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What do eBay, Google and Facebook have in common?

Posted on 16. Jan, 2008 by jon.

PeopleAs far as I’m concerned the three biggest success stories on the Web in the last decade have been eBay, Google and Facebook. (You might be able to make an argument for MySpace but I guess I’d take $15 billion in the bush over $600 million in the hand :)). I shared with Otis at lunch today my feeling that these three companies have one very important thing in common. And I feel it’s that one thing that caused them to move from the realm of very successful to mega-successful. In fact, in retrospect it’s the thing that these companies did that MySpace, Yahoo, and other contenders to the throne didn’t do.

Wanna take a guess?

First person with the an answer that’s reasonably close to what I think wins a soon-to-be-created eduFire t-shirt. Anyone with an answer better than mine gets one too. :)

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The Best Place to Invest Your Money is…Online Learning?

Posted on 14. Jan, 2008 by jon.

MoneyLooking to make a little extra Lira? Increasing evidence points to online education as a way to do this. Maya tips me off to an article published on over the weekend about Apollo Group, the parent company of the University of Phoenix.

With the stock market down 11% from its October high, we are officially in correction territory. But not all stocks are created equal…Apollo stock is up 89% in the last year. Its most recent year’s revenues of $2.8 billion have grown at a 22% compound annual rate in the last five years and its net income was $434 million, growing at 22%.

Hmmm…cut to South Korea. Ever heard of a company called Megastudy? If not, check out this mind-blowing article from BusinessWeek. Megastudy is an education company in South Korea deriving a huge chunk of revenues from its online operations. Now check out its 2-year stock chart below:


In the words of Borat, “Wawaweewa!”

Or perhaps you’re looking for the Black Swan effect in your investing life and to find that hundred-bagger or thousand-bagger. Well, it might be wise to follow what the top VCs are doing. Two of the top five (or arguably top three) VCs have invested in online education companies (Sequoia into TutorVista and Benchmark into Grockit). Another company ( recently secured over $13 million in capital.

Although I’m sure I’m biased it seems like a pretty good spot to put your money right now whether you’re playing the market or looking to invest in the next Google or Facebook.

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On Being Hated…

Posted on 13. Jan, 2008 by jon.

Just got this great little post from Seth Godin

And CNET hates Google
And newspapers hate Craigslist
And music labels hate Napster
And used bookstores hate Amazon

More here…

I’m trying to decide who I’m looking forward to have hating us most…

Rosetta Stone?
Online universities?
Primary and secondary schools?


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The best way to learn a language…for now

Posted on 12. Jan, 2008 by jon.

eduFireWe’re burning the midnight oil at eduFire these days getting ready for our upcoming launch. We brought in the first wave of testers over the last couple of weeks (thanks to all of you who helped!) and the feedback was great. You’ll be hearing more as we get closer to lifting the gates.

In the meantime, as a bit of a teaser we’ve launched a new language learning blog at We’ve spent a ton of time scouring the net for the best resources you can use to learn the language of your choice. Stuff like One Semester Spanish Love Song, Learning French with Hugh Grant, How to Learn (But Not Master) Any Language in 1 Hour by Tim Ferriss and of course the infamous 10 Things to Say to Pick Up a Girl (which has been viewed 230k times on YouTube).

We’ll be adding 100s of additional articles, podcasts and videos in the coming weeks so if you have any suggestions for stuff we shouldn’t miss please post in the comments. We’re hoping to make the blog one of the best resources out there for learning languages which should nicely complement what we’ll be rolling out in a little bit. We’d love your feedback too so if there’s anything you think we can do to make it even more helpful to you please let us know.

Have a great weekend everyone!

P.S. If you’re on Facebook and learning Spanish you can install our “Learn Spanish @ eduFire” Facebook application by clicking the link below. It’ll update your Facebook profile with new posts to the blog and allow you to easily share great Spanish learning resources with your Facebook friends. We’ll be adding applications for our other languages shortly!

Learn Spanish @ eduFire Facebook Application

P.P.S. Totally forgot to mention that Kareem made it dead simple to subscribe to the blog for the language you’re learning. Just go to and put in your email address or click on the RSS link to add it to your feedreader. Then sit back and let the learning begin!

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Rock Star Professors

Posted on 23. Dec, 2007 by jon.

A ton of people sent me this link last week so I had to blog about it!

At 71, Physics Professor Is a Web Star

There are a lot of Professor Lewins out there. Some teach at places like MIT. Other toil in even greater (relative) obscurity.

Had an interesting conversation with my girlfriend on the subject of the direction of media. There’s definitely a lot of trash out there these days and it seems that society is increasingly drawn to fluff, pettiness and shocking vulgarity. Not all of us of course but the whole the picture ain’t pretty…

I’m a big fan of the notion that instead of kicking at the darkness you make the light brighter. That’s what’s happening here. 99% of the planet learned physics from someone a lot duller and less passionate than Mr. Lewin. And that’s a shame because many of us don’t have the same fire for these ideas that he’s instilling in students. Which is also exactly why this is so cool…millions of people learning from Lewin? In the future that’ll happen. Kids from China will access his lectures…oh wait, they already are.

What we’re attempting at eduFire is exactly the same thing. We’re trying to make the light brighter by elevating the best teachers on the planet.

Is it possible that one day they’ll be blogs and magazine following hot teachers and detailing their techniques?

Is it possible for an eBay-esque ecosystem to rise up around education?

Is it possible for a teacher to make a million dollars a year?


It is.

Not easy. But possible.

Which is why it’s 2:15 AM on a Saturday night…er, Sunday morning and I’m so fired up about the opportunity to help make all that happen that I can’t sleep.


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eduFire has a new spokesperson

Posted on 16. Dec, 2007 by jon.

We gotta hire this kid!

BTW, if you haven’t signed up for the beta yet head on over to eduFire and put in your deets. Invites start going out soon!

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More Mankiw-related ranting…

Posted on 11. Dec, 2007 by jon.

More interesting stuff from Mankiw’s blog (this time in the form of a response written by Bob Frank):

My point is not that people don’t care about money. On the contrary, when the pay in one occupation goes down relative to others, fewer people enter that occupation. Public school teachers, whose starting salaries were more than 20 percent higher than those of the average college graduate in the 1960s, now earn below-average starting salaries. So we are not surprised that fewer qualified people now enter teaching.

This really is just common sense isn’t it? When salaries for teachers are stagnant or declining and salaries for hedge fund managers go ballistic doesn’t it make sense that relatively fewer people will aspire to be teachers and more will aspire to be hedge fund managers? I went to business school @ UCLA and it’s pretty funny to watch the parade of people into what the hot industry is…late 90s = tech startups, early 00s = real estate, recently = private equity and hedge funds…

But what’s sad is not just that less people are aspiring to become teachers but that when you look at the smartest and most ambitious people the proportion who want to become teachers is even smaller (this is a bit anecdotal on my part but my guess is that it would hold true empirically as well). So what you end up with is a general shortage of teachers and a severe shortage of highly motivated, hyper-intelligent teachers.

And it’s not just about the money. A lot of people I know wouldn’t teach not just because teaching here in a city like Los Angeles is one of the best ways to ensure you’ll almost never be able to afford to buy a house but rather because teachers are afforded such low status in our society (watch this awesome Sir Ken Robinson video for a humorous riff on this). We live in a society that, for better or for worse, puts private equity/hedge fund managers and real estate developers on a pedestal. Teachers fare far worse in the appreciation hierarchy.

So can this change? Absolutely, but only radically so. Incentives like merit pay for teachers won’t help much if at all. We need a rethinking of the system from the ground up. And if we don’t do that soon enough what we’re going to find is people dropping out of the traditional educational system in droves (some evidence is appearing that this is already happening. You have to think long and hard about who’s creating value in the system and who’s not (hint: it’s pretty easy to look at the value chain and see where value is being created and where’s it not). Then you do the darnedest to move money in the directions where value creation is occurring and yank it away from where it’s not.

Same thing is happening in the music industry right now. Next up…education.

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The Superstar Theory of Increasing Inequality

Posted on 11. Dec, 2007 by jon.

Interesting post from my favorite econ blogger Greg Mankiw:

The basic idea, originally from labor economist Sherwin Rosen, is that technological change now allows the highest quality producers to service a larger share of the markets in which they operate. If Jon Stewart is the funniest guy around, television allows the entire world to enjoy his comedy. This gives Stewart a huge income but leaves little for second-tier comics.

This “superstar theory” of inequality has never applied to teaching because technology has never really been meaningfully applied to education. But that’s about to change.

For instance, look at South Korea as a harbinger of what’s to come (as Aydin Senkut is doing). In South Korea companies like Megastudy (fascinating article here) are starting to turn teachers into rock stars. These teachers are featured on billboards, have fan clubs and can (unbelievably it seems) make seven figures a year.

It’s quite simple. Technology = Scale. No technology (Ghost of Education Past) = No scale. Technology (Promise of Education Future) = Scale.

Another example can be seen in the movie The Inconvenient Truth. In that movie Al Gore is essentially teaching (Global warming being the subject, the accuracy of his teaching and viewpoint decidedly not the subject of this blog post). Prior to the making of the movie he was touring the country teaching a (relatively) small number of people and making a (relatively) small amount of money doing so. The movie (i.e. technology) allowed him scale and greater returns whether measured in impact or dollars.

Education of the future is going to look a lot more like Al Gore than what you might have remembered from high school. It’ll be moving in a direction where the top performers make significantly more than average performers (a stark contrast from today). The sea change may take decades. Or it might happen a lot faster. Regardless of how swift or gradual this change is it’ll be a lot of fun to watch.

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Welcome to Online Learning circa 2002

Posted on 04. Dec, 2007 by jon.

A few people sent me this link from NPR:

Online Courses Catch On in U.S. Colleges

It’s cool but at the same time there are at least 3 things about this story that make me feel like it was written in 2002. In other words, seismic shifts that are taking place elsewhere on the Web that aren’t touching the world of online education (at least as mentioned in the story).

Post what you think they are in the comments. Anyone who gets any of them will get a brand spanking new EduFire t-shirt when we get around to making them. :)

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TeachStreet…I likes

Posted on 04. Dec, 2007 by jon.

My friend Dave Schappell is running a cool new start-up called TeachStreet. Their business has a lot of parallels to ours with one very significant difference. Rather than connecting people for the purposes of teaching and learning over the web they are connecting people to teach and learn face-to-face. I think it’s a great concept and can’t wait to see it take hold here in Los Angeles.

Here’s an embedded presentation that gives more info on what they’re up to. I wish them the best of luck!

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