Andrew: Hey there, freedom fighters. My name is Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of Mixergy, where I interview entrepreneurs about how they built their businesses for an audience of real entrepreneurs. When I started out in the tech space with an online greeting card company, one of the things that our lawyers told us to do is just stop.
Allowing kids on the site, do whatever you can to not have any kids on the site. And I said, why? I said, well, think about it. When someone needs to send out a greeting card, do you collect their email address? I said, yeah, we hope that they join our email list. It says, yeah, what else do you do with it? We say, well, we use it to address the greeting card that somebody sends to their friend.
So what else do you do with it? Well, we automatically save it to the next time they come to our site. We know what their email address is and they don’t have to type it in. And so they have an easier experience. And Laura said, yeah, all of that. Does not really conform to the law. You’re going to have issues, just anyone who’s under 13 just leave them off the site. and so we did our best to create a site that was geared towards people who are over 13. Well, joining me today is an entrepreneur who had a similar experience, but he went the exact opposite direction. He said, well, you know what, what if we could create a safer internet for people who are under, under age?
Is it 13 and under Joshua that’s the milestone 13 and under right.
Joshua: uh, it depends on where you are in the world, actually, because in the U S that is 13 and under in other countries, it can be 16 and under 14 and under sometimes even 18 and under.
Andrew: And all of these different sets of rules become so complicated that companies either ignore the law completely and hope they don’t get caught, or they just say, I’m just not going to deal with kids at all. Well, Joshua Vola created a company called super awesome. They basically, they had a mission of, and still do have a mission of creating.
An internet that’s safer for kids and he built it up. It did phenomenally well by enabling bigger companies to cater to kids and also smaller companies. Am I understanding that right? Joshua, like a small YouTuber might work with you?
Joshua: Uh, not necessarily YouTuber because it was more technology players. So YouTube themselves could work with us, um, at the time. Uh, but not individual
Andrew: thought influencers were also part of, uh, the marketing package that you made. No.
Joshua: That is correct. Sorry. That’s correct. In terms of the, the monetization tools and the, the, the way that they would talk to their audience, but we wouldn’t make technology
Andrew: you know, so it’s, so it’s everything essentially that enables people to create a safer internet for younger, uh, for younger people. That’s what super awesome is. It became a super successful company. I invited him here to talk about that and to talk about his latest company, which is called milestone and they, they believe.
You know, If you really want to learn something online, it’s basically out there. You want to learn how to create a startup. Well, Y Combinator created these, uh, incredible startup school videos that they put online and then Nevada, Robert Kahn has got some good philosophy for how to build a company and better, a better self.
And there are all these different resources. Well, you know, What mind stone does is it says, what if we collected all the best information that’s out there and put it in a course form. In fact, what if we don’t do it? What if we enable anyone Andrew Warner to do it? You, the person who’s listening to us and people who anywhere out there in the world, that’s the goal behind a milestone, his latest company.
I invited him him to talk about super awesome, how big they got and then what he’s up to with milestone. And we can do it. Thanks to my phenomenal sponsor. It’s called HostGator. If you need a website hosted, go to hostgator.com/mixergy. Joshua. Good to have you here.
Joshua: Very very happy to be
Andrew: Blow me away. What’s the revenue at super awesome.
Joshua: what, uh, we have not disclosed
Andrew: I have it here in front of me. It’s pretty impressive. Can we say whether it’s tens of millions, single millions? What can we say?
Joshua: It’s it’s
Andrew: hundreds of millions. of.
Joshua: Sorry. It’s
Andrew: No over. a hundred.
Joshua: It’s over a hundred
Andrew: Over a hundred million dollars. You’re not going to get more specific than that. That’s super impressive. I want to understand a little bit more about the technology. So part of the technology is advertising, right? And so what’s different about the way you do advertising from the way that other people do advertise.
Joshua: So there’s a lot. Um, so just to be clear, kind of start off with, um, super awesome is now, uh, was a by big games and I’m no longer with super-awesome, so I’m not talking on behalf of suppressor, but on, on everything that kind of happened to them. Right. So, Um, there there’s a lot that super-awesome is doing differently.
Um, actually, if anything, a lot of the data collection that happens online, even the stuff that we don’t want or don’t know about tends to be around advertising or for the purposes of advertising, the biggest companies in the world, Google, Facebook, and others, they thrive on that data. Um, and so the biggest thing that we did, there were two main components on what we mean with a safer internet for kids.
One was the idea that, that personal data that gets collected on you, wherever you go should not be collected. If the user is a kid, um, unless the parent very specifically has authored. That’s collection you and I, when we go to a website, we always just click the yes button to whatever pops up. Um, and basically that’s us agreeing to that data being collected by the third party.
But, um, a kid cannot actually opt into that. Themselves say yes, because they don’t understand what is happening. So that’s one part. So we built a bunch of technology that stripped out the personal data when there was advertising activity on an app, on a website and so on, making sure that the kid would not, uh, would not have that data collected.
And then second, there was a whole host of, um, filters and features to ensure that the wrong ads did not end up in front of. Katz, uh, to make sure that there’s no alcohol ads, no tobacco ads, no, nothing. Basically that would be hurtful to the kid, um, that they would be exposed to, which would be a normal
Andrew: where you an ad where you an ad network also selling the ads or just the technology for ad networks.
Joshua: We did both.
Andrew: Okay. And then in addition to the advertising part of the business, what else, uh, did super awesome create while you were there?
Joshua: So, um, the thing I was most excited about and actually the thing that you’ll read most about today’s, um, thing called kids web services. So kids web services was a platform. Or a developer tool kit that we make available to developers, so they could implement into their apps and sites to get what’s called verified parental consent.
So every time that you need a feature that requires parental consent. Whole host of rules around. How do you do that? How do you contact the parent? How do you verify the parents is really the parent and not just a secondary email address of the child. Um, and all of those rules change country by country.
We, we started this, uh, this conversation earlier. You asked them what’s the definition of a child. Well, depending on where the child comes from, it will be a different age and a different country. And so it’s actually a lot of work if every single developer had to try and build the tool set to. And deal with that.
So instead, what we did is we built the platform that would allow any developer to just plug in, um, and get that parental consent advocates and actually epic recently released it for free. Um, that was one of the big things that they did. I think it was three weeks ago, four weeks ago, they basically took the tool set repurposed.
It made it part of epic online services. And now any developer can just use and plug it in.
Andrew: I saw it was acquired by epic about a year ago, September, 2020. This was, as you were, well, I guess just before you left. Excuse me. Yeah, just after, just after.
Joshua: So it was just after I left, I was still, I’ve been, I was still with the company in a certain capacity for quite a while, even after the acquisition, to be honest.
Andrew: And this was kind of a follow-up to accompany that you’d created before called targets. What.
Joshua: Ah, that’s a long time ago that I haven’t talked about that. So targets and I was, I was really right out of uni. Actually it was last year of uni at the time the targets was a, we put every single buzzword, you can find into a single sentence and it was a real time location-based community marketplace.
Andrew: Real time, location based community marketplace.
That kind of sounds to me like I can sell something like on Craigslist locally and people can buy it. Is that.
Joshua: Yeah. It’s like a localized E-bay. Um, so imagine you have a secondhand laptop and your neighbor is wanting to buy a second and lap. Satisfies your respects, for example, um, it, it was to notify both people and to say, it’s like, Hey, well, your, your neighbor actually is looking for this and to make it location-based from that perspective.
Andrew: Okay. And then how, how did the launch go? Um,
Joshua: So we made, we made some, some interesting mistakes. The biggest mistake we made was that we, we had something out there. We actually failed to properly launch. Um, what happened is we, we were a bit too big headed. I think when we, uh, we read all of these stories about startups, um, raising money, and we had an investment offer on the table for a very big chunk of the company.
We said no to, because we thought, well, surely we can do much. Um, and we never did. And so by the end of, there was the end of university. People were starting to get like job offers and everything else. And then, because we didn’t have any money to pay people, they started to have to go into different places.
And so we folded,
Andrew: And it was, 11 people that you had on the team, right?
Joshua: it was, yes, it was a, it was a very interesting thing. I still think somebody has to build it. Um, actually I’d say Facebook marketplace is. Getting there somewhat
Andrew: What do you mean? What, what is it? what is the real time component?
Joshua: So, uh, well, it’s literally just, um, if I’m, for example, if I go to Starbucks and I get, I am in proximity of somebody that, um, that is looking for what I’m saying, Then the notification would trigger, right? So it’s easy when it’s just your neighbor, because that’s just, you’re living next to each other. But even when you’re moving around, the idea was to be able to notify you when you are in proximity of the person that wants what you
Andrew: Why if I’m, if I’m looking to sell a bike and someone happens to be at Starbucks, who’s interested in a bike. What are the odds that they want to buy? My type of bike, let alone a bike at all. And then what would I do about it? I’m going to have to rush home to get it to them.
Joshua: So the idea, and again, this is what are we talking about now 10 years ago? Um, uh, so the idea was indeed that the algorithm would be strong enough to be able to make sure that. The other person would ha would want exactly the type of bike that you have for sale. Now that doesn’t mean that you have to go and get it at that point, but it means that you can have a conversation there and then say, Hey, by the way, let’s figure this out.
Let’s agree the sale. And then you can do the mechanics afterwards, actual shipping of the bike and stuff like that. But it means that you can, you can figure it out in person at that point in time. That was
Andrew: How’d you get 11 kids. It was 11 students. How’d you get 11 students to work with you on the project, you must be super charismatic.
Joshua: Don’t don’t know about that, but I had, I have built multiple companies before I started my first company when I was 60. And, uh, another one when I was 18. And then that’s when, um, targets as well, which was when I was, uh, I guess 22, 23. Um, and I had worked with so many different developers before. Um, and also we were, I was doing computer science.
And so this was as much work as it was fun for us. We were all building stuff. Uh, this was the time when I was still building stuff. Like I was actually coding myself and so that I don’t do that anymore. They don’t let me anymore. Um, at monster
Andrew: Or you started developing when you were 11 years old, partially because you are still struggling with French. You were in, uh, in Geneva where they speak French mostly, right? How’d you end up there at, uh, at such a young age.
Joshua: So move to Geneva actually, when I was 12. Um, and my, it was basically my dad who got a job. Uh, and, uh, well at 12 you don’t have that much of a say, uh, if you want to stay, but parents want to go, then you kind of have to go. Um, so ended up following and yeah, I got, I got very strongly. Gaming because of the fact that I couldn’t really talk to anyone other than my neighbors, luckily enough for our neighbors spoke English and, um, in the Netherlands, almost everyone at least speaks some English.
And so I, I didn’t know how to speak English and I was able to communicate with our neighbors, but that was it, which meant that every other hour of the day, that wasn’t spent with either at school or with the neighbors, um, I would end up playing games and then I got really interested. How they were made and how you built them.
And I was getting into online games. And so I ended up creating websites because people wanted like a forum for the Guild to communicate and things of that. And I ended up being the person, building all of that. So that’s how I got it.
Andrew: Okay. And so one of the companies that you created started out when you heard a friend say that they needed a website, from what I understand, you said, Hey, I could build this website. You got paid for it. Then you started going on Craigslist or the local equivalent of Craigslist. What was the local equivalent of Craigslist?
Joshua: Uh, what’s the, it started with an AA. Uh, he does, uh,
Joshua: I forgot the
Andrew: but you would just,
Joshua: It was really like in
Andrew: you just get job offers on there and then you also discovered Google ads. So you started buying ads. How did that go for you?
Joshua: Like in Geneva, that would really, really well. Uh, it was totally crazy. There was so little, there were so few people that knew how. Really builds technology properly. Um, and also, I must say at a price point, I mean, I was 16, so I was doing it at a price point that nobody else was willing to do. I was doing it like I was comparing it to babysitting money.
Um, so I ended up with basically every about every a hundred Swiss francs that I’d put into Google. I would get a 10,000 Swiss round contract out of it.
Andrew: Wow. And so this was huge.
Joshua: a great, great loop to be part of,
Andrew: And, and from what I understand, then you started hiring, hiring other high school kids to build websites that you were getting contracted to create.
Joshua: That’s how the company started.
Andrew: right. And so now I understand why it is that you’d be the person who other students would say. Joshua has got an idea. We’re going to work with him.
It’s going to be big. You’re the guy who, from what I heard came to the first day of university in a suit and tie every one apparently, uh, hated you, or felt like a little bit weird that this guy would be coming in. It’s like a banker coming into school party.
Joshua: Well, that, that was, that was exactly the problem, right? Because I was having these contracts, I would get an appointment. The problem is that I was going to university. And so I’d, I’d have a meeting first and I in Geneva own for the whole of Switzerland is known for private banking. So we did have quite a few contracts with private banking and there’s a whole culture of suits.
Um, I had to have a suit to go to the meeting and then I would have 10 minutes to get back to class. It’s not like I was going to go and change. So, uh, but obviously it’s not like I was broadcasting too much of this. So the older everybody else saw was this guy coming in to class in a suit and thought like, what the hell
Andrew: does he think he is? What is he even doing?
here? All right. Then Dylan had an idea for super awesome. What was The first version of super awesome going to be? What was the vision?
Joshua: The vision was always around, I guess it wasn’t as clearly formulated. It was always around helping developers cope with ever increasing regulations around safety for kids online. Um, we were aware of Copa in the U S the child online privacy protection act. We knew that it was only a mentor matter of time.
Before that would come to Europe. And that ones that would be in Europe, it would start to really go all over the world. We didn’t exactly know when, um, but then the rest was a process of iteration. Really? It was a process of staying alive long enough for the laws to become real, um, trying to figure out like bandaid type problems until.
The rest of the industry acknowledged problem as being big enough to really attack with, with, um, bigger solutions. And so we started out, first thing we did was a thing called box of awesome. And, um, so box of awesome was a physical box of products that kids could subscribe to and they could sign up to win this box.
And if they, it was basically a product placement strategy, they could fill in a survey from. For how they actually liked the different toys that were part of the box and brands would pay us to be part of the box, just like any sampling strategy, uh, would go and the brands would get the feedback on the products.
But the, the, the reason that we built that up set was that there were
lots of runs and actually I would still suggest that that’s the case. People could really excited about physical things. Um, they get excited about it because there’s an area of some, some or of nostalgia around it in terms of how our, well, it was so nice when, when our kids would play with these physical toys.
And so everyone would love to have a conversation with us about how could we get more physical toys in the hands of kids? Uh, the reality was that there’s a reason why we’ve transitioned to digital and the operational hurdles behind trying to do that at scale. Enormous. Um, and so often we, that we’d start with this discussion about what we could do to help them with box of awesome.
Um, but then really would have more discussions about what could we do. Helping them reach kids in general in a way that was safe and appropriate. Um, and so on. And so, and then we would talk about digital equivalence and everything else that we had built. Um, and so we would have the conversation based on the fact that they were so excited about box of awesome, and then end up more often than not, uh, talking about a digital.
Andrew: Because your vision for box of awesome. From what I understand was to just show that you could do something safe for kids to get in front of companies that would need some digital safety for kids, right? This was your way of saying. The world isn’t ready for us to not paying attention. They want this other thing.
We’ll use it. We’ll, we’ll use this other thing, physical products to get their attention. The world doesn’t understand that we could create something safe. We’ll prove it on our own product. Am I right?
Joshua: That’s correct. Um, as well as, at the same time, we needed to make sure that as I was saying, we needed to stay alive long enough to make sure the laws would catch up.
Andrew: and it was also to make enough money.
Joshua: way for us. Exactly.
Andrew: Why, why did he come up with that idea? Why did Dylan or how to Dylan know that there needed to be software that enabled businesses to make their, make their sites, make their offerings safe for kids? He doesn’t have kids. How did he know it?
Joshua: yeah, I guess there, he had a nice, unfair advantage to a degree where he had, he had invested in, um, a bunch of companies and a few of which were in the kid space. And, uh, he started identifying. Each one of the companies that are in the kit space then have the same problems and they were all trying to find solutions, but none of them could find anything.
And then he started to look himself to see, well, surely there must be a way to, to handle this and then realize that there wasn’t there just that everyone had this problem and no one had a solution. And so he thought, well, let’s, let’s go and build one.
Andrew: Can you tell me a little bit about Dylan? Who was he? How did you know him and how did, how did he come to make all these investments?
Joshua: So Dylan, uh, as a serial entrepreneur, you was the founder of demon where he was a founder at jolt online, both of which, uh, they started and sold. Um, and yeah, he is, uh, he then started, um, super-awesome with us, uh, and it was as his next. He is now with epic games and still, uh, still leading the charge on everything that we wanted to do with super-awesome.
Andrew: And jolt was a company that sold to a game stop. What they did was in browser, in browser games. Am I right about.
Joshua: Uh, that is, I’m not an expert on Joel. This is really where it, where it kind of stops. Obviously I know a little bit about Johnson demon, where, but not enough to really comment on, on what they were doing.
Andrew: Okay. All right. Um, yeah, I do see here, they were acquired by GameStop. Um, this was something he created back in 2008. All right. So, I see where he had an understanding of it. The two of you decided, or you got together with him, you were part of the founding team. You decided we, we need to prove to companies that this is important.
We’re going to create a few properties. One of them was box of awesome. What’s another product that you created to show businesses that what you could do, how you can help them.
Joshua: uh, we did super awesome games at a mum, uh, at a, at a time. And we also acquired a company called swap it. And so swap, it was like an eBay for kids that makes.
Andrew: It does.
Joshua: it was, uh, it, it basically, it showcased all the problems that you could imagine in the kids space because they’re, you’re actually shipping physical goods.
So you are transacting on addresses and stuff like that, which you, you want to make sure it’s done in the, in the right way. Um, so
Andrew: And this was kids I’m imagining selling their Lego that they’re not using anymore. Maybe the, the toy that they got when they were six years old. And now that they’re eight, they want something else. Is that it?
Joshua: That’s correct. Yup.
Andrew: All right. How much money did you all put into the.
Joshua: Um, I don’t, I don’t actually have it top of mind, but I also, uh, I think we, so in total we raised about $13 million,
Andrew: 30 million.
Joshua: think. Yeah. About $30 million in the range. I don’t have the exact number in my head right
Andrew: But in the early days, when you weren’t able to sustain yourself, unless you came up with the creative revenue source and you did the boxes by then, where you bootstrapped.
Joshua: Um, no. So Dylan put in a few hundred thousand to start, um, and to make sure it was there and swap, it was when we bought soap, but they did have a commercial model already running. So swap that has relationships with appetizers. Those appetizers would come on the website and that would, that would create revenue.
Andrew: with swap it safe before, uh, you all bought them. What’d They
Joshua: They were, they were safe. They were, they were, yeah, they were safe. And they were, they were doing this from the start very specifically for kids and they were doing it in a really, in a good way. Uh, did we improve it? Yes, I would. I would say so, but like, these are the very, very early stages, right? This is day one of the company.
So we ended up learning as much from how that was. Yeah, in order to inform how we could then create services out of them for other developers to use, as we ended up, uh, making it better over time at the same time.
Andrew: So then if swap, it was safe already, what was missing? How could you prove that you could do something when it seemed like swap it or already done what they needed?
Joshua: So It wasn’t. was more about the scale at which you were able to do it proving out that it was effective and then that it was safe at the same time. Uh, the things that we needed to prove, believe it or not, we still had to prove that kids were spending time online. We had actual discussions like five years ago where you’d have boardrooms and kids, companies, where they would think it was like, well, but kids don’t spend any time online and we’d have to show them all these stats about.
No, they spent the majority of their playtime online today. And if you don’t know that there is a problem with your Brent, uh, but that was a real thing. Um, so it was, it was a lot of education as much as it was the technology itself. Then the technology itself became very important as we started to bridge that out.
Um, as a developer toolkit that would get implemented by, by everyone. Yeah, but there’ve always been individual properties that would have been safe. Like you look at some of Disney’s properties, for example, it’s not like they didn’t think about kids before. It’s not like they didn’t try to build them safe for kids.
We probably made them safer as they started using our tech, but it’s not like they didn’t think about it before. If
Andrew: one, there was one evening, 9:00 PM. Uh, someone at your office is playing X-Box a phone call comes in and they are it’s Disney from California. You are shocked. What a Disney want from you.
Joshua: You really did your research? Um, yeah, so it was, it was crazy. Um, that was, that was a moment I will now. Never forget. It was just very random. Normally I wouldn’t have been in the office. It’s not like every night I was until nine. I was just there with a, uh, with one of my team members and we were playing some X-Box as you said, and the phone rang and they, they just.
On the other end of the phone was, was Disney. And they asked us like, so like are talking to super awesome. Yes. Um, we were, we were trying to figure out how to think about ads in our, in our games and how that could be done for, for kids in a way that’s appropriate and safe. And I Googled and you guys are literally the only thing that came up.
So I thought I’d give you a call. And yeah, it was a bit of a shock to the system at the time, because we were less than 30 people at this point. So like for Disney to come and call it, and this was not Disney UK, this was Disney headquarters LA. Um, so yeah, very, very
Andrew: what I’m trying to understand is what is it that, that they couldn’t do on their own? It seemed like they were already doing it. What do they need from you?
Joshua: So the, the piece of technology that they were interested in at the time, um, was basically the app server itself. So lots of. Lots of the ad technology in the world is very commoditized. You can buy off the shelf, but none of those actually do that for kids. So you could take an off the shelf advertising solution, but then when you start to run ads through them, even though you might have some blocking lists and so on, you don’t, they’re there they’re tuned in a way to try and, and reduce risk, but not to remove.
And so you still end up with an N uh, first of all, you end up with an enormous amount of data collection because the idea of switching off data collection, wasn’t a thing at the time you have some, like now the privacy space has gone beyond kids and there are there’s technology out there. Now that starts to try and protect everyone from a data collection perspective at the time, that was just not a thing yet.
And so, um, when they were to use all that off the shelf technology, It would automatically start collecting data on kids and that’s not something they wanted to do. And they also didn’t want to reinvent the wheel and build an ad server because they thought, well, that’s not our business. We, we built great experiences for kids and we have relationships with advertisers, but we don’t want to have to build the middle where that kind of manages those relationships.
Um, and we were the only ones that had built that technology. And so that’s what the conversation was about.
Andrew: You built it? How soon into the business, how many years after you started?
Joshua: So we started building it very, it was very progressively base, uh, from, within the first year we started building it, but it was initially as a network. So you can imagine the different steps towards it. We had one property worth swap it. Then we started to try and build some bridges between swapper and box of awesome.
And we T we had box of OMG, um, that came afterwards as well. And so we started to build some tech that would allow us to run a campaign across all three of those properties with like only having to manage at once. Um, Then once we had that, we started to, um, swap out the core technology that we were using underneath.
So we first did video where like, when the campaign was video, we would serve the video ourselves rather than using this off the shelf technology. Then we would do the, the banner technology. And so over time we basically were able to remove everybody else.
Andrew: You know, DATIA, that’s a pretty interesting way of building something, acquire a few companies. And then build something for yourself at those companies so that you could prove it and understand it. And then also have, have a track record, then go out to other companies and say, look what we’re doing internally.
It’s built for you too. Would you like to sign up that that’s a brilliant way to get started?
Joshua: Yeah, that’s, that’s an issue. We’d have those three that we had ourselves. And then we’d have, we had a head of network at the time that would go and, and look for other properties that had a similar problem to what we had. And so then, because we had already done it for our three properties, obviously we’d built it in a way that it would be easy to add a fourth or a fit.
It’s just the fourth and the fifth are not our properties anymore. They were now network partners that were just using our technology. And so that’s kind of how we got into the early days of scaling.
Andrew: And you as a CTO, your vision, the whole time was I’m building this for ourselves by. This has to be for other companies. The main customer will always be other customers. That’s my vision for the future.
Joshua: Oh, it was, it was definitely that, that second part. So I would more say we were always building it for, for the industry as a whole. We were just dogfooding it with ourselves to make sure we would make the biggest mistakes. First before we would expose a to everybody else. This is also why later on we acquired pub jam for example, which, uh, which became pretty successful.
Um, and, and that dog fooding is still something I believe very strongly in, which is if you use your own product, you end up building a better one because you feel the pain of the things that don’t work.
Andrew: Do you remember one of the experiences that was especially painful that helped you make a better product back when maybe you were just building it for yourselves?
Joshua: I’d say that there are thousands of those. So let me try and and find and think of a, a good illustrative one. Um, w we had super awesome games, right? Which was one of the properties at some point. And we wanted the ads. So the number of games that were on the platform were constantly changing because they depended on a bunch of deals that we would have of which games could be on the platform, which ones couldn’t.
And so the layout of the site itself was constantly changing. But that meant that the size of the ads that we were happy to have, what’s constantly changing as well. Because depending on how many games you have on the site, you want it to have either more dedicated to ads or less dedicated to ads. And the size could be a top banner, a what’s called an MPU unit.
A square could be a video ad, could be something else. And so we ended up building a piece of technology that would just automatically figure out what is the best format that you want on this page right now, um, which then became. The thing that we ended up offering to everybody else, but like, it’s something we need.
Andrew: Got it. Oh, that’s a great example. All right. Tell you what I’m going to talk about my sponsor, and then I’m going to come back and so far. Like it was easy, but from your conversation with our producer, I understand that there were a lot of problems. Yeah. I can see, even from looking your face, I’ll just say really quickly.
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We pay them their bill. I even do an annual pay them an annual bill. And I forget about them for a year. It just works. If you need an inexpensive hosting company that will do you right. Go to hostgator.com/mixergy. When use my URL, they’ll give you an even lower price than they’re already low price. There is hostgator.com/mixergy.
What were some of the personal problems that you had as you were doing this, the made you consider a times even giving up on the.
Joshua: Um, lots. Okay. So we’re going into very, very different territory. Yeah. So the, um, the, one of the things that is hard when you’re building a business, Is that your profile and your potential earning doesn’t scale with the size of the business and in a way, at least that it’s, it’s, it’s very intangible, right?
You’ve got equity in the business, that business is growing. Um, but it’s very easy to. At times lose sight of the fact that that is real value that you are building. And so, um, even if you think about three, four or five years into the business, when the business was doing really well, we would have more than a hundred people at the time.
Um, working in the business and some people would be on higher salaries. As founders, we would still be on decently low salaries because we had the equity upside, but then the, the employment offers you would get would be like four times. Five times your salary and you, you’re kind of in a small flat in London because you decided to keep your salary low because your upside is the equity, because that’s what you are trying to, obviously everyone, your investors included everyone’s investing in, in what we’re trying to do is.
To benefit from the upside now, not for founders to take out the cash, um, right now. Uh, but it is sometimes really hard to kind of play that long game continuously. Um, when you, when there is real cash right in front of you, that you could take that would allow you to go from a flat to a house, um, and, and saying no to that consistently, uh, especially because we all have emotional ups and downs, there are, there were times.
You think, wow, this is going to change the world. And then there are times where you come home and you’re like, man, I think like this might just all blow up. Like we might, we might screw it all up and it’s going to go to zero. And so it’s sad, those down points when you start to think of how wait, but last week I got this offer for four times my salary.
Um, Hm. It seems appealing right now.
Andrew: And did you seriously consider taking one of those offers?
Joshua: Yeah. Multiple times I considered it in my head. There was one time. Where I, where I really considered it. And when it was almost, uh, I actually started talking to one of, uh, Dylan about it. It was a very interesting conversation. I don’t think I’ve actually talked about this, but it was one of the conversations I will never forget because I told him I was like, I’ve been thinking about this and I’m thinking about potentially taking it.
Um, and he, he waited for about four or five seconds. And then you said, no, you can’t. And then I waited for another 45 seconds kind of digesting what he had just said. And I was like, yep, you’re right. And that was the only thing we said. It was as simple as that, it was like, it was the wrong time of the business.
If I’d, if I’d consider, if I’d actually left at that point in time that you would have the collateral damage would have been very hard to deal with for the
Andrew: What type of collateral?
Joshua: And. I mean, I was a founder. I was heading up the product and tech teams and, um, me leading would have sent a signal to people that it was not viable enough that they were not, they shouldn’t be believing in the, in what we, what we actually thought it was going to be.
And so trying to keep that ship afloat afterwards would be hard. I’m not saying it’s impossible. I’m not saying like it would actually have happened. I’m just saying that the, the risk was there and the risk was too.
Andrew: All right, I get that. And then you finally had an exit when epic bought you out. Do you remember the day when it was all signed? Do you remember the day when it was announced? Which one was the significant day?
Joshua: Eh, so I’d say there were two significant days. The first one was when it started because it was a Dylan and I had done a big presentation for epic who were thinking about using our technology. And then after that presentation is as Tim Sweeney, that took us out for dinner. And we started talking about.
Well, initially, just kind of what we were thinking about sociology, and then you mentioned the potential acquisition. Um, that was one day that I’ll never forget. And then, yeah, definitely when it all got signed and when the money actually hit the bank account, um, that’s it was life changing, obviously.
Andrew: How, how did your life change? Because.
Joshua: Well, it meant, it meant that I didn’t have to think about.
Um, where I spent my time based on monetary incentives, uh, and it meant that most things in life were based on what I wanted to do and where I really wanted to spend my time rather than where I could make the most money, uh, on T on top of the fact that actually just the credibility from. Having built a business before having it grow to a certain size and then having made it interesting enough that someone like ethic thought it was worth, um, adding to their company, that credibility then helps find other partners for what I’m doing with milestone now.
Um, it makes the conversations easier because people believe. People are more people more easily believe that if it was done once there is a higher chance that maybe that could be done a second time.
Andrew: all right. And the second time.
for you is online courses because.
Joshua: So there are two big reasons why I, why I chose that. The first one is very personal. It’s just that I, I, uh, I was 13 and my parents could never really agree on the school that I had to go to. So, um, before it’s 1300, five different schools, uh, then moved over to Geneva, as you mentioned. So I was in this, uh, French schooling, uh, French speaking schooling.
Uh, and I didn’t speak any French. And so I had a very weird few years. They’re getting integrated into the public schooling system. Then I started and dropped out of university twice. Um, then I did my university degree going over to London. I actually did a computer science degree. Uh, and then when we started super awesome, I did an open university, MBA degrees, a degree.
So that was, um, remote 95% of the time with a few residential parts. And I’ve been a big consumer of different, massive online courses. But all of that was alongside the fact that I taught myself how to code. And so before I even went to university in computer science at already. Three businesses around it and, and basically peat my boat way through university done that.
Um, and so I also had this self learning path and experience, which out of everything I’ve done, I’m convinced that the best learning experience was me going online, finding the right things, trying things out and just being able to iterate. And so I’ve always been. Fairly strongly dissatisfied with the current education system and the experiences around learning that are being offered, especially knowing that there’s this massive resource, which is the internet that sits right there, which everyone could use.
If only we made it slightly more accessible to people, um, to, to use it. So there’s a really strong personal drive behind it. Um, but then second, it was just. I want it to focus my time on where I thought I could have the biggest impact and, uh, at a high level, I, I think in the world, the two industries with the biggest impact would be education and healthcare because they have ripple effects that no other industry can replicate.
Like when you help people become better learner, a better learner. Then they are able to help the world be better. And so the more people you’re able to, to help learn better, the more that, um, that impact amplifies and the same is true, really from a health perspective, if you’re able to, um, help people be, uh, be healthier, then they’re able to achieve more.
If they’re able to achieve more than that has ripple effects
Andrew: this approach with mine stone, why the.
approach of saying. You can create your course using already existing material. That’s online. Why not say to your course creators created from scratch? What are you seeing in this assembly of content? That’s better than creation of new content.
Joshua: So the, um, the hypothesis is that we don’t need more content. If anything you want to learn today online, you already can. If I wanted to learn how to build a rocket. I can do that purely based off of video podcasts and articles that are already there. If I wanted to learn how to, how to invest in the stock market, I can do that based off of content that’s already there.
The problem is not that there isn’t enough content. It’s that the barrier to entry, the, the self-discipline that it requires today to really just sit down and try and figure out, okay, where do I start? That is a pretty high barrier. There there’s only a small percentage of society today. I’d say that, have the self discipline to sit down and literally just break down and entire industry and say, okay, I want to learn more about economics.
Now I’m going to go and do a bunch of Google searches and figure out where to start. Uh, but if you were. So move that barrier to entry, lower, to allow a little bit more of directionality where you can give people a starting point by pointing them towards where do I start? If I want just learn about economics?
Well, I can take economics 1 0 1. That’s been put together by this person. And then I might take economics, um, 2 0 1 by another person or a market dynamics by another person. And it gives you a directed set of resources that you can follow from. To end that that makes it much more accessible for the average person to take advantage of all that content that’s already there.
If that makes sense.
Andrew: Okay. One of the things that I think about there is I think about copyright issues. If I create a course using, say, Y Combinator startup school videos, am I, am I breaking their. Well, I can’t imagine that it’s a copyright issue because if they’re putting it on YouTube and I’m embedding the YouTube video, that’s fine.
So That’s what you’re
Joshua: That’s exactly it.
Andrew: So I’m just pointing to the material that’s there. And if I want people to just see a clip of it.
not the whole thing, not the part where they do an introduction, not the part where there’s a Q and a, because that’s a waste of time. I could clip that too on milestone, right?
Andrew: Okay. So I guess that’s not an issue. And then if I create, what if I use their name in my marketing material to tell people I’m going to teach you how to start a startup, and it’s going to include material from Y Combinator, then I’m using their name in order to get customers or to get people to take my course.
Joshua: So that would be an interesting issue. Uh, that’s a question that I haven’t had before, uh, if the communication that you’re having is real. And so you are using material from white Combinator, um, to, to help teach them. You have the right to use that material from Y Combinator, whether that is through an embed or whether you have actual agreement from Y Combinator to do so then that is totally fine.
Um, so to use, now that the way that we do this on the platform is that obviously the course creators need to make sure that the material that they are uploading. Transgress any of those copyright, um, issues. And we do have an easy way of flagging this and like, if there’s ever a, an issue, then we’ll make sure to remove it in a similar way that like YouTube word or a Facebook word or any other platform really would remove content that would be copyrighted.
Andrew: I could embed their content from those platforms, which means. That you think that, that they have already, those platforms have already checked it out. They’ve already vetted. Make sure that the content is okay. And all the instructors doing is aggregating it and saying just like a good blog post would, if I were writing a good blog post and saying, you here are the resources you need in order to understand the basics of philosophy, I might link out to the resources you were saying, why link out, put it in.
And then you’re also saying in mind, stone, it’s not enough to just point people to the right material. You want to get the right parts of that material and you want to run some tests to make sure that they understand it and that it’s helping. And that’s what you’re trying to do with milestone.
Joshua: Correct. And then, and then allow you to add your own annotations to it. So that it’s not just about the video segment that you will have embedded, but also your notes around that video segment that will accompany, um, the, the segment. We also, we do things like automatically extracting the transcript of the video sentence so that you can start to annotate that, and you can have discussions around it and things like that.
Andrew: And then if I have a discussion around it today, or one of my students has a discussion around it today, when another one comes in a month from now, they get to see that.
Andrew: And I, and I’m saying all these things with question marks, because as far as I can tell it hasn’t launched yet. Right.
It’s still on a waiting list.
Joshua: That is correct. Yeah. So it is currently with the waiting list. Um, the, we do have it. Actually operational. So we do have learners go through it. Uh, we have a part of the solution that is actually working. So the, the engine that li that sits underneath that allows you to annotate, um, articles, podcasts, and videos that is actually live.
And we, we, um, do have that as a separate product at the moment that over 50,000 users have been using already since associate started the year. So there is, um, there’s something there, but the course is product is new and I’m still behind a wait list.
Andrew: All right. So it’s an interesting idea. I think that you’re right, that there is enough content online. If we could pull out the right parts of the content, I could see it both being useful for the user, but also the student will have a more interesting experience having one person’s voice throughout.
Boring and monotonous. And it also feels like it’s just because it’s right for that person doesn’t mean that it’s more universally Right. Or more broadly. Right. And it helps to see, uh, an idea presented from lots of different directions.
Joshua: Right. Yeah. That’s one of the, one of the big things. Like there’s no reason, or the only reason that we end up with a textbook of a particular professor in a lecture is because they wrote that textbook. It’s not because it’s the best textbook and every single that they’re the best person to explain every single one of those concepts.
Um, and so I think we can break out of that and where I think it’s a big theme at the moment where lecturers and teachers become more coachers, uh, coaches of learning rather than, um, kind of broadcast learning where they’re just talking about what they, what they’ve written themselves.
Andrew: All right. If somebody goes to mine stone right now and creates a course, do they get paid a percentage of the.
Joshua: Um, no. At the moment it is actually fully free. We are still in the phase where basically we, um, we are scaling. We want to get the feedback. We want to get the product rights, um, over to. That is probably where we’ll end up. Uh, we’re not entirely sure yet if it ends up being like an individual sale or if it is more like a Spotify model where you end up with a subscription and a trickle down to create those afterwards, we’ll still have to figure out what is the right approach.
But definitely there’ll be some monitoring centers.
Andrew: That’d be interesting. You know, if somebody could I’ve, I’ve expressed some mild interest in photography here. I do find that YouTube videos are helpful, but it is not organized. Well, I just want to understand all the basics of it and I could see how somebody could put it all together and help me understand what an aperture is using.
One person’s video, explaining what aperture is another person be. About shutter speed and so on until I get my full understanding. And then frankly, what does it mean for iPhone photography versus other, uh, uh, more advanced cameras. All right. The website for anyone who wants to go check it out, it’s mined stone.com and I want to thank the sponsors who made this interview happen.
HostGator. If you want to get your website hosted, go to hostgator.com/mixergy. Joshua. Thanks so much for being on here and congratulations on the business.
Joshua: Thank you very much enjoyed the conversation.
Andrew: You too. Bye.