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Raad Ahmed

Raad Ahmed

2 years ago

How We Just Raised $6M At An $80M Valuation From 100+ Investors Using A Link (Without Pitching)

Lawtrades nearly failed three years ago.

We couldn't raise Series A or enthusiasm from VCs.

We raised $6M (at a $80M valuation) from 100 customers and investors using a link and no pitching.

Step-by-step:

We refocused our business first.

Lawtrades raised $3.7M while Atrium raised $75M. By comparison, we seemed unimportant.

We had to close the company or try something new.

As I've written previously, a pivot saved us. Our initial focus on SMBs attracted many unprofitable customers. SMBs needed one-off legal services, meaning low fees and high turnover.

Tech startups were different. Their General Councels (GCs) needed near-daily support, resulting in higher fees and lower churn than SMBs.

We stopped unprofitable customers and focused on power users. To avoid dilution, we borrowed against receivables. We scaled our revenue 10x, from $70k/mo to $700k/mo.

Then, we reconsidered fundraising (and do it differently)
This time was different. Lawtrades was cash flow positive for most of last year, so we could dictate our own terms. VCs were still wary of legaltech after Atrium's shutdown (though they were thinking about the space).

We neither wanted to rely on VCs nor dilute more than 10% equity. So we didn't compete for in-person pitch meetings.

AngelList Roll-Up Vehicle (RUV). Up to 250 accredited investors can invest in a single RUV. First, we emailed customers the RUV. Why? Because I wanted to help the platform's users.

Imagine if Uber or Airbnb let all drivers or Superhosts invest in an RUV. Humans make the platform, theirs and ours. Giving people a chance to invest increases their loyalty.

We expanded after initial interest.

We created a Journey link, containing everything that would normally go in an investor pitch:

  • Slides
  • Trailer (from me)
  • Testimonials
  • Product demo
  • Financials

We could also link to our AngelList RUV and send the pitch to an unlimited number of people. Instead of 1:1, we had 1:10,000 pitches-to-investors.

We posted Journey's link in RUV Alliance Discord. 600 accredited investors noticed it immediately. Within days, we raised $250,000 from customers-turned-investors.

Stonks, which live-streamed our pitch to thousands of viewers, was interested in our grassroots enthusiasm. We got $1.4M from people I've never met.

These updates on Pump generated more interest. Facebook, Uber, Netflix, and Robinhood executives all wanted to invest. Sahil Lavingia, who had rejected us, gave us $100k.

We closed the round with public support.

Without a single pitch meeting, we'd raised $2.3M. It was a result of natural enthusiasm: taking care of the people who made us who we are, letting them move first, and leveraging their enthusiasm with VCs, who were interested.

We used network effects to raise $3.7M from a founder-turned-VC, bringing the total to $6M at a $80M valuation (which, by the way, I set myself).

What flipping the fundraising script allowed us to do:

We started with private investors instead of 2–3 VCs to show VCs what we were worth. This gave Lawtrades the ability to:

  • Without meetings, share our vision. Many people saw our Journey link. I ended up taking meetings with people who planned to contribute $50k+, but still, the ratio of views-to-meetings was outrageously good for us.
  • Leverage ourselves. Instead of us selling ourselves to VCs, they did. Some people with large checks or late arrivals were turned away.
  • Maintain voting power. No board seats were lost.
  • Utilize viral network effects. People-powered.
  • Preemptively halt churn by turning our users into owners. People are more loyal and respectful to things they own. Our users make us who we are — no matter how good our tech is, we need human beings to use it. They deserve to be owners.

I don't blame founders for being hesitant about this approach. Pump and RUVs are new and scary. But it won’t be that way for long. Our approach redistributed some of the power that normally lies entirely with VCs, putting it into our hands and our network’s hands.

This is the future — another way power is shifting from centralized to decentralized.

More on Entrepreneurship/Creators

Navdeep Yadav

Navdeep Yadav

1 year ago

31 startup company models (with examples)

Many people find the internet's various business models bewildering.

This article summarizes 31 startup e-books.

Types of Startup

1. Using the freemium business model (free plus premium),

The freemium business model offers basic software, games, or services for free and charges for enhancements.

Examples include Slack, iCloud, and Google Drive

Provide a rudimentary, free version of your product or service to users.

Graphic Credit: Business Model toolbox

Google Drive and Dropbox offer 15GB and 2GB of free space but charge for more.

Freemium business model details (Click here)

2. The Business Model of Subscription

Subscription business models sell a product or service for recurring monthly or yearly revenue.

Graphic Credit: Business Model toolbox

Examples: Tinder, Netflix, Shopify, etc

It's the next step to Freemium if a customer wants to pay monthly for premium features.

Types of Subscription Business Models

Subscription Business Model (Click here)

3. A market-based business strategy

It's an e-commerce site or app where third-party sellers sell products or services.

Examples are Amazon and Fiverr.

Marketplace Business Model
  • On Amazon's marketplace, a third-party vendor sells a product.

  • Freelancers on Fiverr offer specialized skills like graphic design.

Marketplace's business concept is explained.

4. Business plans using aggregates

In the aggregator business model, the service is branded.

Uber, Airbnb, and other examples

Airbnb Aggregator Business Model

Marketplace and Aggregator business models differ.

Aggregators Vs Market Place

Amazon and Fiverr link merchants and customers and take a 10-20% revenue split.

Uber and Airbnb-style aggregator Join these businesses and provide their products.

5. The pay-as-you-go concept of business

This is a consumption-based pricing system. Cloud companies use it.

Example: Amazon Web Service and Google Cloud Platform (GCP) (AWS)

Pay-as-you-go pricing in AWS

AWS, an Amazon subsidiary, offers over 200 pay-as-you-go cloud services.

“In short, the more you use the more you pay”

Types of Pay-as-you-plan

When it's difficult to divide clients into pricing levels, pay-as-you is employed.

6. The business model known as fee-for-service (FFS)

FFS charges fixed and variable fees for each successful payment.

For instance, PayU, Paypal, and Stripe

Stripe charges 2.9% + 30 per payment.

Fee-for-service (FFS) business model

These firms offer a payment gateway to take consumer payments and deposit them to a business account.

Fintech business model

7. EdTech business strategy

In edtech, you generate money by selling material or teaching as a service.

Most popular revenue model in EdTech

edtech business models

Freemium When course content is free but certification isn't, e.g. Coursera

FREE TRIAL SkillShare offers free trials followed by monthly or annual subscriptions.

Self-serving marketplace approach where you pick what to learn.

Ad-revenue model The company makes money by showing adverts to its huge user base.

Lock-in business strategy

Lock in prevents customers from switching to a competitor's brand or offering.

It uses switching costs or effort to transmit (soft lock-in), improved brand experience, or incentives.

Apple, SAP, and other examples

Graphic Credit: Business Model toolbox

Apple offers an iPhone and then locks you in with extra hardware (Watch, Airpod) and platform services (Apple Store, Apple Music, cloud, etc.).

9. Business Model for API Licensing

APIs let third-party apps communicate with your service.

How do APIs work?

Uber and Airbnb use Google Maps APIs for app navigation.

Examples are Google Map APIs (Map), Sendgrid (Email), and Twilio (SMS).

Types of APIs business model

Business models for APIs

  1. Free: The simplest API-driven business model that enables unrestricted API access for app developers. Google Translate and Facebook are two examples.

  2. Developer Pays: Under this arrangement, service providers such as AWS, Twilio, Github, Stripe, and others must be paid by application developers.

  3. The developer receives payment: These are the compensated content producers or developers who distribute the APIs utilizing their work. For example, Amazon affiliate programs

10. Open-source enterprise

Open-source software can be inspected, modified, and improved by anybody.

For instance, use Firefox, Java, or Android.

Product with Open source business model

Google paid Mozilla $435,702 million to be their primary search engine in 2018.

Open-source software profits in six ways.

  1. Paid assistance The Project Manager can charge for customization because he is quite knowledgeable about the codebase.

  2. A full database solution is available as a Software as a Service (MongoDB Atlas), but there is a fee for the monitoring tool.

  3. Open-core design R studio is a better GUI substitute for open-source applications.

  4. sponsors of GitHub Sponsorships benefit the developers in full.

  5. demands for paid features Earn Money By Developing Open Source Add-Ons for Current Products

Open-source business model

11. The business model for data

If the software or algorithm collects client data to improve or monetize the system.

Open AI GPT3 gets smarter with use.

Graphic Credit: Business Model toolbox

Foursquare allows users to exchange check-in locations.

Later, they compiled large datasets to enable retailers like Starbucks launch new outlets.

12. Business Model Using Blockchain

Blockchain is a distributed ledger technology that allows firms to deploy smart contracts without a central authority.

Examples include Alchemy, Solana, and Ethereum.

blockchain business model

Business models using blockchain

  1. Economy of tokens or utility When a business uses a token business model, it issues some kind of token as one of the ways to compensate token holders or miners. For instance, Solana and Ethereum

  2. Bitcoin Cash P2P Business Model Peer-to-peer (P2P) blockchain technology permits direct communication between end users. as in IPFS

  3. Enterprise Blockchain as a Service (Baas) BaaS focuses on offering ecosystem services similar to those offered by Amazon (AWS) and Microsoft (Azure) in the web 3 sector. Example: Ethereum Blockchain as a Service with Bitcoin (EBaaS).

  4. Blockchain-Based Aggregators With AWS for blockchain, you can use that service by making an API call to your preferred blockchain. As an illustration, Alchemy offers nodes for many blockchains.

13. The free-enterprise model

In the freeterprise business model, free professional accounts are led into the funnel by the free product and later become B2B/enterprise accounts.

For instance, Slack and Zoom

Freeterprise business model

Freeterprise companies flourish through collaboration.

Loom wants you to join your workspace for an enterprise account.

Start with a free professional account to build an enterprise.

14. Business plan for razor blades

It's employed in hardware where one piece is sold at a loss and profits are made through refills or add-ons.

Gillet razor & blades, coffee machine & beans, HP printer & cartridge, etc.

Razor blade/Bait and hook business model

Sony sells the Playstation console at a loss but makes up for it by selling games and charging for online services.

Advantages of the Razor-Razorblade Method

  1. lowers the risk a customer will try a product. enables buyers to test the goods and services without having to pay a high initial investment.

  2. The product's ongoing revenue stream has the potential to generate sales that much outweigh the original investments.

Razor blade business model

15. The business model of direct-to-consumer (D2C)

In D2C, the company sells directly to the end consumer through its website using a third-party logistic partner.

Examples include GymShark and Kylie Cosmetics.

Direct-to-consumer business Model

D2C brands can only expand via websites, marketplaces (Amazon, eBay), etc.

Traditional Retailer vs D2C business model

D2C benefits

  • Lower reliance on middlemen = greater profitability

  • You now have access to more precise demographic and geographic customer data.

  • Additional space for product testing

  • Increased customisation throughout your entire product line-Inventory Less

16. Business model: White Label vs. Private Label

Private label/White label products are made by a contract or third-party manufacturer.

Most amazon electronics are made in china and white-labeled.

Amazon supplements and electronics.

White-label business model

Contract manufacturers handle everything after brands select product quantities on design labels.

17. The franchise model

The franchisee uses the franchisor's trademark, branding, and business strategy (company).

For instance, KFC, Domino's, etc.

Master Franchise business model

Subway, Domino, Burger King, etc. use this business strategy.

Opening your restaurant vs Frenchies

Many people pick a franchise because opening a restaurant is risky.

18. Ad-based business model

Social media and search engine giants exploit search and interest data to deliver adverts.

Google, Meta, TikTok, and Snapchat are some examples.

Ad-based business model

Users don't pay for the service or product given, e.g. Google users don't pay for searches.

In exchange, they collected data and hyper-personalized adverts to maximize revenue.

19. Business plan for octopuses

Each business unit functions separately but is connected to the main body.

Instance: Oyo

OYO’s Octopus business model

OYO is Asia's Airbnb, operating hotels, co-working, co-living, and vacation houses.

20, Transactional business model, number

Sales to customers produce revenue.

E-commerce sites and online purchases employ SSL.

Goli is an ex-GymShark.

Transactional business model

21. The peer-to-peer (P2P) business model

In P2P, two people buy and sell goods and services without a third party or platform.

Consider OLX.

OLX Business Model

22. P2P lending as a manner of operation

In P2P lending, one private individual (P2P Lender) lends/invests or borrows money from another (P2P Borrower).

Instance: Kabbage

P2P Lending as a business model

Social lending lets people lend and borrow money directly from each other without an intermediary financial institution.

23. A business model for brokers

Brokerages charge a commission or fee for their services.

Examples include eBay, Coinbase, and Robinhood.

Brokerage business model

Brokerage businesses are common in Real estate, finance, and online and operate on this model.

Types of brokerage business model
  1. Buy/sell similar models Examples include financial brokers, insurance brokers, and others who match purchase and sell transactions and charge a commission.

  2. These brokers charge an advertiser a fee based on the date, place, size, or type of an advertisement. This is known as the classified-advertiser model. For instance, Craiglist

24. Drop shipping as an industry

Dropshipping allows stores to sell things without holding physical inventories.

Drop shipping Business model

When a customer orders, use a third-party supplier and logistic partners.

Retailer product portfolio and customer experience Fulfiller The consumer places the order.

Dropshipping advantages

  • Less money is needed (Low overhead-No Inventory or warehousing)

  • Simple to start (costs under $100)

  • flexible work environment

  • New product testing is simpler

25. Business Model for Space as a Service

It's centered on a shared economy that lets millennials live or work in communal areas without ownership or lease.

Consider WeWork and Airbnb.

WeWork business model

WeWork helps businesses with real estate, legal compliance, maintenance, and repair.

Space as a Service Business Model

26. The business model for third-party logistics (3PL)

In 3PL, a business outsources product delivery, warehousing, and fulfillment to an external logistics company.

Examples include Ship Bob, Amazon Fulfillment, and more.

Third-Party Logistics (3PL)

3PL partners warehouse, fulfill, and return inbound and outbound items for a charge.

Inbound logistics involves bringing products from suppliers to your warehouse.

Outbound logistics refers to a company's production line, warehouse, and customer.

Inbound and outbound in 3PL

27. The last-mile delivery paradigm as a commercial strategy

Last-mile delivery is the collection of supply chain actions that reach the end client.

Examples include Rappi, Gojek, and Postmates.

gojek business model

Last-mile is tied to on-demand and has a nighttime peak.

28. The use of affiliate marketing

Affiliate marketing involves promoting other companies' products and charging commissions.

Examples include Hubspot, Amazon, and Skillshare.

Affiliate business model

Your favorite youtube channel probably uses these short amazon links to get 5% of sales.

affiliate link from a youtube video.

Affiliate marketing's benefits

  • In exchange for a success fee or commission, it enables numerous independent marketers to promote on its behalf.

  • Ensure system transparency by giving the influencers a specific tracking link and an online dashboard to view their profits.

  • Learn about the newest bargains and have access to promotional materials.

29. The business model for virtual goods

This is an in-app purchase for an intangible product.

Examples include PubG, Roblox, Candy Crush, etc.

virtual goods business model

Consumables are like gaming cash that runs out. Non-consumable products provide a permanent advantage without repeated purchases.

30. Business Models for Cloud Kitchens

Ghost, Dark, Black Box, etc.

Delivery-only restaurant.

These restaurants don't provide dine-in, only delivery.

For instance, NextBite and Faasos

Cloud kitchen business model

31. Crowdsourcing as a Business Model

Crowdsourcing = Using the crowd as a platform's source.

In crowdsourcing, you get support from people around the world without hiring them.

Crowdsourcing Business model

Crowdsourcing sites

  1. Open-Source Software gives access to the software's source code so that developers can edit or enhance it. Examples include Firefox browsers and Linux operating systems.

  2. Crowdfunding The oculus headgear would be an example of crowdfunding in essence, with no expectations.

Esteban

Esteban

1 year ago

The Berkus Startup Valuation Method: What Is It?

What Is That?

Berkus is a pre-revenue valuation method based exclusively on qualitative criteria, like Scorecard.

Few firms match their financial estimates, especially in the early stages, so valuation methodologies like the Berkus method are a good way to establish a valuation when the economic measures are not reliable.

How does it work?

This technique evaluates five key success factors.

  • Fundamental principle

  • Technology

  • Execution

  • Strategic alliances in its primary market

  • Production, followed by sales

The Berkus technique values the business idea and four success factors. As seen in the matrix below, each of these dimensions poses a danger to the startup's success.

It assigns $0-$500,000 to each of these beginning regions. This approach enables a maximum $2.5M pre-money valuation.

This approach relies significantly on geography and uses the US as a baseline, as it differs in every country in Europe.

A set of standards for analyzing each dimension individually

Fundamental principle (or strength of the idea)

Ideas are worthless; execution matters. Most of us can relate to seeing a new business open in our area or a startup get funded and thinking, "I had this concept years ago!" Someone did it.

The concept remains. To assess the idea's viability, we must consider several criteria.

  • The concept's exclusivity It is necessary to protect a product or service's concept using patents and copyrights. Additionally, it must be capable of generating large profits.

  • Planned growth and growth that goes in a specific direction have a lot of potential, therefore incorporating them into a business is really advantageous.

  • The ability of a concept to grow A venture's ability to generate scalable revenue is a key factor in its emergence and continuation. A startup needs a scalable idea in order to compete successfully in the market.

  • The attraction of a business idea to a broad spectrum of people is significantly influenced by the current socio-political climate. Thus, the requirement for the assumption of conformity.

  • Concept Validation Ideas must go through rigorous testing with a variety of audiences in order to lower risk during the implementation phase.

Technology (Prototype)

This aspect reduces startup's technological risk. How good is the startup prototype when facing cyber threats, GDPR compliance (in Europe), tech stack replication difficulty, etc.?

Execution

Check the management team's efficacy. A potential angel investor must verify the founders' experience and track record with previous ventures. Good leadership is needed to chart a ship's course.

Strategic alliances in its primary market

Existing and new relationships will play a vital role in the development of both B2B and B2C startups. What are the startup's synergies? potential ones?

Production, followed by sales (product rollout)

Startup success depends on its manufacturing and product rollout. It depends on the overall addressable market, the startup's ability to market and sell their product, and their capacity to provide consistent, high-quality support.

Example

We're now founders of EyeCaramba, a machine vision-assisted streaming platform. My imagination always goes to poor puns when naming a startup.

Since we're first-time founders and the Berkus technique depends exclusively on qualitative methods and the evaluator's skill, we ask our angel-investor acquaintance for a pre-money appraisal of EyeCaramba.

Our friend offers us the following table:

Because we're first-time founders, our pal lowered our Execution score. He knows the idea's value and that the gaming industry is red-hot, with worse startup ideas getting funded, therefore he gave the Basic value the highest value (idea).

EyeCaramba's pre-money valuation is $400,000 + $250,000 + $75,000 + $275,000 + $164,000 (1.16M). Good.

References

  • https://medium.com/humble-ventures/how-angel-investors-value-pre-revenue-startups-part-iii-8271405f0774#:~:text=pre%2Drevenue%20startups.-,Berkus%20Method,potential%20of%20the%20idea%20itself.%E2%80%9D

  • https://eqvista.com/berkus-valuation-method-for-startups/

  • https://www.venionaire.com/early-stage-startup-valuation-part-2-the-berkus-method/

Victoria Kurichenko

Victoria Kurichenko

1 year ago

Here's what happened after I launched my second product on Gumroad.

One-hour ebook sales, affiliate relationships, and more.

Image credit: Karolina Grabovska. The image was edited in Canva

If you follow me, you may know I started a new ebook in August 2022.

Despite publishing on this platform, my website, and Quora, I'm not a writer.

My writing speed is slow, 2,000 words a day, and I struggle to communicate cohesively.

In April 2022, I wrote a successful guide on How to Write Google-Friendly Blog Posts.

I had no email list or social media presence. I've made $1,600+ selling ebooks.

Evidence:

My ebook sales on Gumroad

My first digital offering isn't a book.

It's an actionable guide with my tried-and-true process for writing Google-friendly content.

I'm not bragging.

Established authors like Tim Denning make more from my ebook sales with one newsletter.

This experience taught me writing isn't a privilege.

Writing a book and making money online doesn't require expertise.

Many don't consult experts. They want someone approachable.

Two years passed before I realized my own limits.

I have a brain, two hands, and Internet to spread my message.

I wrote and published a second ebook after the first's success.

On Gumroad, I released my second digital product.

Here's my complete Gumroad evaluation.

Gumroad is a marketplace for content providers to develop and sell sales pages.

Gumroad handles payments and client requests. It's helpful when someone sends a bogus payment receipt requesting an ebook (actual story!).

You'll forget administrative concerns after your first ebook sale.

After my first ebook sale, I did this: I made additional cash!

After every sale, I tell myself, "I built a new semi-passive revenue source."

This thinking shift helps me become less busy while increasing my income and quality of life.

Besides helping others, folks sell evergreen digital things to earn passive money.

It's in my second ebook.

I explain how I built and sold 50+ copies of my SEO writing ebook without being an influencer.

I show how anyone can sell ebooks on Gumroad and automate their sales process.

This is my ebook.

My second ebook on Gumroad

After publicizing the ebook release, I sold three copies within an hour.

Wow, or meh?

I don’t know.

The answer is different for everyone.

These three sales came from a small email list of 40 motivated fans waiting for my ebook release.

I had bigger plans.

I'll market my ebook on Medium, my website, Quora, and email.

I'm testing affiliate partnerships this time.

One of my ebook buyers is now promoting it for 40% commission.

Become my affiliate if you think your readers would like my ebook.

My ebook is a few days old, but I'm interested to see where it goes.

My SEO writing book started without an email list, affiliates, or 4,000 website visitors. I've made four figures.

I'm slowly expanding my communication avenues to have more impact.

Even a small project can open doors you never knew existed.

So began my writing career.

In summary

If you dare, every concept can become a profitable trip.

Before, I couldn't conceive of creating an ebook.

How to Sell eBooks on Gumroad is my second digital product.

Marketing and writing taught me that anything can be sold online.

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Simon Egersand

Simon Egersand

2 years ago

Working from home for more than two years has taught me a lot.

Since the pandemic, I've worked from home. It’s been +2 years (wow, time flies!) now, and during this time I’ve learned a lot. My 4 remote work lessons.

I work in a remote distributed team. This team setting shaped my experience and teachings.

Isolation ("I miss my coworkers")

The most obvious point. I miss going out with my coworkers for coffee, weekend chats, or just company while I work. I miss being able to go to someone's desk and ask for help. On a remote world, I must organize a meeting, share my screen, and avoid talking over each other in Zoom - sigh!

Social interaction is more vital for my health than I believed.

Online socializing stinks

My company used to come together every Friday to play Exploding Kittens, have food and beer, and bond over non-work things.

Different today. Every Friday afternoon is for fun, but it's not the same. People with screen weariness miss meetings, which makes sense. Sometimes you're too busy on Slack to enjoy yourself.

We laugh in meetings, but it's not the same as face-to-face.

Digital social activities can't replace real-world ones

Improved Work-Life Balance, if You Let It

At the outset of the pandemic, I recognized I needed to take better care of myself to survive. After not leaving my apartment for a few days and feeling miserable, I decided to walk before work every day. This turned into a passion for exercise, and today I run or go to the gym before work. I use my commute time for healthful activities.

Working from home makes it easier to keep working after hours. I sometimes forget the time and find myself writing coding at dinnertime. I said, "One more test." This is a disadvantage, therefore I keep my office schedule.

Spend your commute time properly and keep to your office schedule.

Remote Pair Programming Is Hard

As a software developer, I regularly write code. My team sometimes uses pair programming to write code collaboratively. One person writes code while another watches, comments, and asks questions. I won't list them all here.

Internet pairing is difficult. My team struggles with this. Even with Tuple, it's challenging. I lose attention when I get a notification or check my computer.

I miss a pen and paper to rapidly sketch down my thoughts for a colleague or a whiteboard for spirited talks with others. Best answers are found through experience.

Real-life pair programming beats the best remote pair programming tools.

Lessons Learned

Here are 4 lessons I've learned working remotely for 2 years.

  • Socializing is more vital to my health than I anticipated.

  • Digital social activities can't replace in-person ones.

  • Spend your commute time properly and keep your office schedule.

  • Real-life pair programming beats the best remote tools.

Conclusion

Our era is fascinating. Remote labor has existed for years, but software companies have just recently had to adapt. Companies who don't offer remote work will lose talent, in my opinion.

We're still figuring out the finest software development approaches, programming language features, and communication methods since the 1960s. I can't wait to see what advancements assist us go into remote work.

I'll certainly work remotely in the next years, so I'm interested to see what I've learnt from this post then.


This post is a summary of this one.

Frederick M. Hess

Frederick M. Hess

1 year ago

The Lessons of the Last Two Decades for Education Reform

My colleague Ilana Ovental and I examined pandemic media coverage of education at the end of last year. That analysis examined coverage changes. We tracked K-12 topic attention over the previous two decades using Lexis Nexis. See the results here.

I was struck by how cleanly the past two decades can be divided up into three (or three and a half) eras of school reform—a framing that can help us comprehend where we are and how we got here. In a time when epidemic, political unrest, frenetic news cycles, and culture war can make six months seem like a lifetime, it's worth pausing for context.

If you look at the peaks in the above graph, the 21st century looks to be divided into periods. The decade-long rise and fall of No Child Left Behind began during the Bush administration. In a few years, NCLB became the dominant K-12 framework. Advocates and financiers discussed achievement gaps and measured success with AYP.

NCLB collapsed under the weight of rigorous testing, high-stakes accountability, and a race to the bottom by the Obama years. Obama's Race to the Top garnered attention, but its most controversial component, the Common Core State Standards, rose quickly.

Academic standards replaced assessment and accountability. New math, fiction, and standards were hotly debated. Reformers and funders chanted worldwide benchmarking and systems interoperability.

We went from federally driven testing and accountability to government encouraged/subsidized/mandated (pick your verb) reading and math standardization. Last year, Checker Finn and I wrote The End of School Reform? The 2010s populist wave thwarted these objectives. The Tea Party, Occupy Wall Street, Black Lives Matter, and Trump/MAGA all attacked established institutions.

Consequently, once the Common Core fell, no alternative program emerged. Instead, school choice—the policy most aligned with populist suspicion of institutional power—reached a half-peak. This was less a case of choice erupting to prominence than of continuous growth in a vacuum. Even with Betsy DeVos' determined, controversial efforts, school choice received only half the media attention that NCLB and Common Core did at their heights.

Recently, culture clash-fueled attention to race-based curriculum and pedagogy has exploded (all playing out under the banner of critical race theory). This third, culture war-driven wave may not last as long as the other waves.

Even though I don't understand it, the move from slow-building policy debate to fast cultural confrontation over two decades is notable. I don't know if it's cyclical or permanent, or if it's about schooling, media, public discourse, or all three.

One final thought: After doing this work for decades, I've noticed how smoothly advocacy groups, associations, and other activists adapt to the zeitgeist. In 2007, mission statements focused on accomplishment disparities. Five years later, they promoted standardization. Language has changed again.

Part of this is unavoidable and healthy. Chasing currents can also make companies look unprincipled, promote scepticism, and keep them spinning the wheel. Bearing in mind that these tides ebb and flow may give educators, leaders, and activists more confidence to hold onto their values and pause when they feel compelled to follow the crowd.

Daniel Vassallo

Daniel Vassallo

2 years ago

Why I quit a $500K job at Amazon to work for myself

I quit my 8-year Amazon job last week. I wasn't motivated to do another year despite promotions, pay, recognition, and praise.

In AWS, I built developer tools. I could have worked in that field forever.

I became an Amazon developer. Within 3.5 years, I was promoted twice to senior engineer and would have been promoted to principal engineer if I stayed. The company said I had great potential.

Over time, I became a reputed expert and leader within the company. I was respected.

First year I made $75K, last year $511K. If I stayed another two years, I could have made $1M.

Despite Amazon's reputation, my work–life balance was good. I no longer needed to prove myself and could do everything in 40 hours a week. My team worked from home once a week, and I rarely opened my laptop nights or weekends.

My coworkers were great. I had three generous, empathetic managers. I’m very grateful to everyone I worked with.

Everything was going well and getting better. My motivation to go to work each morning was declining despite my career and income growth.

Another promotion, pay raise, or big project wouldn't have boosted my motivation. Motivation was also waning. It was my freedom.

Demotivation

My motivation was high in the beginning. I worked with someone on an internal tool with little scrutiny. I had more freedom to choose how and what to work on than in recent years. Me and another person improved it, talked to users, released updates, and tested it. Whatever we wanted, we did. We did our best and were mostly self-directed.

In recent years, things have changed. My department's most important project had many stakeholders and complex goals. What I could do depended on my ability to convince others it was the best way to achieve our goals.

Amazon was always someone else's terms. The terms started out simple (keep fixing it), but became more complex over time (maximize all goals; satisfy all stakeholders). Working in a large organization imposed restrictions on how to do the work, what to do, what goals to set, and what business to pursue. This situation forced me to do things I didn't want to do.

Finding New Motivation

What would I do forever? Not something I did until I reached a milestone (an exit), but something I'd do until I'm 80. What could I do for the next 45 years that would make me excited to wake up and pay my bills? Is that too unambitious? Nope. Because I'm motivated by two things.

One is an external carrot or stick. I'm not forced to file my taxes every April, but I do because I don't want to go to jail. Or I may not like something but do it anyway because I need to pay the bills or want a nice car. Extrinsic motivation

One is internal. When there's no carrot or stick, this motivates me. This fuels hobbies. I wanted a job that was intrinsically motivated.

Is this too low-key? Extrinsic motivation isn't sustainable. Getting promoted felt good for a week, then it was over. When I hit $100K, I admired my W2 for a few days, but then it wore off. Same thing happened at $200K, $300K, $400K, and $500K. Earning $1M or $10M wouldn't change anything. I feel the same about every material reward or possession. Getting them feels good at first, but quickly fades.

Things I've done since I was a kid, when no one forced me to, don't wear off. Coding, selling my creations, charting my own path, and being honest. Why not always use my strengths and motivation? I'm lucky to live in a time when I can work independently in my field without large investments. So that’s what I’m doing.

What’s Next?

I'm going all-in on independence and will make a living from scratch. I won't do only what I like, but on my terms. My goal is to cover my family's expenses before my savings run out while doing something I enjoy. What more could I want from my work?

You can now follow me on Twitter as I continue to document my journey.


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