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Repeat, then repeat again

Education is mainly a logical process, based on frequent repetition. We don’t learn Math or a language by randomly dipping into a textbook and pulling out an equation or word. Instead it’s patient and step-by-step, usually guided by a teacher. Education is also a process of nurturing, because the teacher (or parent) has to guide their pupil with care and ideally, love. The teacher forgives the mistakes and constantly strives to make it as easy as possible for their student. Part of making it easy is to make learning fun, a vital ingredient at any level of education.

We all recognize the importance of education, and most of us have been lucky at some moment to have received that ‘lightbulb moment’ where suddenly an aspect which previously defeated us becomes clear. It’s the ‘Eureka!’ of Archimedes, although often more modest in scope! As well as my business and coaching activities, I also lecture in university, and one of the most satisfying aspects is when I see a student light up with understanding, when they ‘get it’.

Back to school

This is also what I’m seeking to nurture in every startup I ever meet with, and in turn, what I ask them to nurture in their own audience. A typical startup team displays a lot of confidence in their own abilities, and initially is not very willing to look at the subject of education, both within the team, and for their audience. Going back to school doesn’t appeal all that much, especially when there’s an exciting new product or service to develop. But how much does the team know about the market they wish to enter, and the audience they wish to attract? Even more importantly, how much do they know about their potential investors? When we drill down into these sorts of questions, it soon becomes obvious that there is a massive knowledge gap (which is usually being filled by hope). Not only do the team not know who their audience is, but even where to look is rather puzzling. And so begins a program of highly accelerated learning.

Good education flows between people and my other part of the education task is to get startups to begin the education process of their audience. At first it must be slow and patient – logical with frequent repetition. Although the core team may be very aware and excited about their offering, it’s highly unlikely that their audience has a clue about it, or even worse, is misinformed. The startup has to begin the education process so that a really clear picture of the subject emerges, which will nurture the audience to the point where they have their own ‘Eureka!’ moment. In practical terms, that moment when the lightbulb turns on for the potential investor is when they say ‘Yes’ and become an actual investor. However there’s a lot of groundwork to be done before that momentary emotional response which determines that an investor is now committed to your project.

Is it worth not educating people?

Getting there is rarely quick, but it’s worth it. You can briefly touch base with thousands of potential investors, all of whom are dissatisfied because you have nothing to ‘teach’ them, and most of whom then wander off in search of more interesting projects. You can do this again and again, wondering why so many people fail to ‘get’ the brilliance of your project. Or you can educate and nurture a small and select group, who because of that will stick loyally with you, right through to the point where they say ‘Yes’ to your offer. Not only that, but after the first ‘Yes’ you’ll keep on educating them, feeding them ever more valuable information. As a result they’ll say ‘Yes’ again, and start attracting others in their circle to join the class, and also in time say ‘Yes’.

The value of this should be obvious, and although education takes effort, it’s really time-efficient in the long run. You deal with fewer people, in greater depth, and receive more positive results. Furthermore, it’s not only the audience which learns, because the startup also gains huge learning benefits from engaging with the market. Education is never wasted, and when it is focused education it is invaluable.

The core secret

And the core secret of great education? It’s having problems to solve. Problems first, then solutions. If we’re learning a new language, the test comes when we have to go into a shop and buy a loaf of bread. Before then we may have the ‘solutions’ in the form of vocabulary and grammar, but until we have to actually apply them to a problem, they are abstract. Archimedes was already studying the problem of how to figure out the volume of an irregular-shaped object, when he famously had his lightbulb moment in the bath, and then ran naked through the streets to announce it. His solution arose from a problem first, and that’s at the absolute core of what I ask startups to do in their own teams, and for their audience. Problem first, solution second. That’s education.
The only caveat is that running naked through the streets is probably not advisable.


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