David speaks with Wes Kao, Co-founder of Maven, which is a platform for live cohort-based courses.

Wes Kao is a renowned entrepreneur, strategist, and educator known for her expertise in online learning, content creation, and digital marketing.

They talked about:

  • Refining a spiky point of view in a noisy online world
  • Balancing certainty and ambiguity in your writing.
  • What Wes learned co-founding the Alt-MBA with Seth Godin
  • How online learning could change the education industry forever

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πŸ“Ή Watch on Youtube

πŸ‘€ Connect with Wes:

Twitter: @wes_kao

Website: Maven.com

πŸ“„ Show notes:

0:00 | Intro

3:32 | Moving cities

5:01 | New York vs San Francisco

7:27 | Connecting with people through ideas

10:04 | Meeting people online

12:35 | How to stand out online

20:30 | Levels of abstraction

20:46 | How to think deeper

28:32 | Taking a stance and making decisions

33:10 | Embracing conviction and avoiding fear

38:48 | Learning patterns for success

45:24 | Transitions in Wes’ career journey

49:14 | How courses will change education

53:59 | Curating sources of information

58:15 | The problem with college

01:05:05 | The future of education

πŸ—£ Mentioned in the show:

Seth Godin | https://seths.blog/

Spiky point of view | https://www.weskao.com/blog/spiky-point-of-view-lets-get-a-little-controversial

Rick Rubin | https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rick_Rubin

Nilay Patel | https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nilay_Patel

Decoder | https://www.theverge.com/decoder-podcast-with-nilay-patel

GAP Inc. | https://www.gapinc.com/

altMBA | https://altmba.com/

Marie Forleo B School | https://marieforleobschool.com/

Ogilvy | https://www.ogilvy.com/

Steve Job | https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steve_Jobs

Pablo Picasso | https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pablo_Picasso

Sam Parr | https://twitter.com/thesamparr

Gagan Biyani | https://twitter.com/gaganbiyani

Substack | https://substack.com/

Jeff Bezos | https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jeff_Bezos

Full episode transcript below

πŸ‘¨πŸΎβ€πŸ’» About David Elikwu:

David Elikwu FRSA is a serial entrepreneur, strategist, and writer. David is the founder of The Knowledge, a platform helping people think deeper and work smarter.

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πŸ“œFull transcript:

Wes Kao: I see a lot of content online that is basically regurgitating the same stuff, right, the same stories, the same mental models right? That doesn't help you stand out. The stuff that really stands out is stuff that's maybe something that feels obvious, but is said in a fresh way or hits differently, you know, because that person sharpened the way that they see the world. There's not a clear cut and dry way to do that. It's not like me saying like, okay, download these 30 viral hook templates and follow that. Like, that's straightforward. And so a lot of people do that because it feels more tactical. It feels more within reach, but sharpening your own thinking, pushing back on your own ideas. Thinking more rigorously, and learning to be skeptical of your own ideas. Figuring out like, okay, I think this, but does this actually apply across the board? What are the boundaries of this idea? When does it work and when does it not work? What are counterpoints to this idea? What's the biggest risk if someone did this and executed poorly? Right? Those are actually all great content ideas. Every question that I just threw out there, if you thought about it and answered, boom, another post boom, another post boom, another post.

David Elikwu: Hey, I'm David Elikwu. And this is The Knowledge. A podcast for anyone looking to think deeper and work smarter. In every episode I speak with makers, thinkers, and innovators to help you get more out of life.

This week I'm speaking with Wes Kao. Wes is the co-founder of Maven, which is a platform for live cohort based courses.

We had a really interesting conversation talking all about her background, both in corporate and creative spaces, and the lessons that she's learned as she's transitioned between them.

We talked about the time that she spent working with Seth Godin co-founding the alt MBA and the lessons that she learned from that, which she's applied to building Maven.

So one of the ongoing themes that you'll hear us talking about is this idea of rigorous thinking, and it's something that Wes talks and writes a lot about. And on the topic of writing, we're also talking about this idea of using writing as a tool for clear thinking. And how you can use writing to be able to think at various levels of abstraction.

And then the final thing that we talked about was education and what the future of it might look like and how courses, like the courses that you'll find on Maven can shape the future of education.

So, I think this is a really good episode for anyone that is interested in improving the way that they engage with ideas, both in their own personal learning and also through education and online courses.

You can get the full show notes, the transcript, and read my newsletter at theknowledge.io

Every week, I share some of the best tools, ideas, and frameworks that I come across from business psychology, philosophy and productivity. So if you want the best that I have to share, you can get that in the newsletter at theknowledge.io.

And you can find Wes online on Twitter @wes_kao.

All the links to everything that we talk about will be in the show notes. If you're listening to this as a podcast or in the description, if you're watching this on YouTube.

And if you love this episode, please do share it with a friend and feel free to leave a review wherever you listen to podcasts because it helps us tremendously to reach other people just like you.

How have you found the difference in, I guess not specifically populations, but having made some of these moves location-wise throughout your career? First of all, the Canada one's interesting because I think I typically hear people moving from Canada to the US either for work or for other reasons.

But then even within the U.S you kind of moved from one coast to the other as well. So how have you found all three?

Wes Kao: Yeah. Well I grew up in the San Francisco Bay area, so it was kind of, you know, you always wanna go further from home, you know, it's like, oh, this is boring. And it's so funny because so many people love San Francisco and you don't wanna move there. It's the start of capital of the world. And it was really awesome growing up there.

But in my late twenties, like many other people from the west coast really wanted to move to New York. And so I moved to New York, lived there for a couple years. That's where I worked with Seth Godin, started the alt MBA. And then, you know, moving from New York to Canada now being in Toronto. It's not too big of a difference, I think. The interesting thing is that, all three of these cities are very different, but I spend a lot of time working. So I'm plugged into the internet, you know, so my brain is thinking about stuff that like, work stuff basically. So it actually doesn't really matter where I am so much.

You know, besides the weather and stuff, I know it's, it's not as satisfying of an answer cause people are like, oh, like how, how, how are they so different? You know? But yeah, I'd say that it's not super different because I am plugged into the internet most days.

David Elikwu: Okay, fair. Did New York live up to your expectations?

Wes Kao: I love New York. It's amazing. Yes, I love New York. I'm actually going in two weeks and I go a couple times a year. A big part of our team is based in New York. We have a lot of instructors in New York. So yeah, I think that the density of New York is just unlike anything else. You can just walk on a random street and bump into cool shops, cool cafes, cool restaurants, an interesting public space, a library, a small park you know, a local park.

Like, there's just so much in such a condensed amount of real estate. And I love that, you know, I love cities that are walkable where you can just, you know, stroll around and you're almost guaranteed to find something cool just by walking down a random street. So, yeah, I love New York.

David Elikwu: Fair. I empathize with that a lot. I feel like London is a lot to like that. London and New York are different in many ways, but I, some of the things you mentioned are a lot of the things that I love about London.

Wes Kao: Yeah, I love high tea in the UK. I wish we had that concept in the US right? Like, you know, instead of, and I didn't even realize that, well, I guess there's two types of tea. I remember there's one that's like at 1:00 PM ish or something, and one at like five or six. So like the later in the evening one I think is a great substitute or alternative to getting drinks.

You know, like a lot of people, don't necessarily wanna drink that much. And being able to hang out with people in a casual setting where you're able to grab tea, you know, not quite as formal as dinner, right? But the equivalent of drinks basically, but not center around alcohol. I think that's really awesome.

David Elikwu: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense to me. I'm interested in, okay, so I'm thinking of two analogs here. One is of this the tea concept that you were just talking about, but then also with what you were saying about with work, right? So you are working online a lot and what's interesting is even with what you were saying about some of the stuff you loved about New York, which is that you can walk around, you bump into lots of interesting people and you get to have a lot of really interesting interactions.

I think a lot of that is moving online, where people are gravitating towards spaces which are also locuses of serendipity where, okay, maybe you go to Twitter or you go to a particular area on Twitter where actually there's a lot of thought leaders sharing lots of interesting ideas and you're able to enjoy this intersection of things.

But then also places where you can kind of have breaks from that and spend time online and. Yeah, I'm just interested in what you think of that concept and how that might evolve as we spend more and more time online.

Wes Kao: Yeah. I love that you bring this up because I love making friends online. It's actually my preferred way to meet people is through Twitter or through LinkedIn. It's funny because I went to a networking event that was hosted by one of our investors Andreessen Horowitz last year. It was in LA and my co-founder and I were gonna be in LA anyway.

And so we, we popped by and was that this cool bar, like really cool space. And the whole time I was just thinking about how much I would rather have met these people online first and like DM'D with them a little bit maybe, and like how awkward networking in person is at events like this. It might be because I'm more of an introvert, but I also think that this is just something that probably applies more broadly that there's something really cool about DMing with someone because you read an interesting post that they wrote or they tweeted something that resonated with you or they said something and you're like, oh my God, I totally think that too. Like, I didn't realize, like that person thought that and you just have something to go off of. You have something to talk about. When you're meeting people at networking events, everyone is basically grasping and trying to find similar ground as quickly as possible, right? Like, you ask where you, where you based what do you do? Or, you know, like you're trying to find some commonality so you can build on it. But when you're online, there's years of the person's tweets or blog posts or LinkedIn posts, you know, there's that person's LinkedIn history. Like you can look through and see more about what that person is about. And it just gives you more to talk about.

So, yeah, a lot of my good friends I met initially online. So pretty exciting. Like this, this upcoming trip to New York, for example, in two weeks I'm meeting up with a couple people that I've only known online that, you know, we're gonna finally hang out in person. And I've done this a couple times now many times. And people are, almost always how they are in person. Like they were online, you know, they're just three dimensional, so you kind of like look around them a little bit, like, okay, you're 3D here, you know, but the mannerisms and their attitude, like, if you've talked to the, you know, on the phone with them or, or done video calls, like, I find that the way people are in person is very close to how they are. If you've interacted them online.

David Elikwu: Yeah, I agree with that. What I find really interesting about exactly what you were saying, you made a really good point where it's the essence of it is almost the complete opposite from how you interact with people in real life. In that when you meet people online, the avatar is their ideas and you interact with their thoughts first, and you validate, okay, do I get these what this person thinks? Do we have the same points of view? Where do some of our points of view differ? And you engage with their ideas and then you decide whether or not you actually want to engage with the person. Whereas in person you are, you know, you're meeting the person based on a bunch of circumstance or some other specifics.

And then based on that, you then get to figure out what are their ideas. That process is actually much slower where you get to know someone and you get to understand what they think and how they feel about certain things where online yeah, you start from the position of like, how do I feel about how you think?

It made me think of this idea that you write about, which is about like rigorous thinking and then also spiky points of view. And I guess maybe first of all, you could frame what those two ideas are.

Wes Kao: Yeah. So a Spiky point of view is a thesis that you have about something that's in your realm of expertise that other experts might disagree with. So it's a, it's a strong belief that you have, that you have conviction about. So if you brought 20 marketers into a room, all 20 people could have different spiky points of view about what marketing really means.

What kind of marketing works. They might have different viewpoints that are directly contradicting each other and equally valid. So I think that's the part that, that is really important to think about is that, you know, a spiky point of view is not something that's just a hot take. It's not a mic drop moment on Twitter where you say something in scenery and try to get a reaction from people.

And the reason why spiky point of view is so important is because it's a really noisy world, whatever it is that you do, whether you are a designer, a coach, a consultant, a product manager, there are hundreds if not thousands of people who have similar backgrounds, who have similar years of experience, who have worked at similar companies as you have.

And so only trying to rely on your background to be a differentiator isn't enough. You have to have a unique point of view that adds value to whoever you're talking to. So something around fresh insights that make people think differently. That make people say, huh, you know, David, that's, I've never thought about it that way. Right? Like, that's so interesting. Now that you say it, it feels so obvious. It feels inevitable, but this is really making me think about things in a different way. So that's a really good spiky point of view is when you can get people to think differently.

David Elikwu: Yeah. I love, I think there's two things that you just said there that stand out to me a lot, which is, two mistakes that I think a lot of people make when they're trying to stand out online, which is One, assuming that you need to have hot takes, and assuming that the idea of having a spiky point of view is a really great thing, but a lot of people start from the perspective that they focus on the spiciness rather than the point of view.

And they start with, okay, I have to say something that is going to get attention. And often it's rewarded a lot of the social media platforms that we have, reward engagement. And so whether the engagement is positive or negative, as long as you get people to engage and to react to something that you're saying, then it feels as though, oh, I've said something good. I've said something important. But that can be a bit of a trap.

I was just going to ask you what you think are some of the important ways that people can try to stand out online, because, you know, we just talked about the fact that a lot of people are spending more on time online. A lot of the opportunities that you might get in your life also come from being online.

I think you actually ended up working with Seth Godin because he had put something out in his blog and you answered the call and you responded to it and you ended up getting the job. So you can probably tell the story about that in a moment, but I'd love to know how you think people can best, I guess, set themselves up and set up their ideas in a way that is receptive to serendipity and good opportunities.

Wes Kao: Yeah, I think the internet is a worse place when people try to stir the pot just for the sake of stirring the pot. And I think that, that a lot of the noise that you see on social media is because people feel this pressure to create scroll stopping content, in lieu anything to get people to read.

And so there's a couple thoughts. One is, there's always someone who's willing to be spammier than you. So, you know, to do a spammier hook, the, you know, 99% of people breathe wrong. Let me tell you how to breathe. Like, come on. Right? Like, there's so much stuff that is insulting to people's intelligence.

So the best way to stand out isn't to copy viral hooks. That's where most people start. They think like, okay, like, I'm gonna look at all these viral hooks. I'm gonna look at frameworks and kind of plug in in an Ad Lib style, my own content in these frameworks. And what ends up happening is you, you create really generic content, especially with chat GPT and AI powered writing.

There is going to be 10 times, if not a hundred times more generic content than there already was. Okay. Like there's, there's already so much generic content there's gonna be even more. And so trying to be generic, trying to copy what other people are doing and being generic is not the way to go.

I think, you know, going back to the real heartless spiky point of view, it's really about talking about topics that you have conviction about that you wish other people knew, that you've been thinking about for years. And maybe a little bit afraid to say, because the zeitgeist or conventional wisdom is about the opposite. And you know that if you say this, people are gonna have questions, people are gonna disagree, people are gonna ask about edge cases. But it's really about leaning into points of view that, that you actually deeply hold. You know, if you've been a product manager for a couple years or many years, if you've been a marketer for many years, there's stuff that you've tried from personal experience, from experiments, from multiple chances that bat from different reps that you've taken, where you've proven certain things out for yourself or for your customer, for your clients.

So talking about those things where you can really add value based on something that, something unique that you bring to the table that would be helpful for someone who is, let's say a couple steps behind you. You from a couple years ago, right? Or you from many years ago. And always focusing on how can I add value? How can I solve a problem for people, right? How can I make their lives easier by teaching them something that I tried and then worked for me, right? So I think that focus on value is really, really important.

I think the other thing is sharpening yourself so that you have more insights. I see a lot of content online that is basically regurgitating the same stuff, right, the same stories, the same mental models right? That doesn't help you stand out. The stuff that really stands out is stuff that's maybe something that feels obvious, but is said in a fresh way or hits differently, you know, because that person sharpened the way that they see the world. There's not a clear cut and dry way to do that. It's not like me saying like, okay, download these 30 viral hook templates and follow that. Like, that's straightforward. And so a lot of people do that because it feels more tactical. It feels more within reach, but sharpening your own thinking, pushing back on your own ideas. Thinking more rigorously, you know, we can talk about the next, but thinking more rigorously and learning to be skeptical of your own ideas. Figuring out like, okay, I think this, but does this actually apply across the board? What are the boundaries of this idea? When does it work and when does it not work? What are counterpoints to this idea? What's the biggest risk if someone did this and executed poorly? Right? Those are actually all great content ideas. Every question that I just threw out there, if you thought about it and answered, boom, another post boom, another post boom, another post. Those are born from actual insights, you know? And so I think leaning into your actual insights and sharpening your thinking that helps you create better content.

And then lastly I'll say that, I've been writing online since 2010. So 13 years now. I started writing my blog you know, over a decade ago. And writing long form articles was really good training for sharpening my own thinking.

I think writing in, in short bursts is also good. So like tweet threads or, you know, LinkedIn posts also great for learning in public. But there's something about a long form essay where there's a higher bar of rigor to make a point and build a case than there is in 280 characters in a tweet, right. 280 characters, like you can't say very much. And so it kind of lends itself to these short, pithy, generic sounding, vague Buddha comments. Whereas if you had to write, like, could you write a thousand word article on that? Whatever you just tweeted, that's a really good challenge for yourself. The great part is that once you write that, that thousand word essay, you can turn that into a bunch of shorter form content. Because what you're, what's happening is that you're going from higher fidelity into lower fidelity.

The thousand word essay is higher fidelity, right? There was a higher bar for building that case and making sense, the logic, the flow, the narrative arc and then you can kind of turn that into a bunch of other things. Whereas if you write one tweet, it's way harder to turn it into along from essay, cause it's kind of like adding pixels to a photo, right? It's, it's like, I love law and order and crime police procedural shows, and there's always like, the police go to talk to a liquor store owner and there's video footage and you caught the, the license plate and it's like zoom. Oh, it's so blury. Zoom in on that, right? And it's like, where do these pixels come from? Right? So now with AI, actually there's, there's awesome image sharpening tools. So this is this analogy, you know, getting a little bit out of date. But, you know, it's harder to add pixels basically than it is to subtract pixels.

So, yeah, I think it's a longer way around, but sharpening your own thinking, becoming a more rigorous thinker allows you to then produce content that is more valuable, that helps you stand up.

David Elikwu: Yeah. Ah, I loved so much of what you just said. I think even starting from the, the Chat GPT point, and I think what I found so interesting about this moment that AI is having is that it's highlighted, for me at least, the amount of mediocrity that we've accepted and the people have bought into. Because if Chat GPT looks like the work that you do, it's probably not good work.

And it, it's because it's generic. It doesn't have a point of view, it doesn't necessarily have an opinion. It can feign having an opinion and it can write something that looks like it's an opinion, but very often it's not. And maybe if you write a really good prompt that you know, gets it to write an opinion, but that's not what most people are doing.

And I think that's precisely the point. Most people just start at a very high level of abstraction. And I think that is also something that you reference where, I think you call it like the ladder of BS or something, which is essentially, you know, it's very easy to write a 280 character tweet or it used to be 140 characters, right? And it's very easy to sound wise when you only have to say a handful of words. But when you actually have to expand on that, then you get to see the depth of the ideas. And I think there's two parts of it. One is just how deeply people think about what they are saying and what they are writing, and the depth to which they actually believe in the ideas that they talk about.

Because I think there is this, the memetic scene of ideas that go around and ideas that are shared. And that is why you get, you know, people just regurgitating Wikipedia threads and whatever, because they are just, I guess, absorbing or, you know, there are ideas that are broadcast to them that they just take in without actually thinking much about them. And so they go back and say out the same thing without it being changed at all.

And it just makes me think about, I had dinner with some friends yesterday, and sometimes I'm the, the weird person that will come up with some, some random facts. I don't know. Someone will say something and it will remind me of, oh, you know, in the 15 hundreds they used to do this. And someone asking like, oh, you know, like, how do you think of all these things? And I was like, okay, first of all, I write this newsletter, but specifically when I write I'm really rubbish at quotes. If you ask me, oh, a quote from what this person said, I have no idea. But it's because when I write notes, I write notes for me. I write what I think about what the person said. I don't actually write what the person said, so I have no idea what the original quote was. My notes are like my thoughts. So when I want to write something, I'm going back and I'm looking at my own thoughts and I can use that to write something else. And I guess when you have the craft or the practice of iterating on things that were originally your ideas or at least your response to someone else's ideas, then you end up with something that you actually believe in and you actually think, and that is so much easier to remember. I don't need to remember what someone else said. I can remember what I thought about my response to what someone else said.

Wes Kao: Okay, David, I love that you mentioned this because I am exactly the same way when I take notes. It's my reaction to whatever it is that I'm reading. So, and I love marking up the margins of books and it's always like, here's what this is triggering, you know, example of this in my own life, or like, how does this apply to this situation?

I hate writing summaries. There actually, I think there, there is skill in summarizing and writing a good summary. I think that, that is more and more potentially going to be taken over by chat GPT cause chat GPT is also really good at writing summaries, maybe better than humans. So I think this, this idea of jotting what reactions something is triggering for you is a much better way to create content ideas essentially.

The other thing that, as you were talking that it reminded me of is, I think a lot of people wanna build an audience for the sake of building an audience. Like the end goal is like 10,000 followers, 20,000 followers, 50,000 followers. And they don't think as much about the quality of the people that you're interacting with, the people who are following your work.

It's more beneficial to have a smaller following of high quality individuals than a huge following of lazy thinkers and people who are just like, like not as rigorous basically. And the kind of content that you put out attracts a certain kind of person. So if you are tweeting stuff that is super generic and you know, is the, the 99% of people do X wrong, or I'll teach you more in five seconds than you'll learn in five years.

That kind of content is attractive to some kinds of people, but it turns off a whole lot of other people too. So I think just being thoughtful, you wanna be thoughtful about the content that I'm putting out? Do I feel like this is a good reflection of who I am and my level of thinking and what I want to be known for?

You know, cause you, you can do shortcuts and hacks and tricks to try to hack the algorithm. But if that signals that you are a certain kind of person, that you don't wanna be lumped in that same bucket, you know, you might not wanna do that. Even if that does get you an extra, you know, couple hundred followers.

David Elikwu: Yeah, I love that. And even what you were saying made me think back to the analogy of you can't add more pixels. And I actually really love that as much as, you know, it's starting to grow away now that we can, we can actually enhance our photos with AI. But the fact that I think when you can think in the big picture, if you can think in 4k.

Well, so I do photography and I take loads of photos and stuff and what I love is that you can reframe the photo to almost tell a different story. And so if you take the big photo enough pixel density, then you can zoom in and just capture one certain angle of it and that is its own thing. And actually then you can reframe it in a slightly different way. You include some other people in the frame, and now that's a different picture. And if you have the idea, if you can think of an idea in enough depth to capture that big picture, then you can transpose different versions of it. And you actually have that fidelity to be able to think of it through different lenses and in different ways.

But very often people don't, and people only get, you know, the meme version of the picture. Right? And the meme is everywhere. It's, it's just the same meme that you copy and paste. And they're not able to go into any more depth on any of those areas because all they have is the, the commonly shared idea.

Wes Kao: Yeah, I love that analogy. it's really a good analogy for repurposing content overall. There's a lot of talk about how do you repurpose content because, you know, so many people are, are, you know, feel like they are on a hamster wheel, a never ending hamster wheel of trying to create more and more content to feed the content monster who is always hungry.

And it does take skill, you know, going back to your analogy of, of the picture and then zooming down different areas, it takes skill and judgment and taste for you to figure out which part of the photo do I wanna zoom in on, right. You're not just throwing a dart and be like, okay, this random piece of the sky, or like this corner of this leaf plus the sky. Like, right, like there's judgment with how do I reframe something, taking it from a broader thing so that it is a standalone unit and makes sense on its own.

One of my biggest pet peeves is when people think that repurposing is this brainless activity and they're just like, oh, awesome. Like, let's just repurpose this into 10 other posts and then they'll share with me. You know what they repurposed and it's like, this is garbage. Like all 10 of these things are garbage, you know, because they basically took random parts of a post and then just like turned it into something. And there's no tension, there's no narrative arc, there's no beginning, middle, and end. You know, it's like you can tell that someone just copied a random section of a post and like tried to pass it off as this new thing. And so I think there's absolutely an art to repurposing and it takes judgment.

This is a drum that I beat internally with my team a lot, is developing that sense of judgment and being able to repurpose in a way that is thoughtful and where the end result is a strong standalone unit in and of itself. If someone reads it and is like, I feel like you repurpose this, like you are doing it wrong, you know, you're doing it wrong.

David Elikwu: Yeah, what you were saying just reminded me of, there was a, it wasn't a meme, but it was a video that was going around from an interview with Rick Rubin. And a lot of people laughed at it at the time and basically someone was asking, you know, why do all these people come to you to produce their music? And he was like, I don't know much about music, but what I have is taste, and I have an ability to be decisive about what I think is good and what I don't think is good. And it's funny that, okay, a lot of people, there's an aspect to which that can seem funny because it's like, oh, you don't actually know much about music, but what do you have the ability to be decisive? How much does that matter? But I think it matters almost more than anything else. I think like the ability to have judgment and taste and the ability to be decisive is something that I think is missing from a lot of what I see. And not just in your decisions and opinions. And maybe we can talk about how some of this relates to even when you are working with people, the ability to actually take a stance and first of all, knowing why you've taken the stance.

So being able to have some rationale for the decision that you've made, but then also just being able to take a stance. Cause I think I was looking at, there was a video going around today of an interview with the founder of, or the CEO of Substack. And I think they were asking him about content moderation, and I was just thinking, you know, I think he was maybe flip flopping a little bit on in terms of the, I think Nilay Patel, who is the interviewer from Decoder, was just asking, you know, if they were going to have moderation on certain kinds of posts and he didn't really want to commit to what he was saying. And I was like, if you want low moderation, there's a case to be made for that. Just make the case. Just say it and just say that yes you are or no, you want, and I think much more people will support if you take a hard stance on doing option A or doing option B than if you just seem ambiguous and people don't really know, or people can't necessarily trust or understand where you actually stand.

Wes Kao: I haven't seen that interview. I actually, I have a slightly different take on that, so maybe a spiky point of view. So, but but we can dive into that in a second.

I wanna go back to what you said, who was the someone, Ruben, who was the, the producer you mentioned Rick Rubin. Yes. I need to look up that video. And the, reactions that people had, because I'm shocked that people thought it was funny or like that it was weird that he would say that it's about his judgment and his taste. I mean, obviously he knows about music too, so he's probably, he's probably being hyperbolic.

But so much of creating content it's both a science and an art. And the art element I think is, is a part that people don't think is much about. The science element is the templates, the hook structures, the Ad lib, fill in the blank, you know, kind of stuff. The art element is, you know, we, we talked about how, that was harder to kind of put your finger on But, you know, I was talking to a coworker about this last week.

We're interviewing some Maven instructors to do case studies, instructor spotlights about their story. And we were talking about the art of drawing interesting insights out from people and having an editorial eye for what angle this case study could take on, right? If you were interviewing an instructor and you wanna write, you know, a post about them they might give you, you know, an hour's worth of content and you might get two gems from there that shape the angle of what this post is gonna be about, right? So this post might be about what it's like being a full-time operator and also teaching on top of your full-time job, or this post is about how teaching is about freedom. Freedom, flexibility, optionality, right? Or this is about whatever it might be, but there has to be an angle to what you're writing. I was talking to my, my team member about this because she was struggling with this idea, it was kind of new to her. She was kind of just recapping everything the instructor said and kind of like saying a little bit, a little bit, a little bit. It didn't feel like there was any narrative arc to the case study, you know?

And so we were talking about this idea of developing an editorial eye for what is the juicy hook here? What is the juicy angle? And I don't mean hook as in like, the first line of a post. I mean, the interesting part of this story that you should double click on and dive more into and flesh out and really draw out that specific area and like ignore all the other stuff that the person said that was not that interesting and like, not that useful.

And how it's our responsibility as the content creator, as a curator, or as the interviewer to draw out these insights from other people. And to, to notice when they say something that made you perk up, right? Like, why do you perk up in certain parts versus others? Some people don't perk up at all, right? Like, you've interviewed a bunch of people and so when you hear someone say something, you're like, oh, there's something there, right? Like, let's unpack that, right? And you can, you ask questions that are more likely to get someone to share things that will be interesting. There's a skill in that. There's judgment in that. There's taste in that. So I think more and more because of the onslaught of AI generating content your ability to see the interesting nugget, the nub of something that you wanna dive deeper into and focus, focus your reader on to flesh out, that's gonna be more and more important, not the summarizing piece.

We actually already have, my team is already using chat GPT to summarize the transcripts from, you know, recording these interviews, right. So if all we wanted was a summary of what that instructor told us, that's done, done, done yesterday, right. But that's not necessarily what is interesting for readers. You have to bring that point of view and you have to superimpose it and shape it and draw it out from who it is that you're interviewing. And that requires skill.

David Elikwu: Fair. Yeah, I love that. So, okay, there's one question I wanna ask you, but before that I just wanted to get your pushback on what I was saying before. So maybe I would just clarify the point that I was making.

The point I was making is that I think people shouldn't be afraid to have some conviction. And I think you can caveat that by, you know, there's a popular saying, you know, strong beliefs weakly held. It's not to say that you have to be absolutely bullish on everything. You don't need to have an opinion on everything in time, but unless you're responsible for it. But if you do have something you're responsible for, or I think it's okay to take an opinion, but then also understand what assumptions underpin that opinion, and I think that's something that I apply quite widely. It's like, okay, this is what I believe. Assuming these things are true, if any of these things change, what I believe changes. So I am not going to believe the same thing today as I might next week, because some I could get new information that changes the reason I believe what I believe. So I think that's more the framing of where I was coming from. But I'd love to know if you think differently.

Wes Kao: Yeah, I absolutely agree with that and believe that. I think, I think that the part that and this is, this is probably a separate point, but about this, this idea of you know, if someone asks you a question. Are there times where the right move might be to answer in a way that is a little bit ambiguous?

So I didn't actually see the interview with the substack CEO, so this is just, I'm just extrapolating, you know? Other circumstances where someone asks you something. And I think taking a step back, asking yourself, what is this for? And what is my strategy with answering that question, right? Because your audience might want a definitive answer.

It is more satisfying for an audience to have a definitive answer, right? So like, as the audience, I'm like, yeah, I want you to just tell me what you really think, right? But as the person answering there might be a cost to doing that, and there are trade offs with being more specific versus potentially being more vague.

I'll use myself as an example here. You know, Mavens mission is to disrupt education. And we are starting with addressing working professionals, adult learning, basically, you know, you're a product manager, you're an industry and you want to, you want to level up your skills. But eventually we hope to shake things up with higher education too. You know, college is really expensive. It's not a great option for a lot of people. And it's fairly rigid in its structure. And so there's a lot of things that we wanna change about that. And so the question, you know, as the, as the, the brand, the startup, you know, the individual, if you know, the crater in the situation is how hard do I want to go railing on higher education? How much do I wanna say? Like, professors are dumb, college is stupid, universities are a scam, right? So there's a whole spectrum of ways to talk about an issue. And so I'd say that that's on the, the more extreme side is, you know, saying that that college is dumb, right? And, and just like really going hard after how useless professors are and like, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. What a huge waste of money it is.

And then on the other side, there's a way to talk about the issue without necessarily alienating or paying a target on your own back by attacking, right? And so, you know, for example, you could talk about how there are things about higher education that aren't great for everyone, right? but if you, if you are intellectually honest about it, there are a lot of things that higher education also does, right? It might not be the thing that is meant to prepare you for being, you know, working professional. But for many people it's a, it's a signaling mechanism. Like many jobs require a four year degree.

So it would be intellectually lazy to just say like, don't go to college, right? Like, if you are 18 years old now, like, I see this advice sometimes, like, people will say like, oh, just start your own business. Don't go to college. It's useless, right? And like, that's not exactly true, it's not nuance enough. And you don't wanna paint in such broad strokes that you accidentally mislead or give someone bad advice, right? Like, there might be people looking up to you, there are people looking up to you, right? who might take that advice.

And you know, I take that with a lot of weight and with a lot of moral responsibility. And so I think that there are a lot of times where it makes sense to talk about an issue in a bit more nuanced of a way where someone might say, okay, Wes, like, you know, I wanted you to just say like, this is dumb, or this is cool, right? But like, that's not, like, that's not how I think about it.

There is more nuance there. But to your point, I think there is a way to describe that, whatever that nuance is in a way where, you know, maybe the answer isn't a straight black and white yes or no answer. But you share the thought process behind it. That as a, a platform substack is not a publisher. They don't anoint, they don't approve the thoughts that are shown on substack, you know? And so, there's a lot of considerations that they have to make with making sure that people have a place where they can, they can share the thoughts, you know, that they have with their audience. And as long as it's within a certain container of, you know, not liable, not violent, right, like inciting violence, pornographic blah, blah, blah, like within certain constraints, it's like, if I disagree with you, It is what it is like, right?

The whole idea of I might not agree with what you say, but I'm gonna fight for your right to say it. Like, I think, that concept applies, especially for platforms for marketplaces.

So anyway, that was my reaction.

David Elikwu: Fair. No, I, but I love, okay. I think all of this ties together. I think we talked about this idea, I mean, we started with spiky points of view, some, some of rigorous thinking, some of finding taste and cultivating a sense of judgment and being able to, well stand by something or the extent to which you should.

And then I think this last part, what I was also thinking about is just. You know that there is the fact that sometimes there are things that you say that people are not going to like, and sometimes you might end up making a point of view that not everyone will agree with. And so I'm interested to know, as you've gone through your career, obviously you are very wise now and you have a lot of wise ideas.

I'm interested to know if there are any things that maybe you learned the hard way or that, you know, making the distinction between the things that you learned, looking back in retrospect, and you can say, oh, here is the pattern of the things that, you know, serve me really well. Or, here are the things that will serve you really well and the things that you learned at the time as you were going through your journey.

Wes Kao: Yeah. You know, sometimes I'll look through my old tweets to see if there's anything that I might, you know, wanna retweet or something. And it's shocking the number of times I'll read something and be like, oh my God, I don't even believe that anymore. Like, it's not necessarily like the opposite.

I didn't do a 180 per se, but it's just like, okay, I'm reading my own tweet and I'm, I'm a different person now. It's been, you know, two years, three years and I've changed and I'm seeing what I wrote with fresh eyes, and I remember what I thought at the time when I said it. But now it's like, okay, I have a different point of view and a different perspective now.

So I love this idea of being able to update your thinking as new data points come in and constantly sharpening your own mental models and orientation, you know, in the world. I think one thing that is really useful that I'm trying to think of a, about a pattern of things that I've corrected myself on. And the question, what is it for? Is a really good question to come back to. Because in the times when I thought one thing, but now see more clearly, I thought the, what is it for was, was something else than what I think it is now. So I'll actually use an example, not really sure if this is the best example, but I remember this is like, I don't know, like six years ago now, I wrote a blog post about how the magic, there's a question people ask sometimes, like, you know, what would you change if you had a magic wand? Right? And like how that question was kind of useless and kind of dumb. And I had a whole case about it, I like explained why, right? So there's logic baked into it. I actually forget the reasons why now, but I remember looking at it years later and being like, oh, that's so interesting.

Like, nowadays I think like in the past I thought the magic wand question was, was a bad way to get real insights from customers about what else they might want from your product or what you could do. Cause it ignored a bunch of constraints and, you know, blah blah, blah. But now I think, differently about that.

I think that the purpose of that question isn't necessarily to know exactly what feature you should build next. And to take the hypothetical thing that, that people said, like if you hypothetically had a magic wand, what would, you know, what would you do not to take that at face value? But the, what is it for is to help that customer or client be able to speak freely and just kind of random stream of conscious. Be able to say like, what they would love to be able to do. And like, you might not be able to solve all of those things. You might not just go out and then build everything that they said you shouldn't. But getting to hear off the cuff, the thing that they're excited about, the thing that makes their eyes light up, right?

The thing that immediately comes to mind when you say, like, if you could fix something, like, and solve, you know, your problems, like what problems would you solve and there is value in that, you know? And so, the original purpose basically of the question, I would say that I assessed incorrectly. But I assess that the reason to ask that was one thing, when really now I think that the reason to ask is another thing.

So, another, actually another example I just thought of I learned from, Seth Godin. And this is an idea that we taught in the alt MBA, the what is it for? Who is it for? And in the alt MBA, we are all about feedback. You give your fellow students feedback, you receive feedback from the other professionals in the course. And there's a nuance about feedback that Seth talked about that I thought was, was really salient, which is there's a certain time and place and type of feedback that you should give. And so his example was, you know, if your Aunt Margaret at Thanksgiving brings cranberry sauce and you think that the cranberry sauce is too sour, Do you think that the right thing to do is to give Aunt Margaret feedback that her cranberry sauce is in fact too sour? Right? And like the answer's probably no.

So this idea of like, picking and choosing your battles and using judgment around like, is now the right circumstance to share this feedback and how do I wanna share it? And what is that feedback for? Right? What is Thanksgiving for? Thanksgiving is to get together with family, to eat some good food, right? To talk and catch up. You know, it is not to aim for culinary masterpieces and the right ratio of sweet to sour or whatever. And so like really thinking about the what is it for? Of whatever it is that you're about to do, even though in general giving feedback is good, right? That's like basic level one is like, yes, we all agree with that, but when you execute, thinking about the nuances and the judgment involved to kind of help you decide like, should I do this thing or not? Is this quote unquote good or bad?

A lot of the times something might be good or bad depending on, on what the situation is. There might be a situation where you do wanna tell someone the cranberry sauce is too sour, right? Or situation where the magic wand question doesn't make sense or where it does, but it really depends on what are we trying to do here? Like, what are we trying to get at? And then you can decide, does this tactic make sense or not? So I've sharpened my own thinking by trying to get clearer on, you know, what is this for? Who is this for? You know, if someone is doing something out in the world, it's really easy to judge and say like, why are they selling that? That's so dumb or like, it's so ugly. It's such poor taste. Like why are they selling it? Well, they're selling it because people are buying it. So someone out there thinks that it is good. Someone out there thinks it's artistic, right? It's like cruises. You know, people either love or hate cruises. You're either someone who's really excited about them or someone who judges people who go on cruises because, they're not adventurous. They want something super cookie cutter. They don't really want to explore whatever country that they just landed on, whatever.

But like, there's a market for it, you know? And I think as creators, as entrepreneurs, as marketers, it's really important to not judge, but to try to understand, right? And when you understand, then you can see more clearly and see that, okay, there's a market of people who want safety, who want convenience, who care about value, right? There's other people who care about novelty, who care about the story they get to tell their friends who care about adventure. Like there are different kinds of customers that you can go after. If you just judge them and think like something is dumb or wrong, like that doesn't get you very far, but if you go a step further and break down the kind of person who might like this or the kind of person who might do this, that all of a sudden you have so many more levers for how to reach that person or reach, you know, a different kind of customer.

David Elikwu: Sure. That makes a lot of sense. Taking a step back, I'd love, maybe if you could just give us the grand origin story of, you know, how you got to where you are and maybe what I'm really interested in, in particular is, what drove you to make some of the transitions that you did throughout your career.

Wes Kao: Yes. So I started my career working at GAP Inc. GAP Headquarters in San Francisco, the clothing retailer. And in the 15 years since have move to smaller and smaller organizations until starting my own. So, you know, I think, I think a lot of people wonder, should I work at a startup? Should I run my own business? Should I work at a big company? And these are all different paths that you can take to sharpen yourself. And you know, for me, I've always been driven by what do I find fascinating? What problems do I feel like I'm uniquely suited to solve? And what skills do I need to be able to solve these problems that I'm interested in solving even better than I was able to before.

So I don't think that there's necessarily a, a, a right path or an optimized path. One thing that, that I learned over time is I used to be really strict with what I thought my career should look like by age 35, I wanted to be a vice president at, you know, a global consumer goods company, or I wanted to blah, blah, blah, blah. And the, all those plans basically went out the window like two years into working. so, you know, your plans and you know, what's strict ideas of careers will change. But I think because I updated my philosophy around my career I was able to embrace serendipity. So the opportunity to co-found a company with Seth Godin. Like, who thinks like I wanna start a company with a bestselling author.

You know, like when I first applied to work with Seth, like, I had no idea that I was even gonna get the opportunity to much less, you know, that we were gonna decide like, Hey, we worked really well together, let's do something, you know, let's start something, right. And starting a company, a venture-backed company during the pandemic, right?

Like, My co-founders and I started Maven in 2020 during the pandemic. Like again, like not something that you necessarily plan for. But I think when you focus in on, where can I uniquely contribute value and what are the types of problems that I love solving and I am good at solving and I have an advantage in solving. Those are all things where if you answer those questions, I think you actually narrow down the pool of options quite a bit.

I always say, like, if a random person on the street could start the business that I'm starting, I'm starting the wrong business, I need to start a business where the cars are stacked in my favor in some way because of my personality, my experiences, my instinct, my taste level, my track record, my network, right? Like whatever it is, like there should be something that gives you an edge to do something over the next person and that edge might be your relentless drive an interest in a topic that's absolutely an edge, like you're gonna need to power through. A lot of times that feel hard, and if you are obsessed with something and you don't have a background in it, there are plenty of people who have started amazing companies that didn't have a background in retail or didn't have a background in SaaS software, or didn't have a background in X or Y or Z, but they were obsessed with this industry or this problem or whatever, and that fueled them.

So I count that as an advantage also. It doesn't have to be something that was, you know, in the past or with your track record or background. So that's how I've made most of my career decisions.

David Elikwu: Sure. That makes a lot of sense. One of the things that you've mentioned from the time you spent working with Seth, particularly on the alt MBA, was his dedication to high quality. I'd love to know what some of the other lessons that you learned, you could probably expand on that a bit more, but also I'd love to know what were some of the other things that you learned starting something like that from scratch, particularly when I think, well, I don't remember exactly what the landscape was at that time, but I certainly feel like a lot of the, the course landscape as it is now kind of came from some of the, the big programs like the, the alt MBA, Marie Forleo's B School. A lot of those programs had a big impact on how the course landscape has changed.

Wes Kao: Yeah. So let's see. There's so many lessons that I've learned from Seth. It's hard to kind of narrow them down, but I think one is having a very high bar for speed and quality. Usually people think that there's a trade off and there is a trade off between speed and quality. But I think the trade-off happens at a much higher, higher level than people think.

Like most people, it's like, oh, you want me to make this a little better? Okay, well, you know, now I need another week. Right? And like, it's not that trade off that, you shouldn't be seeing that trade off at such a low level. I think with, with the alt MBA We had an incredibly high bar for the quality of what we wanted to do and for the speed that we wanted to ship.

And you know, I remember learning this lesson pretty distinctly when you know, one day we were looking at what books we wanted to include in the alt MBA curriculum. We're gonna mail everyone a packet of, you know, seven to eight books before the course started so everyone can kind of have a shared understanding of certain topics. And I remember Seth got a bunch of books that he thought we should, you know, should be in our option set. And he plopped this, this stack of books. They were like 11, 12, 13 books on my desk. And he was like, okay, you should look through these and read these. Read these and like, recommend which ones we should go with.

And I was like, okay, cool. So like, I'll check in, in a couple weeks or something. And I thought a couple weeks is already fast. These are like 11 books here. Like, you know, it's gonna take time to read. And he was like maybe tomorrow. And I was just like, what are you talking about? Like, just the scale was just so different. But that was the point. The point was that he wanted to break the frame that I had in my mind of reading a book like a normal person and you know, it taking three months to read 11 books. And what's so fascinating about that is that, you know, the minute that someone breaks the frame or that you break the frame for yourself, you all of a sudden see a bunch o of other options.

So if the frame were, you know, read these in three months, there's a certain way you would go about it. If the frame were read these in 24 hours, you would find a way to do it. It would look different and the scope would be different, but you would find a way to do it, and I did. And so working with Seth every day was this, this constant frame break basically. And I learned to break my own frames, to challenge my own thinking about what is a fixed constraint or a flexible constraint. A lot of times the constraints that you think are fixed are actually quite flexible. And then perhaps more dangerously, the constraints that you think are flexible, are actually fixed, that you don't actually have the leverage to, to change something that you think, oh, like that part will be easy, or I'll be able to do that. Or, oh, that's flexible. You actually aren't gonna be able to move it very much. So being able to call out your own thinking. This was a huge part of what we taught in alt MBA was flexible versus fixing trains. But that was one of the, the biggest lessons that I learned. Both the, the high bar for, for speed and quality kind of has the, the more close up lesson. But from a macro meta perspective, this idea of breaking your own frames, right? And, you know, to close the loop on how I was able to vet 11 books in 24 hours. Seth had another great tidbit, which is read the book until you get the joke. So most you'll read, you know, to, to every page really diligently, which is great if you have the bandwidth to do it and you are enjoying yourself, right?

But if you are reading to change your own mind about something, or if you are reading to vet whether a book is worth sharing with others, right? Like you might read a bit differently and depending on how high that bar is, right? Some people might wanna read everything really fully before being able to share it.

But I feel like, I can quickly tell if a book is dense with insights or not. And now I actually use this skill all the time. Like I will get a huge stack of library books about a certain topic and then be able to quickly get a sense of is this a high quality book or not? Like, is this gonna be dense with the number of insights per page, or is this fluffy? And this is basically a blog post that got turned into a 200 page book, right? There's a lot of, a lot of books that are like that nowadays. And so, it's such a useful skill because I will actually, of the stack of books that I bring home, I won't read maybe 75%, 50% to 75%. I'll look through it and realize very quickly that this is not worth my time. It's not dense enough for me to wanna spend time on it, which means that with the 25%, I can actually really focus on reading those carefully and take my time with those instead of trying to treat all the books equally, when there's variation quality. So anyway, so many lessons, but those are a few off the top of my head.

David Elikwu: Sure. I love that one. In particular, I'd love to know maybe how do you curate your sources of information? Just going off the library book topic that you were mentioning. And I think also going back to what we were talking about earlier, which was around The broad spectrum of information you can get online. There's a lot of noise out there, so how do you make sure that your inputs are of a high enough quality, that your outputs will also match that?

Wes Kao: Yes, I love this question. I think a lot about this and I'm constantly refining my feed, the information that I get. So, with LinkedIn, I love my LinkedIn feed. I feel like I see such great stuff on there. And basically I follow people when they're mentioned on different list. So, someone will be like, here are five marketers you should follow. Here are five product leaders you should follow here, blah, blah, blah, blah. So I will follow indiscriminately. And then if the first post I see from that person, if it's not great, I'll just unfollow. So it's very low cost, like I follow if I feel like the source that recommended is decent.

And so from doing this, I have created a pretty great feed where every time I open I'm, excited about something that I see. The other thing is getting inspiration from categories and functions outside of your own. That's really, really important. If you are in EdTech and you only read stuff about EdTech, you only follow other EdTech founders. You only follow like stuff that's directly in your industry. You miss out on a ton of other stuff that could be great inspiration that triggers something in you and helps you see something differently. You just kind of get more and more narrow and you kind of box yourself into a corner. And it's really easy to get into an echo chamber that way.

So I love looking at unexpected sources of inspiration. And the benefit of that too is that when you create content and you are pulling from sources that are quite different than what everyone else is reading who's in your circle? It comes across as fresh, right? That you borrowed something from fine art, like an analogy from fine art and you applied it to writing or you applied a concept in mechanical engineering or in medicine, right? Like you can kind of pull from interesting sources and make your content better. And people not, people aren't like, oh yeah, that's the same Ogilvy quote that everyone cites. That's the same Steve Jobs story that everyone has been telling. That's the same Picasso, you know, took 10 seconds to draw a drawing and it took him 10 years. Like we've all like, many people in similar circles have heard those stories. So if you're able to draw slightly outside of that, then you bring in fresh material that's much more, more engaging and interesting to read.

And then the other, the third thing is I think reading different media. So, you know, I love mixing up reading on social right, short posts on social, reading, long form essays and blog articles, reading books. Because each of these media have a different style and a different constraint. And you know, I was reading a long form essay last week and I was surprised by the vocabulary, the vocabulary level that the writer used. Cause on social, everyone's writing at a fifth grade vocabulary, maybe third grade vocabulary. Right? Short sentences, right. Lots of line breaks. So there's a certain style, and I had forgotten that there were other types of writing basically that like, oh wow, like this person, you know, there's paragraphs, right?

There's a thesis sentence. And like, they're building this argument over a longer arc. And that their, the vocabulary they were using was maybe eighth grade, ninth grade, like still words that, you know, you don't have to look up anything in the dictionary. But they were unexpected. And they weren't words that I had seen, you know, everyone use. And they were specific, they were evocative. And so I love reading from different sources because it introduces new vocabulary and new phrases into my vocabulary, and then I'm like, oh, I love that word, like, How can I use it in my writing? Right. And so, you're able to learn from a really rich source when you kind of expand your purview of the inputs that you're taking.

David Elikwu: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. I love finding words or something I'll come across a particular word or something in one place, and I just can't wait until I find an excuse to use it.

Wes Kao: Yes. Oh my God, yes. I love that, that you're a fellow nerd about this. I actually have a doc called Words and Phrases, so I'll add it to that doc and then every once in a while, I haven't looked at, at that doc in a while, so I should pull it up. But every once in a while I'll scroll through it and be like, oh my God, these are such great words. Right? And then you'll kind of, you know, I'll pick one and say like, okay, when can I use it?

David Elikwu: I love that I'll have to ask you to share that doc. So, I mean, I think this is quite a natural segue into what you're doing with Maven, right? Because this is about finding a slightly different way of learning to the traditional paradigms that people have had. So I'd love if maybe you could frame the thesis of what it is that you're trying to build.

And I know that you mentioned before you don't wanna rail too hard against universities, but I think you know it, it's a really interesting concept of starting to rethink how people learn things. It's not just as adults, but throughout our lives as well.

Wes Kao: Yeah. On the student side, the learner side, the premise of Maven is that, it's kind of wild that once most people graduate college, that is the last time that you have a structured, formal learning environment that you go on to work for another three, four decades, and you are constantly learning. But you are having to cobble together resources either on the job or reading different articles online, reading YouTube videos, reading books if you're lucky enough to have friends that you can talk to or mentors, or advisors being able to talk to them. But the idea that, that's where formal learning stops is just really wild to my co-founders and me. And we think that there's a lot of opportunity for working professionals to be able to learn directly from hands-on operators for skills that you are trying to learn right now for what you are doing on the job.

Let's say you are trying to, to start a newsletter for your company, you're a content marketer, you know, maybe a marketing team of one at a startup. You could read a bunch of articles, you know, and try to figure it out yourself, or you could take a course on the modern way to start and grow a newsletter and create engaging content and learn directly from people like Shaan Puri or people like Sam Parr, right? Or people like Nathan Baugh right? All these are Maven instructors who have built and grown huge platforms who are content creators, who have successful newsletters. So, you know, would you rather learn from people like, them or from an academic in an ivory tower somewhere, right? Or no one at all, right? Basically yourself, kind of cobbling together tools.

So the idea that people should have access to the best operators in their field, whether it's learning from, you know, the former VP of product at Twitter, or the head of marketing at Asana, or you know, someone who did SEO from Masterclass. Like, there's so many amazing professionals who have relevant skills that solve juicy problems for a bunch of people, right? And you should be able to learn directly from them. So, you know, that's kind of the, the learner side. Now on the instructor or the creator side you know, there are so many subject matter experts who have a lot of this knowledge, who have built fantastic careers in-house doing their craft and who wanna be able to monetize that, who wanna be able to share their knowledge more broadly outside of just their own company.

And so, empowering these experts to make it really easy, really seamless, really simple to be able to start teaching online without needing to worry about having a big team, having to deal with the technical build of, you know, creating a student portal on the backend, where to host all of your content, you know, all the logistical aspects of sending out a bunch of invites, figuring out who's paid me and who hasn't, and who do I have to chase, right? Being able to handle all that in a single place where a lot of that is automated helps give these experts the mental space to focus on connecting with students to focus on their community, to focus on teaching, right? And so that's what we're really excited on about on the instructor side.

So far we've had over 20,000 students take courses on Maven. We've had hundreds of instructors teach, you know, when you compare cohort-based courses, which is our specialty. My co-founder, Gagan Biyani and I coined the term core-based courses. When you compare these live courses to, to static video based courses, like the ones that you find on Udemy, LinkedIn Learning, Coursera, those had a six to 10% completion rate. A recent MIT study said 4% to 6% completion, right? So really low completion rates. When you look at court based courses, we're seeing 75% completion and up the alt MBA had a 96% completion, right? So depending on the course, but these are, you know, drastically different orders of magnitude different in terms of engagement, completion, impact.

And so I think this is a really, really exciting time for online education and just education as a whole.

David Elikwu: Sure. That makes a lot of sense. I know that one question that has been coming up recently as pertains not just to courses but to the creator economy in general, is people have been asking the extent to which some of these things are like the zero interest rate phenomenon, where there were lots of things, even like substacks with that. I mean, not to, I have no issues with substack even though I brought it up twice. I, I started on substack so, you know, there's a lot of things that maybe did really well at a particular time and for some reason everyone was like super interested, everyone was really engaged, but then slowly people started churning more. And people are, it's a weird thing where now people have gone back to work. Some people are having to go back to offices. Some of life is changing and, you know, even outside of the creator space, when you look at, you know, Zoom and Peloton and some of these other companies that did really well for a period are starting to have a change of fortune.

How do you think about that transition and the extent to which some of the, the changes will be persistent? Because I think that the key part that I'm thinking about is it seemed very clear, at least during the pandemic, that a lot of learning would eventually become online only.

There's almost no reason if you are building something specifically for the use case of using it online. And I think maybe this is where some people got tripped up with university courses, for example, where if the university course was set up to be in person, then it might have added a lot of friction to do it online. And so people don't necessarily get the best benefits from it and it's more difficult. And so now that you can go back in person, they're just like, okay, we'll move all the way back. And so there are some bits of it that haven't seemed to be as sticky as I would've anticipated. Like I still don't get why people are, you know, not using Zoom as in as high numbers. And people still wanna have a lot of in-person meetings. In-person meetings are great. But I think, yeah, there's that shift there.

So one thing I'm really interested in is how you see this space changing and evolving, moving forward. So I think there's one part of it, I guess, in the past and one part in the future, one part in the past where we've seen a bit of a transition with people coming out of the pandemic and some of the trends that we thought would be sticky, like people using Zoom, people being majority online, are starting to change maybe more than what we expected.

But then I'm also really interested in the AI trend and how that can also change education. And the extent to which, even going back to some of what we said before with okay, people learning to think rigorously, people learning to write essays and all of those things. When people are no longer having the habits of having to do some of those things, how do you think, I guess those two competing forces will change the shape of education going forward.

Wes Kao: I think with cohort-based courses, it's such a new category that we're barely scratching the surface of what this could look like. So the alt MBA was one of the first court based courses that kicked off this category. And in the six, seven years since there have been so many different variations and iterations of how people have done live learning, right?

There's different combinations of, you know, primarily asynchronous except, you know, live when it's group work only, or a lot of people who do a hundred percent live, you know, with the Maven course accelerator, which is a course that I teach for, it's a free course on how to build courses which, you know, you were part of. You know, we told instructors, you know, if you want a place to start, try a one week course. If you're trying to think about like, how long should my course be, right?

But we've seen people since then decide to start eight week courses. We've seen people do one day courses, right, or two day courses, and just completely flout that advice and it works great. So like we're all still figuring out like, what does great look like in this category? You know, I think there are some things that, that don't really change.

And I love what Jeff Bezos talks about with thinking about the things that, that don't change that will stay constant. And I think when, when it comes to learning, people want learning experiences that feel engaging.

They want it to feel worth the money, they wanna feel like whatever they learned is something they can put into practice, right? So these are all things that, you know, the surface mechanics might change, you know, what it looks like might change. So the tools might change, right? But the underlying, you know, what do people really want?

What do learners really want? I think that stays relatively similar over time.

David Elikwu: Amazing. Okay. Thanks so much for making the time, Wes. I really appreciate it.

Wes Kao: Alright. Thank you so much David. This was a lot of fun.

David Elikwu: Thank you so much for tuning in. Please do stay tuned for more. Don't forget to rate, review and subscribe. It really helps the podcast and follow me on Twitter feel free to shoot me any thoughts. See you next time.

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