Circles Advisor Update: Learning and The Road Ahead

Dear Advisors:

It has been a long time since I shared an update!

I’m more determined than ever to make Circles happen. It might even help stitch the fabric of the country back together. An online language teacher I worked with reminded me of the Yoda quote, “Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. And hate leads to suffering.” We know that ignorance and lack of familiarity can lead to fear.

What if we matched “reds” and “blues” together – not to talk about politics, but to work on and discuss common interests? Can face-to-face video bridge rural and urban when physical distance makes it impossible to be together? Would team-directed learning be an attractive option for some of the 2/3 left out of the higher education system? Can Circles help build empathy?

What we’re learning

Circles 4 -11 are running, with ten more coming behind them. Our merry band of part-timers is evolving towards being a founding team. We just spent 10 days together including two colleagues based in Barcelona and San Francisco. We’re getting a better idea of what we need to build.

We need speed. Launch to live is critical. We need to shorten the first email to first meeting interval if the business model will work.

The Learning ExperienceAre the learners learning to learn? We’ve taken “The Meta Journey” and turned it into “The Learning Experience.” At its most fundamental, this is about encouraging self-directed learning, making peer groups accessible, and forwarding the “circles not rows” movement. More about all of that in an upcoming blog post. Here’s a cartoon that gives an overview of the experience.

Guides. We developed guide training and several guides have participated. We are learning a ton. The next step: a “launch guide” model in which the guide is only present for the first few meetings showing the learners how to guide each other. “I do, we do, you do.” This requires some interface work on the video meeting platform. We’ll start testing in a few weeks.

Video technology. Most of our meetings run without major issues now, but it is still not good enough. There are two dimensions to our core video technology: WebRTC vs. a native app; and using a service provider vs. building it ourselves. We continue to research possible partners and platforms.

User Interface. We’ve accumulated a backlog of features to build on the video meeting platform. Now that we have a couple more developers on the team, it will be exciting to roll these out into the current trials. Here’s a recent iteration of the new UX design we’re building upon:

Circles Video Room

The road ahead

More Test Circles. We need one more revision to all our key components: sorting/onboarding, the process, and the interfaces. Then we need to do about 10 more tests before we crystalize the plan.

Then, a jump. We started with 4 circles, now we are tracking about 15 circles, and next we’ll drive to 100+ circles. The shortest path to 100 circles is focus. And the most obvious, where the idea has already been socialized, is entrepreneurs. So that will be the theme for our first push. Can we recruit over 1,000 entrepreneurs from around the globe to pay and participate in Circles v1? The goal is for a small team to pull this off by next summer with our current technology.

Technology. We have two clear technology priorities. The first is an immersive video meeting experience, tailor-fit for this use-case. The second is onboarding quickly. We need to be able to recruit peers, match and spin up peer groups fast and at scale. We’re piecing together tools that will help us automate marketing, configuring surveys, sorting and communicating with prospective learners. After we get familiar with available tools, we’ll decide what we should build ourselves.

Team. I’ve received some lucky breaks and the team is coming together. We’ve got a small group of generalists who are figuring out how to divide the work and work together. As the strategy becomes clearer, our needs become clear. We still need a couple more core participants before we’re ready to take the next step up. But the biggest variable is that everyone, especially me, are still only working on this part time. I think our productivity will more than double if we moved to full time.

I would love to hear from you with any questions or ideas.

Daniel Hoffman
Entrepreneur, Learner, Synthesizer, Designer, Connector, Ne'er-do-well

3 Responses to “Circles Advisor Update: Learning and The Road Ahead

  • Great to see the plan coming together. The world needs forums/circles/peer groups! There are no new problems… every problem we face has already been faced by another human being 😉

    • Thanks, Conor! I’m optimistic that for any group we’ll start to see a “multiple-choice” of issues come up. That way, we can offer up excellent content, rated over time by the community, to supplement the circle discussions. For example, a Circle of team leaders did an exploration on coaching. Same week we shipped them Brian Souza’s “The Weekly Coaching Conversation” and Brian will join their slack discussion for a week. Plus, the learners share their own content with each other. I think we can have resources like that ready to support many of the common challenges …

  • I came across a blog post today that reminded me of “It might even help stitch the fabric of the country back together.”

    Here’s the article:
    “Social media and public pedagogies of political mis-education”
    http://bit.ly/2gQwMka

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