Never Let Schooling Interfere with Your Education.

Ariel Norling here. I write about education, technology, and my adventures in entrepreneurship- i.e. everything that I've learned outside of a classroom's walls. I am often sarcastic, sometimes serious, but always infinitely curious.

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My first foray into web and graphic design went live on Wednesday. 
It was an interesting experiment having to teach myself photoshop, html, and css throughout the summer while juggling product development and the million other random things thrown at me on a daily basis.
It already got me a couple of offers for freelance work and plenty of compliments. Now I know that the past couple of months worth of ripping out my hair and obsessing over little details were worth it.
Too bad the site going into alpha right before school starts means that I probably won’t have time to any freelance gigs. So here’s hoping that I’ve saved enough money to keep paying the bills.

My first foray into web and graphic design went live on Wednesday. 

It was an interesting experiment having to teach myself photoshop, html, and css throughout the summer while juggling product development and the million other random things thrown at me on a daily basis.

It already got me a couple of offers for freelance work and plenty of compliments. Now I know that the past couple of months worth of ripping out my hair and obsessing over little details were worth it.

Too bad the site going into alpha right before school starts means that I probably won’t have time to any freelance gigs. So here’s hoping that I’ve saved enough money to keep paying the bills.

An old friend recently messaged me to tell me that he overheard his coworker telling another employee about youshoulddate.me. It’s pretty stunning because they’re in DC and we haven’t advertised or launched yet. I definitely needed that since it’s been an “oh my goodness, there’s so much pressure and I have no idea what we’re doing and we’re out of money” kind of week.

Can Student Startups Solve the Education Crisis? »

…the challenge wants both nonprofit and for-profit startup ideas from middle and high school students that address four key areas: helping middle schoolers successfully transition to high school and graduate; helping students develop skills for success in college; helping students ‘choose affordable colleges that best suit student needs, consistent with their education and career goals’; and increasing ‘the likelihood students complete their college degrees on time or early.’

Am I the only one who sees a problem with this challenge? If high schoolers haven’t been to college already, are they going to be the ones who help students develop skills for success in college? Last year, fifty-four percent of college freshman said that “their college classes were ‘more difficult than they expected in terms of what students needed to know and what was required to get good grades’.” Sure, entrepreneurship can unexpectedly or accidentally answer questions, but this totally seems like a realistic challenge. (Side note: that sarcasm font really needs to be invented soon.)

That cliché about early-stage company CEO’s having to wear many hats is actually true. Funny how that works.
I’m wearing the scumbag hat in this picture because it took me too long to figure out when I should adopt the designer/web developer hat. As those of you who have followed me on Tumblr for a while now have figured out, I’m not from a design background. I’m not even from a technology background. When the team first assembled at Startup Weekend in November, we had a temporary designer and gave him complete creative liberty. He came up with something that was fine, but as time went on it became apparent to me the fine wasn’t enough. I needed beautiful to be able to sleep at night. I thought waiting for the right designer was the answer. I was even given the contact information for Apple’s Creative Director to help the process. In my free time I taught myself Illustrator, Photoshop, HTML, and CSS. I kept that information on the down low. I even enrolled in a course at my college to re-teach me web design because I didn’t trust my skills. Now that we’re in incubation (still sans an official design team member) and getting design feedback on what I’ve created, I’ve realized how much time I wasted by not trusting myself and building my skills earlier. 
Now I’m not sure whether to rejoice or cry that the creative liberty (and subsequent pressure to deliver) on UX/UI, branding, and front-end development is all mine. It’s a couple more hats to add to the idea jockey, business, public relations, social media, blah, blah, blah that I already have. But I’m oddly loving every second of it.

That cliché about early-stage company CEO’s having to wear many hats is actually true. Funny how that works.

I’m wearing the scumbag hat in this picture because it took me too long to figure out when I should adopt the designer/web developer hat. As those of you who have followed me on Tumblr for a while now have figured out, I’m not from a design background. I’m not even from a technology background. When the team first assembled at Startup Weekend in November, we had a temporary designer and gave him complete creative liberty. He came up with something that was fine, but as time went on it became apparent to me the fine wasn’t enough. I needed beautiful to be able to sleep at night. I thought waiting for the right designer was the answer. I was even given the contact information for Apple’s Creative Director to help the process. In my free time I taught myself Illustrator, Photoshop, HTML, and CSS. I kept that information on the down low. I even enrolled in a course at my college to re-teach me web design because I didn’t trust my skills. Now that we’re in incubation (still sans an official design team member) and getting design feedback on what I’ve created, I’ve realized how much time I wasted by not trusting myself and building my skills earlier. 

Now I’m not sure whether to rejoice or cry that the creative liberty (and subsequent pressure to deliver) on UX/UI, branding, and front-end development is all mine. It’s a couple more hats to add to the idea jockey, business, public relations, social media, blah, blah, blah that I already have. But I’m oddly loving every second of it.

A choice

I just got the term sheet from our angel investor. He really shocked me because he ended up doubling the valuation we initially agreed on. It brings us to a pre-product, pre-money valuation that’s comparable to what some say are the inflated valuations that come with Silicon Valley.

And then when I read further down the sheet, it also calls for me to commit to full-time for two years.

Funny how he forgot to mention that during our conversation about the being a student-entrepreneur.

After struggling for three weeks, which feels like years in startup time, to come up with an answer to the age-old question (actually it was just proposed to me by our new advisor): Should I drop out of graduate school and move out to Silicon Valley to work on this full-time? I realized that I’m not ready to handle that. I don’t think I can take on student loans with so little in the bank. While it may be awesome that I have friends willing to offer me a free place to stay and free office space, it’s still overwhelming to pack up my things and move across the country with so much uncertain.

So I applied (and possibly accepted) a spot at an incubator and planned on getting a full-tuition scholarship plus stipend for a graduate assistantship that would let me coordinate mentorship for the incubator program and plan out the startup courses.

And now I’m thinking I shouldn’t have hesitated.

But if I have to drop out anyway, my friends and advisor will still be there (hopefully).
So do I sign on the dotted line? Or stick it out in school and minimize the risk?

How Do We Get More Women in Tech? »

Just thought that I would resurrect this article I wrote for Infospace after getting an invitation to speak on a fundraising panel at an entrepreneurship conference because the organizer “wanted some kick-ass female presence on these panels.” Now the hurdle for me is being recognized for being a talented person, not for being a talented female.

In years past, it may have been sufficient to blame the lack of women in technology on inadequate education, preparation, experience, interest, etc. With the recent boom in ways to learn or self-teach web development, design, and computer science, education isn’t the hurdle. We now know that interest and confidence aren’t necessarily the problem, it’s that girls are aware of the gender discrimination in tech. Yet, gender differences in the tech world are not just the result of one gender. So what are we to do?

Read the rest of the article from the title link.

Taking a Break from Education

Despite my increasing commitments to learning and writing about education, I have found myself spending less and less time participating in education. At first I thought it was just because I was spending so much time learning to code, starting up my company, keeping up with classes, and writing about tech for Infospace, but then I realized this new schedule really isn’t keeping me from participating fully. The real problem is that education is estranging me, and there was entrepreneurship with open arms. It’s not to say that I’m jumping ship, or abandoning education, quite the opposite. Now I’m just taking the lessons that I’ve learned from entrepreneurship to change my outlook on education and vice versa. I think that there are a lot of things that they could learn from one another. 

The biggest lesson I’ve learned? Attitude is everything.

To put it bluntly, education is depressing. The entire sector is filled with people who are tired, do thankless work, battle red tape and apathy, and incessantly bicker. There’s an economy of schadenfreude and an incessant cynicism for those who do well. Don’t believe me? Just look at Diane Ravitch.

There’s also (in tech terms) a disparity between the consumers and the customers of education. I’m not interested in appealing to the customers. They’re too invested in passing state tests and keeping their tenure and unions. In my time in Silicon Valley and working on my startup, I’ve learned that passion and an idea can take people far places. This concept has pushed me to keep learning new things and keep working, despite the difficulty. Sadly, that’s not the case with education right now, not on a system wide level. Right now, I don’t have the idea to help the consumers, especially on a grander scale.

I’m not abandoning education by any means. I can’t dedicate my life to something that doesn’t have a grander vision. Entrepreneurs lack the same kind of cohesion that education has. There’s a collective vision that happens in education because, at the end of the day, it is (or at least should be) about kids’ education and changing their lives for the better. With entrepreneurs, it can be about making money, changing norms, building value, becoming a better designer/developer/entrepreneur, just doing your own thing, or some combination of all of the above. Their vision can become a collective vision for their company, but what it is exactly that entrepreneurs are supposed to accomplish is designed to be a question mark. I’m creating an online dating site because I care about changing the way that people interact with one another for the better, and if I can help a few people fall in love that would be pretty cool, too. But it doesn’t quite compare to changing a broken system.

So when it comes to dealing with the status quo, dealing with red tape, and fighting off the cynics, I’m going to go in the direction that is encouraging, appreciates experimentation, and doesn’t called failed attempts failures. For now that means that I’ll be spending more time in tech and working on my non-edtech startup (youshoulddate.me). It’s giving me a chance to become non-jaded again, look at things from a new perspective, and learn a few lessons about change that can be applied to education. I’d rather be the continual newcomer with fresh input than a jaded pundit with the same input. So for the moment, I’ll be mostly removing myself from the education space. I need to not burn out on something that I care about.

I’ll still be posting on here from time to time whenever I read something of interest or have some new thoughts, but I won’t be as prolific a writer as before.

It’s hard for me to really describe how incredible the experience of Startup Weekend: Syracuse was. Never in my life have I felt so encourage, empowered, and productive. I was amazed by the energy of the people at the event and the feeling of camaraderie among teams, even though we were technically competing against one another.

There were several really stand-out moments to me throughout the event. The first one was when my mentor approached the team and asked if there had been any surprises. After short reflection I said, “Yes, two! One, that the idea was chosen, and, two, that it has stayed the same.” I never anticipated my idea entering the competition, let alone resembling the initial idea by the end. We had tons of feed back from a couple dozen mentors, and even though they all had different input, every single one of them said that the concept was speaking to some core truth about online dating. It didn’t make me feel proud because I am the originator of the concept, but rather because we were tapping into something real at the core of the problem. Nothing is more exhilarating, inspiring, and meaningful than that. The second event that really spoke to me was after pitches, when I had a eureka moment about a guy sitting in the audience. Just six months ago, I had a brief interaction with him that planted the seed for me to go to graduate school in information management. I never saw him again until this moment, but as soon as I put the pieces together, I realized that this one brief interaction with him set up the chain of events that got me to this moment at Startup Weekend. It just proved that you never know how you’re going to impact someone’s life. 

Beyond these really profound moments for me, the event was a continual source of motivation and inspiration because of all of the energy, passion, and drive that each of the participants brought. It demonstrated to me a different kind of learning, one where I was able to dive right into a topic, explore as much about it as possible, work with a team, lead a team, collaborate, and problem solve all while within the interesting middle ground between the real world and the classroom. No wonder Startup Weekend is known as the ultimate learning experience for entrepreneurs. I cannot imagine how meaningful going to a Startup Weekend: EDU event would be.

Startup Idea Round 2

After talking to lots of guys (especially guys in tech) about what they would like to see in a dating site, we came to one conclusion. The site needs to be all about socialization- letting people recommend matches to one another, and choosing how many networks and how many degrees of separation users would like to have for viewing potential matches. The core concept remains the same- using people you already know to find matches and only having communication open when both parties say they are interested in the other. Now we’re working on the logistics of building it and how the features would work.

And for all of you visual people… here’s the slideshow I used when discussing the ideas from above.

 

It’s come pretty far since the last iteration I wrote about here.

Here I am giving my presentation about the feedback I got from my first doyoulike.me pitch.

Here I am giving my presentation about the feedback I got from my first doyoulike.me pitch.