Andrew: Hey there, freedom fighters. My name is Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of Mixergy, where I interview entrepreneurs about how they built their businesses for an audience of real entrepreneurs who are building their businesses. Um, usually I hate to say it. I don’t spend much time talking to the guests about the product.
I care more about the business. For some reason, I’ve gotten it in my head. That it’s more interesting to find out how an entrepreneur. Got her, her product market fit or found her customers or, or hired or, and so on and why they sold it. Um, I think that’s, there’s a universal set of lessons that come from that I have been no in this, uh, case talking to Vivian Shen the founder of Juni about her product.
Like the whole time before we even started doing this interview, I didn’t spend much time asking about our revenue. I didn’t spend much time asking her about customers and getting information about how she got here. And the reason is that what Juni does is it’s. It’s a platform where kids can get one-on-one one help with an instructor in addition to other online help.
And I’ve just been fascinated by the options that are emerging for education. I used to come playing that, going to school sucked. People used to say, say, well, this is what it is. Stop putting them down and tell us what else to do and shoot truthfully. I didn’t think that online would be a viable option for younger kids.
As soon as the pandemic hit all these different options that I didn’t know existed, both flourished and became more, more prominent. And so I started to be aware of them and I realized that there are now more options. If we hated school growing up, we don’t have to pass that onto our kids. We can find other options for them.
And what Juni does is it says these options don’t have to be. Your kid talking to an iPad, doesn’t have to be your kid in a room full of strangers that they don’t know on zoom. It could be a one-on-one interaction with a teacher. They get their point of view and, and teaches them based on the way that they like to learn.
And this would have seemed like an interesting, nice idea years ago, but. I feel that, uh, especially now after the COVID pandemic with schools being shut for about a year, that now people are starting to see this makes sense and being, and they’re willing to put their kids into programs like this. And I was talking to Vivian Chen about maybe getting my son in and how that would work.
All right. We’re going to find out, um, not just about the product, how she got here, how difficult it was to progress in a world where people didn’t think this was possible, but, um, I’m going to find out also about. Like what, where she came up with the idea how she got her customers and all the usual stuff, and we can do it.
Thanks to two phenomenal sponsors. The first, if you’re hosting a website, go to hostgator.com/mixergy. The second, if you need email marketing done, right. I’m going to tell you to go to send in blue.com/mixergy, and I’ll explain later why they’re both great fits for you. But first Vivian,
Vivian: And you’re really excited to be here as well. Thank you so much for having me.
Andrew: uh, let’s go into business right away and then we’ll get into product. What, uh, what’s your revenue. Give me a sense of how big you are,
Vivian: Yeah, so unfortunately you can’t share the exact numbers, but we grew, uh, over 200% in the last year and it’s been a really exciting time for the company. Obviously COVID has accelerated things, but we were growing around that clip prior as well.
Andrew: where were you before you are a million dollars before over a million dollars before COVID
Vivian: Correct. Uh, I would say before COVID in the low, low millions
Andrew: millions and then it
Vivian: know, uh, quite, yeah, quite different. Yeah.
Andrew: So then if you were already doubling before, and then you doubled, after kids were sent home and parents went online to look for other options, why didn’t you see an even bigger increase?
Vivian: that’s a good question. I mean, I, you know, I think there was a lot going on in the market, but we, we grew ahead of the market pace for sure. And, um, at the same time, I think. There’s different options for different people, right? There’s a ton of other products that work really well for certain families.
And we work really well for, for others. Um, I think that, uh, you know, you’ll see, you’ll see that COVID a lot of different companies grew really quickly and others were unfortunately not able to. And so we were really lucky to be part of that first pack. Um, and you know, scaling was a challenge that, that we, uh, rose to, but definitely could have also done that a little more too.
Andrew: Yeah. That is a challenge, right? That you can’t just add more students into an existing class, the way that our school could, for example, you need one-on-one. Um, and if it’s one-on-one you need a lot more vetting. You need a lot more, um, um, uh, you, you need a lot more teachers to do this. Let me see if I understand it.
I think that I’ve had trouble reading your website and understanding what would come with these packages. It seems like. Every package comes with one session per week or four per month with, with an in-person teacher and then extra sessions that are not with an in-person teacher. Is that right?
Vivian: So slightly different. Uh, the different packages are actually structured a little bit more around the number of subjects that you take. Um, but the, the common base package is one private class per week. That’s 50 minutes. And then you also get homework access to our events, our platform. Uh, for, you know, students to create all of their projects and fun stuff, which I can get into.
And then you can add additional sessions onto that after afterwards as well. So typically the, uh, you know, there are some families who will do three, six sessions a week with us, um, and you know, really kind of go all in a lot of these homeschooler types, um, who really believe that. You can work one-on-one with an instructor and have that be more effective than a few hours in a classroom with 30 kids or so.
Um, and so those are the folks who will do those additional sessions.
Andrew: What do you think the vision is for the future of education? Is it, and we’ll get into how you got here, but is it that. You see that kids will have homeschooling done by remote teachers and remote classes and they’ll kind of pick and choose different things. So maybe they might do an out school for, for genealogy, because that’s more of a nice to have for a second grader, but they’ll do reading and math with Juni because that’s something that they want more direct access and more, more customized learning and do it all from home or from pods or what do you think.
Vivian: Okay, exactly. I think it’s going to be really exciting because it’s going to be a bit of a hodgepodge. Um, I think a lot about, uh, actually the fitness industry and how there’s kind of something for everyone and people also piece together. They’re on a routine that works out really well for them. So they’ll do some, in-person some remote, uh, you know, folks obviously have Peloton is now, uh, but it’s just varied.
And so I think.
education is going the same way, where you have kind of the discovery phase of certain areas where you just want to get kids. Excited inspired to pursue something a little bit more. And then You have the pursuit phase where you really want to dig deep somewhere, uh, accelerate, and then hopefully it actually some sort of apex.
Right. And so I think the reality is that a lot of parents are thinking about, okay, how do I get my kid into a great university or into a career down the line, even if they’re five years old. And so we. We understand the constraints of the real world to a certain extent, but really for us, it’s about helping every student achieve their best future, which is a combination of discovering the right thing for them.
And then also getting to accelerate along that path and really become, uh, excellent at that. And so that’s why we’ve gone really deep into certain subject areas instead of trying to hit everything out there in the universe, because I think there’s a lot of amazing products that help folks do that already,
Andrew: focused on, on read it. You focused on English, which includes reading and writing. You focus on math and then also coding. But do you think longer term that, do you imagine that it’s going to. I guess your product could fit in anywhere. A kid could go to school and then, and have a formal school education.
But then if they’re not really doing well in math, or if they’re doing really well and they want more math, they could come home and sign up for one of your classes. And at the end of the day, they might do one of your classes and then earn some video time. At the same time, it could be somebody who’s doing homeschooling, who might as part of their homeschooling be doing a Juni class.
But do you have a vision for where you think things will shake out or are you just saying it doesn’t matter where they shake out? We just want to be wherever they are.
Vivian: uh, to a certain extent. Yes. That’s the case. I mean, there’s a lot of folks for whom. The reality of going to a public school in their local area is something that will never change. There are some folks who are, um, You know lucky enough to be able to set up a micro school or something, but their local neighborhood and amazing.
And we want to enable all of those experiences for us. It’s really that out of school experience. So. Where are you learning the things that are important for real life? Where are you learning the things that are foundational skills for kids? You know, problem-solving analytical thinking all of that good stuff.
Where does that come in? Down the line? Um, I think unfortunately, because schools have to work with such large groups of students, they’re not able to customize things for their students. And they’re also not always able to create that relationship. I’m sure that you’ve had a teacher in your life who has just.
Change the way that you look at something. Um, and, and those kinds of moments are, are very tough to have in, in certain situations. So we’re here to kind of enable that inspiration and mentorship for students.
Andrew: You know what, truthfully, I’ve had more teachers who did not get me that if you’re talking about, I’m sure you’ve had that one teacher, I really have to rack my brain to find them. And as I try to do it, my mind goes. All the teachers who didn’t get me, you know, who picked out, who picked out such bad books from my personality type that I thought I hated reading.
And then when I discovered my own, I realized I hate their reading. And now I have to suffer through bad grades with the school partially because I’m going to spend a lot of time reading the books that matter to me. Um, you found out about this when you got to China and you saw what they did in China.
How’d you end up in China.
Vivian: Yeah. So at the last startup that I worked at, I actually was part of our product launch in China. So working in cross border with our team in Shanghai, in San Francisco. And, uh, when I was there, there was this company that was really. Blowing up, uh, called VIP kid. and they were just, I want to say like one of the hottest companies in the space at the time, they just raised some crazy, uh, you know, later stage funding round.
Um, but I think what really struck me was that they were able to scale a one-on-one experience and create something really amazing for the students and also create a really big business about that. That, that was really magical.
Andrew: and what was it that they were doing beyond the, would they focused on one topic where they do doing all topics with remote teachers?
Vivian: Very specific, actually English only at the time, because that’s such a huge market in China specifically. Um, and particularly they were recruiting teachers?
here in the U S to teach remotely in China. So you kind of got that American accent also exposure to American culture. And then, uh, at the same time, one of the big innovations that they did, which doesn’t seem very innovative at the time, but they weren’t structured as tutoring.
So it went along a very set curriculum path, which is actually a really big, uh, so for us, one of the reasons why we’ve been able to scale the quality is because we develop the curriculum. We actually set up the entire platform. So that it’s really easy for the teachers. And, uh, that’s very different from traditional tutoring, right?
Where the tutor kind of has to learn something new every time in order to teach it. Uh, we’re kind of setting up everything to help them succeed. And then the instructors are really there to be the mentor, be that face that helps the student feel inspired. Um, feel like there’s somebody who’s on their side.
Also challenges them when needed. That’s actually a big difference there.
Andrew: So they, they also had the curriculum, but they focused on English and their innovation was what if we get. American teachers to teach in China boy, that that’s surprising because of, I would think that it would be too expensive, not just because Americans tend to charge more, um, on an international stage, but also because they would have to work rough hours.
Right. And I imagine they’d want to be compensated for that, but was it inexpensive program for, for kids whose parents had a lot of money or more mainstream?
Vivian: Uh, surprisingly, no. So, uh, so there’s actually a ton of consumers in China who, who. Both have a lot of money to spend, but also invest a ton in education. Um, and so price sensitivity is actually very different there for, for this product, um, for this space in general. And then at The same time you had, uh, uh, excess supply of teachers in the U S who are really compensated and living in areas, uh, where, you know, the average teacher salary was probably less than 50 K a year.
And so that. Kind of that difference made the economics work for, for them to be fair. I mean, I don’t think there, they were looking round margins per se. Like they were looking more at top line revenue, uh, at the time, but you know that they were still able to scale the economics that way as well.
Andrew: The company that you were with, was it operator?
Andrew: What is operator.
Vivian: Yeah. So, uh, it was, uh, kind of this era where, um, you know, a lot of companies were moving online, but the advent of, of Amazon was, was looming. And there was this sentiment that, um, Amazon wasn’t able to create the best personalized recommendations for you as a shopper. And so operator was a AI based e-commerce, uh, app that really helped you connect with a person who would.
Help basically be your personal shopper and they were, uh, supported by, you know, uh, AI. And so finally it, it ended up being sort of similar to Judy because, you know, we’re pairing people with, uh, instructors, but at operator.
where you’re pairing people with personal choppers. So it was, um, it was, uh, it was just amazing to be a part of that experience and, um, you know, go through all those launches with the team there as well.
Andrew: everybody’s a T I I’m having trouble finding all these articles about them, but they raised a ton of money back then. Right. Had impressive leadership. I didn’t realize though that they. They’d gone to China. They, they hadn’t yet made it in the U S but they were already ready to take on China.
Vivian: Yeah. I mean the founder and the CEO had a ton of business ties to China as well. And, um, I think part of this kind of arbitrage opportunity, there’s a lot of product here in the U S that. People in China wanted to buy, but didn’t have access to, there was some, um, lift that we could do there. And also a lot of Chinese consumers wanted to work with American shoppers who could, who they could trust.
Um, and so, yeah, although we had originally launched here in the U S ended up focusing a lot more on China, uh, towards the end of my time there.
Andrew: Are they closed down.
Vivian: I believe that the you app is not, uh, in service anymore, but, uh, I actually haven’t been following it. If the China one is
Andrew: They were just so massive that everyone in the chat space was watching everything that they did and, um, and feeling like they were going to just story everyone. I’ve been
Vivian: I mean, it was, uh, it was a awesome, honestly, the team was amazing and, um, they’ve all gone on to do, to do awesome things. There’s actually a couple of us ex uh, ex operator folks who are founders now. And, um, I do think that. You know, one of the takeaways that I had going to Judy was focusing very specifically on one.
So with operator, one of the challenges with scale was that we were trying to service every kind of request. So you could be trying to buy a $5,000 pair of shoes or toilet paper through operator. And that those are just such different kinds of products. So that’s why I think with Amazon, part of the reason why they’re.
So big is because they just have this ruthless prioritization of, you know, we’re going to knock out books and we’re going to knock out this and this and this. And, um, I think that was one of our challenges is we tried to do a lot. Versus when we launched in China, it was very specifically, you know, we’re going to look at beauty products and purses because those have, you know, good margins, like high price points and people, uh, they’re standardized sizing as well.
So I could get more into that another time,
Andrew: that makes sense. You’re saying operators saw that they were taking on too much in the U S and China. They decided they were going to go much, much more focused on the two products that they were most likely to do well with. And you said, we’re going to do the same thing now, Juni, we’re not going to do the whole educational system.
We’re not going to replace your school or give you a whole homeschool and curriculum. We’re going to take the two topics are the three topics that matter and spend our time there. And the very first version that you created of it. Was it just a spreadsheet or how did you get started?
Vivian: Yeah, you, you hit the nail on the head. When we started, I went to my old middle school and handed out flyers in the parking lot. Um, and the very first version of the. Curriculum and product was just one that, um, I wrote up on a Google doc and shared with, with the parents. And then we kind of took notes on a Google doc, did everything over zoom.
And this was before zoom was cool. I like
Andrew: Well, what year was this?
Vivian: uh, this was in middle of 2017. So that was the year when we were really kind of prototyping
Andrew: middle of 2017, you were both handing out the flyers to your old middle school and you were teaching the kids, right. You
Vivian: that is right. Um, so
Andrew: but, and,
Vivian: go ahead.
Andrew: and you were doing this as, what was, what was the offer? Was it I’m going to do online tutoring or was it we’re gonna, we’re going to master this class?
What was it?
Vivian: It was more the latter. So, um, we’ve never talked about ourselves as tutors because. The key thing is that we work with our curriculum and we expect students to progress along that, um, along along the learning targets that we have there, frankly. And so the difference, I think, was just that most of the time, people were used to doing courses with a group.
And so we were here talking about doing a course with an individual and actually you can make more progress or you could also. You know, get extra practice with certain areas where you needed extra support through this model versus with a group class, you’re kind of heard it through. Um, and so that was a really big difference that I think resonated with, with parents at the time, you know, you could get a really high quality instruction with an individual that would actually be more effective than spending, you know, two hours every day in a group with 30 people.
Andrew: But if parents were already getting their lessons at school, What wouldn’t they just want a tutor to augment what they already had instead of somebody to say, I’ve got a whole other track. I’m going to take you through the track.
Vivian: it depends on the subject. So with computer science, it was not in school at all.
Andrew: and you were already doing computer science from the beginning.
Vivian: Uh, yeah, computer science was the only thing we did for almost two years,
Andrew: Uh, okay.
Vivian: Yeah. And So
Andrew: that makes sense. We’re not tutors. We’re going to get your kid to understand computer science at a time when everyone’s saying learn to code. Got it. And you’ve got the ability where you a programming teacher. I’m looking at your background. I think he spent time in McKinsey. I, I, I know obviously that you were an engineer at Google, but were you somebody who could teach coding?
Vivian: Uh, yeah, I mean, I studied computer science for undergrad and then yeah, worked at Google as an engineer. Uh, frankly, the, the. Main thing that you need to, to teach people with coding is how to problem solve and how to debug things and how to get over hurdles. Um, I think there’s a, you know, obviously a lot of tactical things that people need to know about like syntax, like where, where you need an extra semi-colon, whatever the case is.
But, um, the main thing that a lot of programmers will tell you is that. To a certain extent, a lot of the answers are out there on Google, but you have to know what to look for and you also have to have be resilient and test a bunch of things until you can break something or until it doesn’t break anymore.
And so I focus a lot more on that and also kind of. A lot of the curriculum that I was seeing was rather pedantic. It was kind of like memorize this, um, you know, kind of antiquated thing or like this very low level diagram of how XYZ works. But, uh, what, you know, what is very obvious to me now is that kids learn by having tangible projects that they get at the end of.
You know, whatever their time was that they spent on something. So we’ve focused a lot around building a student’s portfolio, getting their projects into that bank, getting it so that they can kind of work up from creating really simple projects to what we call master projects and helping them feel empowered that way.
Like, there’s nothing better than saying I built this and you know, here it is world. And so we focus a lot more on that. Um, And working backwards from a project that you could build in an end state and then figuring out what the building blocks are to get. There was more how I did it almost more as an engineer than, than a teacher.
And, um, I, yeah, I, I did learn a little bit from other folks how to teach. Well, um, I’m not, I would not say I personally have the greatest teacher in the world. I don’t, uh, I don’t pretend to be that.
Andrew: All right, I’m going to do first sponsor. Then I’m going to come back and find out how you learn, how to teach. And then also why you decided to go door to door or talk to people in the middle school instead of just buying ads on Google. All right. The first, my first sponsor Vivian is HostGator. In fact, I want to ask you something.
I always in the HostGator ad asked my guests. What idea would you have? If you could start a new business on HostGator? Let me run one by you. Tell me if this makes sense. I would say somebody should copy your idea of one-on-one tutoring for a topic that schools aren’t addressing. And it doesn’t really take that much considering what you did.
Right. So imagine you tell me if this makes sense. Imagine somebody hears me and says, I’m gonna go to HostGator, hostgator.com/mixergy. Of course. So I get credit for it, but they say, I’m going to go do that. And I’m going to teach. Entrepreneurship to kids and it’s gonna be be one-on-one. I teach you about what we have to buy, how we sell it online.
And we go, we’re going to create the store online. And at the end, yeah. This project, you will have sold one thing that you made online, maybe it’s to a family member, but you understand the economics of online sales. You understand how you have to cater to somebody’s needs. You understand how to do some like content writing, right?
And then if you do that as a curriculum, then they could expand it. And. Maybe they become the Junee of entrepreneurship education. Vivian, you tell me, unmute yourself and tell me what you think of that idea.
Vivian: Okay. Amazing idea. Although I will say that, uh, I, I have thought about it myself as well, and I would love for Judy to, to do something like that too. So, um, yeah, I mean, it’s, you know, it’s an amazing idea for sure.
Andrew: I’m going to say this to anyone listening, whether you take that idea or any number of other ideas that we’ve come up with here in the ads for HostGator. And I’ve got to tell you, Vivian, I feel like the ads for HostGator become the best ads on the whole fricking site, whether it’s that idea or any of the other ones that I’ve come up with, or of course, any idea that you’ve got yourself.
If you need a website for it, go to HostGator. If you go to HostGator to get inexpensive hosting, that just works from a company, you can count on the notion Nanigans from it. You can see how well they’ve hosted my side for years and years and years, all you have to do is go to hostgator.com/mixergy to get started quickly.
And if you use that slash mixer G yeah, you get credit, but more importantly, you’ll get their lowest price. hostgator.com/mixergy. Hey, I’m always interested in what you, what you know about teaching and what you’ve learned. What I used to teach at Dale Carnegie. And I loved watching the process from behind the scenes.
What did, what did you learn about teaching?
Vivian: You learn so much from the kids that I work with on how to communicate with people, how to motivate them, how not to motivate. Um, uh, it’s been really, uh, it’s been very humbling, honestly, because kids, they will tell you everything that is on their minds and, uh,
Andrew: like, they’ll say this is stupid
Vivian: they don’t
Andrew: earnestly. Yeah.
Vivian: They’re like, I don’t care if you think you’re fancy or if you’re older than me or whatever the case is, like I have no filter. Right. And so, Um, you know, I think the main thing that, that I learned is, is to also how to balance kind of being their friend, but also. Challenging them and being their coach. I think that’s one of the hardest lines to walk in a certain extent as a, as a teacher.
Right. Because, you know, there’s always kind of like that cool teacher that maybe lets people, uh, you know, uh, get away with XYZ or something like that. And then there’s a very strict teacher. Sorry, go ahead.
Andrew: Right. Um, I agree with you and I feel like that’s been understood with in-person classes and it’s hard, but at least with in-person classes, people aren’t just going to stand up and walk out, or aren’t going to open up another app window, right with you. How do you keep them focused? How do you, how do you not say, you know, have them watch or click on other things?
Vivian: uh, you know, first of all, I think it’s actually surprised, easy to tell when somebody is distracted versus not as I’m sure you know, now for many zooms later. Uh, and so the. You know, frankly, I think 99% of the kids that we worked with were incredibly, they were just amazing, you know, like they realized that it was really a privilege for them to be learning.
They were super self motivated as well. And you kind of just have to give them a little bit of a push in a certain direction to unblock them. And they kind of. It was like a snowball down a mountain. Um, I think for that 1% of kids who just frankly like ha had a hard time with the online setup or it was just a bad day, whatever the case is.
Um, we do some tactics to kind of get them to get the Shakey’s out, jump around a little bit sometimes if there’s also a session where it’s just not. You know, it’s not the right time. Like they just had a really tough soccer game, whatever the case is, but that, that happened for will also call it early and, um, you know, give, give part of a credit back if needed.
That’s the main thing is like most of the time, you know, pushing, um, to help people get over the hub is important, but sometimes everybody needs a break and I think that’s, um, just, uh, what’s the word it’s kind of like a relative thing that the teacher needs to suss out.
Andrew: You know, Vivian, I, um, I feel like somebody should be doing the mixer G style interview. With online teachers and just extract some of the techniques that they use to keep things focused and productive. And I could imagine that that as online training for other teachers would be useful as a book, it would be useful for teachers, but I would also suggest that what they learn and keeping kids paying attention would also.
Translate into big ski speaking gigs and trainings for companies who have to do a lot more training using zoom. Right. We’re seeing how effective it is, but it’s, it’s not something that we yet know or have mastered. Okay.
Vivian: Yeah, a hundred percent. There’s so many things where just the physical act of sitting here at the same screen all day, staring at the same thing is. I think it, it physically drains people. And so, um, there was a lot of techniques I think that instructors can use for yeah. Kids and adults of all ages to keep them focused.
I will say that one thing we have, um, that, that I think has made our method a little bit more effective is because we’re doing everything one-on-one I think you saw at the beginning of COVID, one of the toughest things was that these school systems were doing kind of. 30 person lectures online that was essentially like a recorded video.
And, um, that I think it was really, really tough for, for folks. So breaking things up into kind of smaller pods, um, having breakout rooms, letting kids work together, those are really effective ways to, to, to keep them engaged and kind of,
Andrew: One of the things that I saw that work was like you said, taking a bigger class. My kid was in kindergarten, fricking kindergarten. They had to sit down for, I don’t know how long he had more zoom meetings and I did it seriously. Um, uh, he’s now in like an outdoor school, so he’s much more active and doesn’t have to sit down, but in bef in the period before he transitioned to that school, I saw that the teacher would take the kids and break them into smaller groups where she could, if she had three kids or four kids to manage, watch them, give them more feedback.
So what you’re going for, what you’re doing is, is even better in that direction. The other thing that I saw her do was give them assignments, she’d say, put a Blackboard or whiteboard up behind you. I’m going to say something. Then you go write it. The more you can give people assignments. The less that they have to listen.
I feel like the more they absorb.
Vivian: Death. Totally. Yeah. I think, you know, where the great thing about computer science and also how we try to design our math and English curriculum is projects and kind of just like getting your hands dirty. Um, and even if you get stuck, like the process of trying to understand why you’re stuck or get unstuck is incredibly powerful versus listening to someone, tell you how it should be done.
And so. You know, the way we structure our classes is actually in the first, you know, five to 10 minutes. They’ll, they’ll go over homework from the last week, but then they’ll learn a new topic and just jump into making, solving problems or doing projects immediately. So the majority of the class I haven’t studied for, um, kind of like exploration to a certain extent with a new topic and that’s yeah, that’s huge.
I. You know, I definitely struggle with a lot of the way stuff is done right now in schools where you kind of just memorize things. Like, I don’t know if you had to memorize like the types of rocks, like igneous, rocks, whatever those
Andrew: right, right. I remembered it for the, just for the test. And then I was done with it and I resented school for making me remember that it’s not me.
Vivian: Exactly. Exactly. So that kind of thing, I think just does not motivate kids.
Wouldn’t it be so much cooler if you could actually go and, you know, either physically grab the rocks or see like what, which kinds of rocks are better for building certain kinds of buildings like sandstone or whatever the case is. There’s just so many interesting applications based ways to learn stuff and then kind of work backwards to the building blocks.
Um, and so that’s what we try to do with computer science, because. CS is also just a tool, right? Like you can build an app that can do any number of things, but at the end of the day, the CS is just like the foundation for, for what you’re doing build in the world. But there’s so many applications now with healthcare biotech, um, you know, even law, a bunch of things.
And so I see it as very foundational for learning a lot of different things.
Andrew: all right. Why did you go and hand out flyers? One-on-one you could have gone to the school’s message board and said, I’m offering to teach I’m an alumni. You could have bought some Google ads and seeing how many people would have clicked. You could have expanded beyond your local area. And I don’t know, and maybe learn some marketing, but there was a reason why you did it.
Vivian: trust. I mean, people, you know, People want to talk to another person when you don’t have a brand yet nobody knows who you are. If you can meet someone face-to-face, even if it’s over zoom or in person, there’s so much more that you can learn from them too, about what is resonating about your product versus not.
Um, I think I’m assuming you, at some point in your life have done some kind of cold calling or some kind of, uh, sales, uh, in that regard. And there’s nothing like. Exactly. There’s nothing like trying to communicate something about what you’re building for people and having it land flat, uh, to, to kind of motivate you to figure out what customers actually want.
And so the, um, honestly meeting people in person, just huge for me to do that, I think probably could have seen some traction with paid ads. Um, but yeah.
Andrew: You wanted to see the mother, see your flyer and her look on her face. You want him to see the dad asked you a question about what does CS or computer science mean? Or is this appropriate for a 12 year old kid? And that’s what you were looking for to understand. Okay, I got it. What did you learn in those, in those early interactions that you didn’t know?
Uh, actually one of the biggest questions that folks asked was what do they get at the end of this? So is there like how many projects will they have? Will they have a certificate? Whatever the case is. Um, so, you know, I think they, they want their kids to have fun, but they’re still pretty outcomes based.
Um, I think the other was obviously who is the teacher? Uh, you know, what medium will they meet them in? We’re doing everything on zoom at the time. Um, And then there were some that, uh, I think this is a smaller part of the problem, but, you know, and, and as our, our kind of our offering set has grown. Um, most of our students start in our beginner classes, but I did also get a number of questions from parents who were like, oh, my kid’s actually already been coding for a little bit.
Which level should they start out with that kind of thing. And, um, so answering questions like that just helped me get that object list down first. Uh, so I can kind of address all of those too.
Andrew: All right. So you did it, you taught the first class, you’re walking them through the, um, programming. One of the things that you told our producer, you learned was parents want to see what the kids did. That is so important. Um, and so you would give them the Google doc that you used with the students so that they could see the progress, right?
Vivian: Exactly. Yep. And so we would copy in the projects that they had built, so they could visually see it. And the parents could actually play with the project too. So there’s usually like a video game or something like that. Um, and there’s, I think that’s the other thing that actually, what school is, that’s always tough is you as a parent, probably don’t always see what your kids are doing every day or even month, right? Yeah.
Um, And a lot of parents are like, they don’t really understand the jargon. They just kind of, they want to see something that’s understandable. That’s like, oh my God, my, my kid did this. That’s amazing. And so projects are very viscerally that way, where it’s a, it’s a video game that they’ve come up with and the kids get to be super creative and.
The kids also take a lot of pride in what they’ve done. Um, and so I think that actually ended up being more powerful for us than a certificate or like notes from the instructor, that kind of thing. Um, but if we’re able to send those on a weekly basis, that’s uh, yeah, that’s amazing.
Andrew: Yeah. And you know, this is the type of thing that I feel like schools got. So, um, stale, so uncreative that they don’t think about it. Why wouldn’t the school say, you know what? We have all these different systems now to, to interact with parents, even if we don’t want every parent coming back and asking us, why are we doing this?
Why not? That. At least posted up for every parent to see what the kid did that day. Here’s a progress report. Here’s what we did. If you want to have a conversation with your kid, here are a couple of things you might bring up. We just read this book. Maybe you read the book when you were a kid and you could bring it up.
All right. So then you applied for Y Combinator. How did you do
Vivian: Uh, we did. okay.
So we got into my Combinator, uh, in our first. I, I guess about six months after the company was founded. Um, and you know, when we applied, it was basically still just 40 students and this, these Google docs, my co-founder actually had, um, built our first version of the web app that we were using to host our curriculum and all those different
Andrew: What did, what did the web app even need to do? I know by the way, this is, this is one of the issues with zoom that there’s clearly a lag because, and we both have great internet connections. We spend our lives online. So it’s not that it’s just, wow. Online is such a frustration still, but.
Vivian: Yeah, so, uh, kind of the curriculum that I had built in, uh, the Google docs, we moved that in And then we also moved in and homework tracking notes. From the instructor, everything there too. And rescheduling our scheduling classes, which was a big, um, pain point because before you kind of just had to do everything over email chains.
Um, so all of that was built into the web app. Just super MVP, the first VR first version.
Andrew: And it was still the two of you. Co teaching still at the time, right? Two of you, what do you think Y Y Combinator liked about you to doing this and how far you got and what, what were some of the challenges in the, for raising money from them?
Vivian: Yeah. Um, so first of all, huge plug for my co-founder Rudy. She is just amazing. Um, I, I was the one standing on the sidewalks handing out flyers, but she was the one, uh, at home dealing with customer support calls while also. Building this first version of the web app. And I think when we applied to YC, we really were just a team and a little bit of traction.
Like we had obviously had real students, we had real people and were willing to pay us for our product, uh, which was huge, but we also were just. Two people who had a mission and a vision. And we were on our path to getting there. I think that is really what they’re more looking for. There’s a bunch of people who go through YC and they change their idea halfway through, or, you know, whatever happens, but it’s more do you have the tenacity to grab onto something and make it work?
Um, and that’s really what we wanted to convey, uh, in that process. So I think they liked it. Yeah.
Andrew: beyond raising money. What else did you get from the program where they teach you?
Vivian: Yeah. Um, you?
know, there’s just something about the network and the pace that you go through there. That was really special. Um, The, they, they really just embody it to a certain extent, what we look for in junior instructors, which is kind of like tough love when it’s needed it also support helping you get focused, um, and also having a community there with you.
There’s nothing like being around a bunch of people who are also stressed out, uh, to, to help, you know, calm everybody down to a certain extent. And also, um, you know, there’s just connections with people that like, are. You know, some of our first employees were found through random connections from Y Combinator.
There’s a lot to the community that, um, ended up being really amazing.
Andrew: did they help you think through how to get more customers? I know that their big emphasis is on growth. Did they give you any advice there that you can share?
Vivian: uh, yes. Um, so they actually were the first ones to kind of say, Hey, you guys should test out paid. Like, obviously we knew about paid acquisition, but we’d been very organic before that. Uh, just kind of, you know, Either hitting the streets to hand out flyers where I could, or a little more growth hacky stuff, like getting on some of these, um, online platforms to, to, uh, advertise, um, for free and that kind of thing.
But we kind of figured out how to scale a little bit more through with repaid and the program.
Andrew: What worked for you for paid? I’m going through you now, some rush to get a sense of what, uh, what’s working today. Can you tell me what worked in the early days? What are the early wins? Okay.
Vivian: Yeah. Um, you know, Instagram ads still work, uh, Google search ads also because we’re quite a high intent product. They still work as well. Um, our demo for paid acquisition was more the parents, uh, I’ve been looking a little bit more into how we can build more of an organic presence, but that was just such a long tail.
That at the time we, we focused more on, on paid on those channels.
Andrew: Uh, pear VC is sending you some traffic, I guess they’re one of your investors.
Vivian: Oh, They are. Yeah, they’re amazing. Um, Mar Mar Hershenson there, uh, she was actually one of the first Juni parents, uh, completely random connection. Um, but yeah, she, her kids are, were just killing it in the program. And so she was working with us for about a year, as a junior parent that we were raising our seed round.
And so the, the stars kind of aligned there at the right time.
Andrew: All right. And so you’re continuing to do this. The paid ads are starting to work while you’re at Y Combinator. And then at some point you say, we’re going to go beyond computer science. How do we know? Let me talk about a and talk about my second sponsor. And then I want to find out how you knew you were ready instead of focusing on being the coding school for kids.
All right. My second sponsor is a company called send in blue. Anyone who does email marketing knows that it’s easy to get started with email marketing software. They start out inexpensively. And if you’ve been with it long enough that your business has grown, you also know that they just start to Jack up the price on you.
Later on. The beauty with send in blue is if you use my URL, you’ll get to use them for free. As you grow and you could see this right on the site, you can compare their prices to everyone else, but as you grow, you’re never going to get that moment. That one of my past guests had where he sent out an email and suddenly for sending out one extra email, his price shot up another $20,000 a month because that’s what, that’s, what happens.
They get you in at an inexpensive price. And these email marketing software companies know that later on, they’re going to be able to increase the price because it’s too hard to move. You’re not going to get that with send in blue, which you will get is fair pricing from the beginning through the end.
Always. And you’re also going to get all the marketing automation tools that you need. You’re going to be able to go beyond email to SMS. So you can send out text messages where we’re, which are incredibly effective and so much more. If you want to see all the features and get to use it for free right now, all you have to do is go to send in blue.com/mixergy.
And if you don’t know about them to go Google them, you’re going to see these people have been killing it lately, grown tremendously. And they’re available right now to firstname.lastname@example.org slash Mixergy. When did you decide Vivian to add another, another subject?
Vivian: Yeah, so it was always a plan for us at uni to, um, teach, teach every student everything. Um, and so when we, uh, uh, I believe at the time. Beginning of, um, 20, 20, uh, math was something that a lot of parents had just kept asking for. Um, so we went out with, with that first, um, and English was, uh, so I actually minored in creative writing, so I kind of always.
Nurse the hope that we would be able to do English. And, um, that was kind of in the latter half of last year as well, because those are just two areas where, um, while they are taught in school, they’re just so foundational. And so a lot of people wanted extra support in those. Um, they’ve just been a great way for us to, uh, work with families even more holistically than, you know, with just computer science.
Andrew: Why not say, you know what, we’re the computer science company. That’s what we do. Code academy. Doesn’t expand beyond coding to extracurricular activities. They stay focused on programming. What was it that made you decide that this is the best way to grow and that this was the right time to add another, another class.
Vivian: Yeah. Um, I think one of the main things is that. We’ve always looked at ourselves as the partner for a parent, as they are figuring out their kids’ education. And so we can’t do that effectively by only offering one subject in indefinitely. I think we’ve always done computer science very well, and we intend, we intend to also be the market leader for computer science.
It definitely, uh, but if you really want to be able to support everything that is. So a student would want to do, uh, you got to also try other, um, areas where students really need to invest their time. So that’s, uh, that’s the kind of the end state vision for us is that we have a lot of options for students to discover new things, but for them to also pursue the things that, that do really matter.
Andrew: I want to get it. You started to mention a little bit about your background. I want to get a little bit more insight into who you are. You told our producer, you came from a family that when you were growing up, if you got, I don’t remember the exact example, but if you got a 96 out of a hundred, who was it in your family?
You said what happened to the other?
Vivian: It was my mom, uh, shout out to my mom and it was a 98 and it was two points.
Andrew: is a literal, this is a true
Vivian: I think.
Andrew: Just like that.
Vivian: She claims that I’m remembering wrong, but I’m like, I feel like I was nine, so I couldn’t have made it. Uh, no, I mean, they’re just incredible. Like they, um, you know, they left China right at the end of the cultural revolution.
My dad had to be one of the top 300 physics students in China in order to leave. It’s just. Their story is a lot more incredible than mine and a lot of ways. And so I understand where they were coming from, obviously hindsight though. Cause when you’re, when you’re that age and you know, all you want to do is hang out with your friends.
Sometimes it’s, it’s hard to see that perseverance is really critical to lay a good foundation. So, um, Yes. I would say that I definitely grew up with parents who had high expectations for me, but, um, you know, now I have higher expectations for myself, so it’s, uh, it’s definitely a double-edged sword.
Andrew: I wonder why that didn’t turn you off. I keep thinking about a friend of mine whose father just kept pushing him to swim faster, to be the top of the swim class, any hates swimming. I, I worry about that for you. It seems to have helped it created a sense of motivation and strength.
Vivian: yeah, it really depends on the person. I would not advertise this as the way to do parenting. Um, you know, and my parents, by the way, we’re actually very balanced. Um, I think this was, so it was kind of like I had, um, You know, I think they were starting to see signs that I was not as self-motivated as I used to be.
So, uh, the, you know, later on, actually when I was in high school, I got like a C minus on a, uh, in a math test, math class at my, uh, kind of midpoint check-in and my dad sat me down and we did every problem in the math texts because of sameness is failing. And you know, after that, I very distinctly remember, but the following year, um, I was the only kid who got a certain question, right.
In all five sections of that math class. And the teacher came up to me and specifically called me out. And she also said, there’s not a lot of girls in these classes. So really I wanted to like, bring this to you because I. I feel like it’s really important for me to tell you this. And so that kind of very delicate line is really important because I wanted to drop down into the lower lane math class and my dad didn’t let me, and he really pushed me and I, I can’t thank him enough for doing that.
So it really is a balance. There’s some kids who already pushed themselves so hard that what they need is something different, but I was getting a little bit lazy at the time. So it made sense.
Andrew: And help. I’m not pushing for too much as personal book. You keep a gratitude journal too, with two bullet points because of this, because, well, how did that influence you? And then we’ll talk about what the gratitude journal does for you.
Vivian: Yeah, I mean, you can probably tell, but, um, I, I, I have. Uh, the highest standards for myself actually of anything. And it’s, it’s always tough. Um, I think to kind of take a step back and celebrate the wins that we have as a team and also for myself, uh, to, to, you.
know, remember that there is. A lot to life as well, and, and life is long.
And so the gratitude journal, I think just helps me remember how lucky I am to even be able to work on this company and this problem that I care so much about to be able to work with the people that are really amazing and make it happen. Um, and I think it’s just, it’s one of those things where there’s just so much information overload in the world, uh, that it’s always good to take.
Even just 15 minutes to yourself with a good cup of coffee and to remember, uh, to have perspective. So
Andrew: But my sense is it’s also partially because you’re thinking constantly of I could have done better here. I could have been stronger there, and this is a way of counteracting that.
Vivian: yes, A hundred percent. I mean, I remember I, I got into Stanford and I didn’t get into Harvard and I was so sad even though Stanford was the right place for me to go. But. Like, I couldn’t even enjoy it because that was how, how I was thinking about it. And so I just, I never want to get into that type of a person again.
And so, um, I just try to be a little more strict with myself even to make myself, uh,
Vivian: not? go
Andrew: it help you? Yeah. It doesn’t help you. Or does it help you to have that voice in your head that says why only Stanford? Why the best, uh, one of the best schools in the world, right? The best school for startup entrepreneurs. What, why is it that, that voice that says it’s not enough?
Isn’t, isn’t good to have in your head as a driver.
Vivian: I think it’s a balance. Um, I, I think like life is a balance, you know? And, um, I think if you, if you go too much to one side, you’ll get complacent. If you go too much to the other side, you’ll get. Unnecessarily harsh on yourself or depressed. And I think, you know, making sure that people are healthy and happy and fulfilled and what they’re doing is, is very important.
And so, um, you know, I, I found myself when I was really tough on myself to kind of be going a little bit more on the side of never happy and, um, and I didn’t want to be there either. So it’s, it’s really critical, I think for everybody to have a way to release a little bit of that stress, um, and you know, It, it it’s, it can swing back and forth on a, on a given day or given week.
Uh, but if you have some kind of a token that keeps you, uh, on the, on the kind of balance, that’s the best way to do it.
Andrew: Yeah, I guess so I feel like it’s a, it’s a thing that comes up a lot in these interviews. I noticed some people. Are motivated by that that inner voice of this is not enough. You have to do more. It keeps them working late night, coming up with new ideas and so on. And other people seem to just have this sense of confidence that everything they do is great and that fires them up that makes them just take life easier.
And, and for some reason they just figure it out without the stress. I guess there’s some moderation there. All right. What’s
Vivian: Moderation is key, uh,
Andrew: don’t know, you’re looking at how old you’re not
Vivian: Um, I mean,
Andrew: not. You’re you’re growing so much.
Vivian: I, this, yeah, the gratitude journal is my way of slightly moderating myself, but yeah, I mean, I. I think we all are the kinds of people at Junee who, who do really push ourselves. And I think we have opportunities to also celebrate like in our all hands, every two weeks that we do, we bring up a customer story where somebody just sent in some really positive feedback or a really cool student project that somebody made.
And that kind of. That helps us keep our sights on, on what we’re doing. Um, but yeah, I think it’s a balance, like, especially because it’s a marathon, not a sprint. And I, I think things like college applications felt more like a sprint, but you know, if we want Judy to become the biggest company in the learning space in the next 10 years then yeah, we, we do have to be here for the long haul and
Andrew: That’s the vision.
Vivian: quickly if you’re pushing yourself too hard.
Andrew: The vision is the biggest, but then does that mean that you’re going to break out of one-on-one classes? The one-on-one is going to augment. It’s going to be an addition, but if you want to go bigger than right. That doesn’t scale as well.
Vivian: Yeah, I think one-on-one will always be part of what we do. And to a certain extent, the most ideal, um, learning. The most ideal learning format for a lot of students. Um, but there are some students for whom they learn better in small groups or they learn better with other kids or whatever the case is.
And, um, we want to enable those experiences as well. So, uh, you know, for us, it’s really to be, yeah, that, that leading brand in the space.
Andrew: All right. The website is Junee learning.com. I wish we had juni.com. What does Juni mean?
Vivian: Uh, so it was actually a portmanteau of junior And university because we were teaching subjects that weren’t. Um, available in K-12 originally with computer science and, uh, it also apparently means the month of June in German, which is why the domain is unfortunately taken. But one day I will find that the German company that owns the, the domain at buy it outright.
Andrew: And they’re not even using it. They just redirect to another site.
Vivian: I know. I know.
Andrew: all right. Maybe Michael Seiger or someone in the audience is going to know how to get to this. They do use it as their company name, but they don’t even use it as their domain. All right.
Vivian: yeah, it’s there. If anybody knows, I’m happy to connect.
Andrew: Michael Seiger or help us out. All right. Thanks so much for doing, for doing this interview. I’m really excited. I’m excited now about the future of education, I felt like, oh, where are we sending our kids? My wife and I have different approaches. I would put my kid into a pod with the right classes, including Juni, including some bigger classes, including some random things.
And maybe even some like, go at your own pace apps. She’s much more into let’s get them out in nature. Do farm class. I I get it. I still love that we have this option and my feeling for my kids is I think we’re going to let, I’m going to let them go into pharm class, this and do that. And then. After they come home, say, let’s just take one or two hours of education.
That’s a much more rigorous. That’s much more customized to your interest. Let’s explore some of these options. Maybe Judy is a good fit. Maybe it’s not, maybe it’s an app is a good fit. Maybe it’s not, maybe it’s a combination. Maybe it changes, but let’s explore it and add it on in addition to what they’re doing at school.
And, um, I’ve been especially excited about this space and I’m glad to see the more people are doing it. I think a lot of, a lot of parents are going to do what I’m doing. And some will just say, forget school have completely, we’re just going to focus on this.
Vivian: Completely. Yeah. Um, it’s going to be a really interesting few years, but I’m excited that there’s a lot more options for parents to, you know, help their students achieve their best future.
Andrew: all right. It is Juni learning.com for anyone who wants to check it out. And I want to thank the two sponsors who made this interview happen. The first, if you have an idea, the way the Vivian did the way that so many people I’ve interviewed have, and you want to run it on a website, which you obviously need a website, go to hostgator.com/mixergy and get it.
And number two, when you need email marketing done, right, and you don’t want to get ripped off later on, you want all the features go to send in blue.com/mixergy. Vivian. Thanks so much.