Are you crazy enough to think you can change the world?

by Charles Wiles

Are you crazy enough to think you can change the world?

Back in 1997 some of you reading this were not even born, but Steve Jobs had just returned to Apple. It was 12 years since he had been fired from the company he had created with Steve Wozniak in 1976. At that point, one of the greatest marketing campaigns in the history of technology was launched, “Think different”. I made my kids watch it the other day, as it’s a work of genius, a campaign that goes to the heart of values and answering the simple question of “Why are we doing this?” You can watch the ad that he created along on YouTube, but it’s also shown at the end of this slightly longer video, that is a masterclass in marketing strategy.

But I’m not writing this article about marketing. This article is actually a call to action. For what the ad ends with is the simple line:

“The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.”

Back in 2013, I was in a relatively cushy job as Managing Director at VisualDNA. You probably haven’t heard of it, but it was an up and coming start up in the digital advertising space. I was earning £150k a year and I had helped grow the company from 20 to 100 people and from zero to $3m in annual revenue. Moreover the company was growing fast. For most people this would be a great success, but for me, I was frustrated. Digital advertising, honestly, doesn’t get me up in the morning. I wanted to have a bigger impact on the world.

One afternoon I was sitting in my office, mulling over the pros and cons of different algorithms for personalised advertising, when I got a notification on my phone that it was my turn to play Song Pop. It was 2012 and Song Pop and Draw Something were two of the first few social mobile games. My daughter had just completed her turn at answering five questions, where for each question, the app played a song and she had to select the right multiple choice answer as to who the artist was or what the song title was as quickly as possible. It was now my turn to try and beat her. It was a great game!

However, I suddenly thought, wouldn’t it be great if I was playing a similar maths game with my daughter instead? Or perhaps English? Or History? Or French? Or Biology? And wouldn’t it be even greater if whilst we were playing the game was diagnosing my daughter’s learning gaps? And wouldn’t it be even greater still if it was then recommending me new games to play with my daughter to address those learning gaps? And, hey, why the heck aren’t they playing games like this in school and why aren’t teachers getting this insight so that they can ensure that every child succeeds?

A week later I resigned. I’d decided to try and change the world.

I didn’t expect it to be easy.

It wasn’t.

But as Elon Musk says:

“When something is important enough, you do it even if the odds are not in your favor.”

I started Zzish in January 2013 and now, four years later, we really are changing the world slowly, but surely …

My incredibly passionate team and me have raised £3.5m of funding so far for Zzish. That’s pretty cool, but frankly we’re not that fussed about that little stat. What we’re proud about is what we’ve done with that money.

We have built one of the world’s leading new educational software products and this week our 100,000th teacher will sign up to use it. On average 300 teachers are signing up per day. 2 million students have benefitted from our software. And in Texas, where we have some of our most passionate teachers, student test scores in standardised state tests for Science have risen 8-10%.

And people are starting to notice. This month we started a pilot with the Ministry of Education in the Philippines with 5,000 students in Batan province. We hope it goes well and that we have the opportunity to roll out our software to the 24 million students there and have a real impact on their learning and perhaps their lives? We’re certainly going to try!

But what gives me the greatest satisfaction? What makes the 100 hour weeks worthwhile? What puts a smile on my face when things aren’t going our way? It’s the little moments like when I met the three teachers from Texas you can see in the video below. It’s when Tammy talks about the impact we’re having on a single child (see 1:15 in) and it’s when Carolina talks about us breathing new energy back into her teaching career again (see 2:20 in):

Excuse me if I sound like I’m boasting. Maybe I am. Frankly, I feel I’ve earned the right to. But that is not my purpose. My purpose is to simply say that if you are one of the ones who are crazy enough to think you can change the world then you are one of the ones who will. Go for it!

Quit that well paid job in Google where you are just a small cog in a big machine. Pass up that sweet opportunity at Facebook where you’ll be just another engineer optimising ads. Don’t drink their cool aid or fall for their bullshit. Be a man my son! Make one heap of all your winnings and risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss. Fill the unforgiving minute with sixty seconds’ worth of distance run. Take the road less traveled. I did and it has made all the difference.

Here’s to the crazy ones!

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Charles WilesCharles Wiles is the founder of Zzish and creator of the free Quizalize app for schools. He’s on a mission to create mastery based education technology that makes it easy for teachers to differentiate their teaching and ensure every child fulfils their learning potential. More than 100,000 teachers and nearly 2 million students from 120 countries signed up so far.

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