just saw a frog drinking tea out of a puddle

wow

Last week’s email said I was naming the company “shorthop.so” and a few folks told me it was a shitty name and told me that zipschool.com was available. I liked the domain better than shorthop.so. So, we’re zipschool.com now :).

Note: Website’s main CTA is broken on purpose right now. Why? Well. If a parent lands on it and somehow finds my contact info and cares enough to tell me it’s broken because they wanna use it, then, well that’s a good signal :).

I’m pretty excited. Every week things get clearer and clearer with Zip. I just focus on one or two questions I want answered. Answer them. Find new questions. And keep going that way.

I’m about 6 weeks into doing live sessions. Started not knowing shit about what user’s wanted. At this point, I’ve answered a lot of the obvious questions that would outright kill this idea ex:

  • Will people pay for this?

  • Can you acquire users?

  • Who wants this?

  • Looking toward the future, how does this get massive?

  • Is this a burning problem?

  • Is this a frequent problem?

This week I was able to answer two important questions:

  • What age groups should be focused on?

  • What are the elements that make for a 10/10 live session where kids can only talk via chat and occasionally interact via physical movement (ex. giving teacher a physical thumbs up). Note: This will likely be an ongoing question.

Also, Zip has kinda been all over the place in terms of being a real “product”. I’m trying to be more anti “building”. If I can hack it together via Webflow, Typeform, and Zapier in an hour and get users then I’ll do that. For example, if you wanna pay for Zip Pro right now ($40 a month) you just fill out a Typeform and that’ll redirect you to Stripe Checkout. Took me 20 minutes.

But, can’t avoid building some custom stuff any longer.

  • User’s keep wanting to tell their friends about Zip and don’t have a way right now since I do everything via email and random Typeforms right now. I need one flow that everyone follows and focus on it vs having 20 different flows.

  • User’s keep wanting to sign up for more sessions after they do one and I don’t have an easy way to let them do this right now. I have to literally individually email them, talk to them, send them sign-up form link, etc.

  • User’s want to pay for this. But, they want to see the full schedule and some basic interface to book classes 4-6 days in advance. Can’t blame them there, they wanna see an actual product :).

  • I manually send out all the reminder texts and emails right now and manually set up every Zoom session. This is starting to really take up a lot of time.

Yesterday I started building a basic flow to let users register + book classes. Should be done and have users by end of day.

I think next week I wanna answer:

  • What % of users book a session after attending their first session? Why? Dive deep into #'s + talk to users who do/don’t book a 2nd session.

The answer hopefully helps drive things like: what topics I focus on, what type of teachers I need to look for, how to improve the live experience. I wanna hop off Zoom the moment I have enough clarity around what a custom thing would look like + the features it’d have. Answering this questions hopefully drives an auxiliary answer to that question to.

Books

Been reading a bunch these past few weeks. Perhaps this list will help you find a book you’d want to read! I’ll include the name of the book, a rating, and a good quote if I have one on hand.

Leonardo da Vinchi - 7.5/10 - Super solid, detailed biography of one of the best artists of our time.

“But I did learn from Leonardo how a desire to marvel about the world that we encounter each day can make each moment of our lives richer.”

Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets - 9/10 - Randomly started reading the series again for fun!

“It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”

Get Together - 7/10 - A really good, short book about to build community. Kinda read like a series of blog posts.

“Stop thinking about your community as just an audience. Instead, treat these people as collaborators. Even with your first activity, carve out ways for others to participate. People are showing up to realize a shared purpose, not to watch you realize it for them.”

The Path: What Chinese Philosophers Can Teach Us About The Good Life - 7/10 - A really good introduction to ancient Chinese philosophy :).

“Think of yourself as a farmer, rather than thinking about who you are and arranging your goals around that. Your goal then becomes laying the ground for various interests and sides of yourself to grow organically.”

How Music Got Free - 8/10 - Tells the full story from how the “mp3” was created in a small German lab to how piracy got huge.

The mp3 seemed a marvel beyond technical comprehension. An entire album at only 40 megabytes! Forget planning for the future—you could implement the digital jukebox right now! “Do you realize what you’ve done?” Adar asked Brandenburg after their first meeting. “You’ve killed the music industry!

Out of Mao's Shadow - 10/10 - Details China’s dark past and transition after Mao’s death.

Sometimes Xi brings a video camera to the cemetery and interviews other people visiting the dead, so there will be a record of the place and of those to whom it meant something. As the years have passed, though, fewer people have been coming, and he rarely sees younger visitors in the graveyard, unless they have stumbled upon it by accident. They remind him of ignorant tourists, because they know so little about the Cultural Revolution.

“It’s pathetic,” Xi said. “These people died meaningless deaths, but they are even more meaningless if society never reflects upon it. Many people refuse to think about it, and the party wants to erase people’s memories. But the whole nation should think about what happened. Remembering is painful, but it is also a kind of responsibility. We have to remember, so the next generation doesn’t suffer such pain again.”

dropped a banana milkshake on my cherry mx keys

Yo!

Quick Update

We had 200 unique students this week. Up from 75 last week. The changes I made were: more classes and more teachers and more topics. For example, we taught an art class this week and kids (aged 4-7) got to draw + write a story around a dog they drew :)! I actually found the art teacher on Twitch streaming on the “Art” section. Kids actually got to show the class their work at the end to, here’s one:

I also taught a class on rocket science for students aged 8-12. They were so hype by the end. It was a ton of fun. I mentioned near the end I was a programmer and the kids got so hyped you shoulda seen them.

I got emails like the one below.

Kids literally ran to their parents after and told them to email me.

We also ran a class this week with over 50 concurrents where the student has video/audio off. Hopefully next week, we’ll run a class with 100 concurrents :).

Again, my goal isn’t to create small, video chat classes. My goal is to make each class feel like Bill Nye + a Twitch stream. 1000+ kids in a single stream all learning from a high-quality teacher all while interacting via chat + other things like live quizzes and polls.

1000 kids in a class paying $2 > 25 kids in a class each paying $20.

Next week my main focus is to put together more of a schedule of teachers, class times, and topics. I have parents who are down to pay me between $40-$60 a month but they want to see the times + schedule they can signup for beforehand. Makes sense.

Also, I ran surveys. 24 responses.

New Name + Updated Direction

So, I’ve been working on ZipHomeschool for over 6 months now 🎉.

I started in December 2019 by building software for homeschoolers to help them follow the laws of their state. The idea here was to become an “infrastructure” company for full-time homeschoolers. After a lot of iteration, we’ve arrived at the current focus: large, live-streamed classes aimed at students 4-12 with a focus on non-traditional topics (ex. video-editing, photography, space, marine science, etc). The vision hasn’t really changed. I want to make it easier for students to learn about the thing things they want to learn about and give them some structure to do that. Homeschooling (where the parent is a big part of the process) was one way to make that happen. But, I think we’re iterating toward a better way that push the world faster in the direction I want to see it go.

Since we’re moving away from classical homeschooling, I’m renaming the company from ziphomeschool.co to shorthop.so. Note: nothing on domain yet.

A “short hop” in Super Smash Bros Melee is just a much smaller jump. Here’s Falco doing two short hop lasers.

Falco Laser Dash High Laser Shine Vs Sheik Short Hop Oos GIF by ...

Learning should feel a lot like hopping in between different projects/topics as you please.

Wow Farza!!! Great metaphor!! You’re such a poet!!!

I was actually talking with my Mom about this. In 2008, 12 year-old me would spend 4 weeks selling stuff on eBay, then 3 months learning to edit videos + grow my YouTube vlog channel, then another 2 weeks on eBay, etc. I didn’t have much structure and my parents didn’t really know what to do with me. But…damn, if I had some more structure around my projects or at least some sort of community to collab/learn from or a teacher for those non-traditional topics…that would have been amazing. I would have felt 10X less weird.

Oh, and why the .so domain? Well, 1) .com was taken 2) in C and C++ a .so is a shared object library. It lets multiple executables share the same library instance. For example, if there are a set of functions that many different programs will share then they can just call the .so file vs implementing the same function individually. With ShortHop, it’s the same thing but for knowledge! I’m building this shared library of topics many people can have concurrent access to.

Anyways, I know none of this shit matters.

But, being a solo founder is hard and if a new name + vague metaphor can give me some momentum then awesome I’ll take that :).

i got my harley davidson stuck in the palm trees by accident

Hey everyone. I need some advice from you, especially if you’re a founder!

I think my number one challenge right now with Zip right now isn’t the normal sorta startup stuff. Already I can acquire users (and almost always figure this out regardless of the product), I’ve proven I can monetize them (at a small scale), and I can even do a half-decent job at raising capital (a surprise to me) which means my company won’t die for lack of cash. I’ve managed to figure out a ton of this thanks to people like Furqan, Ivan, Tobenna, the massive repository content on Y-Combinator’s channel, and by continuously messing up/figuring it out for the last two years.

But, I actually think my number one challenge is keeping momentum.

This was not a historic week for Zip, meaning, we didn’t break internal records. And that’s bad. Every week that isn’t a historic week in my eyes means we either stayed the same or went backwards. Both are bad.

So then today I was like what the heck Farza, why wasn’t it a historic week? It wasn’t because I couldn’t acquire the users (because I could have if I actually went out to get them using channels that already work for us). And, it wasn’t because I’m not motivated (because I’m the most motivated I’ve ever been in my entire life these days).

So then what gives? Why did I fall flat this week? I can’t afford to have weeks like these. No early-stage founder can. Every week is precious.

I kinda went out of my way to find some answers. How do startup founders maintain momentum through the day-to-day in the early days? And, before you read on, reply to this email with your answer if you have one. I’ll compile the responses into next week’s email.

There isn’t an answer I found to that question directly, but, the answer that did sufficiently answer my question made me mad because it’s so god damn simple that it made me feel stupid. It’s the advice that you get on Day 1 and thats repeated into your ear constantly.

Find the one metric you want to track, plaster that metric up everywhere, look at it daily, set goals around that metric, everything you do should revolve around that metric.

Everyone in startup lands know this already…I know this already…but obviously I don’t?

I’m stubborn.

I gotta prove it to myself. I gotta learn the hard way.

So, I looked back on my week and how I work.

I looked back on every task I did this week, and wow: nearly everything didn’t feel like it would directly shift the metric I cared about if I completed it. So then I looked back on weeks that were “historic” and bada-bing almost every task that week revolved around our core metric but it was all accidental by me.

Damn.

This is an interesting learning for me. One I’ll never forget. And one that will hopefully help me keep momentum up in future weeks :).

I look forward to other folk’s responses.

Back to work!

i just drew on the freshly baked apple pie w/ a sharpie

Passionate, massive scale world events really make you question life.

So on Monday morning, I thought: is what I’m building important? Well, duh! Zip is on it’s way to democratizing education for the entire world by creating a place where students can affordably learn full-time about the things they want to learn about right from home.

Well, sure that’s whats in my head :).

So I actually spent Monday - Wednesday just talking to users through phone, email, and text. Spoke to around 50. I wanted them to tell me that what I’m working on is important in their own words. I also did this because I was feeling super confused about what to work on next. So, whenever that happens I schedule like a full day of interviews and by the end I usually know what to work on next.

Well, it worked!

Parents and children were very excited about Zip.

In three user interviews, the parent gave their kid the phone so they could actually tell me directly how they liked the session. Wild. LOL. 3/3 kids loved it and was hyped for the next one :).

I had a ton more direction after Wednesday, armed w/ boat loads of user feedback. Note: Usually I don’t take notes since I never re-read my notes. I record every user interview and listen back to them in the mornings during my walk to Dunkin Donuts.

Basically, I learned that parents really really really like live teacher sessions. To parents it’s like the new tutor. But, instead of driving kids to Kumon + paying huge fees they can find these random teachers/tutors streaming on Facebook/Zoom and have their kids treat it like a tutoring session. One-on-one tutors are a thing of the past.

And guess what. Every single parent I talked to said this new workflow was an upgrade. Cheaper, higher quality education, right from home.

Why would you wanna take your kid to some random tutoring session when they can just learn math from one of the best child math teachers in the world on Zoom?

But, I’m always trying to kill my good ideas. So, I was like - this live teacher thing is a shit idea because the classes are small (20-40 kids) and it’s just to much work I’ll need 1000s of teachers to scale and then quality dips and this would just be like Outschool whose business model I’m not a fan of. So, on Thursday we ran two sessions w/ no video + no audio and turns out…everyone was just as happy with it. Literally in the survey parent ratings stayed the same and willingness to pay went down 7%. We could have had 1000 people in the Zoom call. It wouldn’t have mattered. Chat just worked perfectly.

I can have 1000 kids in the class, where each pays $2 for a 30 minute session ($2000 total) vs having a session w/ 30 kids where each kid pays $10 ($300 total).

We learned a lot from the no video/no audio experience.

Currently, building a mobile app where kids can hop on when the live session starts, chat, answer polls the teacher puts up, raise their hand, and have emoji reaction Instagram Live style.

It’ll probably be done like this Wednesday-ish and then take a few days for Apple to approve it. Hopefully it’s fully live in 2 weeks max.

In the meantime, we’re going to keep running our sessions on Zoom. I’ll be running a session myself on Sunday or Monday for 3rd-5th graders on programming :).

Song of the Week

This was is absolutely crazy. My boy scarlxrd on of the craziest beats I’ve heard in a while. The genre is trap metal rap.

the neighbors chihuahua just called me ugly wow wtf dogs can talk

Currently writing this newsletter as I listen to the Star Fox 64 soundtrack on my balcony. There is a crazy lightning storm happening right now as well and it looks like the end of the world with these dark clouds + the constant flashing and booms. Seems like a pretty appropriate metaphor for the current state of the world.

Anyways, going to keep it quick this week because I am super duper sleepy. I had this dream last night where I was President and I signed a bunch of laws and then I took a little break by going out side, putting on my jetpack, and flying to Dunkin Donuts where I think I bought some Blueberry Munchkins. I hope to continue the saga of President Farza tonight. Will keep y’all posted.

It was a good, busy week.

We have a couple 100 people using Zip again daily after I foolishly shut down the service a few weeks back. Most of the first half of this week was setting up feedback loops within the product where I would have a direct channel to users. So I setup:

  • A voting system where parents can vote on individual activities and review them + tell me why they loved/hated it. This is dope because I can reach out to users directly who vote and arrange a phone call easily because if they’re voting it means they’re decently engaged.

  • A “message teachers now” box where parents can literally tell me what they want. This has been working super well. Parents literally tell me exactly what they want. I can then email them and arrange a phone call.

  • Also setup a bunch of auto emails to force me to talk to users. For example, I setup one where 72 hours after you signup it’ll allow you to book a call with a Zip team member to discuss a plan their child can follow for the summer.

The result of this has been…a lot of feedback. It’s been cool :). All this feedback then gets loop backed to the teachers who are making activities for Zip right now and we get improve :).

The second half of the week was focusing on live sessions which have always been cool to me and now just felt like a good time to run the experiment.

The learning goal was: can we can get a bunch of kids in a Zoom call w/ a teacher and have them learn about space? The answer is a strong yes. We had around 70 unique students total on our live sessions this week. We ran 3 of them. I ran basic surveys after the sessions (still need to do follow up phone calls) as well and parents loved it.

When asked how much they would have paid for a similar basic 45 minute session, the answer averaged out at $10. And that # only gets higher as you add more elements to the experience (pre-activities, post activities, 1-1 calls w/ other students, etc). So, we could have done $700 in revenue this week (70 * $10) if I charged. That’s pretty interesting. Suddenly, I’d be a $33,000 annual revenue business by just doing this one class. Average score out of 10 for the sessions based on 14 reviews was 9.1/10.

Anyways, I was blown away by the students the most. Seeing kids on screen get hype, interact, learn, ask questions, laugh it was all amazing to see. I could hardly contain my smile during the sessions. The curiosity of kid’s is infectious.

Earlier this week I was a little down because I felt like I was losing touch with why I’m working on Zip. But, seeing these students reminded me why I’m grinding 14 hours a day 7 days a week on this thing.

There is very much a path where Zip can “fix” education worldwide by affordably putting the power of learning back in the hands of the learner for students in K-12, college, and beyond.

Sure, it’s just a vision. But, this week felt like I just got a tiny bit closer to that goal. Who knows where this thing will be in 10 years! Perhaps it’ll end up dead and forgotten. Or perhaps…just maybe…I’ll figure it out.

Back to work.

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