Edtech Series: Outschool

I’m so glad that today’s guest is here. As soon as COVID hit and schools closed I wasn’t sure what to do with my kid. And so I started reading up on how to teach my kid.

When I saw Eric Ries mention Outschool I had to check it out. It was such a great resource I actually sent Eric a thank you note.

Amir Nathoo is the founder of Outschool, which allows K-12 students to take small group classes from anywhere.

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Amir Nathoo

Amir Nathoo

Outschool

Amir Nathoo is the founder of Outschool, which allows K-12 students to take small group classes from anywhere.

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Full Interview Transcript

Andrew: Hey, they’re freedom fighters. You’re looking at or listening to the last two people left in San Francisco. Everybody else is leaving. Um, but I’m so glad that today’s guest is, is here. As soon as COVID hit and schools closed. I wasn’t sure what to do with my kid. And so I started reading up on how to teach my kid.

I started looking for resources and Eric Reese, the founder of the lean startup, he put together a page full of all these resources for parents who are homeschooling. I think he might be homeschooling his kids. And so it comes from Eric. I looked at it, I tried this one thing out school, I thought, huh?

That’s pretty interesting. You pick from a bunch of different classes. You see the teacher, you see the ratings for the classes and my sons can sit in front of the iPad or whatever Chromebook we were giving them at the time and learn directly by talking to a teacher, not by watching a video. And it was just so interesting, so good that I sent Eric a thank you note, just for making the introduction, just for turning me on to outscore.

That’s how good this, this, uh, marketplaces now. I thought it was this tiny little thing and frankly it was, it’s been a while since it was tiny, but it’s been small. After COVID the thing got huge because of lots of parents like me. I know my, my brother is sending his kid into out school over and over and over.

They’re kind of enrolled in ongoing classes. That’s how impactful this thing has been. Basically you pick whatever class you want. And you get a live teacher, teaching your kid and a few other kids. It’s amazing. So joining me is the founder. His name is Amir Nadu. He is the creator of out school. It’s community marketplace of live online nine classes for kindergarten to 12th, 12th grade.

I invited him here to find out how he did it. I also discovered that he was the founder of this company that we used to hear about years ago. And I want to find one of the first Y Combinator backed companies, web mind. I want to find out a little bit about that and we can figure out how he. got onto this idea.

Thanks to two phenomenal sponsors. The first we’ll host your website, right? It’s called HostGator. And the second, if you’re looking for a developer, it, you got to check out top Cal, but I’ll talk about those later, Amir. Good to have you here.

Amir: Fantastic to be here. Andrew, looking forward to the conversation.

Andrew: Are you getting a lot of reactions? Like the one that I gave you where it’s Hey, my kid was on out school. Where, before people didn’t know you.

Amir: Yeah. You know, frankly, absolutely. I often joined work halls now and, um, with, uh, external partners or, uh, group discussions and in the chat. So we’ll be chatting to me. Oh wow. My kid takes out school. So, so, so glad for your service. Um, you know, before COVID, uh, we were growing well, but we might not have been so well known in the Bay area.

And within the tech scenes, there, wasn’t such an overlap between some of the calls. I did fall for business, but now, like we get approached all the time, which is just wonderful, a wonderful to see, and we’re so grateful to be able to help so many families, you know, during this very difficult year in difficult circumstances with schooling.

Andrew: What was your revenue before? COVID what is it now? 2020.

Amir: Our revenue has grown 2000% in the past six months. correct. Yeah. And you know, I’m not going to share absolute numbers. I will say that we’ve had over 500, a thousand learners attend, um, out-of-school classes.

Andrew: Unique learners, different learners. Okay.

Amir: And that’s scary actually attending classes that are, that are paid for not just, you know, people signing up and browsing our catalog.

And we launched the products in 2017 up to Kobe. We’re growing very nicely. We’re very happy with our business. You know, we were fast-growing series a funded, I would have 80 thousands. Let us take classes in between, you know, when we launched in 2017 and March, 2020, and now we’re at 500,000 plus. So it’s

Andrew: wait from how many thousand to 500,000, 80,000 total of the first few years. And then this last year you hit 500,000. What I saw in a Forbes article was, and also in my notes from otherwise was last year’s revenue, about $6 million. Can you say that? It’s totally fine if you’d rather not.

Amir: Yeah, absolutely.

Andrew: Okay. Right.

And then this year’s revenue I saw from Forbes on track to hit a hundred million dollars. My guess is that’s where you don’t want to be super clear about what the numbers are going to be.

Amir: Right because we don’t, we don’t know how this is going to pan out. Unfortunately, we’ve learned today that, you know, New York city are going fully remote and sons of their schooling. So I think there’s still going to be COVID ups and downs, which, which will affect our business, you know, and frankly make, make planning and prediction pretty tough.

Andrew: Got it. I want to find out how you got to this. How you got here, but I wonder, well, let’s survive. COVID if people go back to school next year, are you going to go back to where you were before? Roughly, maybe double, triple, but not this, this dramatic.

Amir: You know, uh, it, things are changing so rapidly. It’s difficult to make predictions on the future. What I will say, um, we’ll stick from COVID is parents’ understanding of the benefits and some of the troubles with online learning, you know, before COVID we might get asked, you know? Okay. So how is this different from Khan Academy?

Um, now we never get asked that because everyone has this really vivid understanding of what live aligned means, like why classes that are interactive, a video chat, a different from you’re doing a worksheet at home or watching content online and how they can be so engaging and keep the best of in-person.

With the best of the line. And that understanding of live online is just not going to go away. And it’s kind of funny because we all use video conferencing at work, but the idea of using video conferencing for kids learning. Um, yeah, people didn’t really compute that or understand that it could work. You know, we have classes on like group guitar lessons, which we never thought, you know, uh, words necessarily work in the format, but they really do yoga classes.

Um, you know, sports classes, things that you wouldn’t expect to be able to translate to online have translated pretty effectively. And so I think in the future when parents are considering enrichments. And what afterschool clubs they want the kids to be involved in, you know, what interests their kids, um, how to occupy them productivity at the weekend out school is going to be in the mix as something that they’ll consider because, you know, price point, the variety, you know, all the good things about online, but yeah, with the human interaction,

Andrew: You know what I think, I think that if you have a great guitar class near you in person, Better better than going online without school. I’ll be honest with you. But for most people, you don’t have that perfect class. It’s not like the teacher who’s local gets your kids musical interests. Right? If you’re into, if you’re Spanish and you’re into Spanish guitar, you’re not going to have somebody, even in a city like San Francisco happens to be able to teach it to your kid.

But online, there’s a possibility. I’ll give you another example. My kid happens to be really into geology, into rocks. There’s no teacher, who’s going to teach them rocks. What am I going to go out to, to the YMCA and sign them up for a wide, for a rock class. It doesn’t exist. I’ll tell you what my dream is.

Amir. This is my vision for where I’d love to see the world. My kid right now is in a pod like this minute somebody’s garage for other kids learning mostly what’s in his school curriculum. How to read, how to write that type of thing. I w there’s a teacher who’s supervising the five of the, with these kids.

I would love it. If I could say, you know, I would like my kid to learn Spanish. You don’t teach Spanish. We’re going to sign up for once a day out school, class in Spanish or whatever you guys do. Superhero. Sometimes for kids, super heroes stories in Spanish with a teacher, make sure that he does that at one o’clock and maybe everyone else gets another class at one o’clock and the teacher who’s who’s leading the pod gets a break.

That to me, that seems like the future. Maybe not all homeschooling for everyone, but pod schooling, homeschooling, and other options. And then remote teachers brought in for these topics. He just can’t get locally. What do you think?

Amir: You know, I totally agree with that. I call it the hybrid model of education, where you’re pulling from different types of instruction, different types of. Class format with the idea that having a single type of learning that you engage in all day, every day, isn’t the best way to elicit learning.

It’s pretty unlikely to be the best way to listen to any learner. And I think, you know, you point out exactly, you know, the benefits of online learning in terms of, if there’s not the local availability, then you know, you can, um, you can access it online. I will push back on this idea of, you know, if there’s a guitar class locally, and that will be better than a lie.

Maybe, um, if it’s with a teacher that really kind of gels and resonates for your child, and if the group. Um, is full of other kids that also gel with your child. Um, it’s quite possible possible. Yeah. The local guitar lesson, one of those ingredients just isn’t there and it’s no one’s fault. And it’s not the fact that there’s no availability of guitar lessons locally.

It’s just a different style of teaching or a different group of learners might be better. And when you are able to access those groups of learners, there’s teachers from all over the world, then you’re much more likely to be able to find exactly the right guitar lesson that is really, really going to fit for your child.

Andrew: All things being equal. And frankly, even if things are just a little bit worse in person I’d pick in person, I want the in-person activity for the most part. But it’s not true. That’s not the way the world works. Right. Not everyone has the same interest is whatever the local schools are teaching. You want to go outside of it.

Did you imagine this was going to be the future like you before we started? I asked you what’s a win for you. You said. Challenge me. Let’s talk about where this is. What matters to me, not just how I got here. I wonder, did you imagine this future? Did you start out saying we got to have better education?

I’m going to lead it. This is going to be the thing, or did you say there’s going to be an afterschool thing or something to help homeschoolers?

Amir: You know, I really did believe and do believe that this hybrid model is going to be the future education. You know what, I didn’t know. It was that we were going to have a global pandemic, which would be, have an enforced kind of, um, Adoption of this kind of, kind of learning. Obviously we didn’t predict that when we, when we found it in 2015 and when we launched the product in 2017, but, um, you know, absolutely.

I thought that this format of learning was going to be an incredibly big deal. Because of the ability to, um, bridge the gap between other forms of online lending, which is just like classic content. You have pressing play on a video, which is not social and in person learning where you can get instruction from a teacher and a social environment with the students.

And, um, it struck me that this live aligned format was, um, really going to transform K-12 education because it can combine the best of in-person and online. Um, so that’s the kind of technology driver, but, you know, honestly, what, what drives me personally, um, in this, um, and really motivates me is, you know, my own experience with learning and, you know, the fact that both my parents were teachers and, you know, thinking through how education.

Um, is delivered today and how it needs to evolve. And I’ve been thinking about this topic for a very long time.

Andrew: I want to ask about that. I’m interested in your parents as a parent myself. You said I want to be an astronaut. Every fricking kid says I want to be an astronaut. Your parents instead did what.

Amir: Well, um, my parents encouraged me to pursue my interests outside of school and, you know, they do that in a variety of different ways. Um, they would, you know, buy me books, take me to the right museums. And you know, at the time I just classify this as childhood, you know, what I didn’t realize at the time was, you know, I had two teachers as parents who were very intentionally doing this for me.

And then in retrospect, it struck me how important that supports had been for me in my future career and how other kids might not have access to the same kinds of resources and that intentional crafting of my education that I received my parents. And, you know, let me give you some, an example of this, you know, one of the most impactful learning experiences.

For me, it happened outside of school. When my parents bought me a computer, when I was age five, it was a BBC micro. It came with a manual. That’s what you have to program basic. Cause back in those days to play computer games, you have to be on the come online. And so I started teaching myself how to program and I had unlimited screen time and I was able to play games as much as I want, but my parents noticed that this was a real interest for me.

And found me a teacher outside of school who was starting to teach computer science. And so I actually took, um, computer science qualification and A-level in the UK is, is what it’s called at age thing. It was like 12 or 13, um, which kind of was unheard of at the time. It wasn’t taught in school. And that learning experience really has caused my career in tech.

Now did my parents think that that was going to be the impact? No, but what they believed was that if they helped me pursue my interests, then I’d be motivated to learn and interesting things would come up and I look back and I had a fantastic standard education in the UK. I went to a selective, uh, state school.

Um, got great grades. I studied engineering at Cambridge. And all of those, all of those experiences, you know, clearly opened doors for me and we’re meant to be valuable. But then when I think about the skills that resulted in my career in tech and what I use as an entrepreneur, so much of that I acquired outside of school.

And, um, it was that insight and thinking through, well, um, if so much important learning happens outside of school. And a lot of people don’t have access to it in the way that that I did. How can we create more of that? And that’s even where the name out school come to. How can we create more learning experiences outside of regular school?

Andrew: I found the same thing for myself. And then I just didn’t know where to go to learn this stuff. You’re lucky that your parents had the ability to do it. My parents were immigrants. They didn’t know why did they give, if I was interested in the stock market, for example, they didn’t know. You can just go to the New York stock exchange and look around, right.

They didn’t even know where to take that first step, let alone the next step, which is how to teach them what this stuff is. And so on the astronaut thing, I guess, a little later in life, You took flying lessons as a way of going on the path to flying into space. Am I right? Do you know how to fly a plane?

Amir: I did train the Royal air force in that kind of cadet program, uh, in college. So I did consider, uh, you know, flying planes for a living, um, and even going down the military, uh, pilot. Routes. And that will be the route to take me to be potentially become an astronaut. You know, I ruled that out fairly early on after I realized there were certain things about being in the military, which didn’t really gel with me, like taking orders and bombing people.

But I learned a lot through the experience.

Andrew: Guy who didn’t want to take orders? How do you end up at IBM? You’re done with school. By the way, I heard you skip. I skipped a grade. Impressive. I see how smart you are. And I see how your parents are willing to work with your intelligence. Instead of saying stick with the grade. This is the process. You want to think for yourself?

You don’t want to be in the military because you can’t deal with being told what to do. You end up at IBM. I’m not putting IBM down. I’m wondering what drew you to it in the first place. And then we’ll, we’ll understand what you learned from it, but what was the attraction to IBM.

Amir: So the attraction was the software. I was just really, really interested in software and the fast feedback loop and being able to create something relatively rapidly that could be used and have an impact. And in contrast with other types of engineering where, you know, it was a lot more kind of waterfall, a lot more upfront investment needed in which to create something, just the speed of creation as well.

What attracted me to software? And, you know, I knew that, you know, if I wasn’t gonna be an astronaut, what I wanted to do was create a credit business around software, uh, uh, preferably creating computer games, you know, from my original inspiration of getting into software. And, um, you know, I really saw, uh, you know, at the time in the UK, there weren’t that many opportunities to work for companies and improve and learn the craft of building software and the business of building software.

And, um, whereas IBM us company, global corporation had a big software division of big software lab, uh, in Winchester, in the UK. That seemed like a good ground to go and, and learn. And you know, now when I look back and. See everything I’ve learned. So, uh, see what happens in Silicon Valley and, you know, it’s easy to question, well, why did he spend all that time?

IBM, that’s completely antithetical to, um, uh, you know, to how things work in the Valley and you have managements and hierarchy, so huge multinational thumb and you know, all that’s true. Um, at the same time for where I was in life, uh, I think it was incredibly valuable to get that. Thanks.

Andrew: I wonder if also this was, this was after the.com bomb. All these internet companies that was supposed to change the world. It was Yahoo, but also excite there was eBay, but there was also pets.com and for every successful company, there were dozens. If not hundreds of failed want to be billionaires. Right.

I wonder if you said I love software. I don’t love this environment of fake companies without much substance. I’m going to go where I think software has more substance.

Amir: You know, it really wasn’t that I think, you know, from the question, I think you’re overestimating how much I knew about startups at the time and really how much, how much knowledge there was in the UK. About what was happening in Silicon Valley. Remember it, there, wasn’t the kind of cultural understanding I didn’t have that.

I didn’t know what was happening. I didn’t know that the culture in early stage startups was completely different to this software culture in the big company. You know, it was right at the start of that journey of learning. And when you went out and in the UK and looks around and try to see the intimate startups, they weren’t, they weren’t there.

So, so really, um, it, it wasn’t that intentional. The piece that was quite intentional though, was, you know, at the time after graduate saying I wasn’t in a place, I didn’t feel safe to immediately go. And instead of business, although I have fantastic. Uh, resources from my parents in terms of, uh, access to, to various learning opportunities.

I was coming from a very not wealthy background. So, you know, both my parents were immigrants to the UK. Um, they had their challenges, my father’s business, um, you know, in Boston, we lost our home. And so I was coming from a place of deep financial insecurity at the start of my career. And I think that’s a, that’s a piece that’s not talked about enough, um, in the Valley about how.

Um, you know, even just the baseline of being able to be, feel safe to start a business is so tough for people

Andrew: talk about that now, then what was, what happened with your dad’s business and how did it affect your family? What was the

Amir: Yeah. So, um, you know, my father was immigrants, uh, eighties. He was Indian and, but grew up in Kenya and came to London in the UK, uh, to study, uh, to get a PhD in physics. And I’m actually half Indian, half Czech. My mom came to the UK as well to stay for a PhD. So we’re an immigrant family and, um, and my father ended up.

Uh, creating a small business selling, uh, Hi-Fi equipments in Ealing in London and for awhile it thrived. Um, but then, you know, a big recession came, um, in, I guess the, uh, early nineties in the UK, a really big recession. It had a tremendously bad impact on the economy and, you know, my dad’s business went bust and, um, we ended up losing the family home.

And I had to go into state housing and shed hostels for a while. So it was incredibly kind of disrupted.

Andrew: How did, how did it, how did it, how’d your family deal with it? I mean, how did your dad deal with it? It, it could hurt a man’s pride, but also scare him to see what his kids are going through.

Amir: You know, I was quite young at the time, so it’s difficult to remember in some ways, but, um, you know, yeah, it was, it was very traumatizing for the family. Um, the, we survived because my dad fell back. Um, he taught, uh, physics and math previously, briefly, uh, after graduating and before he’d gone to business.

So we fell back to that. So I remember sitting at the table, uh, in the shed hostel with my dad, retaking his teacher training. And going on to becoming a teacher. So he then spent the rest of my teenage years, um, being, uh, being a high school physics teacher. And my mom also retrains the teacher and taught math, um, and you know, through all of that, through all the economic uncertainty, the one thing they never let go of was investing in my learning.

So the, and the ways they did that didn’t necessarily require a lot of money. It just requires a lot of intention and a lot of care, and, you know, it fit with who they were and where they’d come from. And also, you know, even with a professional, the teaching and, um, you know, I think this part of it life really shaped me and inspires me around creating art school today because, you know, part of that experience of having gone through that financial loss.

And disruption was, you know, I kind of felt pretty out of place in school. I was lucky enough to go to a good school, but, um, yeah, the other kids were in different kinds of, uh, environments coming from different socioeconomic backgrounds. Whereas I was coming from, you know, two immigrant parents who fall on hard times financially.

At the same time and around some of the time in my life, I skipped a year in school because my grades were always good. And, you know, I was told, you know, don’t tell other kids that you’ve skipped a grade, you know, they’ll be jealous. Might not, might not, might not take it well. And so, you know, I felt very out of place and, um, struggled really with that.

And I think that without school and with the ability to connect kids, Um, outside of the local environment, there’s another benefit, which isn’t just about the teachers and be able to access you the perfect guitar lesson for your kid, but it’s about community. Can you connect kids with others like them who might be going through the

Andrew: Are you doing that? Now? When I. Frankly, read the marketplace and community line in the intro because that’s, I think your sentence describing what, uh, our school is, but when I experienced it, I didn’t see that I saw a teacher teaching. And the students were responding to the teacher, but there wasn’t much interaction between the students yet.

I almost, maybe, maybe when we did it, we just didn’t see uses of things like zooms out. What is it called? The, um,

Amir: The breakout rooms.

Andrew: rooms. There was, there wasn’t much followup afterwards. Maybe I just hadn’t seen that. But are you adding to the community? Are you adding to the connection?

Amir: Um, I think that it connection varies a lot between classes. So, you know, I don’t want to take away from what you experienced and say, you know, that’s, that’s not what you experienced. Um, I think it, you know, in order to create connection, you need to build an ongoing relationship. So it’s easier when you consistently engage in a class for the brief learners of teacher week-in week-out.

So now, you know, half of our business at this point, uh, all what’s called ongoing classes where it’s a group that meets consistently every week and that way, um, it’s easier to form relationships in a one-time class. It’s quite tough for the teacher, right? To really elicit, um, uh, you know, uh, true interaction because, um, there’s a, you know, you have to build a certain amount of trust first.

Some teachers are very, very good at it, but that is for sure a challenge, but it’s also what we want to really get to, because I think that classes aren’t just about, you know, the teacher, um, imparting knowledge or the teacher media, all discussion. I think the most powerful learning experiences happen when the learners are true participants and not taking control of the experience

Andrew: and also in some ways comparing themselves to other students. I know that sounds bad, but when I learn and I see someone who’s a little bit further ahead, I feel a little momentum, a little little need to, to, to. Go with what they’re doing and try to catch up or see what’s possible. When I see someone who’s behind, I’ll be honest with you.

If they’re really far behind, I feel better about my progress and I don’t want to lose it. And there’s this sense of a little bit of competition. Maybe that’s just the way that I learned, but it helps. I also watch, um, my kid, when he was doing things, one-on-one remotely. It wasn’t doing much. It was, we were helping him, but it’s not like.

When he sees his friend reading and then he thinks I better read too. And I’m, I’m being expected to speak because my friend just spoke up and now she’s, the teacher is asking me to speak up. Right. And that, that does help a lot. Um,

Amir: that kind of it’s, it’s a kind of accountability that yeah. That can push you through things that you might otherwise not enjoy or find tough is when you see your friend doing it, or you feel that you, you know, you’ve built a relationship with a, with a group of peers and they’re all game to tackle this hard problem, or we’ll go with this challenge that encourages you to do so.

And that’s that’s key parts of group learning.

Andrew: I want to get back to where you came up with this idea and then what the first version is, because I feel like the first version from what I saw was just simplistic and elegant and works. And, and then, yeah, I don’t know what you built in SIM, but let me go, let me talk about my first sponsor. It’s a company called top.

How do you know about top tile for hiring developers?

Amir: I hadn’t heard of them

Andrew: You hadn’t heard of them. You know what, um, In the real world. I noticed that I did most people don’t know about them, obviously in my world because they’d been buying ads for me for years, my audience snows. But I remember one time I was walking, um, on the floor of my office here in San Francisco.

And this guy, Michael was wearing a RI was wearing a top top t-shirt I go, what are you doing? You’re wearing top-down t-shirt how, how are you? How do you know them? He says, Oh yeah, we hire from them all the time. He says he worked with 10 different companies, hiring developers, top tower had by far the best developers.

He has an AI company. That’s working with other companies like these scooter companies all over San Francisco, and he needs to hire data scientists. You need to hire engineers, you need to hire, um, uh, data analysts. And so he went to top talent. He was incredibly happy with him. He works at a company called quantum collective.

And the reason I bring this up Amir is because. One of the hardest things to do is to hire. And one of the hardest jobs to place is developers. I see you’re nodding in agreement now, up until recently, we’ve all thought, well, the best of the best developers are here in San Francisco. That’s why many companies move to the Bay area to hire top town said, you know what, there, a lot of people work for Google work for Facebook, but don’t want to stay here.

And they moved out and they went back to the countries that they were from the cities that they were from live there. And top-down said, we’ll make a network of the best of the best of these developers. And when somebody wants to hire them, Like at school, they can come to top town. Tell, tell them what they’re looking for top.

Tell we’ll find an expert who can do it. Somebody who’s done it before anyone out there who’s listening to me and I’m here. This is going to go for you too. If you want to hire from top towel, I urge you to go to top towel.com/mixergy, because when you do, they will give you 80 hours of developer credit.

When you pay for your first 80 hours, in addition to a no risk trial period. Think about that. A no risk trial period for developers. All you have to do is go to top as in top of your head tells and talent. That’s T O P T a l.com/m I N E R G Y. Top towle.com/mixergy. Where did the idea come from for out school?

Amir: So, um, you have talked a little bit about my personal motivation for thinking about education and how to apply technology in it. Um, and that was really, uh, really coming into my head a lot in 2013, 2014, before fanning out school, I was a product leader at square and I founded the square payroll products.

And, um, yeah, at the time, the reason these ideas about education were keeping coming into my head. And again, again, I want to stop my family and that naturally opens thinking about the kind of education that I want for my kids and reflecting on my own education at the same time. You know, during that time period, we were seeing how marketplace based models were really transforming other industries.

So, you know, Airbnb transforming, um, hotels and vacation rentals, Uber and Lyft, um, transforming their respective industries. And you know, this idea came to my head when I was thinking about how we could create more learning experiences outside of school. Well, what about, you know, like a Lyft line?

Education. I think that was literally the first kind of conception of it, Lyft line, but this kind of group. Right. You know, and the metaphor was the journey, the ride. Well, that was the learning journey. What if you could just press a button on an app and say, yeah, I want my kids to be able to take like a math class or a class of this type and a group of other kids who had the same need at the same time could come together and make that happen.

And that’d be a far more dynamic way to connect people around learning. Then needing to commit upfront for a whole semester or commit to an entire school. Like what if we can break it down and say, connect kids around interests that are at a given moment in time. And that

Andrew: It was going to be demand Demandbase that people would say, I want to learn this. And then some teacher would come and say, well, you’ve put together a group of students I will be able to. Yeah.

Amir: like magic, like pressing a

Andrew: But you thought that the demand would come first and then the supply of teachers would, would come afterwards.

Amir: Well, really the two together, you know, you’d have this pool of teachers in the same way. You have like a, a pool of, uh, cause in the lift model or a pool.

Andrew: Got it. And it would just be a marketplace that connects them. Here’s the part that I would have thought, Amir, you’re out of your mind, it’s not going to work. The remote part, the fact that it happens via zoom for a six year old for a five-year-old that would have felt to me, like, to be honest, that dumb idea.

Why did you go online? Instead of saying everybody, our community has teachers, I’ll give them a way of finding local teachers to teach piano, to teach yoga, to teach about rock collecting and where we can’t met. Match it up. We’ll fill it in with online. Why did you go online first?

Amir: You know, I totally agree with you. It wasn’t on my radar. Um, in the first conception of this idea, it was, we were going to create this marketplace. We’re going to dynamically connect groups of students and teachers. We don’t know exactly the right format, but we do know that there’s an early adopter community of secular homeschoolers.

We can experiment with what we decided to do was, well, let’s go to this community that we’d identified what already creating their own learning experiences and crafting their own learning experiences outside of the school system here in the Bay area, let’s go to talk to them and let’s try and let’s try and make this happen.

Let’s experiment.

Andrew: And this was you calling them up. You how’d, you even find them. And w where are you calling them personally?

Amir: It was, um, customer development. You know, we use our network and say, I already knew about this community because of a friend who was homeschooling our kids. I learned that it was nothing like what I expected. It wasn’t about them learning on their own. But with the parent at home, they were going ask about hiring teachers with friends.

They were teaching some things themselves and it’s very, very social. So that’s what put me on to, to, to that community as being, doing something really interesting things. So through that friends, yeah, we got linked to others and you know, the cascade of the network we kept asking for, well, who else should we talk to in spirit?

Who else, which filter and people were very, very willing to talk because it’s an under-recognized community. Um, you know, people see homeschooling less today, but let’s still today as being primarily driven by. You know, religion or, you know, seeking bisexual, maybe some political thread. Whereas there’s a, there’s a thriving community of secular homeschoolers who just believe in customizing education more finally for their kids and, and, um, and one really wants crafted themselves and has nothing to do with what people, most motivations.

Andrew: What else did you learn from, from talking to them?

Amir: Well that’s, that will last the thing, you know, we, uh, we spoke to them, we started asking them, well, you know, how do you form these classes? You know, how do you spend time in your kids? And can we build tools? Can we build this marketplace to help you? And we experimented with helping home schoolers, uh, run field trips together, uh, run, uh, find a teacher we’ll run classes together.

We experimented with helping them get access to online content. And through all that experimentation, our marketplace at, which was kind of in private beta at the time was growing throughout all this time. But one thing that we noticed was that they were using this other form of learning, which we hadn’t even thought about before.

Which was, uh, live online classes over zoom in scopes was actually the earliest opportunities that were already doing this in 2016. And we didn’t think much of it because we had the same reaction that you did. I’m not sure about where, you know, it, it, it kind of seems a bit strange. I’m not sure how much learning can occur, but we said we’re in prototype mode.

Uh, I’ll leave that for audience seems to be try this. Let’s try it. We did. And that part of our marketplace took off so much faster than other parts to the degree that the start of 2017, we decided to focus on the format exclusively. And this is like three years before the pandemic. Right? So it wasn’t with this idea that, um, you know, there’s to be something to be dispensed for.

Everyone has to be remote, but it was with this realization that wow, uh, early adopter homeschoolers have really complement something here. And we didn’t know what, at first we looked at the form and said, well, why is this taking off? You know, we didn’t expect it. We ran into it by an experiment, why this taking off?

And we started to realize, Oh, it’s interactive. So it’s far more engaging than MOOCs. The kids are excited and they can, they can talk to each other, engage. Um, at the same time, it’s more convenience than in-person, but you’d have to travel and you’re not restricted by your local groups. We’d come back to the local availability, um, uh, issue that we talked about for, and, you know, from a business perspective, this means we can scale both sides of the marketplace with fewer restrictions, because we can have teachers joining from all over the country and accessing demand from all over the country, instead of having to try and go city by city.

And so for all those reasons, it was like, and to get a technology like this was a full months of learning that hadn’t really previously been possible to make good because the technology wasn’t quite there yet, whereas with zoom and the ability to integrate it and the API APIs, it was good enough. Um, and we realized that there was a real kind of strong wine now, um, to this technology.

But yeah, you know, we discovered it, this was not the, you know, this format was not non-intentional.

Andrew: Pain that these parents were feeling the homeschooling. Parents where they actually, where they just, was it a nice to have, or was it a, I can’t believe, I can’t find this one class for my kid. And that’s how they found out school. Was it a pain or a nice to have back then?

Amir: You know, it’s um, it’s, uh, it’s an interesting trajectory back then. It was, I think, more of a nice to have. It was the same kind of mentality that caused my parents to invest in helping me. Uh, lens code and, uh, you know, pursuing my interest in computers. It’s like, Oh my kid’s interested in this, but I want to do something about it, but I don’t really have, but I want to help them see that interest, but then they’re happy and they come to the dinner table and tell them, tell me all about what they’ve learned.

So it’s not exactly a pain. It’s more like a hope, but yeah. Nice to have makes it sound too.

Andrew: nice to have, but not a deep pain. It’s somewhere in the middle. It’s this is what I believe in. I believe in fostering my kids, it’s passions in whatever it is, computers, uh, uh, space. I don’t have this resource to do it. And now our school comes through. And does it, you just solved another mystery for me.

I was wondering why the earlier versions of your website kept saying activities, activities, activities. It’s because a lot of it was and activities. All right. Another thing that I understood about you was. When I discovered that you were the founder of web mine, this was one of the early Y Combinator companies.

There’s something about that. That made you say I need a mission-based company as a follow-up before we explain what that was. What was web mind?

Amir: And we went through several iterations. It was a browser extension, which would help you search your browsing history. Was the first iteration. So the idea was it was your web mind. It would record everything you do on the web. And this was back in the days. Yeah. This was like 2008. This was before you had like such history in, um, in Google Chrome, a standard, this was a new thing.

And, um, it would include the ability to search through your private data. Repositories. All you do is when you just search on Google, we would take over the right hand side of the. Google search results page and we’ll show you, show you. Okay. Here’s the results from the Dropbox here, results from your previous browser browsing here is some results from Amazon, which we used to, um, to monetize.

Um, so it’s personally such, and that was our, that was our stats. And, uh, that was there. The company coming out of Y Combinator in winter, right?

Andrew: I saw an old article where you said, look, I’ll even take the pages that are down and we’ll make sure you have that. And frankly, for me at the time, that was one of the things that attracted me to your software. Because as a researcher, someone who loves to constantly look at things, I’d go and look. And then the person, when I finally would discover something amazing about someone, they would take it down because you know, Probably the amazing thing was something they don’t want me to know.

All right, I get that. And then you started iterating and you said, well, what if Google search can search all these different places for you? And you also were saying a Yahoo search and I guess live was, was, um, Microsoft’s first search. Is that right?

Amir: Yeah, it was all these only sources at the time when we were kind of integrating them only one of the Google search results page, treating it as kind of like, you know, a canvas we’re going to integrate various different sources.

Andrew: And then you were going to make it into a white label. So other search engines could also have this extra, super power attack. You were basically hunting for a thing you eventually, and I couldn’t find any research on this. You, it morphed into something called trigger.io. What’s triggered out IO.

Amir: So triggered IO was a big pivot. So, you know, we, we, we experiments with all these models. We’ve got hundreds of thousands of users. It didn’t really monetize that well, and we didn’t detect it and really solving core need for the users. And so, um, we wanted to try something else and, um, we realized that in the process of building web mines, We developed this internal framework and expertise of being able to deliver browser extensions across multiple different platforms, uh, with different, uh, different frameworks.

You have to support all these different browsers, even in completely different programming languages. And at the time, um, you know, mobile apps were really taking off and everyone’s saying, Oh, you know, how do we develop for iOS? And, um, Android at the same time and potentially other party platforms. And we thought, well, Hey, why don’t we take this expertise of doing cross-platform application development and apply it to mobile and create a development framework where in a single language JavaScript you could create needs mobile apps on iOS or Android.

Um, at the time, and I think still the there’s an open source product called phone gap, uh, that does this. And we thought, well, that’s deficiencies with that. Let’s make our own version. And also let’s include a cloud build service, uh, so that we can make the development experience much, much more seamless for a true web developers who don’t have any iOS, Android experience.

And, uh, and that, that became triggered.

Andrew: Why didn’t that take off? I’m seeing here, the page is still up and I think you’re listed as one of the alumni of the business. 70 bucks a month gets someone one app with a thousand reloads. It seems like reasonable pricing, simple way to get started. Why didn’t that business take off?

Amir: You know, it’s pretty reasonable and it’s an, it’s an existing, you know, running service, which, which I’m really proud of, um, and got to a certain degree of success. Um, and we had some big apps launch using the service. And at the same time, I tend to remember companies like pause and others were doing mobile backend as a service.

So with this group of companies doing it’s on the backend and group companies doing at the front end and we were one of the people. Just on the front side. I think the backend as a service companies did a little better because there was more consolidation around the methodology. Like how do you build a bubble app?

Well, lots of developers decided that they should use a mobile backend as a service when developers were thinking about, well, what should we, how should we handle our frontend? There was never, um, same consolidation, uh, around the idea that you should use a framework. Like Traer. People, some people have the philosophy that you couldn’t make the front-end experience.

Good enough, unless you did it in native, across the way other people have the philosophy that if you are going to, um, uh, use a framework, you better use an open source framework or one from, from a big company. And so, you know, it was very, very fragmented according to the type of app and what they, what they prioritize.

And so it ended up, I still think the mobile front-end is still a, uh, a, um, a fragmented space. And, you know, one thing I learnt from that experience as an entrepreneur is there’s actually a danger in when you’re doing customer development. When you find this real pain points in the customer, Well thinking that it’s because you found a pain point, you found a good business.

Um, when you talk to mobile app developers and you ask them, well, how important is your front end user experience and how, how much of a pain is it to develop multiple platforms? You know, you’ll hear. Yeah. It’s really, really important. And wow. Is it tough? It’s a big pain. And that can kind of make you think, Oh, well, there’s a important problem.

That’s really cool. And there’s a real pain point that so you can solve the pain point, then you’ve created a good business. And I think the, um, know the fallacy with that is, um, uh, what, when you think about, you know, cool pain points, the most important thing, uh, that a customer might have. It’s not obvious that they should outsource that if it’s the most important thing, then maybe they should roll it themselves.

And, um, and I see this play out in other SAS services, you know, like, um, logging companies, people providing SAS services for logging, like is logging core to businesses. Is it the most important thing?

Andrew: LA, what do you mean by logging?

Amir: Um, so, uh, logging providers as an, uh, uh, an API where you send a log files to, and they collate them and provide you management of your, of your set of locks.

Um, you know, I’m not super familiar with this space, but the, um, uh, the point I’m trying to make is that, uh, with that kind of, um, service, it’s not core to their customers. So it’s an obvious thing to outsource, but if you are trying to identify your customer’s main pain points, They probably wouldn’t say Logan, but that doesn’t mean that it’s a good business to go into and this influenced the strategy without school.

But instead of starting out saying, Hey, you know, the most important thing that parents really care about is their kids keeping up with math that would push you to say, well, I need to credit in math curriculum. That’s the most important thing that space we took completely opposite approach. We wanted to.

Pick up on the areas where parents were feeling a little bit of pain, a little bit of feeling of missing out, but there were, but they, um, but, but wasn’t cool to their kids’ learning. Um, yeah, it wasn’t the most important thing that school was providing them. And instead look to provide supply in those areas, which were kind of under recognized.

And over time, as we built up the business, our class had become more and more closer to the core. Does that make sense? I feel.

Andrew: Looking at myself for a second. Just the way that I’m reacting to you. Because you just fricking blow my mind. I’ve understood the importance of pain having done these interviews, but I hadn’t had anyone explain it to me that way, where there’s a danger of finding too much pain. And if something is really painful and it’s core to who you are, you’re not ready to bring somebody else on.

It’s just too important. It’s like, It’s tough for people to raise their kids, but I’m not going to outsource my kids to someone else. Obviously it’s been done. There’s certain cults that do it. There’s certain their kibbutzes that used to do it, but it’s not a thing that parents are looking to do. It’s it’s who we are.

Got it. So, and I love the explanation that we had for math, um, that I would’ve thought let’s focus on math. It’s clearly where the most pain is, but that would have been dangerous because math is so painful. It’s so important. Parents would have be the one to do it themselves or get their schools, a math teacher to teach it.

Okay. The first version of the product that you built after you did all this research, I wonder what you even built it on. Did you, I’m trying to figure out what did you use some, uh, no code platform. Did you start coding from the beginning? What did you do?

Amir: So I built a prototype, which was pure JavaScript from tens. I use Firebase, um, friends, Andrew and James from Firebase, Christian, amazing platform. Um, and you know, it’s just so good for. Uh, you know, our first version. So I was literally kind of prototyping myself as part of customer development. So, you know, creating a search page where people could look at local classes with, uh, with this promising less, but all frontend and then creating an individual class page.

Um, I even got to the point where we started taking payments. Um, even based on this prototype, I hooked it up. I think I use like Zapier so that when a field got filled in, in Firebase, Zapier would trigger an alert through PagerDuty. And it would page me that someone had enrolled on, uh, on, in this prototype.

And then when I go to that page, I would manually send that customer a square invoice in order to take payment. So I was actually able to sell classes, you know, how the whole system work by just kind of like. Plugging together, all these, um, all these different services and it was good enough in order to make off of sales and, um, you know, validate the fact that people were willing to engage in this kind of products and take classes.

Now that was a prototype. We literally threw away all that code and, um, you know, built it from the ground up from scratch on, on node and react. Um, but you know, that kind of, uh, you know, we’re super scrappy at start and we’re really focused on trying to work with customers rather than trying to build too much, uh, before we’d taken off first revenue.

Andrew: right. I want to talk about my second sponsor and then come back and understand what’d you do to grow from there. Um, And the first version was also, you didn’t even do video. I saw that. I remember my friend, John bisky created edifier years ago. It was one-on-one lessons. You could learn languages with one, with a coach or a teacher from whatever country you want to learn.

The language of it was great, but I think he even created his own communication platform. You guys said, no. Let the teachers use Skype or zoom next with what works. All right. It makes sense. I want to come back in a moment, but first I gotta tell you, there was a little competition that I, that I had for old school.

Very small. Here’s the thing I wanted. My kid to my kids kept asking me questions about insects. I had no frickin answer for them. I couldn’t Google it. And you guys didn’t have a class on it. I thought that would be my easy way. And you didn’t have a class at the time. So I went on Twitter. I said, does anybody know an entomologist who could answer my kids’ questions on zoom?

This guy introduced me to, um, drew from the zoo, from the San Diego zoo. I say, Hey, would you get on zoom? He did. I said, do you mind if I invite some of my kids’ friends said, yes, we did this class. It was fan freaking tastic at the end of it. I said, Uh, I called them up. I said, thank you. Is there anything I could do for you?

He said, you know, I love doing that. I would love to do more of it. I said, great. I went to HostGator and within an hour I had a whole page set up drew for grew from the zoo to teach how to, uh, to, to answer these types of questions for students. It was fantastic. We sold tickets. He had this class, I should have probably put them on out school, but here’s the interesting thing I followed up with with him and other people.

I said, what else do you need? And they said, Birthday parties. Like we’re now doing zoom birthday parties. Can you do that? And he said, I would like zoom birthday parties, because now the zoo is kind of opening during the week. And I have time at night and in the weekends. So we transitioned his page into that.

The reason I’m saying this is he had an idea. I just went to hostgator.com/mixergy. Yes. I used my own URL so that I get credit for getting the sale and I signed them up and within. I think an hour, the whole page was up with design, with sales process, with everything. If you’re out there listening to me, you’re going to come up with a need just like that.

And you’re going to think, how do I do it? How do I do it? Go to hostgator.com like that you can get a domain like that. You can build a website, anything that you want, and then it could. Transitioned into whatever, whatever it becomes based on customer needs, based on your passions, based on who knows, or maybe you just close it up and you move on because ideas are better when you experiment with them.

And it’s totally fine to have an idea and then say, it’s not the right one and it’s easy to close up just as easy it is to build up with scale. If you go to hostgator.com/mixergy, yes, I will get credit for sending you over there. And I appreciate you do, you’re doing that, but also you’re going to get their lowest price because that URL gives you an unbelievably low price lower than their usual price.

From HostGator. So get your website hosted. In fact, Mixergy, by the way, is hosted on HostGator, Mixergy and drew from the zoo’s site. And so many others, millions literally are hosted on HostGator, go to hostgator.com/mixergy and host your site. Now, um, else, did you decide, we’re not going to build into this to focus on what was critical.

Amir: At the start, we really focused on the marketplace. So can we get parents and teachers. Interacting to form the classes that they wanted. But yeah, as I said, as you’ve noted, without being opinionated about exactly what the format would take, we left that in teacher’s hands. We gave them a ton of flexibility.

We said, Hey, you design the class the way you want it. We’re only going to provide you with. Um, the page and we’re going to find you the, the audience, but it’s really yours to design over time. As we’ve learned what really works with the, with the four months of learning, we’ve become more and more integrated.

So we’ve now built out the tools that we’ve found that teachers need is such as, you know, the integration with zoom and our own classroom, where teachers and students can interact and, um, communities where their learners can interact. And, um, parents can interact. So it was very much, you know, the lean startup model.

We didn’t raise much money. At first. We had no revenue from the prototype stage, let alone launch stage. And this was years before we actually formally launched in 2017 and very much follow this interest of approach where at every point in the way look at what’s the limiting factor on improving the parent, the teacher student experience.

And what’s the minimum that we could do in order to make a step change in that experience.

Andrew: Why didn’t you from the beginning, use a no-code solution. Why did you decide that you were going to code that up yourself? There? The marketplace offers existed forever.

Amir: Yeah. You know, we knew and had experienced my co-founder. Nick was the first engineer at Airbnb. And so, you know, I was very familiar also with, you know, the frameworks that you could use to make development easier. After all I created one and it was familiar with, uh, with other tools, like five eyes. And that’s why we create the first prototypes that way.

But we knew that ultimately in order to be successful and have a scaled up consumer business, there’s a lot that happens behind the scenes that really needs to be customized for your use case. So at some point you need to make the transition. And say, sure, we’re going to use third party services to run this, but they’re going to be progressively lower and lower down the tech stack.

And so you make decisions at various points to become progressively more customized. We decided to do it pretty early because we believed that the kind of products that we’re creating for education, uh, was pretty unique. You know, most education companies are focused on building, uh, within the confines of the existing school system.

And most marketplace companies don’t have to deal with the complexities of education, especially group classes. You know, it’s not just a two-sided marketplace, but it’s also a group. Bye. When you have multiple families enrolling in the same class and you’ve got constantly turning over supply because the classes are happening in the fixed point in time.

So all these unique characteristics of the domain combined with the facts that, you know, we had such deep technical skill of our team that we’re able to, to utilize that early. I’m not saying it’s the only path to be successful and it just fits with what we were observing and our strengths.

Andrew: That makes sense, because I think you had one-off classes, then you also, like you said, you have weekly classes, but you also have three class. There’s some classes that go day, day after day after day for five days or three days in a row. I get that. I think there’s certain things that you guys did not end up using.

Um, What was it? Um, Oh, email, you were using Intercom. I think you might still be on Intercom. I write about that.

Amir: Yeah, we use Intercom for some of our emails, some of it, um, uh, uh, beta cells as well. But yeah, absolutely. It’s fantastic product that we, we use very heavily.

Andrew: Like if I do in my inbox, a search for out school, Hunter walk has, um, A fathers group and Sam, I don’t know if I’m ever supposed to tell him. I don’t know him. I don’t know that even likes me, frankly. I think I’ve asked him a few times questions in person, but he’s got this fan freaking tastic group of fathers together, and I’m looking for out school and I see conversations that they had talking about out school to just give you a sense of the kinds of people who are we’re talking and using you, what’d you do to grow beyond the first phone call, the first phone calls, the first one-on-one sessions to bring people in.

How did you get more parents on board?

Amir: The community is so key parent community groups, um, homeschooling groups initially, and then other community groups. Uh, initially a lot of, you know, me personally reaching out to influencers telling them, um, what I was trying to achieve without school sharing some of the stories about my own experience and why I can, um, and getting people excited.

And then they would share it with that groups. Over time, you know, it became more scaled and we, um, engage with a whole bunch of different Facebook groups. And that was really how we got the demand side of the, of the marketplace going just, you know, um, one by one, uh, building relationships with the groups, getting them to share.

Um, our class is getting really excited about what we did. And that was a really key step. You know, there, there are standard channels for consumer growth, which people talk about, you know, referral and referral programs, um, SEO or content, uh, paid marketing. And, you know, we use all of those today and those are super, super important to scale.

But usually with a marketplace like ours, You don’t go for those scale levers. At first, usually it’s very much one by one compete, convincing influencers within particular communities that you’re targeting, that what you’re doing is interesting and exciting and something that they should check out. Um, and so, yeah, that was a lot of the work in the first, uh, wants two years to build up to a critical mass.

Andrew: I thought, um, was getting the students or the teachers, the harder part.

Amir: You know, it’s, um, uh, it’s really, uh, almost we spend most of our time spending on the parent’s side, because what we find is that we, um, you know, teachers come to us organically, just so readily. Uh, when we do market saying to parents, you have some sensitive, those are teachers and they come on the site and they spread the word to other teachers.

And because they can earn $40 an hour plus, and some teachers are earning very much more than that. Um, it’s really, really, uh, uh, such a compelling value proposition that usually we have more teachers who want to come on board then, um, that we necessarily wanted to at a given time. And so our main focus is getting the word out to parents and.

You add first convincing them that you, this new company, uh, was worth taking a bet on where their kids time and how they were so much bigger. And as we grew big, it was more, more a question of convincing them, Hey, this live online format is something that you should experiment with. And now it’s more a matter of, you know, holding on to the growth and scaling up, uh, consumer channels.

But I vividly remember those kind of stages of, uh, of, uh, what we had to focus on with growth.

Andrew: I don’t know what broke this year, because we’re talking about all the great things. But before that the, the teachers don’t seem like they’re promoting, right. It’s not their job to promote it the way you’re seeing it. And you’re nodding for people that are listening. It’s, they’re absorbing the demand.

They’re not creating it by going out and being what, what edifier created. The name. I’m a teacher preneurs. You don’t want that. That’s not their job.

Amir: It’s not that I, I don’t want that. And you know, some teachers do work hard to, to build their own audience. It’s just that for most teachers, that’s not their core competency. Yeah, it’s not that bread and butter to be marketing themselves or to building up an audience on social media, um, or to be advertising their classes on Facebook.

That’s really where we can add a lot about where we understand growth loops, engagement, loops, the usual consumer channels, um, and can aggregate that demand across all of the different topics. And, uh, and classes and the teachers really rely on us for that piece. So for teachers is not just a platform that they are able to operate the class.

We actually generate the majority of demand teachers.

Andrew: So then what did break suddenly all schools closed. People stuck at home. They’re looking for a way to, to teach their kids what didn’t go right for you guys.

Amir: um, you know, that weekend in March when there were mass school closures, we saw it coming. So we were prepared to a degree.

Andrew: How’d you see it coming?

Amir: Well in late February, the CDC, uh, uh, put out this guidance saying that there was this thing called coronavirus that could have a big impact. And in that guidance, they said, schools might need to prepare for internet based tele school.

That’s where they call internet basically school. I kind of looks at that and I said, well, what the hell do they mean by intimate based tele schooling? And then you kind of started to Dawn on me. Oh, bleep.

Andrew: We’re internet based telescope.

Amir: What they mean is what they mean is what we do. And then the next thought was, well, how on earth is the entire school system going to move over to this thing that they’re calling internet based, tele schooling, uh, overnight.

Um, and then the thought came well, well, of all U S organizations out there. We are the largest in terms of the most experienced this format, given that we’ve been doing it since 2017. So we did, we kicked off a training program, a free training program for teachers in schools to try and get them up to speed in time because we said,

Andrew: To teach, even though the teachers who are going to be outside of your platform, but are suddenly thrust into the online world. You want to teach them how to do this?

Amir: Exactly because we w we just wanted to help. So we were like, well, the main thing we have to offer is our expertise. So let’s, um, let’s start training teachers in schools. And as we started doing that, we had thousands and thousands of attendees in these webinars that were running on how to do. The style of learning, we realized this is just the tip of the iceberg.

There’s no way we can train enough teachers. There’s no way the school system can adapt quickly enough. And so then the second strategy preparation was to launch a financial assistance program at our school at all, because we realized, Oh, wow. You know, schools are going to be. Severely affected. The people are going to be home.

The most of the people who can’t afford art school classes. Um, so let’s create a financial assistance program. We found some initial donors, we committed a million dollars ourselves to fund scholarships for people in need to take out school classes. Um, and now, you know, that program is much larger. We’ve made large commitments and we’ve got commitments from other.

Donuts. Those are the things we did prepare. And then on that Friday, it was like Friday, March 13th, 2020, and mass school closures across the country had just been announced. We just launched our free classes program for the financial assistance, um, uh, uh, for families in need and our numbers just, you know, it didn’t so much go exponential.

It was just like looking up a cliff face. Uh, never seen anything like it. And, you know, I saw very fast growth for square. Um, my co-founder Nick, as opposed to JIRA Airbnb, we’ve seen very fast growth and in other circumstances, never not seen anything like it. Um, and the whole team. And at the same time, this was only a weekends working remotely.

Like the entire team were built companies in person, company, um, and the whole team moves with working remotely. We work through the weekend or may remember being upper. You know, two or 3:00 AM in that Friday, Saturday night working on my co-founders to put some limits in, uh, to the program so that we could be sustainable, uh, cooling up donors so we could keep the scholarships going.

Well, our core business was also going through the roof, um, putting in kind of a quick fixes in place for that infrastructure to keep the site up. Um, we had some outages. It will, uh, but you asked what broke, I would say these weren’t kind of Twitter farewell. So that’s just, we, we managed to keep up. I think the thing that really broke was class availability.

Like we went from, you know, plus as being, uh, you know, having typically like five or six students having 18 and like completely selling out large. Chunks of my place. So on the Sunday, um, I put a call out saying that we’re looking to recruit 5,000 more teachers to teach in the platform. And the next two weeks was the challenge I said, and we’re very fortunate to get a lot of publicity of that.

Call-out because at the same time, you know, other companies were shedding. Uh, staff and opportunities where we’re becoming much more rare. And so, um, that was the main thing that was broken, just the supply of teachers and classes. And we really had to scramble to, to address that. And you have to do that without, with quality control, because we’re normally open marketplace.

We vet every single teacher on the site. So we had to scale up our team and ability to do that at the same time. You know, um, our sanity was probably the closest thing that came to breaking during that time. We’re in a better place now, but you know, it was very, very intense.

Andrew: Doesn’t there’s, there’s a CFO at Y Combinator who has the same last name as you, you, you two related

Amir: Yes. Castillo my wife.

Andrew: Ah, okay. Does that help to connection? I know you, I didn’t realize, but I just found out that you went to Y Combinator again with, uh, out school too. Does it help to be able to draw on her, to be able to draw on this connection?

Amir: Kirsty’s my main

Andrew: I don’t mean her, but Y Combinator. Yeah. She’s your main advisor.

Amir: as an individual, you know, even aside of why is my main advisor and I’m incredibly lucky to have a white Combinator partner who I’m able to turn to and ask key questions and who has such insights. Um, you know, I went through Y Combinator a second time. Uh, without school.

Um, so I already knew, you know, the program and it was known by the program. They didn’t make it easy for me. They gave me a hard time. Thanks for the interview. Uh, same as everyone else. And, you know, Jeff Ralston was asking some pretty probing questions because he knows he knows a thing or two about, about education.

Um, I think, yeah, for sure. It helps having been a white person Illumini, uh, from, uh, Oh eight. Um, because I had some insights into what they were looking for the application process.

Andrew: What I mean is, did, were you able to call on this whole network and say, look, we suddenly have explosive growth. We need help and have them come through. I think you raise money through the Sesame street people. Were they helpful or was it, it sounds to me like, it was just. There’s nobody out there who can help you deal with it with the growth.

That’s just on you guys. You your co-founder. Yeah.

Amir: You know, um, we got so much help in the last few months in lots of different ways, but there is this challenge in how to digest, help, you know, putting out a call for help and then be able to receive it when you’re going through such intense. Growth is actually kind of, quite challenging to do, which is why, you know, ultimately you lean on the people who are there full-time and fully present.

So, you know, the team, my co-founders, our team members, uh, were most key. Um, but you know, our investors too, um, in helping us reach out to people who could help us get those teachers online, um, spread the word of that and help advise us on what were the things to prioritize when you go through hyper-growth like this.

Um, I remember speaking to, um, Allie at Y Combinator and others saying, Hey, what are the most important, most important things? And, you know, I think I remember him saying, well, supply. I think I was talking to him on Sunday night before I. Before I sent out, um, yeah, that colds more teachers and culture, like you’re about to meet, to start hiring very rapidly.

You better have thought really carefully about who are you going to bring on board and how, um, and that’s going to be key to, to, you know, staying sane well, uh, while scaling. Um, so, but we’ve had so much help, you know, in the, in the past, uh, past six months, especially from the community of parents and teachers who, who we really rely on to, to create these experiences.

Andrew: At the moment I’m looking up, your wife she’s bad-ass Christie was there from the early days of Y Combinator. She apparently was the one who helped founders get money into their bank accounts in the early days, just back when they were offering what $11,000 plus $3,000 per entrepreneur, helping them set up their companies in Delaware, the works, um, damn impressive.

Amir: She was the first employee at Y Combinator. Um, after the, you know, the four, uh, initial, uh, partners founded it. Um, we came over in 2008, sorry, 2009 after I founded my first company in 2008 and went through Y Combinator then. But, uh, you know, we’ve, we feel very lucky to have been part of the Y Combinator journey and really seen that from.

Going from at the time was S you know what? Comedy is their own staff story. They were a small community trying to do this interesting thing and creates new funding model. And now there are, there are behemoths within.

Andrew: yeah. Weren’t you with them? When I think I read an article where you were staying at somebody’s dorm at MIT, just so you can go and apply, which made me realize that you were with them when they were in, in Boston, right before they moved to Silicon Valley.

Amir: Yeah. With web minds, we were interviewed in Boston. We actually took part in the program in Silicon Valley, because that was back in those days, they, they flipped coasts, um, for each program. But yeah, this was the, this was the early days when, you know, just, uh, I think in an at-bat she went to eight, it was 20 founders.

Uh, you know, you, would, you get something around $20,000, um, you know, demo

Andrew: Graham would give you a, what was it? A chili that he would make at home? Is that right?

Amir: Yeah, he thought it was good. They still provide, but now it’s now it’s professionally cases, but. Yeah, back in those days, it was just a small room. And, you know, there’s a, still a certain amount of skepticism from the investor community, whether this was really a good idea as a, as a way of, uh, of creating startups. And, you know, I think white colonists being impassively proved as a, um, as a very good idea in terms of encouraging.

Andrew: She was there, there wasn’t enough money, I guess. And for a while there, she took in the $2 million from Sequoia, which think about that. Y Combinator needed $2 million in order to continue. And then eventually, uh, Y Combinator was self-sustaining using money from its exits. Um, let me close out with this.

First of all, both of you to bad-ass, um, number two, what else are you seeing that’s necessary now in this post pandemic education world, as somebody who is in it, who see some of the problems we’ve seen some of the opportunities, what do you think should be created? What do you think the future should look like?

Amir: I think about a couple of different things. Firstly, I think about the evolution of in-person learning, you know, we are the online piece and there’s lots of advantages to, um, this live online formats of learning. But I think in-person learning really needs to evolve as well. And, um, you know, I, I think we need to separate out some of the different functions that school provides.

You know, it’s a place where you can drop off their kids and they can be safe and taken care of. Um, it’s a place where kids, uh, find community. And, um, uh, socialize with other kids and develop friendships. Um, it’s also a place where learning happens where academic classes also a place where enrichment happens.

And, um, you know, we’re starting to see a separation of those pieces with trends like a micro school networks, your learning pods, which it sounds like you’re very familiar with. So I think there’s a lot more innovations come there. I would really like to see schools and libraries and micro schools turn into learning centers where, um, they, uh, primarily focused on providing community and a safe place for kids and then offering connections to a variety of other.

Um, resources and providers to, to, uh, provision various forms of instruction. So I see an ecosystem where our school is playing one part, which is supplemental, um, education with groups of kids from, from around the world. And then I’d like to see a lot more innovation happening in the other parts.

Andrew: What do you see in, in the pods make total sense? To me? I think there are some number of people who are going to stick with pods for the rest of their kids’ careers, five or so kids in a room together learning. Um, I think out school is going to be a part of it. I think in class is going to be a part of it.

But when you say libraries need to facilitate some of this, uh, what do you, I guess I’m not following that part.

Amir: So, um, yeah, what I’m imagining is a place where your kids could go and take parts in in-person classes, or they could access online resources. Or take part in our school classroom, it has the internet set up the equipment it’s publicly available. And, um, that could be, you know, school can play that role or other local institutions like libraries could play that role.

And so,

Andrew: So just like I go to the library to learn from a book, I could go to library and say, I’m trying to understand how I don’t know. AI works.

Amir: Then you might attend an out of school class, then you might go to a person who’s come into the library for exactly that thing. And they’re all these different modes of the space. Um, that’s provided by the library or the school is designed to facilitate those interactions.

Andrew: I could see that I could see also schools eventually signing up for out-of-school. Like they could end up being your top customers, schools who are buying this in bulk for their students and participating. Um, I feel like we’ve got this cusp of we’re finally willing to try something new. When was the last time we tried something new in education, right?

Industrial revolution.

Amir: Yeah. You know, this is such a terrible circumstance with COVID. That, you know, uh, I’m a little nervous saying this. Um, but, uh, I will anyway, you know, if there’s one silver lining all the difficulties that we’ve had this year, it’s that, um, it’s an opportunity to try new things and to really realize, you know, some of the defaults that would help dare, maybe don’t need to be default anymore.

And you see that in the workplace as well. Yeah. We’ve transitioned to be fully remote. Uh, for the forever. And so many companies done that because they went through this transition was wow. All these things that we were afraid of about, you know, working remotely. Well, we have to deal with them anyway and Oh, it’s not out with some practice and some, some experience it’s not, you know, the downsides one is bad and the upsides maybe look more appealing and I hope we can see and find some silver linings to this in education, even after.

Um, you know, hopefully, you know, vaccine comes soon and we can, um, you know, get back to a more normal way of life.

Andrew: I hope that it won’t be the same life that we had before. I’m looking at the different groups that I’m a part of. And there are a lot of parents who are saying gay school could be open soon. I hope that it doesn’t go back to what it was before, because we’re so exhausted that we don’t want to keep trying.

I want to keep trying, I don’t think it should be the way it was before, because it was making hardly anyone happy. I was going to say no one happy, hardly anyone happy. Right? You gotta be so fricking proud. Are you freaking proud or are you just exhausted and thinking, are you, are you jaded at this point?

Amir: I’m definitely not jaded. I am quite exhausted, but you know, I am incredibly proud and grateful of what we’ve achieved and what our team and teachers have achieved. You know, it’s, it’s a rare privilege to find yourself with a product that can be so helpful to so many at a critical time. And, um, you know, it’s, it’s been very, very challenging, but, but yes, I am very great, proud and grateful for that.

Andrew: glad to hear it. I think it’s going to be a lot of pain for you, but damn, there’s some things that are just worth suffering for. There’s some things that you look back when you’re fricking old, man, and you say. What was the, Oh yeah. I know what the point was. I did that. Yeah. I moved that away from what it was before to where it is now and you’re doing it all right.

For everyone. Who’s listening to me. You probably know if you’re a, the website is out school.com. If you don’t. I think you should just go take a look at it. This is the future of education. I think this is the future of, I think it’s going to be the few, I think at some point you’re going to start going into colleges.

I think NA and I don’t know, there’s just. The K to 12 is so big. It’s such a big, massive issue, but I, I love the way you’re doing it. Maybe somebody else will do the college version and somebody else will do the adult learning version. Anyway, congratulations. And I want to thank the two sponsors who made this interview happen really seriously.

The people over at HostGator have been supporting me for a long time. If you’re into building a website or you don’t like your hosting company and want to switch, go to hostgator.com/mixergy. And if you’re hiring a developer, if you’re really trying to have impact. Challenge the people at top towel to blow your mind because the developers they have are mind blowing, truly go challenge them and challenge me by going to top towel.com/mixergy.

I’m here. Thanks so much for being here.

Amir: Thanks please talking to you.

Andrew: Bye.

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