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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.