Equality: My Fundamental Value (A re-post from February 20th, 2007)


Marc Andreessen was on CNBC this week talking about the Next Big Things in Tech and said this:

“Providing a Stanford quality education to every kid in the world with a smartphone is a huge opportunity,” he said. “I think online education is going to be better than the classroom.”

It reminded me of something that we wrote on the eduFire blog back in 2007. I went to look that up and for some reason the post is down so I dug it out of the Internet Archive. The quote that I was thinking of was this one:

Just a decade ago it was hard to imagine a child in Africa growing up listening to the best lecturers from Harvard and MIT. Today, with things like the sub-$100 laptop and mesh networking we’re almost there. The power of that idea is immense.

We went with Harvard and MIT. Andreessen went with Stanford. Makes sense I guess given that he’s on the West Coast. :)

As to the second part of his quote (i.e. “online education being better than the classroom”), we were talking about that years ago as well.

It’s not at all unrealistic to envision a future in which the online class is significantly more engaging and effective than its offline equivalent.

Timing is everything and although eduFire might have been five years too early, I’m very proud of what we accomplished during our time working on that. And I’m more excited for what’s to come in education, online and otherwise.

Equality: My Fundamental Value (reprinted from the eduFire.com blog, February 20th, 2007)


I can’t speak for everyone, but I can speak for myself. I’m doing this for the child in Africa who is going to use free textbooks and reference works produced by our community and find a solution to the crushing poverty that surrounds him.
-Jimmy Wales speaking about Wikipedia

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what my fundamental values are. Or maybe more precisely, what my fundamental value is. In the last few weeks it has become abundantly clear to me. My fundamental value is to make equal access to education a reality for everyone on the planet.

People have been striving for equality for centuries. Martin Luther King Jr.’s mission was equality for blacks in America. Nelson Mandela’s mission was equality and freedom from apartheid in South Africa. And while we’ve made a lot of progess towards equality the fact of the matter is that we’re still a long ways from true equality.

We’re currently based in Los Angeles and like most major cities there is significant inequality in the way kids are educated. The child going to school in Beverly Hills or Manhattan Beach is going to get, on average, a much better education than the kid growing up in Compton or Inglewood (spent a good amount of time in a school in the latter so I’ve seen this first hand). And when we expand our consciousness to look at the global situation the differences become even more striking. The boy or girl growing up in Ghana or Ethiopia simply doesn’t have the same resources as the boy or girl growing up in a posh suburb of any major urban area.

Without equal access to a world-class education true equality cannot exist.

Bono was quoted recently in Time Magazine as saying, “It is–or it ought to be–unacceptable that an accident of longitude and latitude determines whether a child lives or dies.” I agree 100% with that. And I also feel that it should be unacceptable than an accident of longitude and latitude determines the quality of a child’s education.

Just a decade ago it was hard to imagine a child in Africa growing up listening to the best lecturers from Harvard and MIT. Today, with things like the sub-$100 laptop and mesh networking we’re almost there. The power of that idea is immense.

The next Einstein might be growing up in Madagascar right now.

The next Oprah might be a kindergarten girl in Sierra Leone.

There’s a lot to be done in this world. I often liken what groups like the One campaign and AMREF are doing to throwing life preservers to people who are drowning. Sitting on the shore and lecturing them on how to swim doesn’t help the current situation. But if people never learn to swim they’re going to find themselves in the same situation again and again in the future.

Which is why it has to be about empowerment.

What companies like Kiva are doing. What (God willing) we’ll do. This indeed is our generation’s Moon Shot. Our opportunity to have a world that allows everyone an equal shot at greatness. An equal shot to realize their potential and live their dreams. It’s within our grasp.

It’s time to get to work.


04. May 2013 by Jon
Categories: Uncategorized | 2 comments

Asana is to 2012 what Microsoft was to 1982

Asana MicrosoftOK, I’ll admit it. I’m an Asana fanboy. I’ve used a bunch of stuff to track personal and professional projects over the years. David Allen’s GTD plug-in for Outlook back in the day. Basecamp. RememberTheMilk. Various story tracking apps. While I liked all of these apps (at least at the time) none of them particularly resonated with me.

About a month ago I started using Asana and while I’ll stop short of saying it’s perfect software (there are a few things about it that drive me a little nuts at times) I will state for the record that I’m a raging fan. And while I was only six years old in 1982 when Microsoft was making its big splash in the market, from what I’ve read about that point in history it seems as if there are a lot of parallels between Asana today and Microsoft three decades ago.

Asana feels to me like it could become the next-generation operating system for business.

Why? Here are a few reasons to kick off the conversation:

    Versatility – Prior to hopping on Asana we were using various apps at Entelo: Something for tracking non-technical projects, a story tracker, a bug tracker, a sales pipeline tool and a CRM app. It’s early so check back in a few months but as of right now we’re looking at consolidating four of those things into Asana. The only one we’re stopping short of is CRM but it’s not inconceivable that Asana could end up being our CRM system at some point.

    For an early-stage company Asana has astounding versatility as can be seen in its best practice videos on Asana as a lightweight CRM, as an Applicant Tracking system and as a bug tracker. It may not be a perfect tool for each of those things but you know what else isn’t perfect? Switching between apps to handle a lot of things that have similar core functionality (pipelines, milestones, to-do management, etc.)

    Speed – Damn, Asana is fast. Part of this is due to Luna, their in-house framework for writing web apps that they built to support Asana. It’s literally the fastest web app I’ve ever touched.

    But it’s not just that. It’s also the power features of Asana that allow you to fly around the app. I’m a massive keyboard shortcut fan and would prefer to never use a mouse or trackpad if I didn’t have to. I’ve yet to find anything in Asana that requires me to use the mouse and that’s huge from a productivity standpoint.

    Ease of Use – We onboarded a few people onto Asana in the last week and one of the immediate responses was “it’s really easy to use” which you typically don’t hear from people when you’re rolling out powerful software. One of our team members said it best, “Asana helps me stay more organized”. That’s a beautiful thing to hear as someone running a rapidly-scaling startup and gives me a lot of confidence that we can indeed build our business on it.

Admittedly it’s early. Maybe Asana won’t live up to the hype but so far, so good. And I think these guys have a massive vision for how they can change the world. It’s going to be fun to watch. And participate. :)

(Note: I don’t know anyone at Asana. This is purely me speaking as a fan of the software.)

(Note: When I say Microsoft, I distinctly mean the Microsoft of the early days. If anything, the Microsoft of today is the anti-Asana.)

31. March 2012 by Jon
Categories: Disruption, Entrepreneurship, Inspiration | 7 comments

The Connection between Education, Employment and Entrepreneurship

matchesI’ve been thinking a lot on these topics lately. In part in preparation for tomorrow’s talk on the topic at the EO Alchemy conference. In part because what we’re doing at RG Labs intersects all three of these areas very directly. And in part because some of the statistics and trends right now are downright scary.

First off, it feels like we have a burgeoning employment crisis in this country. I wrote about this a bit in my TechCrunch article A Tale of Two Countries. In the bigger cities (and especially the ones with a heavy emphasis on technology) it’s boom time. There’s a lot of cognitive dissonance involved with living in Silicon Valley and hearing about how hard it is to hire and seeing the acquisitions and funding valuations at all-time highs and then to go back to Minnesota (where I’m from) or Kentucky (where my wife is from) and hear people there talk about a radically different economy. I was in Detroit last month and that city is probably prime example of a scenario that’s playing out in Cleveland, Memphis, St. Louis and a whole host of other less technologically advanced cities around the country.

Some of the statistics are pretty crazy. Mean duration of unemployment is at 40 weeks. That’s twice as long as the worst it’s ever been over the last 70 years. U-6, the government’s measure of under-utilization is 16.5%, up from 15.8% in May. Almost 50% of Americans are living on some form of government benefits. Wild stuff. And I’ve been reading guys like Tyler Cowen, Thomas Friedman and W. Brian Arthur and there’s some serious, serious cause for concern.

Sure, we’ve been in bad situations before. The stagflation of the 1970s. The fall-out from the dot com bubble in the early 2000s. Heck, fall 2008. But this time something feels different. It doesn’t feel like a traditional cyclical downturn. We’ve developed an incredible amount of technological sophistication in the last decade. And, as I referenced in the Tale of Two Countries article, I tend to believe Paul Graham’s view that as you have increasing sophistication of tools, you are going to to have an increasing gap in levels of productivity (the most productive person is going to be much more productive than the mean). And if wealth follows productivity (I tend to believe it does) then with the increasing sophistication in the tools you are going to end up with an increasing level of income inequality. And that’s what seems to be happening right now. The people at the top (presumably those with higher productivity) are doing very well. But there is an increasing number of people being left behind (as evident in the unemployment and under-employment numbers).

Which brings us to education. I’m fairly convinced that the vast majority of the unemployment we’re seeing, and will likely continue to see, is structural unemployment. We’re training people for jobs that don’t exist while at the same time we’re not training enough people for high-demand jobs. Today Chris Dixon pointed to this as an example of structural unemployment and I think he’s right. Technology companies can’t hire fast enough. But step outside of technology and other tech-focused industries and it quickly becomes a wasteland. Compensation is rising for engineers, designers and pretty much anyone who is tech-savvy. But are we seeing an accompanying increase in demand for computer science degrees? No, actually it’s just the opposite. Check this out:

There were 43 percent fewer graduates and 45 percent fewer CS degree enrollments in 2006-2007 than in 2003-2004, according to the Computer Research Association.

One answer to this might be that despite growing demand for people with these skills and increased compensation, people are simply preferring to not work in technology. But that doesn’t really make sense. After all, people are spending more and more time with technology (e.g., Facebook, gaming, etc.). Why wouldn’t they want to pursue careers in the space as well. Well one reason would be that our education system is not providing them with the foundational knowledge to go after more advanced careers in technology.

Salman Khan, perhaps the most innovative thinker in education in a decade, makes this point really well in his must-watch TED Talk:

Whether you get a 70 percent, an 80 percent, a 90 percent, or a 95 percent, the class moves on to the next topic. And even that 95 percent student, what was the five percent they didn’t know? Maybe they didn’t know what happens when you raise something to the zero power. And then you go build on that in the next concept. That’s analogous to imagine learning to ride a bicycle, and maybe I give you a lecture ahead of time, and I give you that bicycle for two weeks. And then I come back after two weeks, and I say, “Well, let’s see. You’re having trouble taking left turns. You can’t quite stop. You’re an 80 percent bicyclist.” So I put a big C stamp on your forehead and then I say, “Here’s a unicycle.” But as ridiculous as that sounds, that’s exactly what’s happening in our classrooms right now.

The modern equivalent to unicycling might be writing code. We’re not doing a good enough job teaching people fundamentals and then we’re seeing them not pursue careers where that fundamental knowledge is pretty much a prerequisite. And then we’re wondering why we have a problem with unemployment despite that fact that so many companies can’t find enough qualified people. Is it starting to become clear how inter-related these things are.

So finally we come to entrepreneurship. And this is where, for me at least, the lightbulb went off. According to the President’s Job Council (and similar research done by the Kauffman Foundation and others), almost all net new job creation is coming from start-ups. Not big companies. Not old companies. Small companies that are less than five years old are keeping an economy that’s already in rough shape from being much, much worse.

But there’s a governor on the growth for many of these startups. Want to guess what it is? They can’t hire enough people with the technical skills to help them growth. And here’s where we enter either a vicious cycle or a virtuous one. More startups, more jobs. Fewer startups, fewer jobs. Startups throwing up their hands because they can’t find the engineers, designers and product people to achieve their goals? Fewer startups. Fewer jobs. So the education sector fails the entrepreneurial sector which causes the entrepreneurial sector to fail the economy because it isn’t creating enough jobs.

And there’s one more problem here, perhaps an even bigger one and that’s the our current education system does a very poor job of preparing people to become entrepreneurs. To understand why you have to go back to the formation of the modern education system. When you do the research you realize that the modern education system was essentially created to produce good factory workers. The skill set, and more importantly, the mind set required to be a good factory worker stands in almost direct opposition to the mindset required to become an entrepreneur. We don’t teach people to fail in school. We fastidiously get them to avoid failure. We don’t have people learn by doing. We have them learn by listening to someone or reading something. We don’t reward out-of-the-box thinking and breaking the rules. We penalize those things. And because of how the system is structured, we end up with far, far few entrepreneurs than we could have.

This is probably over-simplifying things and I’m most definitely not an economist. But the more that I read on these topics, the more interconnected they seem. You can throw money at programs for promoting entrepreneurship, fixing education or creating jobs but until you step back and see the whole system, you’re missing critical information.

I’m excited the dive deeper into this and am very much looking forward to the ongoing dialogue about this. And I feel incredibly blessed to be helping to run a company that I feel could have an impact in all three of these areas. BTW, as you could probably guess, we’re hiring. :)

Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/juliettereyes/4952717445/

20. October 2011 by Jon
Categories: Education, Entrepreneurship, RG Labs | 15 comments

Companies I’m psyched about helping

Right now something that feels like about 98% of my waking hours goes into helping to building RG Labs. However, from time to time I come across companies that I feel are doing special things and have taken advisory roles with them. This post, which I’ll update from time to time is a listing of those companies, what they do (in my words) and why I’m psyched to do what I can do to help them out.

altius-ed-logoAltius Education – I met Paul Freedman, Altius’s founder, a couple of years ago and was very impressed with his vision for Altius. One of the biggest mismatches of supply and demand in higher education is at the community college level. Community colleges historically have offered an affordable way for high school graduates to continue their education and for many, to eventually transition into four-year universities. However, with budget cutbacks and rising costs, many community colleges are forced to turn away a lot of interested students. This is where Altius comes in, offering an affordable way for students to receive their Associates degree in an online setting and eventually have a chance to transfer to a desired school to complete their Bachelors degree. Altius is backed by CRV, Maveron and Spark Capital.

cblCertified Business Laureate (CBL) Exam – I’m a big fan of people who are looking to disrupt the credentialing space. When I met Guy Friedman and heard about his plans for CBL, I saw a very big opportunity. There are many people out there who possess the business knowledge that’s roughly the equivalent of an MBA, however there’s no chance for them to really prove this. CBL will offer that opportunity and has the potential to be a fast-growth competency-based credentialing model, similar to Western Governor’s University which has grown tremendously in the last decade. (AngelList profile for Certified Business Laureate Exam)

fatmindsFatminds – The first time I met the Fatminds guys they pitched their idea as Kayak meets Yelp for Continuing Education and I was sold pretty quick. The continuing education market is a multi-billion dollar one and gets a lot less attention in the education space than say, test prep or tutoring. I think that’s largely because most people don’t encounter continuing education until later in life, after the age at which it’s typical to start a technology company. Fatminds has an extraordinary amount of potential and has already partnered with schools such as MIT and USF. (AngelList profile for Fatminds)

prazas_logo_web (1)Prazas – I think one of the biggest opportunities in K-12 education is a lower-cost approach to tablet computing. The iPad is obviously going to be transformative for many students but unfortunately, it’s too expensive for most schools to justify putting one in every student’s hand. Android-based platforms offer affordability and because of the open source nature of the platform, an opportunity for entrepreneurs to innovate outside of third-party restrictions. I’m psyched about anybody working on tablet computing for children and am happy to be helping out the Prazas team.

Udemy_logo_3Udemy – I encountered the Udemy guys (Eren Bali and Gagan Biyani) back when I was running eduFire. While our visions were similar, Udemy has taken a somewhat different approach to democratizing education. Udemy offers packaged courses such Eric Ries teaching about The Lean Startup and Zed Shaw teaching Python the Hard Way. These are rock-solid courses offered at a fraction of the cost that you’d pay to a university for similar content. It’s a highly disruptive model and one that is really starting to gather steam.

I’m really excited about these companies and while I wish I could clone myself to give them more of my time, am happy to be able to provide them with whatever help I can.

18. September 2011 by Jon
Categories: Education, Entrepreneurship | 5 comments

Hacking Education Detroit

DetroitFor the last couple years we have, inspired by the fine folks at Union Square Ventures, been running dinners under the banner of “Hacking Education”, the intention being to connect together people who are passionate about changing the game in education. The events have included tech entrepreneurs, leading foundations and non-profits, investors passionate about education and policy makers not content with the status quo. Our world tour of sorts has consisted of San Francisco, Seattle, New York and Washington D.C. On September 16th, we’ll add a new city to that list: Detroit.

A couple of months ago I was approached by a group of students who are part of running the Social Venture Fund at the University of Michigan with the idea to host a dinner in Detroit. I was immediately sold because of the simple belief that if there’s anywhere that needs to have education hacked, it’s Detroit.

The numbers are truly astounding. As of right now, Detroit is slated to close half of its public schools over the next two years which will raise class sizes to an astonishing 60 students per. This is in a city where almost half of the adults are functionally illiterate and an equivalent percentage of children live below the poverty line. It’s so bad that the city issued a mass layoff for all of its teachers and you can’t even find someone to run for open slots on the school board.

So why Detroit?

One person’s lost cause is another’s opportunity and there’s a growing feeling that, like what happened in New Orleans after Katrina, if you can change the game here you can change it anywhere. Detroit has a lot of problems. There’s no denying that. As does Cleveland, Baltimore and huge swaths of Mississippi, Arkansas, Kentucky and so many other places in the country. Which gives us two options: giving up on these cities and considering these cities and regions as a part of America’s past or fighting for these places and refusing to believe they won’t be part of America’s future.

What’s going on right now in education is unparalleled. I attended a White House event today on Jobs and Competitiveness in Palo Alto and at times it felt like a two-hour long commercial for Khan Academy. And that’s completely awesome. That we can take one of the most brilliant teachers in the history of the planet and “bring him” to Detroit through the magic of YouTube and high-speed Internet represents incredible potential. And Salman is just one of so many people who are working tirelessly to make sure that the education of tomorrow is open and accessible. There are many passionate and hard-working teachers and administrators on the ground and people all around the country who care deeply about what is going on in these cities.

I feel we may be on the brink of having two countries in America. But if there’s an equalizer, something that keeps us from becoming a country that simultaneously has hordes of millionaires and billionaires and also chronic 20+% unemployment, it’s education. And while there’s no magic formula we can’t think of a better place to focus on than the cities that seem most hopeless. Which is why we’re so excited about September 16th and what the future might hold. If you’d like to be involved in anyway, please drop me a line. This is only a small effort, and only one of many of course, but one that we hope inspires others to think about what we can do to help those who need it the most.

(Note: Donors Choose also offers some other great opportunities to help as they currently list 59 projects in Detroit that you can help with. It’s a great way to make a real difference for teachers and students there.)

02. August 2011 by Jon
Categories: Education, Personal | 1 comment

How to Have a 36 Hour Day (Revised Edition)

womanclock(Note: I originally wrote this post a little over five years ago and posted it to a blog on a site that has since been shut down. A few people have asked me for it so I decided I would resurrect it. I’ve posted it in its original form but have added a bit of commentary as my views on some of these things have changed. Some of what I wrote seems downright stupid in hindsight. It is fun though to see how some of these things have changed quite a bit and five years and others are still pretty similar.

I hope you enjoy it and that you find a few extra hours or even a few extra minutes in your day!)

How many times do you hear someone say “I wish there were more hours in the day” or something along those lines? The fact is that all of us are only given 24 hours. Having said that, how we spend those 24 hours varies radically from person to person. It’s become a bit of a cliche by now but the 24 hours we have is the same 24 hours that Thomas Edison and Mother Theresa had and that Oprah Winfrey and Bill Gates currently have. As the old song goes “It’s in the way that you use it.”

But what if we had more than 24 hours in a day?

Not possible? I disagree. While we can never have more than 24 hours of chronological time I think it’s very possible to have many more hours of functional time. In fact, I think it’s probably possible to get up to 36 hours of functional time in your day if you do a few relatiively simple things. So without further ado, here is my prescription for the 36 hour day.

It’s a list of ways to save time that you may or may not have thought of. Implement a few of them and you’ll likely open up a couple of hours each day that you didn’t previously have . Implement all of of them and you just might find yourself with too much time on your hands. File that under “Good Problem to Have” right? :)

So here are 10 ways that you can radically change your life and free up the time you didn’t know that you could.

36 Hour Day Strategy #1: Optimize Your Sleep

Some of us can get by just fine on 3-5 hours a sleep a night (I’m jealous of you!) while others “need” 9+ hours to feel rested. Certainly a good portion of this is genetic and perhaps environmental. Having said that I tihnk that there are ways that all of us can sleep less and at the same time feel more rested. Here are a few suggestions:

Wake up at the same time every morning – I first came across this through Steve Pavlina’s excellent blog. I’ve been trying it for a little while and totally dig it. It’s a simple concept. Just set your alarm clock for the same time each morning, wake up when it goes off and then go to bed at night when you feel tired and not before. Steve claims it can free up 10-15 hours a week. I think he’s totally right.

Make your room a quiet, dark cave – For too many people the bedroom is a source of activity, light and noise. Do your best to minimize the amount of sound in your bed room (consider buying an air cleaner or white noise generator if you live in noisy apartment building or neighborhood). Take steps to eliminate or reduce the light that comes into your bedroom while you sleep (heavy curtains or dark room material on the windows work well here). And do your darnedest to remove stimulus from your bedroom (e.g., TV, lots of clutter, etc.)

Experiment with polyphasic sleepPolyphasic sleep is a sleeping pattern that proposes to reduce sleep down to 2-5 hours a day. I haven’t tried it yet so I can’t speak to its validity but you back to Steve’s blog again for some great information on this unusual but potentially effective sleeping method.

Time Savings from Optimizing Your Sleep = Approximately 1.5 Hours

2011 Revision: I still think sleep is incredibly important but I’m not waking up at the same time every day and certainly am not practicing polyphasic sleep. :) Mostly these days I practice free running sleep and I do love having a white noise generator playing while I sleep.

36 Hour Day Strategy #2: Optimize Your Diet

The human body spends more of its energy on digestion and elimination than anything else . What you put into your body in the form of food and drink will definitely have an impact on your energy levels as well the amount of sleep you’ll need. A few years back I was pretty heavy into weightlifting and was eating a ton of calories and lots of protein every day. The result? I need to sleep a *ton* to feel rested. Sometimes 10-11 hours a night (the hard workouts didn’t help either).

Now my diet has done a 180 and I’m eating a much better (but far from perfect) mix of vegetables, fruits, whole grains and healthy fats and oils. The difference in energy is dramatic and I sleep a lot less than I previously needed to. My diet still needs improvement but these changes have literally added hours to my days.

I’d recommend a few resources for people looking to save time by improving their diet. The first is Tony Robbins’ Living Health course. Tony has more energy that any person I’ve ever seen and that’s a great testament to his health and fitness regimen. He has based a lot of his information on the work of Dr. Robert Young and thus I would recommend Dr. Young’s book The pH Miracle as well.

Finally, consider going on a cleanse. I recently went on a four-day cleanse as outlined in the pH Miracle book and I’ve had a lot more energy in the week and a half since I went off it. The book Juice Fasting and Detoxification also helped me through a pretty intense (both physically and emotionally) four days and I’d recommend that one as well.

Time Savings from Optimizing Your Diet = Approximately 1.5 Hours

2011 Revision: Turned that I couldn’t find much evidence for the benefits of an alkaline diet so I’ve largely shifted away from that. A lot of the people whose views on health I respect were doing some variation of the Paleo Diet so that’s mostly what I’ve gravitated to with modifications and more than a few cheats…

36 Hour Day Strategy #3: Multi Task

OK, this is a given right. If you do two things at the same time you will be able to do more during your day. But isn’t multitasking bad? The lady driving down the highway with her cell glued to her ear is probably not the best model for multitasking. The guy you had lunch with yesterday who checked his Blackberry 17 times before they brought the main course out isn’t doing anyone any favors with his technology-enabled form of ADD.

But I’d argue that multi-tasking, when done right, is one of the best ways to save time throughout your day. Combining talking on the phone and “brain dead activities” is a great way to multitask. For most people, doing laundry or washing the dishes is an activity that takes no thought. Why not use that time to make a few phone calls and kill two birds with one stone? But remember, checking e-mail or watching TV are not brain dead activities. And nothing is more annoying than having a phone conversation with someone who is not fully present.

Another great way to multi task is to incorporate exercise into your activities. Need to get together with a friend to catch up? Meet them for a jog and get caught up while you knock out your daily workout. I’ll often stretch (it’s good for you!) while I’m reading or at my computer (I’ve got one those exercise balls that allows we to stretch while I’m checking e-mail…kinda geeky but it works for me!).

Something else I do is to do a series of exercises created by a gentleman named Pete Egoscue. These exercises are designed to improve flexibility and range of motion and prevent injury. And many of them can be done while reading, on the phone, etc. I’d highly recommend Pete’s book Pain Free for anyone interested in these.

There are a ton of ways that you can incorporate exercise into your daily routines without taking any extra time out of your day. It’s really a great way to free up your schedule and keep your body in tip-top shape.

Time Savings from Multi Tasking = Approximately 2.0 Hours

2011 Revision: Still a big fan of combining activities. Reading articles I’ve saved using Instapaper while walking around (low-traffic) parts of the neighborhood. Listening to audiobooks while doing household chores. I do talk on the phone a lot in the car these days but always with a hands-free headset of course!

36 Hour Day Strategy #4: Get Organized

You really owe it to yourself to get organized because it will save you both time and stress. There are a number of different ways and strategies for getting organized. One of the best that I’ve found (and use personally) is David Allen‘s Getting Things Done methodology. GTD, as it is more commonly referred to, is a system for capturing and managing the things that you need to do and remember. It’s remarkably effective in that it gets all of the little things out of your head which frees up your “psychic RAM” for more productive thoughts and results in increased creativity.

David Allen’s system isn’t the only one out there. A lot of people will use Franklin-Covey, Tony Robbins’ life management system or any of a number of other planning systems. I’m not convinced that there’s one best system out there but I think it’s important for all of us to use some sort of a system so that “Remember to buy toothpaste” isn’t consuming even an ounce of our mental energy.

There’s a ton of info about GTD online for free and the investment you’ll make in learning one of these systems will pay off in spades. Not only will you be more productive but you’ll also feel less stressed which will result in more energy and once again will add hours to your days.

Time Savings from Getting Organized = Approximately 1.0 Hours

2011 Revision: I’m not sure whether I currently practice GTD as it’s been so long that I’ve been working with the principles that it just seems like a part of my natural life. I’d highly recommend that anyone who hasn’t read Getting Things Done immediately does that. You don’t need to practice GTD religiously but I guarantee you’ll pick up at least a couple of things that will make you more organized and effective.

36 Hour Day Strategy #5: Improve Your Typing Speed

In this computer age, the keyboard is often our primary form of communication with many people. This is a wild ass guess but I’d say that the average person probably spends about 1-2 hours a day typing. This could be e-mails, IMs, memos, reports, etc . Certainly for some people this number is much higher and for others it is low. So let’s just say an average of 1.5 hours per person for now.

Now let’s assume that you currently type 40 WPM. If you improved your typing speed to 60 WPM you would save 33% of the time you are currently spending typing. Improve it to 80 WPM and you’ve now saved 50%. That’s probably a half an hour or 45 minutes a day you’ve saved. Over the course of a year or a decade (not to mention a lifetime) this results in a *huge* savings.

It’s amazing that we invest in all of these productivity applications in businesses and yet you have many people who are still hunting and pecking at their keyboard. That’s just crazy to me. The faster you type the better you can communicate plain and simple. The keyboard becomes a natural extension of you vs. some impediment to exchanging information and sharing yourself with the world.

I’d highly recommend investing a little time (even just a few minutes a day) in improving your typing. A program that I use for this is TypingMaster and I love it. It’s easy to use and can even be configured to track your real-world typing so that it can incorporate words you commonly mis-type into its drills. This is definitely a great way to save time on a daily basis.

Time Savings from Improving Your Typing Speed = Approximately 0.75 Hours

2011 Revision: This is an area where I feel like I’ve learned an important lesson: Type fewer words. :) I used to send emails that were waaaaaay too long and thought “gosh, if I could only type faster.” Five years later I’ve realized that typing those long emails was both wasting my time and that of the recipients. I tend to treat email more like Twitter these days, trying to be as concise as possible. Check out this post and this post for great tips on the topic.

36 Hour Day Strategy #6: Improve Your Reading Speed

Just as with typing, improving your reading speed can make you more productive and save you tons of time. It also varies a lot but I’ll assume that each of us again spends on average between one and two hours a day reading. Whether this is the morning paper, e-mails at works, research for your job or for school or the latest book we all have a need to be continually reading in this day and age.

The fact of the matter is that most of us don’t read all that well. We read slow and we often have to read things multiple times to understand what’s going on. And in the end that either reduces the amount of stuff we end up reading (if you read slow and have trouble comprehending reading just won’t be enjoyable to you) or results in a lot more time invested in reading than necessary.

As with typing there are ways to improve your reading abilities. Here are a few that I’ve incorporated:

Active Reading – One of the reasons why many of us don’t read that well is that we’re entirely passive when reading. The brain engages much more when it is active and the best way to encourage this is to make notes while reading. If you’re reading a book then mark the hell out of it. Underline passages, jot notes, etc. You’ll find that your comprehension will go way up as will your reading speed (even after accounting for the time spent marking up your book). One of the best parts about making notes is that you can return to the material later and review it more quickly and effectively.

EyeQ – Off and on over the last few years I’ve been using a software application called EyeQ to improve my reading speed. I think it’s the fastest and easiest way for a person increase their ability to rapidly process information. It works by getting you to move your eyes more quickly through material. This results in an increased ability to filter out words that are meaningless (a, an, the, etc.) as well as a reduced reliance on subvocalization.

Photoreading – I took a class in Photoreading a few years ago and while I’m still not convinced that it’s 100% legit any system that claims to increase reading speed to 25,000 words per minute or more is definitely worth checking out. For people who have a ton of reading to do (e.g., graduate students, attorneys, etc.) something like Photoreading could possibly revolutionize their lives and free up tons of time.

Time Savings from Improving Your Reading Speed = Approximately 0.75 Hours

2011 Revision: Reading faster is indeed still an important thing. However I thing my major learnings here include the portability of reading (taking articles to go vs. reading them on the laptop), substituting listening to content I want to consume rather than reading it (see the next strategy) and working to have conversations on topics with experts rather than just reading about them. It also helps to be a bit older (and perhaps wiser?!) about what to read.

36 Hour Day Strategy #7: Learn Out Loud

Probably the #1 reason why I started LearnOutLoud.com is that I believe so strongly in the power of audio learning to literally add hours to peoples’ lives and provide increased enjoyment of, and fulfillment during, times which have historically been frustrating and unproductive (e.g., the morning commute).

Audio learning is the perfect multi-tasking activity. Most people who know me know that I’m listening to audio books, podcasts, etc. several hours every day. I’ll do this whenever I’m driving, while exercising, doing stuff around the apartment, etc. I’ve been able to crank through an unbelievable number of books in the last year (including unabridged versions of My Life by Bill Clinton and The World is Flat by Thomas Friedman) that I never would have found the time to sit down and read. Likewise, I’ve been able to virtually “attend” conferences like South by Southwest and the World Economic Forum thanks to the miracle of podcasting.

Thanks to the iPod and other portable MP3 players it’s never been easier to learn out loud. One of my favorite things to do is to go for a run with a few podcasts or an audio book queued up. In fact, I recently completed the LA Marathon while simultaneously listening to the first half of John Battelle’s book The Search (read more on that here). It was kind of fun to know that I was getting both a workout for my body and for my mind.

We’ve essentially set up LearnOutLoud as the epicenter for what I truly feel will be an audio learning revolution in upcoming years and decades. People are increasingly pressed for time and the opportunity to listen to the information you need to consume rather than having to read it opens up a lot of doors. It’s a great way to stay on top of all the information and trends that affect your world and that’s why I’m so excited about it.

Time Savings from Learning Out Loud = Approximately 1.5 Hours

2011 Revision: I’m still blown away by how awesome audio learning. As a busy entrepreneur I have nowhere near as much time as I’d like to read. So to be able to crank through a few books on month by listening to them is pretty cool. And now way more than in 2006 there are all sorts of screencasts, tutorials, podcasts, interviews (e.g., Mixergy) to be constantly learning from. It’s truly an autodidact‘s paradise these days.

36 Hour Day Strategy #8: Use Software To Your Advantage

The right software can bring huge time savings to your life. Certainly not all software will save you time. In fact, some applications can actually be huge time sucks. Anyone ever hear of Minesweeper? :) But there are some programs out there that will add minutes to your days and hours to your weeks and months. Here are some that I’ve stumbled upon:

ActiveWordsActiveWords is a macro application that allows you to assign hot keys to repetitive tasks. We use this a lot in our business to save time and it could certainly save you time in your personal life as well.

Here’s a simple example of how I use it. Let’s say that someone is coming by the office for lunch. I want to give them fairly detailed directions via e-mail. One option would be to type up directions each time. That’s really a waste as I’m writing the same thing everytime. Another option would be to type up the directions and put them in a text file and then cut and paste them into my e-mail each time I needed them. That does save time but I still have to find the text file on my system each time and do the cut and paste. What ActiveWords allows me to do is to assign a hot key or phrase to my directions. Now all I have to do is type “officedirections” and hit F8 and the directions will automatically be inserted into my e-mail. Cool huh?

There are a ton of ways to use this nifty little application and I feel that I’m just scratching the surface of its usefulness.

Cloudmark Spamblocker (or other anti-spam software) – If you’re manually processing and deleting spam you’re just wasting your time. The investment in a good spam blocker is well worth it. I’ve been using Cloudmark’s product for several years and I really like it. Almost all my spam gets blocked and rarely does a legitimate message end up in my spam folder.

Another solution is to use GMail (or another web-based app) for your e-mail. These systems end up doing a pretty good job of filtering spam as well. And now a lot of these services have advanced functionality so you can use them and have the e-mails still appear to be coming from your domain (e.g., jon@learnoutloud.com rather than learnoutloud@gmail.com).

Bloglines (or other RSS aggregation software) – I follow 50+ blogs on a number of subjects including technology, new media, audio books, podcasting, U2 and of course Dilbert. There’s no way I’d be able to stay on top of all of this stuff without the help
of a piece of software that puts all these blogs in one place and shows me what new updates have been made to each of them. I use Bloglines and I love it. Not only can I read blogs when I’m at the computer but there’s even a mobile version of Bloglines so I can read blogs from my Blackberry.

Blogs are increasingly becoming the best way to consume information online and so if you haven’t set up an aggregator yet I’d definitely recommend it. There are dozens of aggregators out there and while Bloglines does the trick for me you may want to look at the other apps to find one that works well for you.

Time Savings from Using Software To Your Advantage = Approximately 0.5 Hours

2011 Revision: The names have changed (TypeIt4Me vs. ActiveWords, GMail vs. Cloudmark, Twitter/Hacker News vs. Bloglines) but the strategy is still sound. Investing in learning software to help with productivity remains one of the best investments I’ve personally made. I strongly recommend taking the time to get really good at the software you use the most.

36 Hour Day Strategy #9: Cut Your TV Time in Half

Depending on what study you look at you’ll find that the average person watches something like four hours of TV a day. That boggles my mind. We’re incredibly busy and yet we somehow find a way to spend four or more hours a day watching television?!!! Crazy…

Now I’m not one to say that all television is bad or that mindless entertainment is never a good thing. There are definitely some TV shows and there’s of course a time and a place for turning the brain off for a bit. I have no beef with that but what disturbs me is when people give huge chunks of their life to an activity that doesn’t really provide any meaningful benefit in most cases.

A year and a half ago I turned off my cable service and I haven’t missed it at all. I’ve got a Netflix subscription so I can have a few movies handy for times when I want to watch them. And if there’s a big game on (like last night’s incredible UCLA win…Go Bruins!) then I can typically find a place to watch it with some friends. What I have noticed is that the activity of sitting down “just to see what’s on” has become entirely foreign to me. And I think that’s a very good thing.

So I’m not saying you have to go to the extreme and shut your TV off. Just be conscious of what you’re watching and why. And see if you can’t reduce the amount of time you spend watching TV by 50%. If you currently watch four hours a day you almost assuredly can get by watching two hours a day. I mean there are some good shows on but not that many good shows…

Time Savings from Cutting Your TV Time in Half = Approximately 2.0 Hours

2011 Revision: TV is pretty much the devil when it comes to productivity. :) I still watch some but I really try to limit my TV time, especially when I’m at a busy point in life. This is probably the #1 place people could find extra hours if they really wanted to.

36 Hour Day Strategy #10: Get Help from Others

The final way to have a 36 Hour Day is to look for opportunities to have other people help you out with stuff. A lot of this definitely depends on factors like what your job is and how much money you have. If you’re the CEO of a Fortune 500 company you can probably find people to do a lot of stuff for you and will have no probably paying them to do so. But what about the rest of us?

First of all, don’t discount people’s interest in helping you out for free. Let’s say you are moving in a few weeks. Why not ask several friends to help you out? It certainly makes the load a lot easier and saves you time.

Another possibility is trading things you are good at for things you need help with. For instance, let’s say you need help with housecleaning. Perhaps you can find someone whose English skills aren’t that good and offer to tutor them in English in exchange for help with cleaning. You’ll save time and they’ll benefit from your help resulting in a win-win for both of you.

There are tons of opportunities like this if you just keep your eyes open for them. Of course asking someone to help you out means being willing to help if you’re asked to. But with all this time you’re saving this shouldn’t be a problem right? :)

P.S. There’s another great way to save time when you’re researching something or looking for information. There are a number of services online that will help you for free or a nominal charge. For instance, when I have a tech problem I’ll often post it to Experts Exchange and I’ll usually get back an answer within hours or even minutes. For non-techie questions I’ll use a service like Google Answers. There’s a small fee associated with getting questions answered but you can set the amount and it’s almost always worth it in terms of the amount of time you save by getting someone to help you out with the research.

In addition to services like this there are thousands of message boards on the Internet staffed with volunteers who can help you answer many questions. Back in the day I started one of these message boards at CertTutor.net and it has helped thousands of people get their technology certification questions answered. It’s just one of many like it out there in just about every subject you can imagine.

Time Savings from Getting Help from Others = Approximately 0.5 Hours

2011 Revision: This is still a big part of my life and it’s often to see that with stuff like Quora and Twitter this is getting better all the time. I’ve also gotten better at leveraging virtual assistants for tasks and learning how to reach out to others in my social graph. For people who achieve at the highest levels of society, this is probably the area where they find the most leverage and an area that all of us probably have room to improve. So often I find myself asking the question “Am I the best person to be doing this?” and that guides me as to whether I should find someone to help out.

So as we add these up we find that there’s the potential here to say 12 hours of time each day. Wow. Certainly your mileage with vary with the strategies but hopefully you can implement some of them in your daily life. Time is the most precious commodity on the planet and by saving time in some areas you’ll have more time for doing the things that are truly the most important to you and for pursuing your goals and following your bliss. And if we all do that…well, I think that will change the world.

2011 Revision: OK, I still agree with this. :) I think most people overvalue their money and undervalue their time. Time is indeed the scarce resource and I’d love to see everyone (myself included!) adopt more of that mindset. There’s a lot of work still to be done in this world! I hope you’ve enjoyed this and please feel free to share additional time-saving tips in the comments.

16. July 2011 by Jon
Categories: Nutrition, Personal | 2 comments

11 (More) Must-Read Articles on Building World-Class Teams

65142383Here’s a follow-up article to “21 Must-Read Articles on Building World-Class Teams“, a post I wrote about six weeks ago. Enjoy! (As always, I should mention in passing that if you’re interested in being a part of world-class team, RG Labs is hiring.)

#1 – Hiring a VP of Engineering or CTO For Non-Techie (First Time) Founders – Solid article from Albert Wenger of Union Square Ventures.

#2 – How To Run A Company That Engineers Actually Want To Work For -Business Insider isn’t normally the first place I’d think to look for advice on hiring engineers but this article is actually really good.

#3 – On Finding and Working with Software Engineers – How the heck did I miss the one the first time around?! One of the better articles I’ve read on the topic.

#4 – Ranting about the quality of developers – Fairly straightforward but good overview of hiring engineers.

#5 – Startup Mantra: Hire Fast, Fire Fast – I don’t know that I fully agree with Suster here but well worth a read. Interesting to note the difference in philosophy between this article and Cult Creation.

#6 – – 25 Things that make hiring technical talent much easier My friend Charlie bringing the heat. Here’s another good post from him on the topic: “Startup Recruiting Hacks“.

#7 – How to (Fucking) Hire Developers – A very opinionated (and mostly awesome) article about how to hire developers.

#8 – How to Hire a Great Web Designer, With Y Combinator’s Garry Tan – This doesn’t get talked about enough and few know more about the topic than Garry. Great complement to Jason Putorti’s Quora post “How to Interview a Designer” and Chris Zacharias’s “Hiring Front-End Engineers“.

#9 – Hiring: The Lake Wobegon Strategy – Short but simple post from the Google Research blog about the dangers of hiring “above the mean”.

#10 – How to assemble the perfect team – A person-by-person analysis of hiring in a startup along with lessons learned. I wish more startups did this.

#11 – Recruit Top Talent Like Ari Gold From Entourage – Woot! Love listening to my boy Ethan talk on this topic. Read everything he writes on the topic.

What have I missed? Let me know in the comments!

10. July 2011 by Jon
Categories: Entrepreneurship, RG Labs | 5 comments

What Really Keeps Poor People Poor

jayzThe New York Times has a great piece this week about how top colleges (many of which are heavily subsidized by the government) are, in their words, largely for the elite. It’s well worth reading. In it, Anthony Marx, the president of Amherst College, is quoted as saying the following:

“We claim to be part of the American dream and of a system based on merit and opportunity and talent,” Mr. Marx says. “Yet if at the top places, two-thirds of the students come from the top quartile and only 5 percent come from the bottom quartile, then we are actually part of the problem of the growing economic divide rather than part of the solution.”

There’s a lot of evidence that suggests that the admissions policies of the top universities tend to perpetuate the notion of rich getting richer. This post isn’t meant to argue for or against that point. Rather it’s to argue another point which is that when you look at this issue the larger concern here shouldn’t be that people from lower-income families aren’t able to receive as good of an education as people from higher-income families. That’s of course very important but the critical factor is that people from lower-income families aren’t able to gain access to the same networks that higher-income families have access to.

One of the articles that has been influential in my thinking here was Malcolm Gladwell’s 1999 article in The New Yorker entitled “Six Degrees of Lois Weisberg“. I’ll let you read the whole thing but suffice to say it’s the story of an unlikely “super connector” named Lois Weisberg and includes this very pertinent passage:

If the world really is held together by people like Lois Weisberg, in other words, how poor you are can be defined quite simply as how far you have to go to get to someone like her. Wendy Willrich and Helen Doria and all the countless other people in Lois’s circle needed to make only one phone call. They are well-off. The dropout wouldn’t even know where to start. That’s why he’s poor. Poverty is not deprivation. It is isolation.

Poverty is not deprivation. It is isolation. When the high school senior from the inner city doesn’t get into Harvard or Yale, she’s being isolated from the networks that could allow to reach the highest rungs of society. In all fairness, many people from impoverished communities have been able to access these networks in recent decades and it has lead to some of the greatest success stories of our time. Michelle Obama. Sonia Sotomayor. Even a story like Lloyd Blankfein‘s (Goldman Sachs CEO/Chairman) is largely one of accessing networks (through a full ride to Harvard) that would have been normally inaccessible to a son of a Postal Service worker.

As Gladwell states in his article:

Minority-admissions programs work not because they give black students access to the same superior educational resources as white students, or access to the same rich cultural environment as white students, or any other formal or grandiose vision of engineered equality. They work by giving black students access to the same white students as white students — by allowing them to make acquaintances outside their own social world and so shortening the chain lengths between them and the best jobs.

We live in an age where with a solid Internet connection and someone to guide you through the process of self-education (admittedly something many people don’t have) you can learn just about anything. Certainly enough to qualify for some of society’s highest-paid positions. But unfortunately that’s not enough. Because despite the fact that it’s easier than ever to learn the things that will qualify you for a well-paid position in the world, it’s not easier (perhaps even harder) to gain access to the networks that will let you achieve your full potential.

Waiting for Superman paints a very compelling picture about the dire situation in our inner-city schools. And the point that it might not be that schools reflect their surroundings but rather that surroundings may reflect their schools is well worth pondering. But it’s often overlooked that the most tragic part of children from the inner-city not gaining access to elite schools probably isn’t the fact that they might be losing out on access to a world-class education. Rather, it’s that for most that was their best shot at gaining access to an elite network.

So can we change this? I think we can. It starts with recognizing the problem for what it is and doing what we can to teach kids from impoverished backgrounds not just how to read and write but how to become upwardly mobile in their networking. That might sound strange but it’s not like there aren’t role models for how to do this. Guys like Russell Simmons or Jay-Z. How do we instill in our less privileged youth an attitude and aptitude for rising up the ranks and meeting the people they need to meet Lois Weisberg-style, regardless of what university they happen to get into?

Sounds like a hell of an idea for a world-changing non-profit. If you know of anyone doing anything like this I’d love to talk to them.

26. May 2011 by Jon
Categories: Disruption, Personal | 84 comments

21 Must-Read Articles on Building World-Class Teams

Capital and talent tend be found in inverse proportions. When capital is scarce, talent is, at least in a relative sense, somewhat abundant. Now, when capital for start-ups is relatively abundant, hiring a world-class team can be quite challenging. There have been a number of great articles written about things to be thinking about as you build a team and so I wanted to aggregate some of the best of what I’ve seen. Job

There’s definitely a technical focus here (assume this is geared at your average Silicon Valley tech startup) but I think much of what’s written in these articles is applicable to most companies. Also, I’ve tried to avoid the articles that are mostly common-sense platitudes (“Hire great people”, “Hire people smarter than you”, etc.) and instead took a bias for writings that had interesting insights and actionable advice. I hope you enjoy! (BTW, I should mention in passing that if you’re interested in being a part of world-class team, RG Labs is hiring.)

#1 – Cult Creation – One of the most interesting posts on hiring and building great teams that I’ve read. From Steve Newcombe (who build Powerset).

#2 – How to hire the best people you’ve ever worked with – A classic Marc Andreessen post on team building.

#3 – HOWTO: Recruit Rock Stars – Great article from Joe Stump of SimpleGeo.

#4 – How to Find and Hire Amazing People – An excellent four part series (Part 2, Part 3 and c/2010/01/how-to-find-and-hire-amazing-people-part-4.html”>Part 4) from Adam Smith of Xobni.

#5 – The Guerrilla Guide to Interviewing (version 3.0) – Classic article from Joel Spolsky of Fog Creek Software, the guy who coined “Smart and Gets Things Done“.

#6 – – Startup Hiring: Why You Should Date Before Getting Married Sage advice from Dharmesh Shah.

#7 – What are the best methods for recruiting software engineers today? – Uber-helpful Quora post from Quora’s own Charlie Cheever. Here’s another Quora thread worth reading if you’re very early stage: What are the best ways to recruit top engineering talent to work on a pre-Series A startup with no funding but big ideas?

#8 – Hiring the First 5 Engineers: What Sort of People Do You Want on Your Team? – Elad Gil of Mixer Labs and now Twitter has written some great stuff on hiring. Here’s another good post from him on Ninja Hiring Techniques for Early Stage Startups: How to Get Your First 3 Employees.

#9 – Recruiting Smart People – Lots of great insight in this one.

#10 – Never Read Another Resume – Some good advice from 37 Signals founder Jason Fried.

#11 – Hiring Religion – Classic article from Paul English.

#12 – Never Hire Job Hoppers. Never. They Make Terrible Employees – Suster is probably the most prolific writer in the startup world these days. Here’s another good article that although a bit more sales-focused is good as well: How to Improve Hiring at Startups.

#13 – What developers think when you say “Rock Star” – Love this one!

#14 – Will the real programmers please stand up? – Article on tech interviewing from the RethinkDB guys. Here’s another great one from the same folks: Building a world-class team: six mistakes I made early in my career.

#15 – In the war for talent, love is a weapon – This one had me at the title…

#16 – Hiring Employee #1 – You knew Jason Cohen would have some good advice here didn’t you?

#17 – Hiring is Obsolete – Paul Graham is easily one of my favorite writers. As usual, he has some fantastic insights in this post.

#18 – People – How to Recruit a World Class Team – This one borders on “platitudey” but actually is pretty solid.

#19 – Engineering Management – Hiring – Some really good advice from Yishan Wong who helped build the team at Facebook.

#20 – Hazards of Hiring – This might be one of the most under-rated articles ever written about hiring. Very dense information in this one from Eric Sink.

#21 – How to pick a co-founder – More relevant at the earliest stages but relevant advice from Venture Hacks even if you’re a bit further along.

I hope you’ve found this list useful. If you have read other things that you’ve found helpful in building teams please post in the comments. At some point I’d love to post a follow-up to this and include other great articles that I come across.

21. May 2011 by Jon
Categories: Entrepreneurship, RG Labs | 6 comments

Post-Education Startups: The Next Wave

apocalypseI’ve had a bunch of conversations lately with some really cool startups and couldn’t figure out how to mentally classify them. By all practical appearances they weren’t education companies, at least not in the traditional sense of ever showing up in the BMO Education Book or being asked to present at Signal Hill. They aren’t in the K-12 space or the post-secondary space or even the corporate training space. But what they were doing and the outcomes they were producing (or planning to produce) were virtually identical to those of education companies. So I’ve recently started calling them the post-education companies.

Let’s examine this by thinking about what the goals of the traditional education companies are. For starters, school is about learning right? Yet at the same time anyone with a web connection and a Khan Academy “subscription” knows that much of the learning you can do nowadays is fairly free and largely ubiquitous. It’s truly the modern equivalent of “dropping 150 grand on an education you could have gotten for a dollar fifty in late charges at the public library” (P.S. I heard Khan rocked the house at TED last week. Can’t tell you how proud I was to hear that!). School is still a necessity, especially for younger children but the older we get, with certain exceptions, the less “necessary” it is to be in school in order to learn.

Schools also provide socialization. They don’t have a monopoly on this of course but I’d say that a huge benefit of attending a school like Stanford or Harvard is that you’re building a great network of friends. And that’s just a true of a student from an impoverished community who finds their way to a state school and is suddenly associating with the children of much wealthier parents than she had. In fact, some would go so far as to say this is the major driver of value in education. To the extent that people stay surrounded by people of their socioeconomic strata they will, more often than not, remain in that strata. Give them the opportunity to jump ahead and be surrounded by people from a higher strata and you give them a chance to move themselves to that join that strata. Exactly the kind of stuff Gladwell wrote about back in 1999.

But schools need not define networks now and my thesis is that increasingly they don’t. You can join a network (a very powerful one) by getting admitted to YCombinator. Have a little more money? Get an invite to TED. Peter Thiel is doing his best to build an anti-school network with his “Stop Out of School” thing. These are all networks you can join that really have nothing to do with school (although where you went to school may of course play a role in which of these networks you can join).

But networks also provide something else extremely powerful. They provide an external signal. Sam is “good enough” to get into Stanford. Tina is “good enough” to be invited to TED. Schools historically have had almost a near-monopoly on signaling. After all, how the heck were you supposed to know who the smart people were in the 70s other than by what school they went to? But today does it really matter whether someone went to Stanford or to YCombinator? For my doctor, um, yes… But for a business guy or software engineer? I’m not sure that the signal sent by Stanford and the one sent by YC are all that differentiated.

But here’s the challenge, the learning, networking and signaling benefits that organizations like YCombinator and TED provide aren’t all that scalable. YC admits a relatively small handful of startups each year. TED’s invitees number just north of a thousand. How do you account for the other 6.9 billion people on the planet? That’s where the post-education companies come in. The companies I’ve been talking to are pursuing scalable ways to provide one or more of these benefits to the masses.

Some of these guys you already know. Certainly Khan Academy is a great example of someone providing learning to the masses without being a “school”. Quora and Stack Overflow are two more. Are those education companies? I don’t know and I don’t know that it matters. They’re providing some of the same benefits as education companies do. Learning for sure and increasingly Quora, Stack Overflow and others are going to be playing a major role in the signaling game (if you don’t believe me check out Careers 2.0 for an example of the massive disruption in its earliest stage).

And obviously the reputation graph companies have the potential to play a huge role in signaling. As I’ve written about before here, higher education is a trillion dollar industry globally where, depending on which economist you ask, anywhere from a significant amount to the vast majority of the value is creating by the signaling effect of the education. It’s not the only value driver of course (many professions absolutely require the training that traditional education provides them) but it’s a vastly underrated portion of where value is created in education. Simply put, companies building the reputation graph have an opportunity to be a vastly more efficient form of signaling to the market.

I’m really excited about the emerging landscape for these post-education companies. I’ve seen a number which are pre-launch or too early to shine too much of a spotlight on at this point. But I’ve seen enough to feel convinced that the landscape is going to change pretty dramatically in the coming years.

Looking forward to the comments and if you know of other companies that fall into this post-education bucket, I’d love to hear about them.

08. March 2011 by Jon
Categories: Disruption, Reputation Graph | 5 comments

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