Crossing out ideas: the beginning of a new startup

By Rik Lomas. Original post here on Medium. I just copy and paste the content for sharing (and keeping it for my reminder). Credits to writer and Medium.

Recently I published an article called “How to start a startup without ruining your life” and from today, I’ll be forced to follow my own advice.

Six months ago, I left the code school that I co-founded and since then, I’ve been freelancing at various London startups. It’s been fun to get my hands dirty by returning back to design, code and product strategy.

But recently, I’ve missed teaching how to code. It was something that I got great pleasure from it and even years later, I still love getting emails from old students showing me what they’ve made. If you’ve never taught anyone before, I would highly recommend it. I haven’t been able to start a new startup due to a non-compete clause that ended today but over the last few months, I’ve been back and forth on quite a few ideas.

I wanted to share my ideas to talk about the reasoning behind them and why I settled on a particular one over others.

Dropped idea 1: Superscript

My first idea was to make a better and easier to learn Javascript. Whenever I taught, the hardest thing for new coding students seemed to be Javascript. The brackets, the semicolons, the parenthesis and the weird nature of the language made it a difficult language to grasp instantly. Personally, I love an alternative version called Coffeescript, but for beginners Coffeescript is still difficult to learn. I wanted to be make something that was fundamentally easier.

I dropped this idea due the lack of a business model. I would have loved to spent time making the idea into a reality but it was hard to justify. It would have been hard to bootstrap and investors wouldn’t be into the idea.

For advanced programmers, it wouldn’t offer significant improvements over Javascript or Coffeescript as it wasn’t designed for them. That made me doubt whether coders would will be willing to fund it via Kickstarter or not. I still think it’s a strong idea so I’ve put it into the pet project folder for now.

Dropped idea 2: New code school

My second idea was one I was quite sure that I wanted to do for a good few months. Starting a new code school would have been relatively simple for me — I’ve done it before, I have a good teaching reputation and there’s a decent demand for it in London.

The idea for it was strong too and it would fix the main two problems that all current London code schools have: make attending more affordable and more flexible to people’s schedules. It was attractive to investors too as it would make revenue from day one pretty much. All it would need is a space and equipment and it was ready to go.

Getting rid of the nagging feeling

For weeks during my freelance period, I was convinced that I would be doing this second idea. 100% sure. This was it. The winning idea. As soon as it hit November, I was going to drop everything and work on this and nothing was going to stop me.

After I wrote my “How to start a startup” article, I had 100+ emails from people all over the world, asking me questions from “is this idea good?” to “I’m not sure if my startup is taking the right direction?”.

One email in particular was from a teenager in New York asking me how to learn to code. He was really interested but couldn’t afford to go to one of the schools in New York and he found most of the online schools frustrating.

He reminded me a little of myself when I was that age. I learnt to code a lot later than most of the coders I’ve worked with — most started in their early teens (or younger) and I was in my late teens. I was brought up in much poorer family than most of my peers and if I was 18 today, I wouldn’t have been able to afford the in-person schools either.

The feeling of my younger self not being able to afford my current self’s startup idea frustrated me.

The new idea

Only two weeks ago, the combination of my subconscious and the ending of my non-compete forced me into my current thinking — digital education should be as affordable and as accessible as possible.

I’ve been scared to take on online learning. I feel the whole online education industry is fundamentally broken and unengaging. Previously I’ve felt it’s easier to engage students in person.

My thinking was “it’s broken, let’s do it in person instead”, rather than “it’s broken, can I fix it?”. As someone who’s taught a lot of people face-to-face, all the current online services make me cringe in one way or another, from how they teach to what they teach. It can be done better.

Starting today, I’ll be working on a new startup. A lot is still yet to be revealed and I will write all my plans along the way. I do have initial ideas about what I want to do and I’m very, very excited.

I’m inspired by various people and businesses who are open about the way they work — Alex Blumberg’s Startup podcast and everyone over at Bufferparticularly — so over the next few months, I’ll try to be as open as possible too. I’ll talk about branding, business models, raising money, hiring and more.

Every startup begins with a first step and today is the day I take it. Wish me luck!


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