Andrew is the founder and CEO of Brainscape, a web and mobile education platform that uses cognitive science to help people learn more efficiently. Launched in 2011, Brainscape is among the fastest-growing education startups with over 5 million users and several million dollars raised from top venture capitalists.
With an overall passion to optimize the learning process, Andrew identifies his obsession with efficiency as a driving factor in his life and career. He has focused much of his time at Brainscape on making it a more metrics-driven company and believes an organization’s ability to communicate effective business metrics is critical to its growth and success.
As an international development economist by training, Andrew spent nearly a decade developing eLearning solutions for large corporations, U.S. government offices, the United Nations Development Programme, and the World Bank, across four continents. Currently, Andrew teaches the Business Metrics Fundamentals class at General Assembly and writes about management productivity & metrics for Entrepreneur magazine.
LEARN MORE ABOUT ANDREW’S WORK AND CRITICAL LEARNING MOMENTS:
TELL US ABOUT YOURSELF. WHAT ARE YOU PASSIONATE ABOUT?
Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been obsessed with efficiency. From my undergraduate major in Economics to my work on Panamanian government reform, I have constantly tried to squeeze more productivity out of scarce resources.
Optimizing the studying process, by founding Brainscape, was just the latest example of this passion for efficiency. I’ve since grown to love helping other entrepreneurs improve their own companies’ productivity by sharing tips, resources, and introductions.
WHAT IS YOUR CURRENT ROLE AND ORGANIZATION AND HOW DOES IT RELATE TO THE WORK WE DO AT MICHELSON RUNWAY?
I’m currently the CEO of a venture-funded startup, Brainscape, which has been through many of the ups and downs that can happen at any seed-stage company. I’m able to relate with the other founders as a peer who has experienced their same pains very recently — including growing a large user base and raising venture capital.
WHAT DID YOU DO PREVIOUSLY THAT HAS PREPARED YOU FOR YOUR CURRENT LEADERSHIP ROLE?
My work as an economist and software project manager (at the Bureau of Labor Statistics) taught me important organizational skills. My World Bank work in Panama taught me how to start out – even though I knew nobody in the industry – and still be able to network my way towards the completion of a successful project. Additionally, my work as a Wall St eLearning consultant taught me the PPT-fu needed to communicate well in the world of startup fundraising.
HOW DID YOU FIRST GET INVOLVED IN THE EDUCATION/EDTECH SPACE; TELL US ABOUT A PIVOTAL EXPERIENCE THAT HELPED GUIDE YOUR CAREER TO WHERE IT IS NOW?
My original career was as an international development economist. One of my projects involved fighting government corruption in Panama, via the World Bank. To be able to lead a few controversial cabinet-level discussions, and survive interviews with the news media, my Spanish had to get really good, really quickly (not to mention my command of Panamanian financial systems). I could not find any good study tools that would allow me to easily cram in the way I wanted.
So I built my own adaptive study program using a Microsoft Excel Macro. And it became so helpful for me — and a few other Panamanian friends — that it motivated me to change my career path and get a masters in Education Technology from Columbia University, and to make the concept of Brainscape the centerpiece of my graduate research. And the rest is history.
HOW DO YOU STAY UP TO DATE WITH CURRENT DEVELOPMENTS IN YOUR FIELD?
Twitter, TechCrunch, Mattermark, EdSurge
IF YOU HAD THE CHANCE TO START YOUR CAREER OVER AGAIN, WHAT WOULD YOU DO DIFFERENTLY?
I wish I would have learned to code as a kid, and majored in computer science in college! I had really strong math aptitudes in high school, and in college I wasted them on Economics & Finance (which weren’t really that math-y at the levels I worked at). Even if I were still to have founded Brainscape as an adult, I wouldn’t have had to rely so heavily on other developers early on.
WHAT PROMPTED YOUR INTEREST IN SERVING AS A MENTOR TO EDTECH ENTREPRENEURS AND WHAT SPECIFICALLY EXCITES YOU ABOUT THIS INITIATIVE?
I’ve gotten so much help from other entrepreneurs and advisors over the years, to the point that I feel compelled to help founders who are a few steps behind me. I also get inspired by working with other passionate founders, which is important to keep me at the top of my own game.
PLEASE SHARE A QUOTE THAT HAS GUIDED YOUR PERSONAL AND/OR PROFESSIONAL PATH.
“We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.” -Epictetus
WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR ENTREPRENEURS THAT ARE READING?
Sell it before it exists. When you think of a new idea, product, or initiative, it’s so tempting to become obsessed with it and start building it right away. But you should find every way possible to sell it first to collect valuable feedback, before you write a single line of code.
By developing the marketing materials necessary to pitch customers, partners, or investors, it forces you to iterate your concept to its core value and ensure that you are developing features in the right order of operations. This is the foundation of the Lean Startup movement but is still so easy to ignore when you have your founder blinders on.
WHAT WOULD YOU SAY ARE THE TOP THREE SKILLS NEEDED TO BE A SUCCESSFUL ENTREPRENEUR?
- Inspiration, and
- Organizational Skills.
WHAT SACRIFICES HAVE YOU MADE TO PURSUE YOUR DREAMS?
Money and opportunity cost! But as they say, “you earn in your forties what you learn in your thirties.”
WHAT’S YOUR MORNING RITUAL?
Lay in bed for 20-30 minutes slowly waking up, checking Twitter, and answering emails. Feed my dog. Work out in my living room (using my 7-Minute Workout app). Drink a glass of Soylent. Shower/dress. Walk my dog. Leave for work.
WHAT DO YOU DO WHEN YOU AREN’T WORKING?
For the past few months I have been learning how to play guitar, and it’s been the most rewarding new hobby. Wish I’d started earlier! Also, I love to eat, drink, and be merry with friends, but who doesn’t.
IF YOU COULD CHANGE ONE THING ABOUT THE CURRENT EDTECH ENVIRONMENT WHAT WOULD IT BE?
Procurement is broken. Many districts are buying materials they never use, while many popular startups can’t sell into schools because the district buying process is too bureaucratic, and teachers “have no budgets”.
Every school district should adopt a smarter procurement platform like ClassWallet to disseminate more purchasing power to the teachers, and to track how well their purchases are performing. Teachers, after all, are more likely to know what will work in their particular class than the district bureaucrats are.