Entrepreneurship: May I introduce John Edelson
Originally Published by Medium.com.
John Edelson has a long history in Silicon Valley and London with various cutting edge technology companies working in computer graphics and entertainment, primarily in video games and computer animation for films. A long-time advocate of education, Edelson saw a need for more engaging software in the ed tech industry. He discovered a passion for creating a better homeschooling curriculum and delivering it to families with wrap-around services.
Edelson then founded Time4Learning, an online homeschooling platform that provides a high-quality, effective online learning curriculum for students as well as time-saving tools and useful resources for parents. The comprehensive platform combines Edelson’s expertise in creating engaging and dynamic multimedia with his commitment to making software easy to use for parents and students by providing wrap-around services. These services range from planning tools for parents, an online playground with educational games for kids, plus articles and videos to help parents understand the educational goals for each grade and subject.
CONSCIOUS ENTREPRENEURSHIP — What meaning do you give this term?
I started the company conscious of a few fundamentals: I was committed to providing a quality, rigorous education that was effective at teaching students. For me, education does not mean providing information which goes in one ear and out the other; it is a process that transforms the student by building skills, insights, and understanding. I am convinced that great interactive software programs can lead people through this process.
I was also conscious that building and assembling such a program would take time, building the business and software was a long-term commitment. I wasn’t aiming at a “quick hit.” I wanted to take my time to assemble a team with the same commitment and understanding.
My third principle was that I wanted a direct relationship with our members so we could learn as we grew. As a conscious point of principle — and because of limited resources as a startup — I was customer support. I answered emails and the phone, I actively participated in social media (back then it was Yahoo groups, forums, and blogs), and I asked questions. My goal was to get a firsthand deep, nuanced understanding of homeschoolers and what they liked and needed, what confused them, what they believed in, and so on. Many of my Harvard MBA friends felt I should not have been so hands-on, but others cheered me on to personally develop a deep understanding of my market.
I believe having a conscious set of principles like — effective education, a long-term team approach, and a close connection with the customer — was my key to being an entrepreneur who beat the odds and successfully created a meaningful and profitable enterprise.
CAREER — What led you to your particular career path?
When my kids were young, I loved watching the moment a concept clicked. The twinkle in their eye and the confidence it instilled was awe-inspiring. As the years passed and technology became an ever-present, I realized there was an opportunity for me to apply my Silicon Valley skills to effect change and provide children with a way to bring that sparkle to their eye while accomplishing important educational objectives.
I thought, “rather than games which had no particular goal beyond entertainment, I could create educational software.” In fact, my ambition became to build a digital curriculum that covered a comprehensive set of learning goals. There is nothing more rewarding than parents sharing that their children have discovered a joy for learning, thanks to the curriculum we’ve created.
MENTORS — We all need a little help along the journey. Who has been an invaluable mentor for you? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?
I have many mentors. I believe everyone I meet can teach me something new or a better approach to a situation. I’ve created a mental Rolodex of people who were excellent negotiators or the most patient leaders, for example, and gleaned their knowledge when I needed it.
When I am faced with a work challenge, I think through my previous colleagues and mentors and I identify someone who would be better at solving the problem at hand than me. For instance, when I’m meeting with a company partner, I’ll envisage it as a sales challenge and then I’ll start thinking about the best salesperson I know and use their “playbook.”
TO THRIVE — When you see yourself thriving: Do you see yourself opening up opportunities for others along the way to participate in your success, and how?
My success is absolutely and irrevocably dependent on the success of our team. I’ve made a concerted effort to hire people who are experts in their respective fields and lean on their skills to complement my own. For example, when my support staff said we needed more customer service representatives to handle the influx of worried parents during this pandemic, I listened, and we immediately expanded our staff.
CAUSE — What are the causes close to your heart, and you are supporting right now? Can you share a story how you got involved? How did it make you feel?
I donate to causes related to the passions in my life. I contribute to BSCS Science Learning, a nonprofit leading in improving American science education.
THE FUTURE — How do you see the face of entrepreneurship in 5 years? How do companies /brands need to adapt to secure their place in the future?
I see entrepreneurship growing and thriving in the coming years and the start-up landscape will continue to evolve. Historically, start-ups required deep engineering skills and long development paths, so the vast bulk of them happened in technology-rich Silicon Valley.
About 20 years ago, around 2000, a trend emerged where interesting companies were created not so much by technical innovation, but by applying existing technologies to novel business strategies. With the recent economic downturn coupled with countless hours spent at home, emerging entrepreneurs have been given the time — and space — to develop their ideas and bring them to fruition. Some may find a home for their innovations within their current companies who have been forced to find new and different ways to operate. Others will find external outlets to foster their passions and I think education remains a rich area for entrepreneurship since, as a sector, there are still huge unmet needs.
ADVICE — What kind of advice would you like to give to an aspiring entrepreneur who feels limited due to their background or lack of resources?
I often urge people to develop professional skills inside established companies. I’ve seen way too many start-ups by people who, while they have desire, they don’t have basic professional skills or industry knowledge. Entrepreneurial skills, such as having a growth innovation mentality and pension for leadership, can be finessed and developed within existing companies, in many cases.
Mainstream culture often highlights start-up and venture-backing as the only way to be innovative. In my case, I was an innovator for the first decade of my career within the companies I served. At Time4Learning, I encourage our team to look for opportunities to lead on innovation, often inside the jobs that they have right now. This model worked well for me and I’d encourage people to consider this route.
CHALLENGES — Entrepreneurship is very challenging. We each have our own coping mechanism. Mine is humor. What is yours? Can you share a story?
In my case, it really helps that I totally love what I’m doing. I think about education and what it should, and could, be all the time. I basically believe that people want to be inspired by their job and want to move forward. I try to help my colleagues find their inspiration. To be honest, it’s not that stressful to me, even when we fall short, but I do believe strongly in work-life balance. I have family, hobbies, and sports that keep me level and provide an outlet for any energy I need to expend.
INSPIRATION — Is there an entrepreneurial book or podcast that inspires you that you would like to share with our readers?
Every few years, I return to the Stanford University commencement speech Steve Jobs delivered in 2005. It’s a 20-minute video where he shares his education, interests, and work career, but it was the intensity with which he takes his work that most inspires me. I share his vision that careers can offer opportunity for meaning and impact.
YOU — Is there anything you would like to share that we have not asked you here?
Want to know about my particularly unusual hobby? I collect playing card jokers. Their designs and their meanings have intrigued me for years. I have more than 50000 in my collection and share them periodically on my blog, AmusedByJokersAmI.com.
Connect with John Edelson on LinkedIn.