How do you engage a group of students into planning, scripting, acting, video editing, collaboration, and high school spirit?
This video from the Highland Trouveres proves that it’s possible!
"You don’t get credit for being safe in life"
"… in that edge, which is so dangerous and so profitable on the other side, is where creation lives. It is where it all happens."
Are you taking the risk? Are you pursuing the life you want?
In the context of education - are you fighting a loosing battle against the tides of technological change? Or are you embracing it? What side of history will you be on?
The early stages of an early stage entrepreneur
With the new year comes reflections of the year just gone. Recently I’ve read a few reflective blog posts from some colleagues I highly respect (Matt Ho, Ehon Chan), which prompted me into my own journey of self reflection. After much thinking, i realised that there was a ton of mistakes i made and learnt from, which could have been avoided if more people would share their experiences and hardships of the ‘early stages’. This is my contribution to the early stage startup scene :)
TL;DR version: Startup life is hard, very hard. Be ready for huge obstacles and be willing to learn from them, then move forward. Always be moving forward. Quickly.
2012 was the year I dived head first into the so called early stage startup tech culture. I quit my jobs, moved to a new city, and worked full time on a single project. Along with my cofounders, we created a company that aimed to change the way children engaged with education. We were part of the mobile revolution. Within a few months we had a working prototype, soft released on the app store, and were accepted into Melbourne’s AngelCube accelerator program. We had excellent feedback from customers, continued to iterate on our app, and “successfully” launched on the App Store. Within a week (launched July 2012) we had more than 10,000 downloads for our first app, on the iPad. Awesome.
Things we’re going great and we were well on our way to extreme levels of success.. Or so I thought…
As anyone who has gone through an accelerator program can tell you, the process is extremely stressful, time consuming, and unpredictable. Not only were we testing the viability of our business, the quality of our product, and living on the poverty line (I was basically couch surfing and ate tuna+beans for lunch for 5+ months), we were also getting to know each other as cofounders. Is he as excited about this as I am? Is he spending as much time on this as I am? Is he still motivated to change the world? These questions kept coming up for me (as I’m sure it did for my cofounders). We eventually found that each of us (3 cofounders) had very different motivations and levels of ambition. As a result, we ‘broke up’ amicably, and all decided to head in our own directions, with myself retaining ownership of the company and associated intellectual property. (I would find out later that we were very lucky to break up on such friendly and amicable terms when compared to other controversial cofounder breakup stories).
This moment in time, ladies and gentlemen, is what some would call the trough of sorrow. Or the edge of depression. Or the Struggle. Even though I was in about $10k worth of debt (family/friends/fools), no permanent place to live, away from family and friends, with absolutely zero income, I decided to keep going. My thought process was something along the lines of “hey if I fail at this then Ill just work my way back up, even from McDonald’s if I have to!” I was staring into the eye of the storm.
Lesson #1: You will hit a brick wall. Make a decision and move forward. Quickly. (Because your competitors will keep moving)
Fast forward a month, we officially ‘graduated’ from the AngelCube accelerator program, had our demo days in Melbourne and Sydney, and we were heading off to the USA. Things seemed to be getting better and brighter. I was able to visit my Mecca, Silicon Valley, and pitch to rooms full of investors and other interested parties. We even pitched in New York!
I had a few conversations with potentially interested investors, met with some potential distribution partners, made some great friends, and even got interviewed for 500 Startups! I was loving life!
Then something happened… Well actually nothing happened. No call backs. No term sheets. No acceptance letters. No distribution deals. My world came crashing down again. I couldn’t understand what happened. Everything seemed so great one moment, then all of a sudden I had no idea what I was doing next. Was it time to give up or was this all part of the journey?
Lesson #2: you will hit more than 1 brick wall. This is a good time to self reflect and focus. Just know that for each brick wall you survive and get through, you will become smarter and stronger. Like Batman.
After many sleepless nights of considering what I should and shouldn’t do (Should I quit now? Join another startup? Create a new company? Get a real job?), I realized that I was too caught up in the hype of Silicon Valley, fundraising, and bringing on investors. This had a detrimental affect on the product, the company, and my health. I decided that the company was not in a position to raise any money on favorable terms, and that the focus for the next few months/years should be to scale the value that our products are giving to customers.
Side note: when I decided this, I started to get strong interest from unexpected investors. Maybe what they say is true: investors only want to give you money when you don’t need it.
I stayed the course - released an iPhone version of the product, continued to iterate based on customer feedback and behavior, and experimented with better forms of acquisition.
Lesson #3: Focus. Shed the fat, consolidate, and focus on the customer and factors that will make you profitable.
So where am I now? I feel a lot happier and focused post-2012.
- I’m in Chile as part of the Startup Chile program (the government gives you $40k equity free to work on your business in Santiago, Chile)
- I’m happy with our metrics across the board: launched July 2012, 60k+ downloads, $10k+ revenue, 10k active weekly users, 10-12% conversion to paid, 600k+ sessions of play
- Rebuilding the team to ensure the right people are in it from the start
- Early stages of creating our next educational game
- Bootstrapping as much as possible
And what’s next for 2013? Shipping products, refining our acquisition pipeline and building multiple marketing assets. I’m sure there will be multiple down periods, but as they say, it is all part of the journey.
Some other, mobile specific, lessons learned:
- Download numbers don’t really matter. Focus on engagement metrics (sessions, daily/weekly/monthly active users, etc)
- Product development is relatively easy. Getting scalable and repeatable distribution is hard.
- Every man (and their dog) thinks they know what works best in mobile. My experience has been to engage with your customers as much as possible, then create an engagement and acquisition plan around their behavior.
- If your customers aren’t pissed when you released a broken update, then you’re doing it wrong
- Don’t get de-focused by daily download numbers and their changes. Focus on current customers. When the time is right to scale, then you can easily lift the download numbers by spending $$$
- Don’t get distracted by your competitors or the tech media - once you’ve collected enough data points, trust your gut, FOCUS and execute!
Let me know what you thought of this blog post by commenting below or emailing me! :)
What i learnt from pitching at 500startups (in front of Dave McClure)
My startup, Broccol-e-games, recently graduated from the Melbourne accelerator program: AngelCube. Part of our US Roadshow included a demo day at 500 startups. Here’s the top 3 things i’ve learnt so far:
- American’s love big visions. Don’t talk too much about the current product. How will your company change the world?
- Make sure you can explain what you do in 1 sentence (in layman terms).
- Show traction, not history. I.e. it’s all about momentum + % growth week/week
And here’s my top tips if you want to meet Mr. McClure:
- Don’t pitch first. Dave McClure will most likely arrive late.
- If you want McClure’s attention, then say his name when you show a slide with AARRR metrics. You’ve got that slide right? (He’s most likely not paying attention and surfing facebook/twitter, so wait for him to look up)
- If McClure is busy with other meetings, stick around until he has nothing else on. Then make sure he doesn’t escape via the back door. (We waited for a few hours using their free internet (heh) and kept a close eye on the meeting room)
- If you do end up meeting with him, be ready to compete for his attention. I won’t give away the activity he’ll make you do, but it’s a pretty damn good filtering process.
This is such a great short documentary on the future of education. Are you working with or against the current paradigm?
If you can crack the problem of engagement – not just ‘are you paying attention?’, but ‘are you fascinated by this?’ – if you can crack engagement in deep learning then you’ve cracked 21st century schooling.