This is tricky

It’s pretty difficult to talk about what you’ve got wrong. When you’ve been working on something like School of Everything very intensely for two years you can’t really blame the mistakes on anybody else. But the truth is that we need to rethink because we haven’t managed to make the idea financially sustainable yet.

Steve Blank talks about the myth of ‘first mover advantage’ and how actually many of the start-up successes of the internet age haven’t actually been first movers at all. Google didn’t invent search, Amazon didn’t invent online retail, eBay wasn’t even the first company to try to create a marketplace. They were all ‘fast followers’ who saw what other people had tried and improved on it dramatically by executing really well and finding business models that worked.

The challenge for us is that we were ‘first movers’. Nobody had tried to do what we were doing (actually much to our surprise in the early days). But we now need to be our own ‘fast followers’ as well. We need to turn on a sixpence and be able to learn from our own mistakes rather than those of other people and that’s going to be a bit painful because as we do so there are going to be quite a few “D’oh!” moments.

So I think the best policy is just honesty. We’ll be posting data about predictions that didn’t come true, metrics that never quite went in the right direction and evidence about the problems we’ve faced as well as the many successes we’ve had along the way. We have a hell of a lot of information though so if there’s something that would help you help us, just drop me an email (paul[at] and if I can, I’ll put it up.

Who are School of Everything visitors?

We’ve been doing a lot of work over the last few days understanding the people who come to School of Everything. We currently have just under 100,000 unique visitors per month who mainly come from Google search (about 85%). Here’s the demographic information that Google give us about our visitors:


This tallies up with responses to a questionnaire we did in October that showed that our visitors are slightly more likely to be female, are mainly aged between 19–40 and tend to be in full time employment.

One of our current ‘guesses’ is that we’re not quite managing to match up our supply and demand effectively. I’ll post more soon about what we know about our teachers but would be interesting to know how our visitors compare to other sites.

Customer discovery

The first step in Steve Blank’s method is what he calls customer discovery. He talks about developing a hypothesis, both about the product and the customer you’re trying to serve. In his talk he actually says ‘hypothesis’ is really just a more technical word for ‘guess’.

This is actually very like something we do with Social Innovation Camp, especially when we run shorter events at our meetups to help people generate ideas that could be entered into the camps. We have five things that teams have to think about. Somewhere between the two and making it a bit more relevant to our situation we’ve come up with this list of things to think about when coming up with ‘guesses’ as part of customer discovery.

  1. What problem are you solving?
  2. What’s your solution?
  3. Who is it for?
  4. How are they going to find out about it?
  5. How much will they be willing to pay for it?

Understanding epiphanies

A few months ago I read an interesting blog post by Nigel Eccles about a book called ‘Four Steps to the Epiphany’ by Steve Blank. It was so interesting that I forked out and got it shipped from the US by A few weeks later it arrived and I sat down to have a read and pretty promptly got stuck. It’s not exactly a rip-roaring yarn. In fact even Steve Blank admits it’s a bit ‘turgid’.

Now we’ve been forced to rethink what it is we’re offering people with School of Everything, I’ve gone back to the book and we’ve all been reading it at Everything HQ. The basic premise is that you should go through a process of ‘customer development’ rather than the standard way that start-ups tend to think of things which is ‘product development’.

Although the book is a good reference, I’ve found myself looking on the web for other resources. This post is really just a starting point if you haven’t had a look at the ideas around customer development before. Basically I wouldn’t bother buying the book until you really need to, I’d read these posts instead:

And perhaps best of all, listen to this podcast of a talk by Steve Blank given at Stanford. It’s the clearest introduction to the ideas I’ve come across so far.