Tony Stubblebine

Nanodegrees, chatbots, and augmented intelligence: the future of online training

Tony Stubblebine is a product creator and entrepreneur who got his start working at Odeo and Twitter – and now runs an innovative training and education company called Coach.me. Tony has a unique perspective on finding product/market fit – and a long history of following his nose into whatever is new, hot and exciting in tech. Listen in and learn about what’s on Tony’s radar these days – and why he thinks nanodegrees and augmented intelligence might just be the future of online education.

Subscribe to this podcast:

iTunes SoundCloud RSS

More on Tony Stubblebine

Tony’s Company: Coach.me

Tony’s Blog: Tony Stubblebine

Connect: LinkedIn @tonystubblebine

Episode Transcript

[Amy Jo Kim] Welcome, Tony, to the Getting2Alpha Podcast.

[Tony Stubblebine] Hello, hello. Thank you for having me.

It’s wonderful that you’re here. For those who don’t know a lot about you, why don’t you start with a whirlwind tour of your background? Tell us how you got started in design and tech, and also how you decided what to pursue along the way.

Sure, sure. I’ll try and give the quick summary. I think the thing that, when I give this summary, kind of the overall message that I like to give is that there is a career progression, almost like a ladder, where I went from a know-nothing, peon engineer, to a CEO and product designer. Because I run in to people all the time that think, “How can I start a company tomorrow?” I think, “I can answer half of that question, how can you start a company, but the tomorrow part always trips me up.” I’m a big believer in this phrase, “It takes ten years to become an overnight success.” That a lot of the work is in the prep.

Where I started was just the sort of stereotypical nerd with a computer who got really excited by programming anything. I taught myself to program. I went to college and got a computer science degree, and when I graduated, I just took whatever job was willing to hire me, and I ended up doing really boring, trivial work for a large corporation. That, I think, that’s where the rest of my career trajectory changed, is because I learned very early on that I don’t actually like leisure or boredom. I think young, high school me would have been surprised by this. All I wanted was to not have to do school work and have as much free time as I wanted.

When I got into work, I learned that actually, I want to be challenged and I want to have an impact on my life, on the world. I went from that boring, trivial job, to a company called O’Reilly, which is a big tech media company. That introduced me to the world of start ups. I worked for a company called Odeo, which is most famously the company that Twitter was spun out of. I worked there as an engineering manager. As I was watching Odeo implode, except for this side project called Twitter, I came to this conclusion that maybe the impact of my work would matter more if I had more control of it, and that’s when I started doing product design.

I went out on my own, and started a company called CrowdVine, which was a bootstrapped social networking company. I think because I was a very novice product designer, I built something that, I knew what a social network should look like, because I was seeing other social networks. I was seeing MySpace and Friendster and Facebook. It wasn’t too creative, but it was enough to get my feet wet. I ended up building a business there that was profitable the whole way through, building tools for conferences. About year four, it had gotten to the point where I didn’t have to work too hard on it, and I started to do some self-reflection. The main self-reflection that I had was, “Why on earth did I build this particular company?” It’s like I didn’t want to be the world’s expert in conferences, and yet I built software that primarily served conferences.

That self-reflection made me really think, “Well, what do I care about?” The thing that I care about is performance. I like it in sports, I like it in programming, I like it in entrepreneurship. Recently, I’ve gotten into watching The Great British Baking Show, so I’m into how do you perform at a high level as a baker? It really doesn’t matter. It’s sort of that underlying pursuit of excellence that I’m always curious about, and so that led me to start the company I’m working on now, which was originally named Lift, but is now named Coach.me.

Tell us about how Lift evolved into Coach.me, because that’s a really interesting story, and I think makes the point about you following what you’re interested in, as well as your evolution as a product designer and a product manager.

Yeah. We had a bunch of pivots along the way. I’m one of the people that is a stickler for the correct definition of a pivot. A lot of times, people say that they pivoted when they really mean that they’ve rebooted or restarted. It’s like if you start out building a photo sharing app, and then build a game inside of a messaging platform, and then end up doing a BitCoin start up, those aren’t three pivots, those are three completely different ideas. What we did though is we had probably four pivots, that were all along the same basic idea. How can we help people become superhuman? How can we help them perform at their best?

The first idea was very gamified. The second idea was more social. The third idea was to move from the web to mobile, which really clarified the product. Then, after a couple of years of really failing to build a large following and goal tracking, by the way, large following now is if you can’t get to fifty-million users, then you don’t have a large following. We had a good following, but not that venturous scale kind of following. Then, we made one more pivot, which was to come into coaching, and make coaching a really accessible form of training and education. That’s what we did at the beginning of 2015, and that’s what we’ve been working on ever since.

I get asked this pretty regularly, like what did I learn from the Lift days? The things that I feel like, as an entrepreneur, that I wouldn’t do again is Lift was so speculative. Wouldn’t it be cool if this thing existed and everyone used it? We didn’t have a hypothesis for how it would be a business. There was no revenue hypothesis, and we didn’t have a hypothesis for how we would get users. Coach.me, when we pivoted into coaching, had a much stronger idea of how to do those two things. I think, in that way, is a better business, which matters to the investors, but also matters to me. This was the work that I want to do for the rest of my life.

As a product creator, the evolutions that you went through, that you just told us about, I think a lot of people resonate with those ideas. Gamification, social. A lot of the people that I work with come to me and they want help gamifying their app and making it more social, and yet, you also found that that wasn’t enough. Now that you are pivoted, and you’re working on this new endeavor that’s got legs, right?

Right.

How has your thinking evolved around how you’re incorporating social and how you’re incorporating gamification?

Well, I know, Amy, this is something that we’ve talked about when we’ve had lunch, is this kind of the switch from a very naive idea of gamification to a more, I would at least say, experience. I think, just in general, when I was getting started, I was doing a lot of cargo cult product design because I didn’t know any better. I didn’t have any experience, I didn’t have any training, so I was copying ideas that I saw that resonated with me and just testing them out. Of course, mostly they didn’t work, but I always came away smarter. I think you have a much more nuanced take of why gamification works, and doesn’t work in particular verticals. I only have it from my own vertical, the self-improvement vertical.

I think very raw gamification doesn’t work in this vertical because it competes with a pre-existing fantasy. People come to our world with this fantasy of who they could be. If it’s in health, they’re thinking about their muscles, the definition and tone of their body. When you try to put a game on top of it where, I’m thinking about this one from early on, Epic Win, which was a gamified to-do list, where that game is you’re collecting gold coins for going to the gym, so that you can buy gear for your avatar dwarf. That’s a second fantasy. It competes with this other, more powerful fantasy of you could become. What we found when we made the switch from gamification to social was that it allowed us to keep the pre-existing fantasy that was motivating all the behavior, and then use tactics that maybe exist in a game, but there’s corollaries in social, like to get, in Facebook, when someone Likes you, that’s a positive reinforcer, but it also has a social component of it. As we built Coach.me, absolutely there’s milestones, but they’re all milestones that are based on something that happened in reality.

Something that happened in reality meaning they’re tied into your external world goals?

Yes, absolutely. You don’t get a milestone for, you know, you accumulated fifty-thousand points. There’s no weird currency system like that. You get a milestone for, “Hey, you’re on a three-hundred day streak of inbox zero.” When you think about it, a three-hundred day streak of inbox zero’s a lot of clearing your inbox and being organized. There’s some real value to that, that is much closer to people’s fantasy of being a highly productive person.

It’s great that you’re reflecting on the mistakes you made, and then what you learned from them. I think you are very known in the entrepreneurial community, at least in my entrepreneurial community. You talk to quite a few people. What are some of the most common mistakes that you see entrepreneurs make about how they’re approaching their product development in your world, in your network?

Yeah. Especially as we’ve gotten into coaching, we’re now more likely to be coaching young entrepreneurs too. Young isn’t important, it’s the first-time or early on. The thing that is really standing out to me is that people are planning too far ahead. It’s like they’re stuck by this idea of what the company could be five years from now, and they’re trying to make the five year version of the company happen tomorrow, rather than realizing that if you have no customers, the next milestone is one customer. That’s advice that I’ve seen recently that is actually, I found it to be very helpful because it’s unblocking.

As we coach, we’ve found a very powerful tactic is to help people with momentum. For entrepreneurs, a lot of the mistakes they make are really blocking them from making real progress. There’s two ways to be blocked from making real progress. The one is paralysis by analysis. You’re over-thinking it, and so you can’t, you think, “Well, I can’t start this company unless I have investors.” Well, that’s always bullshit, right? That there’s always a smaller version of the company that you could build in evening and weekends that doesn’t require any investors, even for you to give up your job. Or, “I sent an email out about the product to all my friends,” or no, “I tweeted about it an no one responded.” I was like, “Well, what do your friends think about it? What does your spouse think about it? What do you think about it? Where could you get that first user before you try and go out to the public and get a million users?” That’s one way that people block themselves.

The other way that they block themselves is that they over-build in secret, which is kind of a different way to not make progress, because all the progress comes from real users, real earnings, real revenue. When you’re thinking, “Well, I can’t bring this to someone until it’s done, and I’m going to spend three years getting it to your own idea of done.” What you’ve really done is just wasted three years where you could have built the smaller version and gotten out to people earlier. All of those things fit, for me, into this framework of you’re obsessed with the idea of the final version of the company, rather than the version that should exist tomorrow.

It’s funny, after the lean startup has permeated the culture, and pretty much everybody talks the talk, and yet, there’s still that trend. I see it too. I see some very sophisticated people I know playing that game. I think it’s tempting, but it’s also, I think some of it ends up having to do with ego, and also, sometimes if you’re naive, VCs are telling you. Because often, when you take VC money, they really tell you to play the five year game. Part of why I’ve developed the Getting2Alpha programs that I run is because it’s about early product design getting you to find the small handful of early, passionate customers who will get you off the ground first, warts and all. Right? Which is what you’re saying?

Yeah.

I like micro-focus on it, and I found so many people saying, “You know, this is contradicting what my VC said.” I’m like, “Why don’t you give it a try and see where it takes you?”

To me, this is like the core contradiction of entrepreneurship, is all you have is contradictory information. There’s like this world of people that really want, are used to a world of black and white, and then they come into entrepreneurship, and then I think they really struggle. Everything is imbalanced. On the one hand, I can say that I’m very humble about throwing something away and restarting it. On the other hand, I had like the incredible ego to say I was going to spend, the very first version of this I built for myself in early 2010. I’ve now spent five complete years on this, and really just now am getting to the point where it’s very clear that this could be a very big company. Do you say you have to have ego to be an entrepreneur? Or do you say you have to have humility to be an entrepreneur?

Both.

Both. That’s what makes it such a hard job.

Oh, that’s really well put. I think it is a hard job, and it is full of contradictions. Do you have to actually have a five year vision and then micro-focus on the next three months and three users? Yes. You have to have both in a sense. You can’t tack the ship unless you know where you’re going. Sometimes, you decide to change course, but I think that is the contradiction. It is hard. Thank you for clarifying it and adding to the knowledge base of the real work of entrepreneurship. It’s navigating that, and that’s what really good scientists do too. The way that I approach it, and I kind of calm myself down as an entrepreneur, is to say, “Think like a scientist, but also like an artist.” Artist is where your complete heart is in it and you have to love it so hard to stick with it. Tony, you’ve stuck with this for five years, and you’re just figuring out that it’s like, this is the big business. That means your heart is deeply in it, right?

Right. Well, that’s the lesson I learned between, from my last company to this company, is I spent the first three years of the last company just thinking, “I will not fail. I will not fail. I will not fail.” Then, I got to the point where I was like, “Whoa. Hooray for me. I didn’t fail. This thing is pretty profitable, and it’s like an actual lifestyle business. Other people are running it while I’m just at home playing video games.” Is that what I really wanted? No, this is hard to know what is your mission in life. I think if you’re twenty-five and you don’t know that, that’s fine. The best way that I know to learn it is to go out there and live and experience things and try things.

Probably the best thing I ever did for myself was throw away the last company so that I could work on something where spending five years trying to figure it out, it didn’t feel like an opportunity cost to me, because I was just so completely enamored with this space. I knew that every day I spent working on it, I was helping people, maybe not at a venture scale, but I was helping people. More importantly, I was having fun and learning a lot.

Which you’re now applying. Let’s talk a little about how you are applying those learnings to the early testing and iteration. How do you now decide which ideas to pursue and which ones to filter out?

It’s a great question. The cultural shift inside the company is that we’re really learning how to double down on stuff. Before we had figured it out, what we had gotten really good at was trying stuff. Trying something new, trying variations, iterations, rapid experiments. I remember, we had one board meeting over the summer, where a board member came into the board meeting with an idea, and then we had built a whole product around it and found enterprise customers to pay for it, and gotten a month of data from those enterprise customers before the next board meeting came around. This board member is running a big company of his own, and he was like, his head exploded, simply because he carries around so much frustration about how hard it is to get ideas tested.

That’s what we were really good at, but we weren’t good at was the what to do if you get something that’s really working. The big cultural shift is just to be willing to do less but to do it really well. The example that we’re in right now is that we figured out the basics of coaching online. That’s most of what we did last year, but what we want to use that knowledge for is to take something that traditionally you might learn from a book or a class or a conference, and train you for that through coaching. There’s a bunch of benefits to getting it from a coach, is (1) the coaches personalize it, so instead of getting this data dump of trivialities, you get just the information you need.

Then (2) is always about applying it. I think this is what’s so wrong with so much training, is you get a lot of information, but you never actually apply it. As I would describe it, you would rather get an MBA from a business coach, who’s helping you build your business, than from leaving your business for two years and going back to school. If you could get it from a business coach, that’s such a better way to learn what you need to learn. What we’ve, for the last couple months, been working on is leadership coaching, which is the first example of us taking what we knew about coaching, and doing it for a very specific thing that you want to learn.

In that, we’re just trying to be as hands-on as possible about it, so that we’re constantly getting feedback. Even then, we screw that up. When we originally launched it, we tried to have our coaches coach the first versions of it. We felt like we weren’t learning fast enough, and so me and Terry, on my team, started taking on business clients ourselves, just so that we could test how to coach it so much faster. That’s what I, now, that’s what we’re focused on is just pick one thing and don’t give up on it until we have it working all the way through. That means that the quality of the product has to be very strong, and also, in our case, we need to know how to generate leads for it, and then close those leads. We need a working sales process.

Right. One of the things you mentioned is the idea that the first idea’s always wrong. How does that work into your process and into your evolution? Because I love that, because I think that that’s a great way to go into an experiment, is like, or go into a discussion, is like, “Here’s the idea, but let’s evolve it.”

Yeah, you know, when we were talking beforehand, you’d sent over some prep, and I think this is where I was thinking about how you and I come from different directions a lot of times, where you have a much stronger design background and I have a much stronger engineering background. When I wrote down the first idea’s always wrong, when I test an idea, what I’m actually wondering is, where am I going to get the second idea? I think that’s why I have a strong preference for always testing ideas through prototypes, because there’s something about, and this is also because prototypes are so cheap for me, have traditionally been so cheap for me because I’m an engineer. It’s actually easier for me to build something than for me to Photoshop it.

I really like to have the thing in my pocket, on my phone, in my web browser, than I can actually use, because as people give me feedback, saying, “Well, I don’t really like this. It’s not working for me.” Then, I just feel like by having something, a prototype that I can use, I’m getting more insight about what the second idea might be. Does that make sense?

Not only does it makes sense, it’s completely the way that I work as well. I think if you come out of game design, prototyping is, because you’re building systems, basically variations on feedback systems with lots of content in them. You never wait a long time to get to first play. All the smart game designers do lots of early prototyping. The interesting thing is what you choose to prototype, and what signals you use that go into those first prototypes. For me, my process is get signals from your target, early customer market as you’re building the first prototype. You can get those signals before you’ve prototyped it. Use it for your prototype, and I think, get further.
Now, it’s very similar to what you’re talking about, but in terms of design, one of the huge threads from our whole first season of the podcast was designer after designer after designer saying the most common mistake I see people make is they don’t prototype soon enough. It’s actually a problem in design. It’s so related to what you were just talking about, about the five year plan and the three years in secret. Prototyping is just, it’s oxygen.

This is where I feel really lucky. In this version of the company, someone who stuck around for awhile and then ended up moving into the CTO role, Alicia is her name, and now on the board with me. As part of spending five years on a project, the team can shift a little bit. In Coach.me, it’s really Alicia is really my main partner here. She’s like probably one of the most technically excellent engineers I’ve ever worked with. On every single platform, from the web, to front end, to iOS. I’ve seen her write native Android code. The thing that, to me, makes her CTO material is that she’s incredibly pragmatic. I think her default is to think the code that she’s written is going to get thrown away, because the product will be wrong in some way.

That’s not the default mode of thinking for most engineers. The default mode of thinking is that this code will live forever and will be a maintenance nightmare, and therefore needs to be over-engineered. I find that that’s a really, a hard notion to essentially beat out of engineers. I’m pretty firm about it, having spent a long time as an engineer myself, but that’s what I think made the company work as we were doing our search, is that Alicia in particular was setting a culture of let us build something simple and get it out in the world, and if people like it, then we’re going to double down on it and do a lot more.

That’s fantastic. The only thing I’ve seen can go haywire with that is if you build a bunch of spaghetti code, and then don’t actually refactor it.

Right, right.

I had some very painful experiences with that with some clients. That’s the tricky part, but you’re right. The thing is it’s a stage issue. If you’re figuring out your business model, your core customers, and your core revenue streams, and bringing that all to life, you don’t want to be over-engineering it, because it’s going to change a lot. That’s where actually a good CTO can help you do things like make sure you have an API, or some of the basic things that will really help you have well-structured software.

Alicia and I talk about this a lot, how there’s sort of this debate, almost this polarized idea of Facebook as a group of hackers and Google as a world of great engineers, and that those things are actually different. We just think that that’s false, that you can write simple, quick code that is well-formed, clean and well-structured. There’s a lot of things, because we’ve focused so much on doing a small thing, it actually makes doing high-quality code actually easier. There’s a Edgar Dijkstra quote, who’s a big computer science professor from back in the day, that roughly goes, “The great programmer understands the limited size of his own brain.” Programmers are everywhere trying to make things so complicated that they can’t possibly fit the solution inside their head.

By, actually kind of counter-intuitively, if you try to do simpler, smaller things, it allows a good programmer to bring their whole genius to it. We do things like, we never talk about technical debt. We always just have a refactor as you go policy. We’ve never shut down product development because the code needed to be refactored. We just know that the second time we touch it, we’re going to clean things up a little bit, and then the same with the third and the fourth and the fifth time. Meanwhile, if we never touch it again, then we’re going to be really thankful that we didn’t spend a lot of time over-engineering it, because usually if we didn’t touch it again, it meant that it didn’t matter.

Yeah. That all, really I think, speaks to your journey that you told us about at the beginning, from really a self-taught, hacker type person, to CEO and product creator. Now, you’re really building out your organization and setting the culture and figuring these sorts of issues out.

Right. I mean, a lot of it you learn through experience. Although, it would be nice if, I mean the Coach.me theory is that you could learn from someone with more experience so you could accelerate your own learning. There’s definitely some of that in my own career. Good mentors along the way helped me see that there’s a better way to do stuff.

Yes, and actually delivering online mentoring is very, very, very hard.

Yes.

Hard to get right. It’s exciting that you’re doing in a sense, a version of that.

Yeah, absolutely.

As a leader, as a product creator now, what do you feel like is your superpower and your sweet spot? What kind of projects light you up the most?

That’s a great question. I struggle with the idea that it’s a superpower, but I do know what my sweet spot is, which is I’m very drawn to inventions rather than iterations. Someone in my board is been working in online publishing for awhile. He was the founder of Blogger, and then Twitter, and now Medium. Blogger, I think was an invention, and then he’s ended up spending a long time there, so that’s good for him, but you never see me going to the blogging space, because for me, you could iterate on it, but it’s not a place that requires reinvention. I’ve just always been, even though I started in social networking with the first company, what I saw was a really novel use case for it.

I was the first one who sort of created a niche of replacing a conference attendee directory with a social network, which was like, it’s very niche and wasn’t a great business but somehow by the time we were two years old, there was ten different companies doing it. I invented that niche, I think, because that is my sweet spot, is looking for novel approaches. The same with coaching is a very mature industry, but there’s never been a way to do it on demand, and seeing how to do it on demand, we saw, in fact, that coaching could be just one of the main options, maybe even the dominant option when it comes to training and education.

Certainly, all things being equal, you would rather learn from an experienced master who’s giving you personalized instruction than from a generic class that meant to cover the needs of a hundred thousand people.

How does content fit into that model?

Into our model of coaching?

Yes.

In coaching, there’s a little bit of a debate about does the coach teach? Or do they merely facilitate change within a person? There’s a branch of coaching that feels very strongly that they’re not trainers, merely they are there to facilitate change. I don’t buy into that at all. What I am trying to do is find a way to put coaches in a position where they can be as effective as possible. What we found as we did coaching online is that the more action-oriented we can get them, the more effective they are. What that means is that you end up having coaches that are less generalized. There’s this idea of a life coach, which is actually kind of crazy sounding, right? That some random person could coach every aspect of not just your life, but anyone’s life. Right?

Aren’t our lives all so distinct that no one person could fit what I’m trying to do? What our coaches end up being much more narrowly focused. Even at the start, our original coaches would be focused on a specific productivity tactic. They would coach you on applying the Pomodoro Method throughout your day. Or there’d be a, on the health side, there might be a coach who wasn’t a nutritionist, they were more a specific to a particular diet. As we’ve gotten more specific, we made very specific material for that. Example, in our leadership coaching, when we go into a company, we say, “Okay, the people that get coached are going to not just learn this set of skills. Here’s a skill list of what’s going to be covered. Not only are they going to learn every skill on this list, they’re going to actually apply each of them to their work.”

In order to have that skill list, we needed content, so we actually just finished the first big module for that around Meeting Master, which is a big part of when you’re a leader, you’re running and facilitating more meetings. In order to coach that effectively, we had to write a book. It wasn’t the biggest book in the world. It was about an eighty page book, but that was the key to making that type of coaching really effective.

Did you look at licensing or using somebody’s already written book? Or was there nothing appropriate?

We didn’t think that there was something exactly appropriate. We felt like we could maybe cobble something together through one of the online book providers. I’m thinking specifically about Safari Books Online, which I’m friendly with the founders there, and I could see some potential to do it. Also, in general my experience with partnerships is that they’re easier to do if you have a template for what you want to do. Which, I guess this goes against what we were saying earlier about just do it really simple, but we did it without any content beforehand, that was the simple version. Then once we got through that no content version of the coaching, we were pretty confident in what we were going to need. It was worth the investment, to us at least, of doing a custom version of it. I expect that once we have this template fully fleshed out and working that we will be licensing more content down the road.

Cool. As someone who is drawn to inventions rather than iterations, what are you seeing that’s new and exciting on the horizon these days? What trends are you following? What are you paying attention to?

I really like this idea of real world meets tech. I think, since I grew up as a programmer, I had this time where my life was fully just tech only, so you could see a company like the ride sharing app, Lyft, which absolutely, they had to design app in order to make that. Then, they also designed a rider experience. For awhile the drivers would give you a fist bump, which I’m not saying that I love that, but what I did love is the pink mustache that people were driving around in, because you could tell that that was such a great branding idea. You kind of saw a product design break out of this mold of this very narrow, “I might build an application,” to “I might build an experience.”

I think when I look at all of the things that go into a product, I really love being able to think about the whole experience. Stuff like, for us, we need to build software, and the thing that makes our software more functional is when the coach’s messages are being delivered as contextually as possible. Actually, you could receive our coaching now inside of Slack. That’s kind of the technical aspect of it, but then I have a human who I’m trying to augment their own coaching, and so that’s a huge part of the product experience for us is who are those humans and how are they trained and vetted and hired?

Then, beyond that, just what is the experience of being a client of ours? If you have a, in our leadership coaching, when you start, you may have this relationship with a coach, but we’re also going to send you the book that we wrote. Then, when you complete the leadership program, we’re going to give you a nano-degree, and put that on your LinkedIn. Actually, the whole experience of going through that coaching is much broader than the software that we wrote. I’m always on the lookout for companies like that. The other one that’s really on my mind is this idea of augmented intelligence rather than artificial intelligence.

If you ever read about the implementation behind Facebook’s concierge app, M, which not everyone has access to, but the implementation is that an artificial intelligence is doing a lot of the work, but every message is vetted by a human before it goes out. I think the same with our coaches is that we really like having a human there, but we see all this potential to augment what they’re doing through some smart programming.

What kinds of smart programming?

That’s a good question. Because so much of our coaching is a text space, essentially, we can do textual analysis. One thing we found really early on when we were doing coaching is that if a coach was a strong listener, and actually demonstrated it, then they would retain a user three times longer. Sometimes, when you’re doing data analysis, you’re looking for like a one-percent or two-percent improvement. We found something that was a two-hundred percent improvement. Then, if you think about that in terms of textual analysis, you can actually see the coach is about to send a message that doesn’t include any of the words that their client just sent to them, then there’s a good chance that they are not demonstrating active listening, and that can be flagged.

That’s what I would consider an example of augmented. Or another, a coach just clued me in to how to spot a leading question. Generally, if the second word in a question is, “You,” then you’re getting ready to send a leading question. You can kind of see, when you know the patterns, maybe not all of the patterns, but there’s some patterns that you can spot where you can actually help the coach be more effective, to be better.

Wow, that’s fascinating. That can have a lot of different applications.

What I like about it too, it’s not that hard, right? Sometimes when you hear about artificial intelligence, it just sounds improbably hard. I think there’s some people that are really drawn to that. I’m much more pragmatic and those examples are things that I think, even though I don’t write that much code anymore, are within the capabilities of myself as an individual programmer to do, and certainly within Alicia’s capabilities, or anyone on our team.

What’s on the horizon these days? What’s new and exciting for you that’s coming up?

We touched on it a little bit, is I just really, the big idea that we’re onto is that education can be replaced by a new format that’s two orders of magnitude more effective than what we’re used to. If you say the existing format is about getting this deep, personalized data dump that is disconnected from application, in a way, we don’t even think, it’s rare to think about applying your education. Only occasionally do you get a class that’s titled, “Applied Math,” which I think people look down on the idea of applied math a lot of times, but I think of it as this indictment of the rest of the math. It’s like, wait, how much math did I learn that I wasn’t going to apply? How horrifying is that? How much of my school years were spent learning things that just have no bearing to my life?

Those two things, that the learning’s not personalized for you, and then it has no bearing on your real life, I think of those as really core problems in how we’re educated right now. The format of coaching that we’re working on, which is on demand coaching where you have access to your coach every day, solves both of those problems if say the material can be hand-delivered to you by a coach, who’s working with you to apply it to your real life.

Which goes back to an example I gave earlier about how would you want to get your MBA? Would you want to take two years of your life, put your life on hold for two years and go to get a traditional MBA? Let alone the cost of it, and that’s a pretty big investment of your time. Or would you rather have a business professor, or a series of business professors even working with you to apply the key skills that you might have learned in your MBA to the actual business that you’re trying to build around? Absolutely, you would rather get it through a coach, that just hadn’t been possible before. We’re able to scale coaching, and as we incorporate more content into that, I think that we can be essentially the pinnacle of education. That’s what we’re shooting for. Does that seem like it’s worth being excited for?

It does seem like it. I have a lot of questions about it, but I think that you’re on the trajectory where you’re trying it and you’re testing it and you’ve got real clients and you’re learning a lot, which I think is the through line of this interview.

Yeah, absolutely.

It’s really cool to know more about it. I’m so excited to see where you take Coach.me and what you learn from it and what direction it grows in. I so appreciate your time today, and thank you so much for sharing your stories and your hard won lessons and all your wisdom with us.

Alright, well I appreciate it. I love talking to you. I always like talking to you under any format. It doesn’t need to be recorded. Although, it’s definitely an honor that you felt like this one needed to be.