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.

  • chris

    Which ‘subjects’ are the most successful?
    Which geographical areas are most successful?
    What characterizes their success?
    How did they become successful?
    Build on what’s working!
    Good Luck

  • martin

    I’m wondering why there seemingly are so many ‘subjects’ NOT included in SOE: As far as I did see, there is mainly things like guitar, yoga & language. why (“ask 5 times why”) couldn’t you break into the wider sectors of learning needs that undoubtedly are there, somewhere?

  • You’re being very hard on yourself! Particularly in the face of a heck of a lot of very positive progress on the site recently.

    The whole name of the game is try, win some / lose some, keep adapting, and have enough determination to keep going. Its great to take stock and ask the questions but who really ever knows how things are going to unfold?

  • Hi Paul,

    Its a shame you weren’t aware of Nuvvo when you started SoE. You weren’t in fact the ‘first mover’ in this space. Our team ran the project for 2 years, 2004-2006, and ultimately came to exactly the same conclusions you have regarding the business model and online payments. (Attracting both teacher and students was never a problem.) Here’s the wikipedia article:

    Another project that launched before SoE with the same model is WiZiQ. Their team is still at it and are the furtherest ahead, by my estimation, with this model.

    My partner and I have since iterated on Nuvvo; we now run We abandoned Nuvvo’s business model but leveraged all we learned about user acquisition. We are now very satisfied with our model and having been focusing on scaling operations for the last year or so. Its been a long journey.

    Good luck!


  • Paul Miller

    Hi John,

    Yes – we were aware of Nuvvo and WiZiQ (lots of others around as well) but they’re based on a very different idea. We’re not really into online or e-learning. The point of School of Everything is to get people together in the real world.

    Hope that helps!