I started School Twist to provide a registration system for PTOs to help efficiently run registration for after-school enrichment classes.
School Twist is about to enter Beta, and is a spin-out of a need encountered by Ascendly. When I started Ascendly, we would routinely need to collect checks from parents at the various schools, so we developed our own registration system.
Proud Fact: I’m stoked to say that School Twist, while still not yet in Beta, recently passed the threshold of processing its first $1M in registration fees for early clients and test sites, and serving over 10,000 students.
Technology, Product Management, & the Indie Developer: As the sole developer behind School Twist, I learned first hand a lesson I already knew intellectually. When a company productizes an existing tool, it is easy to think they know the market. In a way, you do know what the market might eventually need, because you are already there, but your needs are ultimately quite different than what your new product will be selling to. So, I started with way too many options in early School Twist.
The breadth of options were in School Twist because Ascendly needed every single one them, of course. We immediately ran into trouble when we (there two of us at the time) were validating that if our marketing could actually get people to show up to our site. Potential PTOs would show up, but they would be scared away by the daunting array of set-up options. Most of the subsequent development has been spent on simplifying the most aspects of the app, especially the initial set-up.
The deeper takeaway is that it you must always test your hypothesis with real experiments. Any real test, with real users will almost always elucidate more than you were originally looking for. We started out too concerned about getting potential customers to the site, that we weren’t thinking much about the subsequent on-boarding process. That early experiment showed we could get customers to show up, but also immediately led to a shift towards simplifying everything.
I started Ascendly to help teach me and my son robotics. It quickly expanded to his fellow students and morphed from robotics to to more fundamental engineering design process. Ascendly continues as an effort to teach school-aged children STEM. With a special emphasize on creating open-ended activities to learn traditionally complex subjects, such as Electrical Engineering, Ascendly teaches after-school enrichment classes at ~50 schools in Boston and Washington DC.
Fun Fact: Ascendly has reached well over 5,000 students and has an associated non-profit to try to further extend our reach.
Doing Our Part: Fully acknowledging the part-time nature of the work, Ascendly has provide work opportunities for nearly than 100 employees since its inception.
On Doing Rewarding Work: There are few things better that showing young kids how to create something new, and experiencing their appreciation. Once you’ve worked in such a rewarding environment, it makes you deeply appreciate of working with people that genuinely value what you can bring to the team.
On Mission-Driven Entrepreneurship: Ascendly was always a passion more than a calculated venture. That being said, I always hoped that it would make a long term impact.
Exit: After migrating to live online classes during the Covid-19 pandemic, Ascendly was sold in the summer of 2020.
ExtensionEngine & HBX | HBS Online
Onsite software product manager dedicated to Harvard Business School’s HBX online business course initiative. Directing the ExtensionEngine development team while working daily with the HBX Engineering team and the HBX UX team to help create the education industry’s leading online learning platform.
This was my first experience working with a world-class brand. I’m deeply appreciative of getting to HBS for getting to see how brand management worked at this level, and to ExtensionEngine for exposing me to the broader online learning community.
International Work: This was my first time managing an international team. Working with Europe means many early starts to the day, unless you’re fine with multi-day email loops.
When not working on, and with, various startups, I’m been working on turning the local high-school robotics team, Record Robotics, into a stand-along organization the supports robotics and other STEM education initiatives. I’m proud to report that in our first year outside of the school system, we:
- Found a dedicated build space
- Received a grant from a Nobel prize winning in Chemistry (Sir Fraser Stoddart)
- Won an Innovation Award during our first competition
Belmontia: Purposeful VR/AR Experience/Education Platform
I started my career researching virtual reality for DARPA and the Air Force, and I wouldn’t be surprised if I end up there again. I believe one of the killer apps for the domain will be the democratization of creating education and training experiences.
Status: Belmontia is a fun idea that remains just an idea. I’d love to see it evolve into a VR creation and distribution platform.