A tech founders approach to home learning

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I have so much I want to get out of this interview personally.

Victoria Ransom is the co-founder of Prisma, a full-time virtual educational program for kids grades 4-8 that fully replaces regular school and is a low lift for parents.

I want to find out how she found a way to make education better for both parents and kids.

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Victoria Ransom

Victoria Ransom

Prisma

Victoria Ransom is the co-founder of Prisma, a full-time virtual educational program for kids grades 4-8 that fully replaces regular school and is a low lift for parents.

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Full Interview Transcript

Andrew: Hey there. Freedom. Well, this is like a lean in interview for me. Uh, I can’t even introduce myself partially. I’m leaning in because, and leaning in means in this couch where I am in an Airbnb in Austin, Texas means like my shirt’s looping and I’m going, this is like showing too much chess here. It’s not, but is it showing too much eagerness?

Probably. I think I’m overwhelming Victoria in the pre-interview conversation, you’re probably at the end of your day or sometime like in a, in a busy day. And you’re like, Andrew’s firing questions at me before we even started. How do you feel Victoria?

Victoria: I feel great. It’s fun to reconnect.

Andrew: Yeah, Victoria ransom was one of my first guests back in 2010 when she discovered the power of Facebook for businesses and she actually made it work way beyond what, what others had truthfully. She was there at a time when there were a lot of people who are creating apps for Facebook, for businesses.

And there’s something that she did. And I have a hunch. I have some ideas based on our past interviews and my following the business over the years, there’s something that she did that allowed it to grow much bigger than others and become more of a substantial business than others. And. And so I interviewed her about wildfire back in 2010.

And now I’d like to do a little bit of catch up on what happened there. And just since it’s been a few years to understand why that business did well, where others in the Facebook business, social space uh didn’t and then also the other reason I’m leaning forward is if you listen to my interviews over the last say, year or two, you see I’m fascinated by the new.

Approaches to, to education. I’ve always talked on Mixergy about how much I hated school growing up. And I don’t believe that that’s the experience kids should go through. And also I think that it needs to be more customized than that. Um, and on a personal level, my wife and I don’t agree on this, but we both are aligned in, in that we don’t like traditional.

We, we don’t agree in the direction that that makes sense, but we both agree that. The mainstream education just sucks. Anyway, so I want to talk to Victoria about her new business. It’s called Prisma, and it allows parents who want to have homeschooling be done in a more professional way than I did it back in the early days of COVID to get that support and to have a team of people who are really doing that.

And invited her here to talk about both, both businesses and we can do it. Thanks to my two sponsors. The first we’ll host your website, right? It’s called host Gator. And the second, if you’re doing email marketing, I’ll tell you why you should be going and checking out, send in blue. And I’ll talk about those later, but first Victoria, good to have you here.

Victoria: Nice to be here. I’m looking forward to this conversation.

Andrew: You know what, first of all, for years I heard that, uh, Google bought you back in 2012 for $450 million. And I remember you telling me it was a bootstrap company. Is that number accurate?

Victoria: It is.

Yes. Yes. There’s a number of numbers around on the internet, but I guess, I think at this point I can confirm that as an accurate

Andrew: Yeah. It’s been about a decade now. And. I remember going back and before my interview with you creating an account on wildfire and seeing that, I think I created a contest and whenever somebody joined the contest, they would basically be following my page, maybe even giving me their email address and then also sharing it.

And so there were a number of companies that did apps like this looking back. Well, what do you think it was that allowed you to scale up so much?

Victoria: It’s a great question. And I’m curious what your idea is that to, um, a few thoughts come to mind. One is. We became very good at sales. I would say we built a very strong sales machine and as it turned out, uh, I think, you know, for most companies, they do want to speak to someone before, uh, they sign up and use your product, particularly because over time and when we first spoke, this was not the case, but over time we became a subscription model.

So generally there’s a sales process associated with that. And we just got really good. I would say my humble. At hiring a young, inexperienced salespeople, straight out of college, training them up, screening out those, you know, for whom it wasn’t a good fit. And we had other places in the company for them.

Um, and just having a very efficient and effective. Uh, online. So it was all done virtually back in the day when virtual wasn’t such a big thing, a sales machine. Um, so that was one thing in the very early days, perhaps when we were talking, the very nature of our model was. Viral. And that certainly helped.

And you just mentioned it that, uh, when someone ran a contest and lots of people would enter in that contest, when they enter the contest, it would say powered by wildfire at the bottom, and you could click and then sign up and create your own contest. And if a company didn’t want that on their contest, they had paid quite a lot more.

So we also had this great price, differentiation thing going on. Um, uh, you know, the other thing, this is at a sort of a higher level. I feel really proud and it’s one of the best things I do. I think we did it while for I’ve just creating a fantastic culture. I think we had a team. That just was, you know, running on all engines, worked extremely well together, had a lot of fun together.

And so that enabled us to retain employees really well. It enabled us to recruit employees. I think over 50% of our hires were referrals from existing, um, while for our team members. Um, and you know, it frankly enabled us to, we were bootstrapped. So we didn’t have the kind of perks and benefits that a lot of others better funded companies had in our space.

But, uh, when it all boils down to it, I think people just want to enjoy their job. They want to enjoy the team they’re working with and that’s what we did have. Um, and so those are the things that come to mind that I think we did really well at well.

Andrew: I would also add onto that there was this sense in the entrepreneurs that I interviewed who were in that space at the time that this is like a quick buck, that Facebook is this machine that will, and it made the money amazingly fast. And they were in that quick buck mentality. Where they were trying to milk Facebook’s weaknesses and lack of protections by like automatically checking every, a friend when you were trying to share it.

And I don’t know whether you did or not, but they were S whether you did it, you didn’t do it at all. They were, they were in the mentality of looking for those. Big viral hooks that would give them the big pop. And I remember even when I talked to you, the first thing that I noticed about your site was you had big brands on your site.

You had more enterprisey feel to you. And I think. There is a difference there in the long-term bigger. Stodgier what they thought was stodgier businesses that you are going after. And now I’m also learning that you were doing more of what the enterprise was looking for, which is phone calls and conversations.

Got it. Where they weren’t. Okay. So

Victoria: you’re right. I mean, what you’re describing was the spam Minas of Facebook and Facebook marketing at that time. And there was a

lot more opportunity to do that. And, uh, yeah, I think we were working with perhaps more quality companies and we were trying to, you know, we also expanded beyond just promotions and contests to provide a full suite

Andrew: It was ver everything. Virtual gifts coupons, the landing page that was people’s home page. You did. Um, I think you even broke out by 2010 of Facebook, but you were already talking about to me. Businesses shouldn’t have to hire somebody to do their Facebook fan page back when it was a static page on Facebook and their viral apps, which were things like contest and coupons and a homepage developer would just do what they come to us.

We give them the thing. Um, So I see that. I see that thought process. When you’re thinking about hiring salespeople, you kind of remind me about SendGrid. SendGrid was also one of these companies that said, we understand that most businesses are not going to just buy off of a landing page, no matter how studied your landing pages, we’re going to do calls.

But I remember also that Techstars introduced me to SendGrid’s new CEO and I said, wait, why do they need to do CEO? And when he did an interview with me, It’s tough to create a process for selling you could sell and you could teach people to do it well, because you’ve got gut instincts for how to do it, but systemizing, it is tough.

You systemized it. What was your system like? And then how did you even develop that process?

Victoria: Yeah.

well, we developed over time and honestly, at a certain point in. Early days. If you had said, are you going to build a sales team? We would say no way, that’s not scalable and everyone will just buy online. But we learned we needed to, um, we had, I think, a really great model. For, like I said, training up people that had no sales experience, um, sort of, uh, putting them in a bootcamp type experience.

And then they came out of there either successful or they did an, and a few things related to that one is we built a recruiting machine. So I think by the time we saw. Google, um, wildfire to Google. I think we have 15 or 17 full-time recruiters at, uh, at wildfire and they got really good at doing things like getting candidates to submit videos.

So we could see very quickly if they felt like a good fit and so recruiting, we got good at encouraging employer referrals as part of that recruiting. We got good at, uh, when we. Uh, you know, first time salespeople enter the company, they started out as sales associates. It was a six month process. They were training during that time.

So we had lots of, I think it may have been that large part of every Friday was dedicated to actual training workshops. Uh, and then the rest of the time, they were basically trying to get leads and appointments for the rest of the more experienced sales team,

Andrew: Ah, so you did SDRs at a time when people weren’t doing it,

Victoria: Uh,

Andrew: development reps,

Victoria: yeah, apparently we did. We didn’t call them that. Um, yeah. And that’s a hard job with that is tiring, exhausting job. And so I think it, quite quickly sorted people out, um, who had that hunger. The other thing is we always had a very heavy commission. Model. So we paid the absolute bare minimum base salary that we could, and then had heavy commissions, which again, really incentivize those that did well to stick around and those that didn’t to move on or find another role in the company.

Uh, we also developed a fantastic, um, sales, operations team that really I’d say engineered Salesforce to the nth degree. So we really had fantastic data real time. On how, um, you know, how our different sales reps, were doing. We, and This is not unusual, but we celebrated every sale in a really big way. We had this huge gong in the middle of the sales floor and anytime someone, you know, signed a contract, they would go and gong the gong and we had leaderboard.

Andrew: of the stuff that people in tech were re rebelling against needlessly. It was just, we are not everything that came before us were brand new. But when you talk about doing that, I don’t know how you were able to do it. I think you were an analyst at Morgan Stanley before it wasn’t like you were even, um, in, in management consulting where I’ve noticed that people come into startups with this discipline system-wide systems, basic process.

How did you even know to do all this?

Victoria: Uh, partially common sense and trial and error, uh, and passionately, but by the way, like, well, if I was a team, it’s not like I came up with all of these ideas as a team, we came up with ideas and we tried them. Um, we just had such a scrappy experimental mentality from day one, I think, where let’s try this, but we also had a number of early salespeople that came.

From a company called Fisher investments that had a pretty good, uh, sort of internal sales process themselves. And so I think we also took some inspiration from that company. Um, I’d have to think back to not exactly how they ran their sales, But they certainly had a sales machine

Andrew: what was this company? This wasn’t an investment company that invested in you, right? It was someone that you hired from, and then you learn from their process. Uh, okay. And then what was the price point?

Victoria: Uh, so we moved to subscription model and the subscriptions range from about $20,000 a year to $40,000 a year,

Andrew: God, that was also gutsy that I didn’t realize it was that high. And so that does allow you to do more. Got it. Wow. Um, yeah, that was

Victoria: of hit a.

um, we had a real sweet spot. You’re right. We had these huge enterprise brands on our website. And in fact, again, I’d say one of the things we did, right. We did whatever it took to get the first two or three big logos that meant doing it for free staying up all week, doing a custom thing for a Pepsi, I think may have been petsy actually.

Um, so you get those first logos, but in fact, our sweet spot was sort of, I’d say mid-size companies. The really large enterprises, you could do much bigger deals than what I just described. You could do multi hundred, hundred thousand dollar plasty, but then you had to fly out there in person. And there was a long sales cycle.

And so I think we found the sweet spot of I’d say, mid tier companies. We could actually do the sale virtually. Uh, you didn’t have to go on wine and dine them. You could get a decision. You could get to a decision maker quite quickly. That ended up being our sweet spot.

Andrew: What type of businesses are we talking about? Like local made businses things like that. Restaurants,

Victoria: Uh, no, those were too small. No, maybe like, um, multi-restaurant chain would be a good example or a boutique hotel chain that had seven or eight hotels, but not Marriott, but it was not small businesses. We did try the small business angle and what we discovered the. I think, you know, we had a price point of $99 a month.

The problem with that is those businesses wanted to spend as much time in the sales process as a mid tier business, because for them it. was a big expense. And so it’s hard to justify that.

Andrew: And then why did Google decide that they wanted into this business?

Victoria: Yeah, that was unexpected of all the possible acquirers. To be honest, we didn’t have Google on in mind. Well, Google is, Uh,

you know, one of the most important advertising companies in the world. They have, uh, you know, they’re trying to provide a comprehensive advertising solution to their clients. They have search ads, they have display ads, and many of their customers were saying.

Social ads And social media marketing. It was like the one piece of the puzzle that Google was not providing. And so they looked to wildfire to basically be able to provide the full suite solution to their brand.

Andrew: And then how did your culture change after being a part of Google? And you stayed with Google for years,

Victoria: I stay for Three years. three years, three years yet. Um, Google was, Google was a fantastic acquirer from the standpoint of our culture. Um, they were extremely hands off. We got our own building with wildfire team in the air. And to be perfectly honest, I think we got acquired in, in August. And by about to say, September.

We were saying, wait a minute, is someone going to tell us what to do? And there’s some goals here. It was very hands off. And I think perhaps Google has learned that if you come into heavy-handed you do crash startups and you crush culture. Um, so I would say the biggest things that had to change. There’s just more, um, legal processes when it came to legal finance PR suddenly there was all kinds of restrictions.

But beyond that, uh, I think we kept our culture really well for as long as it lasted that eventually, um, wildfire very much got diluted inside of Google. How have you explained that? Um, the other thing I’d say. It was a good cultural fit. The culture of Google was a pretty good fit for the culture of wildfire, I think.

And so that we weren’t sort of set up for a clash right from day one and the way that we may have done, if we’d gone with perhaps a little bit more old school, a media company, or a technology.

Andrew: All right. Um, before we close out that part of your life. How did your life change because of the sale? I mean, on a personal level, did you, are you into fancy cars? Did you finally get to buy a house? Did you finally stop eating ramen?

Victoria: I did. I did eat ramen back in

Andrew: did? I didn’t think you

Victoria: to you. I think I did, but You know, that was not a financial, that was a like work-life balance problems. Um,

Andrew: 400 people when we talked. I mean, it was

Victoria: Oh, oh, maybe I’d gone past ramen then I definitely remember ramen in the early days. Um, well, I mean, yes, my life has changed a lot up until that point I had, we had always rented our furniture was still the same furniture that we’d had as students and college.

I think I may have just gotten my first lease on a car. Um, but I. Grew up in a rural community, in New Zealand with very down to earth parents. And I love, love, love that that was my upbringing. And I’ve tried to keep that mindset and that mentality as much as I possibly can. And so, um, You know, there’s no luxury brands in my closet, uh, much to my, um, my sister’s surprised.

He says, why are you not buying better clothes? Now you can afford them. Um, I’m just not a luxury car. Lecture-y anything kind of person really, but look, we own our own home and it’s very nice. And.

Andrew: And there was a change in like the ability to travel. And we’re going to get to that in a moment. But first actually speaking of like lifestyle changes, one of the other people who was in your space was a guy named Noah Kagan. Do you remember no Kagan? He was, uh, he was a little bit in the Facebook platform and Ghana got wiped out quickly.

He ended up creating app Sumo, which so the Facebook business wasn’t doing didn’t do well. He kinda got sued by one of his vendors anyway. Um, and he also, wasn’t thinking the same way you are today. He is with AppSumo. His life now that it’s, now that he’s made it is changed dramatically. First of all, his house is stunning here in Austin.

Second, he’s got someone, a house manager who makes sure that all the things are stocked. And then I took my kids to trick or treat at his house because we’ve known him for, for years. He handed up $2 bills instead of candy. I swear to God the kid’s going, what is this? He’s giving us fake. No.

Victoria: They didn’t, they didn’t love it. Uh, I thought the mere novelty alone, when we went trick or treating someone was handing out little mini Platos and the kids were so excited just cause it was something different

Andrew: because it wasn’t candy. Yeah.

Victoria: candy. Yes. Um, yeah, No we do not hand out $2

Andrew: bills at your house.

Victoria: and Halloween.

No.

Andrew: Um, you should go to Katrina Noah Kagan’s house if you’re

Victoria: Yeah, really. Absolutely. That sounds great. All

Andrew: And there’s an, there’s also an ease. There’s also an easy way to know which is houses, but I’m not going to say it. It’s just, uh, it’s, it’s pretty interesting. So coming back to your more, um, I guess rustic background, your family was, was it asparagus farmers?

I read on Wikipedia.

Victoria: Yep.

Andrew: That’s the first line of your Wikipedia entry and then you and our producer talked about how you didn’t have a lemonade stand. You had an asparagus stand in New Zealand was an asparagus stand.

Victoria: Oh, well, outside our gate on the road, there was a little wooden shack that my dad had built for my sister and I, and we’d have to pick asparagus in the morning, put it into little plastic bags. We had like an ice cream container with a hole on the top where people could put the money in. And when we got home from school at the end of the day, then we’d usually the bags of asparagus would gone.

And there was money in the ice cream container, which was pretty awesome.

Andrew: Complete trust system honor system people. Wow. Did you get to keep it,

Victoria: Yep, absolutely. Yep.

Andrew: did you get to make any changes to it to make more sales or anything like that?

Victoria: We could’ve, if we’d been that?

thoughtful about it, but I can’t recall. Oh yes. You know what we did, we branched out into delivery. We had a little trolley and I live near a river and people would go there fishing and we’d take a little trolley with little bags of asparagus on it, and we’d stopped by the fishermen and fishing women and they would buy out our asparagus product.

So there you go. We did branch out.

Andrew: Wow. My parents used to like for me to go out and sell and they would encourage me, they would, they would not even have any costs sometimes. Like they would pay for everything. I would get to keep all the, all the revenue as my profit, just to encourage me to do it. And it was the one place where I wasn’t shy as a kid.

You know, you’re told, this is what you’re, this is what you do. And I got comfortable going and selling. And then there’s this super power to being creative at sales.

Victoria: Yes. I, I, you know, it came back to the wildfire story. Having seen young people come straight out of college and go into a sales.

role. I think that’s a, if you don’t know exactly what you want to do with your life, that’s a fabulous place to start because those skills both perseverance and picking yourself up in the face of being told no.

And, um, the discipline that it takes are so transferable to just about anything you do in life. I think so if you get that at a young age, when you’re a child even much.

Andrew: I agree. I even went out in Austin. I don’t know people. I still use the same sales techniques. Like how many people did I talk to it? Right. You can’t say you don’t know anyone else. All right. I should say my, my interview here is sponsored by a company called send in blue. If you need email marketing done, right.

There are lots of companies, frankly. That’ll do it, Victoria. Let’s be honest. Right? So why should someone use, send in blue? Well, number one, they do all the email marketing automation that you need. Somebody buys from you. You don’t have to send them a, will you buy from me email, that’s kind of a dorky thing to do so you can tag them as purchasing.

And message them separately and all that stuff’s included and done easily. Here’s the beauty about sending blue that other people have raved to me about they don’t ratchet up the price. So you sign up and you don’t get one of these free to start. And then next month after you get to a thousand people, it jumps up.

And then when you get to a hundred thousand people, suddenly you’re paying literally a court. What is it? 250, no twenty-five thousand dollars a year. Some people have told me they’re paying for their email marketing at that level. And then. Making money. You don’t have time to switch. So you stick with your email provider.

Well, you know, what, how about you make the right decision from the beginning? Check out, send in blue. I’m gonna let you try them for free and give you a big discount. After for three months. I can’t give a big discount beyond that because frankly they’re already low prices, but I can give you some way to get started.

that is to tell you to go to send in blue.com/mixergy. And just try them out. You’ll see why so many people love them. Send in blue.com/mixergy. All right. So it seems like the thing that got you interested in Prisma is the idea that you want to be flexible with where you live right now. You’re no longer eating ramen, no longer having to go into the same office.

Everybody’s talking about digital nomad and I get it. I used to be a skeptic, but it makes so much sense. My wife and I get so much value out of our lives when we’re waking up and having coffee in a different country, sitting in coffee shops in different country, then you get kids and you’re locked into their school.

You can’t even leave until they’re past eighth grade. And so it seems like that’s what talk about what your version of that.

Victoria: Yeah. So there were really two inspirations for how we’ve ended up with Prisma. And that was one that we had very deliberately. So, you know, so we haven’t talked about the fact that my husband and I have three children. The oldest is seven. We have a four year old and a three-year old. Uh, so life changed suddenly we had kids to think about.

For awhile there, we were able to arrange this very flexible life for ourselves. We’ve always said, uh, if, and when we start a new venture, it will be fully distributed so that we can be flexible. Uh, it’s important to me that my children’s been time in New Zealand. Their dad is from Switzerland. It’s important to him.

They spend time there. And then as our oldest started to get to kindergarten age, Oh, no, wait a minute. We’ve created this flexible life, but school is not flexible. So that.

was the first thing that got us wondering, are there other educational models? We didn’t start by thinking, oh, let’s start a school. Uh, we thought by thinking what’s out there, that is more flexible.

The other thing though, uh, so we live in the bay area and one thing that’s always concerned me about living in the bay area is. And there’s no shortage of high quality schools, but I there’s a lot of pressure put on kids in schools, in the bay area. And I think

Andrew: You felt that even with a seven year old.

Victoria: I did not feel it with my own children.

Uh, I saw it with the children of friends and I heard anecdotes, uh,

Andrew: did it, how did it express itself? But for me, what I saw, we were up until a few weeks ago, living in the bay area, fricking spreadsheets, Victoria spreadsheets, about every school we hired a consultant for, for kindergarten. I swear to walk us through. He came in our house. He was a principal before. Um, that’s what I felt, but what did you see that the kids were going.

Victoria: Uh, well, so I, it was the spreadsheets. It was the anecdotes. I just spoke to someone recently who moved from the bay area to Austin, by the way. And he was describing how a three-year-old’s will pee being put into magnesium so they could get a jumpstart on their meds. Um, I’ve heard it from the kid’s pediatrician and from, um, my GP that talk about anxiety levels, incredibly high number of kids, particularly girls suffering from anxiety in their teenage years in the bay area.

Uh, so a bunch of different anecdotes and I could see it. It’s not surprising to me. It’s a, it’s an area with very successful type a parents and. Natural that that’s going.

to lead to this kind of culture. And I think I was very attuned to it because it’s the polar opposite of what I experienced in my own education.

And I don’t know if my education was ideal, but I went to. Low king scores, pretty mediocre, to be honest, but therefore I was able to do really well. And I developed a lot of confidence and there was not a lot of stress. Uh, I also grew up in New Zealand where there was not this huge pressure to get into good universities and colleges.

Uh, so I was just always nervous about whether that was the environment that I wanted my children to be educated in. So those two things were in the back of our mind when. Sort of went down the road of really looking at all kinds of different approaches to education. Uh, we, you know, we found that there’s a ton of really, um, were quite a few really innovative schools out there.

There’s not a shortage of interesting ideas. What there is a shortage of is scalable models that are innovative, that can reach large numbers of kids. Um, you know,

Andrew: What did you see when, when it wasn’t scalable, what, and by the way, do you want to go and shut the blind or something? I feel like there’s light coming right on your face and you have to keep dodging it.

Victoria: I’ll just move around here. Um, uh, well I think the majority of really innovative schools are private schools. Uh, they’re very expensive and it ordered a cater to that private school market. They have great facilities. And as soon as you’re trying to do. Great facilities and school buildings.

It’s really hard to scale and any kind of large, meaningful way. So we, we also got inspired by the homeschool world, which we never expected to look at. And, and what we got inspired by with homeschooling is the flexibility for the family. Yes. But the flexibility for the child, the ability to really cater the education around the speed of learning of the child, the interests of the child.

Homeschooling as well known to just be really efficient, like most homeschool families. And we interviewed a time would say it. takes about 60 to 90 minutes a day to make sure their kid gets through what they’re meant to get through. And the rest of the day is available for that child. Dive into whatever is most of interest to them versus most kids who are in school for six hours a day.

But, you know, studies I’ve looked at would say only 90 minutes of that maybe two hours is actual learning. Um, so we were inspired by that too. And really what we got really interested in was this idea of, is there a way to deliver a model of education that really incorporates. Best most innovative, innovative practices in education, like project based, learning, interdisciplinary learning that really honors the individuality of the child.

And they will them to move at the pace that works best for them. And there was them to explore based on their interests and that really prepares kids for the kind of way. they’re going to live in, which I think is vastly different from the world we live in today. I in school was not designed for that world.

Uh, could we do all of that in an online model? That if it works, then there’s a way to believe that that could be much more scalable than a bricks and mortar schooling model.

Andrew: Because then you get access to talented teachers all over. Do you call your teachers?

Victoria: We call them Coaches

Andrew: Coaches that’s so you get access to more teachers, more coaches. You also get to adjust on the, on the fly without having to see which teachers available locally. When you want to teach something. What about then if the student is done, what do they do in the house after that?

I mean, whether it’s homeschooling.

Victoria: Yeah. So we Prisma kids are spending more than 90 minutes a day. My, um, example, there was just in order to get through sort of that core learning that kids need to get through. Uh, that’s how long most homeschool families have told me that, that it takes, uh, Prisma kids. Their schedule is flexible, but on average, I would say they’re spending between.

Four to six hours a day for, for those kids for whom four hours is enough and six for those kids for whom six hours makes sense for them on their Prisma learning each day. But instead of just needing to focus on sort of learning the content that will help them pass the standardized tests that they’re going to be given at the end of the semester, Prisma learners are spending time deep diving.

Into project solving real world problems, uh, involved in clubs, uh, with other learners that are really of interest to them. So we are filling their day, but with, um, with work that we think is both really meaningful and fun to the kids and will really help

Andrew: me an example?

Victoria: Uh, yeah, sure. So, um, Prisma operates in five weeks cycles and every cycle has a different sort of overarching theme and we pick themes on the basis of what we do.

We’ll be relevant to kids’ lives today and in the future and will be really exciting to them. So, in fact, right now that the thing that the kids are working on is called build a business and it’s all about entrepreneurship. Now there’s some really great math outcomes in there. They’re learning a ton about economics.

My, I bet there are not many fourth and fifth graders in the country that are learning the kind of economics that our kids are learning right now. So there’s academics built in there. Uh, but in the course of doing that. Every kid in our program is having to come up with their own business idea And their own business plan.

Uh, some are doing it with others. Some are doing it on their own. On top of that, they get to specialize in a certain area of where they’re going to really flesh out their business ideas. so some are really working on product development and iteration. Right now, others are working on a marketing campaign for their business, uh, in our live workshop.

Uh, the kids, one of our live workshops in this cycle is a, it’s a reenactment of shack tank. So the kids are investors and they are having to evaluate businesses and figure out what their returns are and understand what it’s like to make good returns or to go bankrupt. Um, so, you know, th these are. Ways for kids to learn in a really hands-on way.

It’s really applied. It’s super fun. They can go really deep into areas that they want to go into. That’s just one example, other things, uh, cities of the future we’ve done. We’ve done, um, a theme recently called uncharted territories, where the kids learned all about space exploration and deep sea exploration.

Uh, so.

Andrew: they would be learning it together from a teacher who’s on, I guess it’s is it zoom that you’re using or

Victoria: Um, yes and no. So, uh, we are still using zoom some of the time, but we’ve actually built our own live learning platform called Prisma live, which is, uh, In beta right now. And we use it for some of our workshops and it’s basically just imagine zoom being built explicitly for, um, K-12 learners to be able to learn and collaborate online in a really engaging way.

Andrew: Yeah, I would imagine then that means where with zoom, only one person can control the mouse at a time or two, I guess me and then the person who’s remote. I’m imagining you would want more of the students to be able to interact with the screen at the same time

Victoria: All kinds of things. It, yeah, it ranges from, uh, we make it really seamless for the curriculum team to create sort of a multimedia experience during the workshop that the coach can seamlessly move through, um, uh, in a way that really enables the kids to interact. So there’s live polls that’ll happen and that’s the basis for, um, the coach.

You know, start a discussion about something. Uh, so this idea, you know, a lot of the research we did said that what makes us tired with zoom is the fact that you’re steering at the same thing for a long time. And the more you can change the view, the imagery, the perspectives, the better. So that’s one thing.

We for example, um, you know, use breakout rooms.

a lot. So kids can collaborate in small groups and rather than a coach having to jump from room to room, to room and interrupt the flow of what’s happening in that room to figure out if the kids need help, she or he can actually listen in to what’s happening in any given breakout room without jumping in the air.

And we allow the kids to customize sort of their advertise and things like that. So those are some examples, but yeah, your question. Ultimately about, are we doing live, uh, zoom like experiences? Um, yes, part of the day. So basically a prisoner learners day consists of some time live with other kids and a coach and sometime working asynchronously through their project, um, or through what we call missions.

We have math missions and writing missions with the support of a coach. So every Prisma learners, given a mentor coach that’s available to them. Really whenever they need their carts, they can message them, uh, and, and get the coach coaches help. Um,

Andrew: you put all this together, the curriculum, the, the projects, and know that this was all, I don’t know, safe and strong and helpful for kids.

Victoria: well the honest truth is we didn’t know until we tried it. And so the first brave families that joined Prisma, we were very clear. This is a pilot. We really believe this can be a better approach to education, but if we get to the end of this semester and decide it hasn’t been what we dreamed it would be, then we will call it a good attempt and move on.

But the good news is it worked better than we dreamed. Um, you know, w w Alan and I did a lot of reading, a lot of inspiration from other models out there. We use that. Sorry, Allen is my co-founder also my husband. Um, we use that to craft. I would say a vision of what our dream school would be for our kids.

That was the model dream school for our kids. Um, although they’re not quite fourth grade yet. Uh,

and then we hired some, um, we hired a team. We hired, we happened to hire two amazing curriculum developers. I think we got very lucky that their skillsets compliment.

Andrew: Full-time curriculum developers who are also teaching

Victoria: Full-time curriculum developers.

Andrew: that’s all, all they do is curriculum.

Victoria: Yup.

Yup. And then as part of our model, and it’s something that shocked me, the more I learned about the education system is the extent to which teachers are expected to create your own curriculum. So, on top of, you know, managing classrooms with 30 or 40 kids and all the grading that has to happen and all the, you know, bureaucracy.

Andrew: I thought they were told what to teach, but then the individual lesson plans, they create themselves based on whatever,

Victoria: Yeah, they’re given a set of standards and it depends on the school district and the school, but there’s still a lot put on the teacher to really come up with the lesson plan, uh, which is all well and good if you’ve got tons of time on.

your hands. Um, but

Andrew: No, I actually, I interviewed an entrepreneur who created a platform where teachers could give their lesson plans to, or sell it to other teachers. And there was some you’ve seen that, right? Yeah. Really successfully. Okay. I see. So you’re saying, well, we don’t want them to go to those platforms and pay for it.

We don’t want them to have to figure it out. We have curriculum developers, they’re going to do it. And so this was in the back of your head, as you were thinking about where do we send our kids? Which, by the way, total barrier thing to do, my kid had a place in pre-K before he was born. I paid every month because I know that all these other type bays are going to beat me to it.

So, okay. So you’re doing that. And then I, as I understand it, Alon, am I pronouncing his name right?

Victoria: Yeah.

Andrew: Said to you, look, COVID hit. Parents are at home. If we’re going to do this at any point, this is the time to get started. And so when was this? March, 2020, April, 2020 that you

Victoria: Uh, I think it was April, 2020 when we officially incorporated the company.

Andrew: Got it. So you said we’re definitely going to do this. And then you went to friends and you said, you’re teaching at home. Do you want some help doing this? We have this vision. Will you buy into it? They signed up and they became the first, the first people that go through the.

Victoria: Basically. Yeah. I mean, step number one was finding curriculum developers, fleshing that out enough that we felt good enough about what we had planned. We did that before we tried to get families on board in. Get families on board until I think about late July, August. So this was all very condensed. Um, we hired curriculum developers.

We hired, uh, alpha as coaches. We put up a website. We, yeah, I mean, we promoted this on our social media channels and we ended up with a few direct friends in the.

program, but most families that were in that

Andrew: Friend of a friend got, and it was all in the same grade or spread out over multiple grades. Why did you start with fourth? Why didn’t you start with kindergarten where I think one of your kids was, or first grade where your other one.

Mm.

So this was just after they could feel comfortable doing it themselves, but before they’re set into some kind of process and their parents are right and their parents are too hesitant to express.

How did that first batch go?

Um,

yeah.

Hmm.

What do you do about socialization, about getting to play and getting to do things that are active? My wife right now is in, uh, she’s in San Francisco because her team, which has gone remote. Just needs to meet up in person a few times a year. And she’s sending me these messages and photos saying that this is so meaningful to spend time with them and to talk beyond war.

I wonder if that’s necessary with the kids who are online and also, do you do anything to help them have relationships offline beyond this?

So you’re creating all these different experiences for them online to connect. What about offline? Are there other programs that are like afterschool program? For, for home learners.

Um,

I didn’t realize those things existed. And so it’s like hours after school that the kids get to go and be outdoors and play or actively play.

I like that. Tell me about the physical, the F you know, let me just take a moment. I’ll say my second sponsor is HostGator. If you need a website hosted, I, I host with HostGator. I’ll give you the lowest price they have available. Great service. Anyway, great low price at hostgator.com/mixergy. I know one of the things that you and your husband were talking about is you wanted some socio-economic diversity.

And do you get that here? Do you get the, that there are some kids who are from different parts of life financially. You do.

Uh,

With the timezones.

Okay.

Yeah.

Okay. So the hub in New Jersey is an in-person I’m imagining they’ve got some facilitator who’s there. Am I right? Watching the kids were all learning together.

Yeah.

I love that idea. I do feel that the, what you get from having remote experiences, if a kid wants to travel somewhere, they could continue, right? Like we’re going to take our Thanksgiving vacation, but it’s only going to be a week. What if I wanted to make it two weeks? You know, what, if we want to go. We should allow the kids to continue with their education.

And I also liked the idea that there’s a place for them to go and be with people and be with friends. Um, and I imagine that if it’s just even a shared home where three or four different kids rotate, that’s helpful, but I would, I would prefer, I would prefer for myself a facilitator, give me one, one teacher that you pay.

It’s not that expensive because teachers aren’t getting paid that much anyway, and they don’t have to do that much work leading the class with some diversity of. I guess speed. You know, like one kid could be much faster with one subject and slower than another. And why should they be in with everyone else?

Right?

Yeah.

Right, right. Yeah.

I do find that, um, if you were an idiot in school in one language, you were, you could just be an idiot in all of them in one subject. So if you sucked at reading and the teacher called on you to read out loud and you are the dope, then you feel like, well, I’m going to open all these classes instead of getting to be someone who shined in certain subjects.

Completely. All right. So you, you did all this. And then you got a lot of applications for educators, but you told our producer, you struggled for a while with getting new students and then you had to get into marketing what wasn’t working. And then what did you figure out that was helping you with.

Really why even public, even public schools in San Francisco are early applications.

I wonder if also the online experience is either a backup when you don’t like what’s coming up for next year or something that you have to wrestle with and then finally feel comfortable doing what do you think.

Yeah. Yeah.

You know, I didn’t realize how, how we met. It was through someone named, I thought it was Elaine shard. And then I realized in this conversation, I’ve just been mispronouncing his name. It’s Alon. It’s your husband who 11 years ago said, there’s someone I think you should interview. And it was you. And that’s what set this whole thing up well, and your.

It’s amazing that the two of you work together for so long, I’m really lit up by what you’re doing here. Um, I know the two of you considered, maybe you do something in the non-profit world. I think you made the right decision going for profit and going for business. I think that there’s, that there’s lack of innovation here because we’ve all been afraid.

And I like that you’re that you’re seizing this, this moment where we’re all open to new ideas. All right. I told you before we got started before we ended my challenges, my wife really loves this outdoorsy experience that my kids get, which, um, is w I, I shouldn’t say the name of the school, but it’s at south door school, but I’m really lit up by what you’re doing.

And I like it at least as, as a backup for when this, and if this doesn’t work out, I could say, all right, now let’s try my approach.

Victoria: yeah, so I think your wife is not alone. And we actually hear that. I’d say particularly from families that have been long-term homeschoolers, because I think.

Something that a lot of homeschool families love is this idea of the kids learning with your hands, kids being out in nature. And so I would say three things to your wife. One is we do really very actively build in as much offscreen hands-on learning as we can into the Prisma model. So for example, in cities of the future, one of the options for the kids was to design their own environmentally friendly building.

And they learned all about environmentally friendly building techniques. And then they came out with a plan and then kids physically. You know, with materials, they’re designed for an environmentally friendly building. Now, other kids chose to do it in Minecraft, which really lit them up. But for the families, for him, it was important that kids were sort of away from this screen.

We always provide project options that allow for that. Uh, you know, another example, this is sort of a hybrid model of tactile, but also on screen, we do live workshops. Um, we’ve done several like this where kids show up. You know, a bunch of materials we’ve asked them to shop with. And they’re literally during the workshop, building things with their hands, like they might be, you know, uh, being, given certain stem challenges or engineering challenges or things.

So that’s sort of the hands-on piece of it. The other thing I’d say is we allow kids to sort of customize their schedule. There are certain points in the day where they have their workshop and their stand up, but other parts of the day where they can arrange the schedule, however they like. So we have a number of kids.

Stat their day during some Prisma, um, they might do the stand up and some of their Prisma, um, asynchronous work. And then they go off and spend two hours doing some kind of nature program. Or we have a kid that’s doing an internship with a local cop dentist and he goes off and does that several times during the day, either kids are just going out and.

Um, playing sports or kicking around a ball. So, you know, you can build that into your child’s day and we actively encourage families to do that. And then the final piece is, you know, it’s really important that Prisma families, um, supplement or accompany Prisma with.

extracurricular activities that get kids outside and get them with friends.

And you know, this in-person. Socialization with kids. Of course, that’s also important. Um,

but we think that can be very well solved through extracurricular activities.

Andrew: would, I would love to see is. Like a way to dip your toe in without going all the way in. Like, imagine if it’s we understand that reading can be tough for some families, we’re just going to master this one thing or math can be difficult. We’re going to do just as one math or one thing. And then once a parent discovers it and sees how much their kids like it and are learning you thinking, you’re thinking that way already.

Huh?

Victoria: with I’m so glad you mentioned that. And we, we are thinking about that. Um, I mean the end of the day, we also trying to stay focused and not spread ourselves too thin, but I think. I think we’re, we’re developing a secret syrup source in terms of getting kids to really light up about learning, getting kids from all different walks of life and different places to interact with one another and getting kids to really think very critically about topics and issues, to be able to formulate strong arguments.

We have to listen to others to use. Data and evidence in their arguments that I think could make for interesting, uh, sort of supplemental programs that could be an entry point for, for families to try out Prisma because yeah, for, for some families, it’s a no brainer. It’s very easy. And for others, they would rather dip their toe in the water before they make the full

Andrew: Yeah, I can imagine that there, that there’s a population of people who want to do homeschooling or need to, because of the way that they’re traveling and moving around for whom it’s an easy win. I don’t see anything like this. And then I’d love for the rest of us to be included because I think the direction you’re going with this Victoria.

It’s the future. It’s amazing. And it, it’ll just free up families and kids. And, um, I’m excited that you came back on here to do this, but I’m even more excited that you’re, that you’re doing it. And for anyone who wants to go, uh, on your site, once again, you don’t have your own domain. Last time, it was like wildfire app.com.

This time it’s joined prisma.com. It doesn’t matter. Go find it. Even if she has Q and X’s and extra letters in the name, I would go and hunt us down because I really love what you’re doing. Thank you so much for being on.

Victoria: Thank you. That was great conversation. It’s nice to reconnect.

Andrew: Same here. Thanks. Thanks everyone.

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