need to measure the effectiveness of how they get it and how they use it.

But it’s hard because. Look, of any system that’s got Whalsay legacy as the coded system right intact, we always talk about legacy systems. How much more legacy and effect is our education system and not legacy is bad. But I mean, legacy is really just it’s been evolving very slowly for a long time. So it probably was even more challenging to suddenly come in and say. I’m going to put some questions to how we’ve been doing it for a couple of hundred years.

Yeah, I think that you get you hit on something where I think legacy is sometimes seen as bad, but it actually just become such a I sometimes referred to this will seem like a really bad comparison, but it’s kind of like the Titanic, which now legacy has that really bad. But in some ways it’s so big and it’s just been added onto so much, it’s really hard to turn it and become very navigable. It’s hard to move it around.

And one of the things with learning, teaching and learning needs to be more agile and not as waterfall approach because things change. And this is where I think one of the things that OTUS does help with and not trying to be on the sales soapbox too much. But one of the things that has happened in education is for administrators and the people who are kind of managing all of this. Their feedback loop is really long, it can be almost a full year where it’s like, oh, this is how we’re doing, this is how it’s going, and it’s almost like a full year passes like this is how third grade what what are we going to do differently for third grade next year?

And what Otus is trying to do is we’re trying to provide the tools all in a single place. We’re trying to collect the information efficiently and in the background to teachers. And students are just doing their thing of teaching and learning. But because we’re collecting that information and making it transparent to all the stakeholders, we want to shorten that infinity loop. We want to basically that feedback loop. I call it an infinity loop, the feedback loop. We want to shorten it because if all of a sudden we have these goals and we’re monitoring them regularly, all of a sudden you’re able to measure, you’re able to build, you’re able to adaptable.

And that is what other industries have done. So effectively, the idea is the waterfall approach. Why was that so problematic? Well, by the time it actually went out, things changed, things adopted. You misread something you weren’t able to iterate as you went. And when we get to this more agile approach or this approach where we’re able to do things in shorter, you don’t want to release once every year. Right. You want to release as quickly as you can.

Now, some people could debate how often is good for the user, but that, like the idea is once a year is not often enough. And in education, it would be great not to over measure. I don’t want to test a kid every single day, but observation, observations or measurement. So if I am adapting and iterating and able to tweak what I’m doing on a daily or weekly basis, that’s really where your best teachers are at because they’re able to find where the kids that find out what those obstacles are, find those blockers, adapt and then continue to see improvement over time.

And if we can get schools to. Be able to help students that way, but it also one of the things I think OTUS also helps do is it helps with the professional development. We had talked a while earlier in the conversation about how. If let’s look at a product, if you’re a product leader, you’re a team or a program manager and you’re trying to solve something, your toolkit has to be like so big to solve every problem out there.

The same thing happens with teaching. But if we’re able to pinpoint what a problem is, hey, students are struggling, multiplying fractions. OK, we have a very specific problem, multiplying fractions. It’s hard. What are things that we can do to help with that specific goal? Well, now, when I’m giving professional development to the teacher, how do I make the learning of multiplying fractions more fun and happening faster? And the same thing goes like if all of a sudden in the product world, if we’re struggling with the collaboration between you and developers and we want them to be more collaborative so that.

Are you are you are you X components are being built better. OK, that’s a very specific problem that we can figure out. How do we increase the collaboration when building out a component between a developer and you? X Well oh let’s do pair programing or let’s have we added a column to our job board where we call it UTI so that it’s actually being checked for that. And one of those things that happens is like, OK, now you can solve this specific problem because it’s not, hey, we’re having inefficiencies with our delivery.

Well, what is the inefficiency? What is so when you’re able to pinpoint it, you’re able to better solve the problem, but you’re also better able to collaborate and also build out that toolkit so that it’s not just all these general uses or general ideas.

You’re the teacher I wish that I had. It’s it really comes through No. One, Chris, the passion of the way that you’re approaching the problem, plus the fact that you’re able to see beyond. Like I said, you’re the the phrasing that you use, the description of the challenges and the solutions. Like you you you may not feel that you’re as comfortable necessarily on the technology side, but you’re fantastic compared to a lot of folks that I find that being able to bridge between, like understanding the problem and living the real lived experience and then bringing that across and then building a solution for it, you’ve really, really crossed that that river beautifully and that you can still see both sides of it effectively.

And that’s it’s a rarity because quite often we have just purely like systems thinkers and then we hand them user stories and we hand them things and and it comes back as the old even like the waterfall. Project Management was the classic joke. Right. They’d show the like the little eight, you know, caption cartoon. And it was like what the user asked for and what the user wanted. Know what the project manager thought it was, what the developer thought it was.

And it was like a swing. This all the kid wanted was a tree swing. And it’s like all these different iterations. In the end, it was just like a piece of wood laying on the ground with a rope hanging from a tree. It’s it’s really interesting that you really, really understand both sides of the experience. So how did that come to be? Like I said, because your background is is obviously an education and you’ve got a really and your education wouldn’t tell me that you’re a solid on the on the tech side as you are.

Yeah, I think that it comes from. I appreciate the kind compliments, it’s sometimes hard to hear, but I do try to understand what I do well and what I don’t. And one of the things that I have found is I was a political science and world religions major. I really enjoy learning how systems and processes work and how they impact the individuals involved and also understanding where you best fit into the puzzle. And so. I am pretty good at seeing the ninety thousand foot view I can I can really see it.

I can set I can understand what the market is doing. You mentioned, you know, the tree swing. You know, one of the things that we’ve been talking about is not always doing exactly what the customer wants, but instead we really like to bring out what are the problems that are causing something to occur. And the question that I always like to come back to, it’s a broken record for me, but it’s what is more difficult than it should be.

And so really focusing on the problem. But what I really learned is that the details do matter and building out a team to kind of complement those. So like our product manager, Zacky, is, he’s got the best he’s the best at details that I’ve ever come across and having him work with me and then also working with we have a great UX team and we’ve identified some of these key things like UX is essential. You know, the technology literacy in education really spans the gamut.

It just is huge. Like you have students who are amazingly tech savvy, like they can figure stuff out. But there are some teachers. I had to help install apps on their iPhone and there are others that could do anything way better than me. So it’s like understanding what is going to be needed, building out these specifications, but then also really relying on the people who are experts like our CTO. Corey is incredible. He helped. He helped really another startup in education really have the good core and skeleton and understanding that we have team lead.

So we have team leaders across the board. We have one for assessment, one for all of us. We have all these people who have these expertize that I don’t know, we have one of our our alums lead. His name’s Colt. He’s he was a great experience and internationalization. I can understand what the term is like. Oh, OK. We got to internationalize Otus. We’ve got to localize the product. Like, I can understand the high level, but.

Implementing it, I that’s not going to be my strength now, setting the vision of why we want to internationalize, we want Otus to be able to be understood again efficiently for all stakeholders. Well, there’s a very diverse group of families out there, and it’s important that education can be hard enough to understand when it’s in your non-native language. Let’s bring as much as we can into their native language. Let’s help this all stakeholders get onto the same page that fits our vision.

Then you hire the people who know it and then you build in the structure to allow them to do it and. I think that I’m constantly trying to learn, and I think it’s been amazing to have the team at Otus really helped me do that and they really are the experts. One of the things that I often will say is. Otus’s in education technology, which is also often referred to as EdTech. And I really don’t like that term as much, because I think ADTECH often means you’re short changing one or both either tools are super like, wow, the technologies really knew what they’re doing.

This is so impressive. But they didn’t get the educator point of view or to be the opposite, where it’s like, oh, man, the educators clearly. We’re helping develop this, but then they won’t be as stable or scalable or all of a sudden it’s like man who designed their UI, UX like it’s like one of those things where I really want us to embrace the skill set of both. We have about a third of our employees are former educators.

I want them to have a voice and that educator voice, but also with people who aren’t educators but are parents or family members. OK, what would you need from the system in that situation? And also the technologies? How do we build scalable solutions? How do we have data portability? How do we have security, all of those things? I’m not going to be able to speak to other than OK, that’s important. Let’s make sure we take the time to do it.

And I think it’s understanding what you are able to do and understand where you might have room to grow and then finding those people who can teach you and taking the moment and the time. I guess it’s more than a single moment because learning for me takes a lot longer than it probably should. I really have to have conversations, ask questions that are sometimes. Pretty silly, you know, it was one of those things just today we were working on some of our load testing in terms of next year, and we came up into a situation where it’s very technical for why it wasn’t giving us like the same results as we expected, and it was why.

And then I had to ask like two or three very clarifying questions because we were using a small subset of accounts to extrapolate over. Right. Taking a thousand accounts and make reusing them ten thousand times. Well, that caused our systems going to react differently when the same thousand users are signing it all the time instead of it being fifty thousand four hundred thousand unique users. Well, there was a technical reason for that. I looked a little silly as I asked my questions, but again, it’s being willing to know and the team knows that I’m in it for the right reasons and they’re willing to help me learn and then it clarifies it.

And now next time it’ll make sense. And it’s one of its venturing out. I like to say risking failure while striving to be your best. Striving to be my best. But I was risking failure and asking a question that I probably should have been able to figure out.

It’s it is good to have the humility to bring that question to the room, though, and this is something that we often struggle with. This is a human tendency of like, well, I’ve got to I think this is going to be a dumb question. So you hang on to it. And in fact, sometimes it’s people. Oh, OK. Well, actually, now that we say that right, we’ve we’ve reused a thousand accounts. It’s going to perform differently than if we took ten thousand because there’s a diversity of life.

So there are genuine reasons why that needs to be brought up sometimes. And the good thing is the comfort among the peer group and the team in being able to say it’s OK. Right. We often have this thing of culture as we talk about in team culture is the success in culture is the ability to feel like you can fail and you can fail with this group and be comfortable that it’s a learning experience, not a punishment experience. It’s it’s something that, you know, when you choose your co-founders and your team, you have to stuff you find out in practice.

Right.

Right, right. I think that’s where a culture like that’s the biggest parallel to me that really has opened my eyes is that is what a teacher does, right? They’re building a culture of learning with their students so that. You need them to be able to ask questions. Can I work with seventh and eighth graders like they’re not going to know the history of all that’s going on? That’s that’s not they haven’t had the opportunity yet. But you have to build a culture of understanding, a culture of community where they can ask that.

You know, I always had I had three guiding principles that I use everywhere from for my own kids to Otus to to my classroom, which where, you know, respect, honesty and then strive to be your best while risking failure. Those were the three. And it’s been interesting because that same culture building is exactly what happens on product teams or in. Specific components and we use teams a lot, we have product teams, but then we have platform teams, so it’s sometimes use of teams.

When I’m talking to external folks, it makes me sound a little little team happy. But the idea is like the UX team needs to be able to collaborate with the front end team and the back end team and our data team. But they also have to be one group on our product team, which is like assessment where we have multiple members on. And it’s like that type of camaraderie and that problem solving, the open problem solving and communication only occurs with the right culture.

And it’s the the culture thing is interesting, especially in the classroom, too, because, you know, in business, we’ve people generally have a long view of how they’re going to fit, you know, in the in the educational system. Well, let’s say you’ve got twenty five kids and one teacher. They’re basically looking to just survive nine months together. And because there will be a brand new cohort, a brand new selection, a brand new pool.

So the culture has to be discovered, evolved and then sort of measured for success and hopefully capped off with, you know, everybody feeling good about how they what they took away from that nine month experience into the following year so that when they see that teacher in the hall, they’re like, oh, hey, Mrs. Johnson, you know, hey, Mr. Hall, how’s it going? You know, versus like, oh, boy, I missed your whole last year is driving me crazy is a real he was a real hard nut around math.

You know, it. So culture is it’s very interesting that in the education system. It’s as a as an educator and then as a somebody who’s bringing in systems into that seeing that experience, then ultimately probably play out in data. Right. What data have you seen now through OTUS that’s kind of taught you lessons about that, the real in classroom experience.

Yeah, I think that I think data, you know, sometimes a four letter word, but information, right, is when you really are able to pull information, you really find that there are connections or correlations between things that are happening and, you know, behavior and attendance and engagement really do impact learning and. Having a teacher able to focus in on a couple of very specific things you need to get better at can really drive great improvement and that improvement can really be seen across the board.

And the data can really show that where if you have a. A teacher who does a really good job of driving engagement, really getting the buy in, and then you can put in the work to do learning, because to learn is an action that requires effort and that that effort is important. And so when you can really get to that real crux of learning and let’s say you really have been able to identify the main point in informational text. You’ll see those benefits in in science and social studies and all of these different areas, and it’s such a cascading effect where you’re really building these essential building blocks that really can impact their entire performance throughout the day.

It can even impact their performance and physical education if you’re able to understand informational text. Well, now, when you’re being asked to learn the rules of a new game, you’re able to pull out the main points to such a better degree. It really has been amazing to see how the data really does show that and it’s not always easy and I think there are successes. I also think the data shows that it’s not this like straight line. It’s not even like that in the other spaces of technology where you want that hockey stick approach.

That’s not that’s not what happens in education in some ways. A lot of times it’s like two steps forward, one step back because. Kids are just complicated. They’re just really something that takes time to be able to unlock and then for them it’s almost like, oh man, I had two great days and then you’re trying to replicate it. Well, now some a little different was something said on recess with something set on the playground. Did something happen at home that they if they were on a sports team, did something happen there?

And so. It really is one of those things that when we can. Collect more comprehensive information, we can pinpoint when they need something. Maybe it’s just a conversation, maybe it’s just. One on one time, maybe, I’d say we just got like today is a rough day, we got to be a little bit calmer or more understanding empathetic today. That was the word I was looking for, empathetic. I think the information can provide those insights.

And I think that we’ve seen when you really are monitoring things, you can you can get better overall growth, even though day in, day out, it might be a little bit more. Two steps forward, one step back. But if you’re monitoring it, you’re able to really identify. We’ve got to step back. We’ve got to really push forward now. Whereas in the past, you might all of a sudden only be looking at something data wise every three to six months, and then you might have missed something that could have been uncovered.

When just like many software or applications or whatever it is, you’ve you’ve got the consumer, the people that are actually involved in it, the people that ultimately buy it, and we talk about the user persona, the economic buyer persona. We’ve got the in the consumer maybe that, you know, the educator and then ultimately the student. So. How do you how do you bring those personas together and make sure that they’re all kind of in agreement on what you’re measuring?

Because I I know one of the challenges we’ve often had in education is this idea of like standardized testing, like, well, this is it’s a very distinctive and regional unique thing, but it’s not really. But there are enough idiosyncrasies and oddities and differences. Maybe it’s better a better way to describe it. So when you bring anything, that’s a system. Like, how do you where do you find the resistance’s maybe in people taking it on?

Yeah, I think this is where we’ve really we have an amazing client success team and they really work very closely with our districts. Because they’re the they’re the people making these decisions, we have a really flexible platform that can measure. What a district would like to measure, it’s very adaptable, so we really work with the districts to make sure they’ve identified what you want to measure. Let’s define them, let’s expand on them, let’s make sure they’re explained well, and then our system can then go in and do that and.

Because of that approach, I really think that we’re able to. Have the client feel success at the end of the day, our clients are the districts, but the districts are serving students and teachers and families. So that’s why we kind of need to incorporate it. But we’re there to that. We’re the tool to support the district initiatives. We are the tool of the district. The data is the districts, and because of that, we need to make sure that we are accountable to what their goals are.

And that really comes through a really great process we have of discovery of what are you looking to measure? What are your end goals? How do we get your path there? And we’re really shaping that customer journey with them because of how adaptable our system is. But it really does cause some challenges because it can be moving. Education right now is going through a huge transformation. The pandemic is one reason, but also there is this call for. Accountability and standards and these common assessments and this common movement and maximizing learning and districts are figuring out how to get there on their own in each person’s implementations, different depending on the state and federal situation they’re in.

But it has caused a couple of curveballs to be thrown because all of a sudden the district, we could have a plan in place and then halfway through the we need to change and adapt and pivot and then say, OK, we’ll pivot. But we might not be collecting. We might not have been collecting C, not because Otus can’t collect A, B and C, but because they weren’t inputting the data for A, B and C, so therefore we don’t.

So it gets into these things where it really does take careful planning, careful conversations, and really it’s exciting to be able to do it. But it is a learning process has been it’s been a great opportunity for me to talk to districts, our team. We have an amazing former superintendent who leads our team. His name’s Phil. He does a great job, his entire team does, to have these conversations. And one of the things we really believe in is we want conversations to happen as often as possible.

I’ll join them. Oftentimes we have a UX researcher who joins them to collect so that we can kind of identify trends that are taking place. That kind of I think I loosely answered your question, but that is the challenge is districts are currently. Providing what is their path forward and there is some changes on the way because educational administration is going undergoing change this past year for superintendents across the country, it is a very difficult one. I don’t think they were in a no win situation because they had constantly changing CDC guidelines.

They had constantly changing what are we supposed to do with the pandemic? And they were unable to focus as heavily as I would hope on learning, but because they had to focus on the safety and security and the well-being of their staff and their students. But it was one of those things that it’s too often the case that schools are unable to focus on the learning and they’re instead being distracted by things that are that are the administrative tasks that are important but are not the core, the priority that I think schools should serve, which is helping maximize learning for every kid.

And that really is the goodness gracious like of all things that we faced as a society in the last 18 months has tested us in ways that I hope that we gather solid lessons from it. And and it’s like I obviously anybody would would give up any lesson to not have had the experience. Don’t never of course, this isn’t a trade off that we ever wanted to make. But when faced with a and a trade off that we didn’t have a choice and know being suddenly remote.

I’ve been a remote worker for years. And somebody said like, oh, this is this is must be what it’s like to work remotely. I’m like, no, very different. Right. Like suddenly remote is not a remote work experience that you you interact differently. Hybrid is different. As we then go back to now bringing education into a combination of I think by September, hopefully we’ll have stabilized and everybody will be back in the classroom. But like, let’s leverage what we learned about the digital experience and how we can empower kids through some remote tools.

Because when I was a kid, I was in grade, you know, I was in grade school and when I went into high school, I got mono. Right. And this is like the classic thing. I, I missed a lot of school because I wasn’t able to go. And I lost an entire year of school because I missed enough education days and there was no remote learning. So that was it there. Just like you’ve missed too many days and so you have to lose your year.

So I lost a bunch of courses and then I went back kind of grudgingly and got my my last year done in one semester because we just switched over to semesters. And it was so now I think if I’ve got these tools, I’ve got ways that we can measure the health of their home experience and hopefully bring it into the system. But we can empower every kid to be successful for that year and beyond, right?

And I think that’s the thing. Right. And I I really am reflecting on my comment, like educators have done such an incredible job this year. But the task they were they were faced with was so. So daunting, I’m actually the superintendent of my students district, my sorry, my kids, my my kids district is also where I taught he actually hired me. They also use OTUS. It was one of those things we’re talking to him like the challenges he was facing between there would be a CDC announcement at like noon.

Then the mayor of Chicago would make an announcement or the governor of Illinois would make an announcement like 90 minutes later. And he was then tasked a minute after all of that. Well, what are you going to do? And I’m like, he just got like a bucket of information. How is he supposed to process check with X, Y, Z? But now he’s being asked, like, what’s what’s the reaction? It’s like to have to do that in real time.

Like educators and superintendents, they were they were facing problems that I don’t think anybody could have ever foreseen. So they had so much time and energy focused on the health and safety of everybody that. In some ways, education, like the learning, took a step back and it’s like, OK, how are we going to address? Because you made some good points, right? Like Bono or or kids who need to be home, like, well, now you can do things.

I don’t think it’s good to be doing them. And endlessly. I think there is a huge place for human connection, for being a person, for collaborating. Again, I have very young kids. My oldest is seven. I think it’s really important to understand, you know, but it’s also one of those things where. I would teach again, 7th and 8th grade, I had 40 minute periods and I would tell my you know, I tell people it’s like.

Teaching and learning is not happening all 40 minutes every day week, you know, five days a week, 40 minutes a day, that’s not all we’re doing. We’re doing connections. We’re doing culture building. We might be doing. Icebreakers, we have to get to know each other, we have to do that culture building, we have to I enjoyed going on some tangents if it’s going to help develop critical thinking skills. And it was one of those things where with everything being on Zoom, it’s like, OK, what are the expectations?

You know, it was one of those things that is very fascinating to me. And if we can really focus on the learning, I really think we can take things away that were we faced during the pandemic.

And that experience of being remote and on video, it’s especially for the durations that you’ve got to do it like I’m I before we were all remote, I had a great experience because I knew at a sort of slot my meetings and you had to do stuff. And then what happened was when everybody was suddenly remote, they had this unfortunate feeling that they had to fill this time like that. They had to do all these meetings, that they were doing ad hoc and schedule them and schedule them an hour long.

And so all of a sudden, we’re all on Zoom’s together. And look, there’s a huge like we got through it together because we were able to stay connected and do things. But it’s cognitively tiring to be looking at a panel of people for hours at a time. It’s we need to be able to, like, put the lid down on the laptop, sometimes walk around like, well, you got to do that. The whole fun of the hallway track at a conference is that you are going from one place to another and you’re like, you know what, I’m going to be late for this one because I just bumped into this person in the hallway that didn’t exist anymore.

Right. And it’s really, really tough. That’s why I hope we can find this sort of hybrid experience. And now, like, look at what you’re doing. You have now the ability through what you’re doing with Otus to take these measurements with this cohort for the coming years so we can actually then see what the the the downstream benefit are like, what was good and what may be challenges come up relative to previous cohorts, right?

Yeah, that’s inside of like what’s the impact going to be? I think it’s you also hit on some really big points, right? I think we we dealt with this at Otus. You know, the idea of. Yeah, I’m going to schedule an hour meeting. Well, I feel like if you schedule an hour meeting, at first you felt like you had to take the hour meeting, right. Whatever length of time you put the meeting, you just somehow drag it out.

And it’s like, OK, let’s schedule twenty five minute meetings. Let’s or. Let’s not meet let’s see what we can do asynchronously, and I think that’s where we are now, a remote company, and it’s been it’s been an interesting transition. And I think we’re getting better and better where it’s like, OK, we don’t we can do more impromptu things or we can just have, like we call them, hangouts where it’s like drop in if you would like.

But there is no pressure and or no video for a couple of days because you have videos. I used to be pretty good, I’m not I used to be pretty good at reading a room, you know, I did a lot of teaching. I think that’s one of the things you learn really well. You know, again, I had six classes, twenty five kids apiece. So I would be forty minutes a day, six times I would have to read the room.

I felt like I was pretty good at it. I can never read a Zoome room to save my life. I can’t avoid you. I have no idea how it’s going. And so I think that’s really where we can learn. I think teachers, they say like, I don’t know how you could connect with students to the same degree, because I used to tell people I loved holding the door open both for my classroom, but also at Otus, where it’s like that two minute conversation that time in two minutes, that twenty second conversation going in and out of a room.

That’s how you can really bond. Or it’s like that that that side comment you can make where it’s like, I don’t want to announce this to the entire class or the entire resume. I just want to have a little back and forth, you know, how is your kid doing? Or I know you play golf. How’s that going? It’s like, hey, what what’s the latest? It’s like those little tidbits that I don’t think you want to put everybody on public blast.

That’s like a that’s the difference between an icebreaker. We’re all here. Let’s all answer an ice breaker. It’s not the same as like, hey, let’s have like a little side huddle. I used to do that with my my students all the time. Like, we’re going to the side hall. We’re going to talk for two minutes. How’s it going? It’s like such a different energy and connection that is fostered that way. And it’s really something that I really going back to school for students is going to be important.

I think that the engagement was really hard this year in terms of being invested in what was happening for all students. Some are able to some are self-motivated. Some are able to go in there. And I got this. But the idea is, what about for the students who need that nudge or need that connection to be able to push faster? And I think it’s also happening in the workplace. It’s just we’re in we’re in store for some interesting change coming up here.

The the one thing that you bring up, too, is that those holiday conversations and the door opening conversations, especially with students, even if we say like, OK, the Zoome room is for X, right? We’re going to talk about something for an hour. You know, the subject matter. You know the agenda. Sometimes you can slip in and hey, how’s it going. But there’s twenty two people on the on the room with you so it’s harder to have those conversations.

So what do you do. You take it to Slack Wall or the chat area like. Well no, because they especially for students, they need to know that if you say like hey, you know, I know you’ve been struggling like you just sort of catch them in the hallway. You know, if you need any help, just feel you you know, you can come and talk to me or the team and they may at that moment open up or they may come and see you after class.

But they’re less likely to go into the chat area on software to have that open conversation, because there’s always a sense that what I’m saying is being recorded or seen or like and you don’t type like you talk. So it’s you don’t see that. All right.

I think the one example that really comes to mind is I used to always try to pay attention where it’s like, oh, you have a big dance recital, you have a big competition or an art show. You could just be like, oh, how’d it go this weekend? They didn’t have to always say anything. You might just see this like this kind of downward glance or it’s like, oh, that probably didn’t go great. Or you might see the smile of, like, all mad.

It must have went really well. It’s like you miss that and it’s like you don’t want to put it on blast because it’s like. You miss that, right? It’s like, oh, how the Arko go if they just like, take that pause and they’re that momentary, like their shoulders go down and it’s like, oh, man, like like tell me about it. Or it’s like you might have that like they might, but I’m on a slacker on a chat.

Good. It’s like, oh well they’re telling me right then it’s like you’re losing that moment where it’s like how’d it go. And then you could read it and then it’s OK, I’m going to put a pin in that, like maybe there isn’t that opportunity to dove in deep, but maybe the following day it’s like I know it didn’t seem like your art show as well. Do you want to take a minute after class and just talk it out?

It’s like it’s impossible to do that with some of the technologies and that and that’s just unfortunate. It’s no one’s fault. But that’s one of the reasons that I think. In the K-12 experience, it’s why. I really don’t think remote is going to be feasible forever, and I think it was it was a good solution for the situation we were in that was unfortunate and again, a global pandemic. But in really in order to maximize learning, we need to be able to have those connections be built to really be able to unlock that.

And students. And I think that comes from the teacher student relationship. And that’s that’s the piece that to me. Where that’s what I focused a lot of my time on when I was in the classroom, I really wanted to get to know my students. I’ve been lucky enough to stay in touch with several of them, even after I’ve left education and they’re now out of college. It’s like makes me feel very old. But the idea is like that type of connection, it allows them to achieve great things.

And I really. That was what Otus was built to do. It was built to be able to create this collection of information so that you could get to that moment of connection sooner. It’s not going to be done by the system itself. Otus isn’t going to have this machine learning that’s going to unlock every kid for you. But the idea is it’s going to have information to give you a jumpstart on this kid, really into soccer or this kid is all about, damn.

So this kid’s all about Archos or hey, this one’s all about music. Oh, cool. Like that gives me a head instead of me fishing, trying to figure it out. It gives me a head, gives me a jumpstart. And that’s that really can be a huge way to get the connection going.

These are the signals that, like you said, there’s a lot of non-verbal stuff, there’s a lot of things that we experience acutely through the year that you don’t necessarily pass on because it’s like but just like a CRM, you say like, oh, I just found out this guy’s got his kids are going to Brown next year. And, you know, it’s like, see, you you put those things in there and then it becomes a talking point, a reminder later on.

And although it’s in the context of like warming the sales relationship, what it really is, is building a relationship and creating that comfort. One thing that’s interesting that I’ve you is I’m not sure how to even measure it right now that we’ve gone through Zoom and we’re doing digital platforms, there’s a real power of the democratization of it, right. That everybody’s kind of got the same access. We everybody is from the chest up. Right. Like, that’s kind of our view of the world.

But it also takes away things. Because if I were to stand next to you, Chris, I happen to know that you’re a rather tall gentleman. So but you and I looked like we’re about the same height. In fact, I’m a couple inches taller than you on camera. But that doesn’t come through when we’re digital. Right. And one of the fellows I work with, I worked with him for four months through this experience, and I helped him with onboarding things.

And then they showed I saw his picture on LinkedIn and it was the first time I’d ever seen him from the above or below the shoulders. And he mentioned that he was a veteran. And then I found out that he had lost his legs from the middle of his thigh down in in battle. And like that, I don’t know that it’s like plus or minus that that wasn’t discovered. But that’s a very unique and distinct thing that he and I actually had great conversation.

But after the fact. But like, I never would have found that out until I because I only see him from the shoulders up like that. Just it’s a very weird experience now, like especially students. Same thing is like we probably open up opportunity with students, which is positive, but then we take away some of that uniqueness that we can really, like, bring in like nurture and bring into every year as they go through the learning journey.

And I think, as you said, it’s just a it’s a very small glimpse into the world when you’re only doing a zoom as you might, I’m six, seven. I don’t think anybody on this would have any idea that our idea is like there are things that make people unique, that your story about the veteran is very touching and the idea of like that’s who it is. But students express themselves and so many unique ways. And I actually just ran into a former student who’s going to college and he was actually making money being a he was working for Dauda.

Or maybe he was just delivering pizzas for Malnati’s, we eat a lot of Malnati’s cheddar, that is my former coach Malnati, but he was we were talking it was funny because he came up and I came up to my he didn’t know it was me. Like, I thought it could be you because of the name. I’m like, he’s like, oh my. I’m like, how are you doing? In seventh grade he wear shorts every day.

Shorts. He wore the same athletic. It was either blue or black shorts every day, one or the other. And it was funny because he goes, how did that all the way through high school I was like, I’m like, well now you’re pants. It’s like now I’m an adult. And I was laughing because it was like such a small, unique moment. Right. But it was like that perception was like that’s what he wore. There are other people like, you know, I had students who would love to draw one of the things I did for my.

From my classroom was I actually painted my desks with whiteboard paint one year because I really believe that, like doodling and drawing and I had a couple students who. They just would draw the most amazing they just were amazing artists, and it was like I would never have noticed that if were on a zoom, right. Like I would I would never have caught what I’m doing, you know, drawing down here, doing. And it’s like those are the connections that really can unlock that next level.

And I feel like I’m a broken record here, but that’s really how you can. Pushed through the difficulty that can happen, the obstacles, the Blocher’s, you can push through that when you get to know somebody.

And really this is why, like I said, I, I when I saw you come up as a guest, I thought, this is it. You can I’m passionate about the potential for technology to affect human life in some small way every day. Right. That’s I do mentoring. I do lots of things. And I’m using, you know, tech where possible to augment that. And the fact that you’ve literally said I’m going to throw we’re going to throw this awful K-12 experience towards this and measure effectively to empower kids and empower education, then this is something that it’s a long tale to write as a founder.

Sometimes this is not a quick win. So for a lot of folks that are looking like every founder story doesn’t have to be the hockey stick of, you know, I grabbed crabbiness some seed and jumped into a serious AI and I went to 10 million. And we’re like, I wish we can affect human lives in incredible ways by doing this stuff. And this is where technology is such a such an enabler. And I really applaud what you’re doing.

No, I appreciate it. It’s definitely it was hard to leave the classroom, but I definitely do feel like I’m still having an impact on helping teachers do. They’re the most amazing job. I just have so much admiration and and. Just praise for them for what they do on a daily basis, and same with parasite families. I like to say families who are helping with kids are just they’re doing the most difficult task. I’m often at wit’s end with my four, but.

Well, that’s and it’s that’s the thing is we no one’s perfect all the time. Right. And that’s why we can use these things to, like you said, every every kid, every student, every teacher, principal, character, anybody who’s involved in the educational system, they are they can hit those moments. We’re like we’re going to be a little different for the next couple of days because something happened. And the fact that you can take that and sort of bring it through the experience and then because sometimes it’s longer form, right?

Death in the family, you discover something about about a child that’s very positive. That was kind of a hidden treat. And now you can bring that to that next level for them to help them on either side of how it goes. One thing that’s interesting and I know is, of course, you’ve got the the the privacy badges. Like, we didn’t go deep into this and we don’t have to necessarily, but like the data that you’ve got to gather.

I’m curious, Chris, was there any resistance challenges around the fact that you have to be able to collect a certain amount of of potentially personal data as part of this process?

Yeah, so one of the things that was interesting about the whole what data are we going to collect? That’s where, you know, to our previous point in the conversation, that’s where the districts are really deciding. And it’s not our data and it’s really the district’s data and it’s being collected somewhere. So why wouldn’t we collect it in a single place and by collecting stuff that’s already been collected? We haven’t had that. That obstacle has not been as high.

It’s like, why are you collecting this? Well, you already were collecting it. Now we’re going to put it into a place that’s more visible and more transparent. So that’s been helpful. But it does get in conversations. There’s some data that people don’t want to put into because we do believe in. And when I say visibility, it’s visibility to people who have permission to see it. So it’s not just like everyone in the world can see it, but there is this idea of like.

It starts the conversation that’s really important, one of the mistakes I made was I thought everybody would want to be very transparent. I think that one of the things that really can unlock real growth is getting everybody on the same page with the same information. But I think there is. A process to get there. They want to start and say, let’s start with this, let’s problem solve that amount of data. Now let’s get to the next level.

And so we have districts who’ve been with us for several years. They’ve unlocked so much through the time. But it’s also something that’s a progression. You don’t want to just overflow people with like reams and reams of data. So that’s been a conversation. What’s going to be helpful? What’s going to help you problem solve? And we can grow with you. We can grow with you and help you achieve what you want to do.

It’s it is the the good thing is at this point in sort of society’s understanding, I think we’ve like you said, this is data that’s being collected elsewhere anyways. We’re just bringing it and and looking for signals within it to get positive benefit. So I think especially at this range, you know, K to 12 is such an ideal spot where so much growth and learning can happen, the more we can do to speed and empower that. I think very rare cases where people wouldn’t want to know that their data is being held somewhere.

Like you said, it’s it’s not that it’s not being held anywhere. It’s always been somewhere.

And we put we we take it we have we’re part of the data privacy pledges and we would take that very seriously. We want to treat data with the utmost respect and we try to do we try to be on the cutting edge of everything to make it as secure as possible.

Well, you’re on the cutting edge of something fantastic, Chris, it’s been a real pleasure to share time with you and for folks, of course, we’ll have links in the show notes if they want to find out more. So Otus’s ot us dot com. And if anybody wants to reach out to you directly, Chris, and have a chat, what’s the best way that they could do that?

LinkedIn is probably the best way I’m on LinkedIn. Also, my email is pretty easy to figure out. It’s Chris Chris at Otus dot com and I definitely welcome the opportunity to continue learning and appreciate the conversation today. Eric, it’s been absolutely wonderful. You have a terrific podcast. I’ve been lucky enough to subscribe in preparation for this, and you do it well.

Thank you very much. I appreciate that. There you go, folks. This is it. You just learn some incredible lessons, Chris. It’s been a real pleasure.

Thank you very much.