Growing up in Iran and moving to Malaysia when he was 15 years old
Coming from an educator family
Being motivated to solve the wealth gap with education
Breaking the traditional boundaries of nationality and race
Moving to Singapore from Malaysia because he could not open a business bank account
The mismatch between knowledge consumed and the positive output it creates
The necessity for creating a feedback loop in education
Curiosity-based learning and what it takes to keep people interested
Why companies are not asking themselves why consumers should stay
How attention management is crucial to learning
Redesigning the learning experience based on intrinsic and extrinsic motivations
Who Is Responsible for the World’s Problems?
Traditional Education Being a Means to a Capitalist End
You Need to 10X It Just to Get to Point Zero
How Would You Solve Some of the World’s Hardest Unsolved Problems?
Problem Solving Is Such a Skill
These Are the Results of Man-made Systems That Are Failing
If We Want to Solve the Outcomes, We Have to Change the Systems
This audio on this episode was expertly produced by Isabelle Goh.
Read the best-effort transcript below (This technology is still not as good as they say it is…):
Michael Waitze 0:15
Hi, this is Michael Waitze and welcome back to the Asia Tech Podcast. Today we are very happy to welcome Sina Meraji, the founder and CEO of Learning Loop to the show. Sina, thank you so much for coming and doing this today. How are you? By the way?
Sina Meraji 0:28
Thank you for having me. It’s my pleasure. I’m doing great. How are you, Michael?
Michael Waitze 0:31
I am super and there’s almost nothing I love better than recording with someone who has like a decent microphone setup. I’m guaranteed two things are not going to happen today. The first is no dogs barking in the background, which actually happened to me this morning and no babies crying. So I feel lucky I brought babies in. I don’t know why but
Sina Meraji 0:51
a co working space and my co working space offers a fantastic podcast setup, which you helped me actually utilize. So yeah, definitely no babies or dogs hear
Michael Waitze 0:58
you sound great. Anyway, before we get into the main part of our conversation, why don’t you give our listeners a little bit of your background for some context?
Sina Meraji 1:05
Sure. My name is Sina. I am 26, turning 27 In a few days, I’m originally from Iran. My family moved to Malaysia when I was 15. So I went to high school University in Malaysia. And then I worked there for four years in the tech startup scene as a product manager. And early last year, I moved to Singapore to start a tech startup called learning loop. And I guess in my whole life, I really cared about people around me, I come from an educator family, my mom has been a primary school teacher, my dad was a higher education manager turned entrepreneur. And I guess I’ve always grown up having the perspectives of these two people while having my own perspective as a student. So I’ve grown up really getting conscious about okay, how does education work? What is it like to be a t shirt? What is it like to be student? What is it like to run this whole school? What is everyone’s purpose in this system? And you know, what is going wrong? And I’ve always been curious about these stuff. Yeah, I think that’s like a very brief intro for me.
Michael Waitze 1:53
There’s a lot there. So when you were What did you say? 15 years old? No, yeah. When you were 15 years old, you moved from Iran to Malaysia? Yeah, what prompted the family to move and I love this. And I want to get back to this idea that your mother’s an educator, your father’s an entrepreneur, this is such a beautiful combination. Anyway, go ahead. What led the family to leave? Oh,
Sina Meraji 2:11
my dad. So there was a point? Well, how deeply would you like me to answer this question? I’m
Michael Waitze 2:16
really curious, right? Because there are so many things about Iran that the rest of the world doesn’t know. Right? One of the main things is that it’s a very well educated population, right? Like, I don’t think it’s any coincidence that your mother’s an educator, and your father is an entrepreneur. But this is not the image that most people have. And one of the reasons why I love to tell these stories is so people can get information that they don’t normally get right. So here’s an educator and entrepreneur saying we just want to move from wherever we are. It could have been Moscow, it could have been New York, right? Because plenty of people do that, too. And I’m just curious about why right, so why do they settle in Malaysia, I get kind of why you moved from Malaysia to Singapore, because that’s kind of the center of finance and the center of startups in Southeast Asia, people can argue with me, but that’s just kind of a fact. I’m just curious why I’m gonna
Sina Meraji 2:57
tell you that. And I’m gonna share some very surprising reason for why I moved to Malaysia and Singapore, tell me other than it being a central finance, which I do think the bigger it is. So my dad when he and my mom were in high school. I mean, they didn’t know each other. They were living in different cities in Iraq. But when they were around high school, there was an Islamic revolution in the whole country. So an entire political system changed another one. And your what year was that? Well, 1979 My parents are like, early 50s.
Michael Waitze 3:19
Wow. See? So this is what I wanted. All right. Yeah. This is why because I know what happened in 1978 1979. Because I’m probably a little bit older than they are. I watched that unfold.
Sina Meraji 3:29
Yeah. They were like,18 19. Probably that age.
Michael Waitze 3:31
Yeah. So I was 14. Right? Yeah. 13 14. So we’re around the same age Anyway, go ahead.
Sina Meraji 3:37
Yeah. So a lot of chaos, right? If there’s a revolution, I mean, it’s really hard to imagine what a revolution would actually look like I misread, but it must have been crazy. So then by the time they were about into university, there’s a war in the country. So it’s post revolution, very chaotic. And so the countries that military is compromised. So then, you know, the leadership was like anyone who can volunteer, you know, let’s try to save the country. Right. And my dad is one of the people like many other people, I think in their generation, he showed up to defend the country. So after that, you know, go there, get shot, come back. And then by the time you’re fighting, the war is over. And then I can go back to the university. And I think that it was an it’s an era after the war between Iran and Iraq, where the country has lost a lot of human resources, a lot of infrastructure growth is net negative in every way. And after war, whatever rate of economic growth that you had before a war, it’s not enough to match it, you need to like Tenex, that just to be able to get 2.0. Just to come back here. Yeah, yeah, just to come back to zero. And so I think at that point, that leadership was like, everybody needs to split into two groups, one should focus on academic and scientific on deep tech growth, and the other one on construction and building bridges and whatever else has been destroyed. And so it created a huge focus in the country, my dad and a bunch of his friends, like where they were university, in every university, there was this place where you could sign up for one of these, he goes on, takes a deep tech path. And eventually I think, like 20 years later or something, I think there came a point where, you know, he was very political, obviously, you know, growing up in that environment. My dad is doesn’t care about politics. All she has cared about all the time for wherever, as long as I remember his her 20 students are I know everything about all my mom’s students every single year. Yeah. Anyway, what happened was that my dad had something got tired of being part of the system because his political views kind of changed the participated very actively in one of the election campaigns of one particular presidential candidate personally wasn’t elected my that was like, you know, what, I’ve been to a bunch of countries, I think we should move and of all the countries I’ve been to Malaysia sounds like a place where we could go to stay for some years, you guys, you know, get an English education. And then we all either go back or you go wherever you want. Right. So that was a story.
Michael Waitze 5:27
I’m so curious about talking to people that have been through a war. It’s something that we can’t imagine even if you watch it on television and use it for the way you send it, you like, my dad went to war, he got shot, he came, like in passing, I’m not sure I could go on the frontline of a war with a gun in my hand and try to kill other people. It’s just such an amazing experience. And I think it’s got to, like you said, it’s got to inform and color so much of your activity later. Anyway. So you came to Malaysia got educated in English? And you said there would be some surprised reason about why you actually went to Singapore?
Sina Meraji 5:57
Yeah. So yeah, that the surprise reason, I mean, shocks, all my friends, when they I mean, my close friends have known this for a while, but it usually shocks everyone who doesn’t know about it. So being an Iranian citizen, one of the features, or I don’t know if it’s a feature or a bug that comes with it, that you’re just automatically subjected to a lot of economic sanctions from the US that’s about Yeah, I guess. I mean, it’s been a feature in a way that he has really made me more resilient. I moved to Singapore, because I was not able to open a business bank account in Malaysia, because I’m gonna challenge
Michael Waitze 6:23
that’s insanity. Like, period. Right? That’s insanity. Right?
Sina Meraji 6:26
It is. I mean, this way, I don’t feel victimized by it anymore.
Michael Waitze 6:28
No, no, no, it’s not about but this is a really interesting point for me, right? It’s like, what did the 26 year old seem to do? Yeah, to not be able to open a bank account to start a business. Sorry, this makes me really upset. Go
Sina Meraji 6:42
ahead. It makes me really upset. I mean, it’s one of the many reasons that I started my company and just I’ve gone through stuff like that a lot. Yeah, many different corners, I just hearing the stories of my parents and you know, my communities, and also just socio economically being in the communities that I’ve been. And then so because my family was for the most part, you know, we were lower middle class family, and but my computer science education kind of enabled me to then come to this very different segments, right, where I see people with radically different worldviews, wealth, and ambition and so on. So kind of seeing these two perspectives, and the gap between them has always wanted me to see okay, how do you create a way to get opportunities and the insights flow from the side it has a lot to the other side? And also like by doing that, how do you prevent some of these dysfunctions that just keep happening in the world? How would you solve some of the world’s hardest unsolved problems, like the sanctions, if there’s a war, if there’s a bunch of like, if poverty I at this point in time, I don’t believe United Nations is gonna solve it? I don’t believe governments are going to fix it. I don’t, I don’t see any interface in the world to solve these problems. And I’ve been affected by them, like every single day for all of my adulthood. So far, so
Michael Waitze 7:42
no apparent reason is what I would say, and I don’t disagree with you, actually. So I’m not a revolutionist. At heart. I’m more like a realist. And I don’t think that governments globally and pick one you can argue with me about this meaning those governments not you are actually set up and incentivized to solve the problems of the people that actually elect them. That’s not what they’re there for anymore. That might have been true 100 years ago, although I’m doubtful about that, too. But there’s too much money in politics, too much money at the United Nations just just too much other things that make them make decisions, I believe. But I The other thing I do believe, though really strongly is that if you strip away everybody’s nationality, like most people just want to eat have a place to live and make sure don’t get shot at I mean, is that is that relatively fair? I
Sina Meraji 8:24
think so. Although I could always imagine, like creating other problems. Go ahead, something I was thinking about the komatsuna, please don’t forget, you know, I forgot that it’ll come to me if it’s fine. Don’t worry about it. Don’t worry about him. So I was when you mentioned that, you know, governments are selected to solve the problem of the people that elected them, I think, even if they are I mean, we’re at a time in human history where problem solving is such a skill. I mean, I see people in tech learning how to solve people’s problem. It’s such a difficult thing, being a product manager and learning how to listen to someone identify the problem, like solution agnostic and then solve it. I don’t believe politicians are actually good at that scale, or they’ve ever gone through any onboarding as required and to get good at that or not. And also then the populations ability to I think articulate that yeah, it is a your time to live in I guess that’s a rabbit hole that I’m I want to look at you and let you influence where this goes. Because it’s a rabbit hole that you can just keep going deeper and deeper. Oh,
Michael Waitze 9:13
I can go down this rabbit hole as far as you want. Because I’m convinced that the spread of technology the spread of cryptocurrency, the spread of blockchain technology and all this stuff, and the fact that there’s an information device in everybody’s hand at some level is going to over time, even the playing field and that by doing that people are no longer going to organize by physical boundaries, right? Like if you think about your home country of Iran, or your adopted country of Malaysia or your new country like Singapore, think about Singapore’s boundaries, what defines them the ocean? I mean, that’s it. Yeah, but that’s it. Singapore would be bigger if it weren’t this little red dot. I mean, that’s just what it is. Right? Japan is just those islands because that’s all you get, right? Yeah, China’s this gigantic country like the US is the perfect example of this. It’s that country because they just went from one side to the other side killed a bunch of people along the way and when they could stop killing South and North that was as far as they went. But it’s just those physical boundaries. But what I think is gonna happen is that technology, and we’ll talk about this in the context of your business is that people are going to organize around ideas, because I believe really strongly that people there are people in Iran, people in Japan and people in you know, Texas that have the same ideas just because they can’t physically be in the same location doesn’t mean they can’t be part of the same team.
Sina Meraji 10:20
Yeah. And then at that point, then what does it take for that sort of shared consciousness or shared pool of meaning? What does it take for that to be formed to happen? Is there some, like as people in tech say, is there some behavioral inflection point or some technological advancement that needs to happen before that happens? Is something missing? Do we need something to happen first before that happens? And if yes, what is that thing? So I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about that as well. And I think we’re at a time where we have all these tools. That could be equalizing opportunities, we have these tools that could be getting people to develop a shared perspective, I guess we probably moving toward that as the future at some rate, but it’s been extremely slow.
Michael Waitze 10:52
Has it really, though? I mean, if you look at the continuum of history, yeah. I mean, the reality is, we’ve only had social media for like, 10 years. That’s a lot of time. It isn’t it isn’t, though, it’s a lot of time in your lifetime, because it’s almost half of your life, what’s called 40 something percent. Yeah, but in the context of history, it’s nothing. It’s just like, it’s poof, it’s nothing.
Sina Meraji 11:09
I don’t I mean, I hear you, and I think I look at speed based on what we have and what we’re able to do. And then what we actually end up doing with it sure it compared to whatever we’ve done before we’re faster, but compared to what we could have achieved, I don’t think it’s acceptable that, you know, I wake up every morning, you know, in Singapore, a comfortable place. And but at that same time there people in some other parts of the world, Yemen, or wherever else are wars that are still happening, there’s no place in the world where you can go to transparently find out why it’s happening, what is being done there news that, okay, like, you can’t even get food and medical. So you try and attack the United Nations. I was having conversation with a friend, I was telling him, you know, I’m optimistic about the world. But I think the world is not moving forward fast enough. And he sent me this TED talk that there’s a person who’s saying, this is the most peaceful time ever, and violence has never been this low. The number of people getting killed every year is lowest. And to me was the data that made sense. But what I disagreed was that I think the potential for violence is at a record high.
Michael Waitze 11:58
Even that though it’s just the necessity for the violence that’s going on today has no meaning. You can argue that there are a few people getting killed. There are fewer wars, it’s the most peaceful time in the history of man tell that to a kid in Yemen, who just got bombed by a drone?
Sina Meraji 12:09
Yeah, the real metric is given the amount of dysfunctions in the world, like how comfortable are we with or what can we do about it? And if we can do enough about extreme violence, or extreme dysfunction is happening, like what does that mean? But also, how do you feel about the disconnect,
Michael Waitze 12:22
but also, we’re also at a point where the where the world has the most resources, the most effective supply chains, all this technology, that next whatever war is going on? completely unnecessary in the old days, right. And you can go back as far as you want, or as recently as you want, you know, people thought about BS as well. But a lot of it was about resources and food and constraints and stuff like that, right? And you’re taking all my stuff, the world has enough resources right now to feed everybody into House, everybody. It just does. So the fact that there are people like what did em into to anybody? Sorry. Oh, mama, let us know, because you said Yemen, I don’t know. But like, what did they do? And just like you said, as a 15 year old or even as a 25 year old, 26 year old, you can’t open a bank account. What did Sina do? Not anyway, talk to me.
Sina Meraji 13:01
Like I can share something positive as well, because these are the pressing things for people that listen to reality. But also like in the same world, I think I feel fortunate to be healthy. I feel grateful that you know, I raise VC funding by cold DMing, some investor on Instagram,
Michael Waitze 13:13
right. But see, that’s what I mean. That’s what I mean. So if you can do and I want to get to that in a sec. So I want to learn more about learning hope, no pun intended. But that’s the point is that you have access to that technology, and whether you never could have before, even 20 years ago, or 30 years ago, when your parents were your age, they didn’t have the ability to communicate with anybody even outside their neighborhood, right? Because it was way too expensive to get a to get a satellite uplink somewhere, right? Yeah. But now all you do is you just go into another room with your phone and like text somebody in Kansas Anyway, go ahead and talk to me a little bit more about learning,
Sina Meraji 13:44
learning, really a company that I’ve been so as a company, you wanting to start a company to add stuff is not a very, very old idea. Honestly, I only did it because I tried really hard to find a company that was doing what I’m doing and learning so that I could get a job there, but it couldn’t find any, I think it’s a company that looks at learning and education from from the ground up looking at the first principles of learning recognize that the human race spends 20 years in a classroom environment. But at the end of it, it’s still net negative. So that’s negative meaning we consume more than recreates when you look at the fact that I mean, we spent 20 years in a classroom in less than two weeks in nature, and you’re 25 or whatever. And you’re told, okay, you know, you can use this, you know, paper straw instead of a plastic straw to save the environment, not a Java paper straw tonight, I think it’s good for people to do it. But I guess the reality is that the rate at which we’re destroying the planet, the rate at which some of these dysfunctions are taking place in the world is so much more crazy than all the good things that some activists are doing here and there. And I think these are the results of manmade systems that are failing, if you want to solve the outcomes, we need to change the system. We can’t keep all these functional systems, including education system, which to me is the root of all dysfunctions in the world at this point. So I’ve always wanted the company that really tries to think at a global scale about education beyond creating more online courses beyond creating more videos and audio, whatever, because there’s already enough of it online. Yeah,
Michael Waitze 14:58
so here’s my view on this and again, tell me where I’m wrong. Right, because I’m not always right. And I’m want to make an analogy. It’s like having an offline incumbent insurance company just take their existing procedures, which they’ve used for 150 or 170 years, and then just taking the exact same process and applying some technology to it and saying digital transformation. Yep, yep. Yeah. The reality is that the education system that we have, and again, whether it’s in Russia, in Japan, in South Korea, or in Boston was literally created based on a system for 200 years ago. And like, think about it, we don’t go to school in the summer in the United States. Why? Right? Why it’s just so dumb, like the whole way the whole system has been created, and it hasn’t changed over time. And there are two, there’s one of the thing that matters, at least in the United States is that there’s a two tiered education system. One is just for regular people, we call it public school. And depending on which town in which you live, it could be wildly different. And there’s private school, or people that are already privileged to maintain that privilege. And they maybe learn the same things, but at a better pace or with fewer students. And in a better environment. They can learn whatever those things are better. But the reality is, like you said, in that room for 20 years, you do nothing during those 20 years. And when you come out, you’re prepared for what you know, you’re prepared for some corporate job so that someone now can boss you around underpay you. And you hope that over time you succeed. But that’s not what the world is today, isn’t it is
Sina Meraji 16:15
not. We’re still live in a world where I think most people live a lifetime and die without knowing what it is they could be great at.
Michael Waitze 16:20
Exactly. So that’s such a great. So can you say that again? Most people live an entire lifetime without a lifetime without realizing what they be great at? Yeah, yeah.
Sina Meraji 16:29
Great. And there’s so many different angles to look at that this function you asked your question was, you know, what was it that I wanted to do at some company that I couldn’t find a company that was doing it twice on my own? Yeah. And I want to kind of really talk about that problem before, like, you know what he’s learning too, because, yeah, go ahead. So one part of it is, yeah, the fact is it man made system, which is a great product, it is a product that we used for 20 years, every single day, if you think of school as a product, we were all a daily active users of this system for 20 years. I don’t think there’s any other product we use that frequently and consistently in our life that is a human made, that system is not nature, like some people design it in a way that we would show up every week, in particular times in a particular place, consume a specific type of information, have specific types of interactions with some deadline, and like the cost and consequence of reward is everything is so beautifully designed, I don’t agree with like, what outcome is producing, but as a system is beautiful. And so then to me, okay, if the outcome is we have that opportunity with humans for 20 years, but the outcome is really not useful anymore. That’s kind of like not to say we are not useful. I mean, get it, I get it, you know,
Michael Waitze 17:23
I don’t have to qualify this.
Sina Meraji 17:24
Go ahead. Yeah. So that’s, that’s one thing. The other thing is that so then, you know, you kind of take a step back and say, what would it take for someone to want to do that? Would you want to build a new system and hope for 20 years on your own money or some investors money and hope that you do a better job and reach the same scale, you know, or you know, like, then you kind of go into this rabbit hole of I guess, startup world and venture capital, try to understand, okay, if you want to solve this, where would you start? What’s the behavior change? That is possible? How do you go from there to send the bigger I kind of start looking okay, how do the other industries How do they do it, because at the highest level of attraction, the problem that we have here is that the education system is one size fits all, there’s one thing or a lot of different people. And it seems like a better scenario would be well, first of all, the goals of the system are different. But also there’s some degree of personalization. If you want to help people self actualize sustainably and be useful for the planet, they need to be some understanding of what is good for the planet, other industries who have tried to personalize in any way. First, they started by looking at their recurring behavior in their industry, and to try to turn it into data, then they try to use the data to make prediction models, and then they try to monetize that example, for being transportation. You know, people have been moving from A to B with many different things for a long time. So the companies in those industries, they turn that behavior into some annotated data, then they say, Okay, now we see how this happens. Let’s build prediction models to see how can we offer the best service based on traveling experience and all that and eventually start selling education? We’re at the point zero of that whole, like value chain,
Michael Waitze 18:40
right? No, no, but how would this work? Right? Because think about it, education starts when you’re five. Yeah. And I don’t want five year olds deciding. Oh, yeah, sure. Right. And I know, you’re not suggesting that. But I just want to make this point. So the question is, when do you introduce personalization, and here’s my, here’s a big issue that I have with education on the whole. And I want to know, the way you think about it, cuz you’re obviously much more thoughtful about this than I am. And I do think this needs to be addressed. We talked earlier about governments and the impact that they have on societies and on borders and stuff like that. But governments essentially said education policy globally, right, in every country, in every town in every city, part of the problem is that some governments have a progressive view on how they want to educate their population, look at what Singapore did, they made a decision 50 years ago to say, fine, everything’s going to be in English, our education system is going to be hard. We want everyone to be super educated, because we believe in educated population makes a better workforce. And we think that that’s going to take us out of poverty and change this from a sort of provincial fishing village into a global initially manufacturing center, and then Financial Services Center and that works. But in some other countries, again, pick your poison, the government sets up an education system to keep everybody dumb and uninformed, because that keeps them in power. And it incentivizes the people that are there to keep them in power, because now they’re sort of serfs of the government and the only way they can get food and sustenance like that is to rely on the people that are in power. So how do you how do you fix How do you sort of square those holes? You know what I mean?
Sina Meraji 20:00
I know it sounds very vague and all that. But again, when we look at other industries, there are very good examples of how these problems could be solved. For example, you know, I like to say, you know, if you get a graph or you Singapore, by the way, let me back up, okay? There’s always a ride hailing app like rabbit or growl, use grab every day, not every day. If we get a grab, or Lyft, or Uber person is from A to B, by the time we get out of it, you know, it asked us to re experience and driver and whatever. We’ve all spent a lot of time in different classes, nobody asked, okay, what do you think? You know, sure, once a year, there’s some feedback form that comes and say, right, the quality of your classroom and the library or the books up to date and who reads books. I mean, I read books, but at school like computer science for us, our learning did involve books, it involves like Googling, finding is look at the frequency of feedback. Is there a feedback loop in education? So to me, that’s problem number one, to me learning loop, a big part is really a feedback loop and learning not all we want to do, but that’s one part of it. Because I think it’s impossible to improve a system if you have no feedback. Yeah, education finishing, it can’t be fixed, right? It just can’t. And education is a system that has had no feedback loop. Because as long as 20% of people who go through it succeed very visibly yet 80% of the matter, faculties can celebrate. And to
Michael Waitze 21:03
be fair, I once went to my daughter’s school. Yeah, she was telling me about stuff that was going on with one one teacher in particular, which was insane. The dude was like six foot five, and he was dealing with like, you know, four foot seven girls, and he could not have been meaner to them. When I I’m not kidding. But when I introduced this as a concept to the principal, because it wasn’t just she that was saying this, it was a bunch of other little kids. The principal went to the teacher and told him, it just got worse. Oh, my God. Yeah, yes. You know what I mean? So like, we were afraid to participate in that feedback feedback loop, because we were just like, Okay, nevermind. And it wasn’t cheap. You know, we were sending spending 25 $30,000 a year to send her to school, too. And I think it’s really important, though, right. But as part of that system, you have to have like, what is the reaction to that I’m helping you build, I’m not saying you shouldn’t do it. I’m just saying like, there’s got to be a way to control that loop as well. Yeah,
Sina Meraji 21:46
let me take us to another level of like, look at it from a different point of view, because sure that, you know, the problem with the current system is that it doesn’t have a feedback loop to solve it. I mean, you know, the question is, you want to build a feedback loop in the current system, which part of it again, they’re all these laws of physics and venture capital, you know, like, where’s your highest chance of success within your research, and so on. So I would never think that the way to solve something like that would be to try to solve it everywhere at the same time, agreed. So there are parts where it’s extremely difficult to penetrate, there are parts where it’s easier to needs are higher, like from a market point of view, from competition point of view from, you know, your ability to get so that’s something and but I think you were mentioning, you know, about the five year olds, and the sort of questions that I want people to ask, and I would love to see organizations and asked is if you can have the person’s attention, let’s take an adult, for example, example, if you can capture this person’s attention 10 to 20 minutes a week for one year, right? I don’t mean to say that’s an easy thing to do. That’s difficult. It is, it’s an extremely hard thing that’s called Product Market Fit software industry. So it’s hard. But if you could somehow have a word wanted three things, you could teach that person to Tenex their quality of life in a year, I want a company that in which people get paid the smartest people on the planet, like software engineers, designers, marketers, product managers, whatever in the way that people have spent time at Facebook or Google whatever thinking how do we get people to click on ads? Nobody would tell you, Oh, people don’t like to click on ads. Let’s not they don’t want to whereas an education is, oh, people don’t want to learn. That’s why an average citizen in the world takes zero online courses in a year. That’s I’m like, no, no, that’s because the way online courses has been designed. It’s like you took it experience that was problematic, you made it more problematic. And you ended up building an industry that is objectively worse than the traditional version. He said,
Michael Waitze 23:20
That was a nice one with the insurance industry as well, right? Just because you take something and put it online doesn’t mean it’s been digitally transformed.
Sina Meraji 23:26
Yeah. So then really, the question is, okay, what does it take to solve something like that, right. And to me, and you were mentioning an example of your daughter, I think growing up every other year, I had an hour with five teachers, I was a tiny story, and then I can go back to go home learning loop, if anyone listening right now is probably like, oh, so what are you learning? When I was when I entered primary school, I was six, my kindergarten best friends was in my class. For some reason, I think that almost instantly, I got labeled as a very smart student, and he got labeled as lazy and dumb student. And I kind of watched our lives for next 10 years, and how that shaped our I guess, paths. Yeah, and one of the experiences that I think have shaped my perspective a lot is the fact that I mean, when I was like, nine, I ran for student election to just speak up for that one person. And then I did that for the next eight years of my life. And then a university I guess I always had this perspective that the key we can’t we are in the able to optimize the experience for everybody, as opposed to just assuming that by evolution, 20 people 10% are going to just make it and everyone else is meant to perform. There’s now some research that shows, especially in computer science, anyone wants to read it. It’s by this lady named Elizabeth petites as was a professor at McGill University. His research that shows computer science faculties, unintentionally have this bias where they assume there’s a geek gene that some people are meant to do well, in computer sciences, some people are just not supposed to be good. So it influences their pedagogy and their behavior, the faculty members because they’re not putting effort into making sure that those two As a struggle maker, the title of the research is evidence that computer science grades are not bimodal. Yeah, let’s get back to, you know, solving this problem and learning to I think the problem, as I see it is the human race is unintentionally negative, I think, to change that we need to re educate people, including all of us. But since most people don’t really like learning or education, because it’s a reminder of incompetence, and insecurities for most people, as opposed to something joyful and productive, then I think we first need to redesign learning itself and to redesign learning, then there’s this question of, okay, either we invent an entirely new learning experience, or no, we find one, it has worked out pretty well at some scale. But it’s like super niche, but the rest of the world doesn’t know about it. What is that? I can tell you about about two that have come across? Go ahead. Yeah, I want to know, because I want to close the loop. And then I’ll come back then go ahead. So we actually redesign learning, either we invent a new one, or we find one that works out looks pretty good. But maybe like 95% of the world don’t know about it, or don’t have access to it, take it scale of commoditize it. And once you do that, then you can come back and ask the question of saying, Okay, we are able to teach anything to anyone by redesigning learning. Now, what are those few things that like will really Tenex people’s quality of life in a way that is meaningful to them? Not in a way that like I say, right, and while the sustainable for the planet? Do you wonder where those two experiences I’ve come across? Yeah, I
Michael Waitze 26:17
want to know what these models are. My goal was always to say it again.
Sina Meraji 26:22
There are a lot of them actually underrated learning experiences that work that can’t be adopted by the current system, because whose KPI is to do that?
Michael Waitze 26:30
Yeah, well, that’s the problem. So many things. But go ahead. So what are these experiences that you’ve had? Are they
Sina Meraji 26:34
one of them? What I feel I really love? Is it curiosity based learning experience on this, kind of, but not necessarily for that particular age group? Go ahead. So it’s like, you know, many people have some concerns, there’s some hair on fire problems that they have, they wake up every day thinking about it, they go to sleep, every night thinking about it, people who are a bit more conscious, and I think more suffering, you know, they somehow develop the skill of being able to fix their problems frequently, so that they don’t get stuck in anything for too long. If they’re concerned about something for too many days in a row, they realize, like, I need to reflect on a journal, whatever, fix it, but most of the population, unfortunately, does not have that mental model and scale. And it’s common to see a lot of people who get stuck in certain areas of life for a really long time. So then curiosity based experiences essentially make someone extremely curious about something that is relevant to them in that particular point in time. And that intrinsic motivation that he created, the person is so strong, it leads the person to go figure out how to learn that thing that they just saw. You have questions? Yeah. Where’s
Michael Waitze 27:28
this happening already, though,
Sina Meraji 27:30
this is happening is I read this article, some teacher, I think, in Mexico, or in the US in very poor area. And so it’s a neighborhood where a lot of kids do drugs, and it’s a very dangerous place. And this is a teacher who personally growing up, he always wanted to become someone very accomplished. But at some point, I think, through a lot of experiences, he changes his mind. And he decides to instead of him, wanting to become this superstar, individual, you know, famous and all that he decides to become a teacher to teach other kids in that neighborhood, you know how to survive in this world to make them realize that, okay, just because you’re born here, doesn’t mean you’re meant to fail. It doesn’t mean that just because you’re starting from negative 20, it doesn’t mean this is where you need to die. And you could actually be doing as well. So these are like kids what he does, essentially, he uses a curiosity based experience, every day he comes in, it gives him some teaser, and leaves. And he gives them computer. And they’re supposed to just like Google and figure it out. The key there is not Google, because a lot of people say that, Oh, you know, people who are not learning stuff about problems, it’s their fault, they should Google it. The problem is really attention management and motivation is intrinsic motivation. What does it take for someone to be so hooked? That term has been very misused in the tech industry? I want to be cautious, but use it. But what does it take for someone to be so intrinsically driven to know something for them to commit to learning? Because learning is hard? It does make you feel temporarily incompetent when you want to learn something new. And that’s where most drop off happens online or offline? Yeah, and especially if you’re in a spot where you have more reasons to stay there as opposed to learn. The question is what can cancel that inner voice that is telling you, you can’t do it? You can’t that you’re not good enough? Someone’s better than you. You just don’t have what it takes. So that’s one is that and yeah, what is what is that?
Michael Waitze 29:07
Right? So the example that I like to use for myself, and there are tons of them, right, is that when I first started doing this, I didn’t know the first thing about editing audio. Yeah, I didn’t know what to do. And when I looked at the audio editing interfaces, yes, like, this is just a mess. I’ll never be able to figure this out. It was so frustrating. And I gave up a bunch of times. Yeah, but then the guy that was doing it for me, just vacated. And that day, I just had to do it. Otherwise, I was gonna die. You were gonna die. Well, the whole everything that I built was just gonna fall apart because there was no like, I didn’t have enough time to go out and hire somebody or do all right. I literally just had to go. I have these files. I promised that they’d be done tomorrow. What am I gonna do? Right? That’s why it’s
Sina Meraji 29:51
Michael Waitze 29:52
Yeah, but now I know. Now it’s easy to be fair. Like I think that’s so I again, I think that the way teaching is done is upside down and backward. It’s just my opinion, right? Like, I think if and I’ve said this for years, but I think like, if you just put history to music, everyone will learn the lyrics kind of thing. I know it’s a simplification, but but there’s a point is that there’s a better way to do it, there definitely
Sina Meraji 30:10
is a better way to do it. And I think there’s so many lessons to learn from both people who have done it well, and those who haven’t, you know, it’s very easy to call out to education sim or a lot of the EdTech industry, I mean, tend to do that once in a while. But there’s a lot to learn. There are companies that have produced mobile apps that are super sticky for language learning, you would want to use it every single day for a year. But there’s a teachable language now in a way, like you could say, like schools and university, all that they’ve done a great job of creating the system of motivations, extrinsic motivations, mostly, that justify someone spending that much time and money on this thing. Because it gives you a job, it gives you a degree gives you a visa life, all of that. Right. Right. So then the question is, if you’re starting an edtech company now, right, today, right now from zero, yeah, why should anyone pay attention? And if somebody is paying attention to you, for whatever reason? Why would they want to learn? Like sure they went to school? Because it would give them a certificate and job? And if so is on whatever online, the cost of quitting is? Nothing, I just click on that tab, you’re gone. Why should someone stay? Right? Like, unfortunately, I didn’t see enough companies in the industry trying to ask these questions, and try to really think from the ground up and say, Okay, this is why, maybe you’re right, maybe we’re wrong. Let’s test it. And let’s keep doing this until we redesign this experience. In a way that doesn’t suck. And again, to make it objective, the dropout rate of MOOCs is 95%. That’s 97% occurs. Of course, there are so then given that the high school dropout rate is not like 95%, you kind of stuck with like a, you know, we have Yeah, we missed something that we missed the attention management part of learning, we missed the part in which we were supposed to think about people’s intrinsic and extrinsic motivations, and really redesign experience that matches that. So taking a step back, I mentioned two experiences that I really found interesting. They’re not the only two, there are a lot of them, okay, these kind of pass my filter up, on the one hand, practicality be able to, and we’re not a government, we’re startup we go that route, we need to be practical, but at the same time, it’s always important to me to find the balance between our idealism and our practicality. Yeah. And optimism to me is believing that there is an intersection between those two, right? You don’t need to sacrifice any. So the other side, the second one, I can tell you what it’s like really like community as an interface for learning, meaning, your primary way of learning something is by finding and going to specific community that is relevant to whatever the thing is, I’m happy to talk more about it. How do you
Michael Waitze 32:27
affect it through learning loop? Right? In other words, if you’re building this company, what is learning loop doing to affect these things and to make to meet up the idealism with the pragmatism? Yep, that doesn’t just allow people to learn, but that creates an environment where they want to learn, right? Because this is part of the problem you’re talking about, right? Where there’s this idea that people don’t want to learn, right? That’s gonna be step one know for sure,
Sina Meraji 32:49
yeah. So to do that, what seems to be working in the world for some group of people and what isn’t working? Let’s start with the stuff that are already working for some people. Okay, let’s see if you can take it and bring it to this new audience that hasn’t seen it, make it work there. So one of them, like specifically, I mentioned, curiosity based learning experience, and also like, community based learning experience, every high functioning person that I know in tech is part of some one or a bunch, usually a bunch of WhatsApp groups, Slack communities, Discord, Facebook, group, whatever, some community of other high functioning people in the same role in the same like problems face in different parts of the world. And that’s a place where people are talking about their specific problems from a person’s point of view, from a user’s point of view. When you ask a question there, the value you’re getting is that you’re getting a very specific and reliable answer within minutes, hours or a day at most. Yeah, absolutely. So when you think about it, that’s in the primary place people, some, this tiny group of people in this world are, that is how they’re learning. By default, like, number one way of learning is that Sure, they’re reading books, surely Googling, surely watching, suctioning, experiencing, you know, experiential, all of that. But when they’re stuck when they’re truly can’t figure didn’t Google it, because they’re like, Google will give me a billion results. And none of them versus this person. I’m a product manager, I asked this question in this group with 50, other product managers, one of them is a product manager at Netflix, that person must be smart. And he’s just or she said, This is how they do it. And now,
Michael Waitze 34:09
how do you handle basic stuff like algebra, like it’s almost impossible to be a high functioning, high functioning person in life without understanding simple algebra? Like you don’t have to understand calculus or computer science to go through life and have a good life?
Sina Meraji 34:21
Quick question. So that part of learning is the part that I call granularity. You know, we can talk about level of granularity. Algebra is a very big topic, one of the factors in learning that is important and you only come to discuss it or think about it when you’re in an organization that is looking at learning from the ground up, like if math function and trying to really look at every single variable to understand how does it impact the output. And so, granularity is one you know, you can either have this course that is six months or four weeks or one year to take depending on how much of some topic you want to cover. Or you’re able to break you down into smaller chunks, like a sequence and in that you could say, okay, there is a question of matchmaking. Have some piece of information in some order to a person given that they have a limited attention, you got to understand how much of the person’s attention you have in a given time. And that’s the sort of the way I think about it. Let’s say we want to teach people algebra, actually, we have a community that’s like coming soon. And it’s actually called humanizing algebra, by the way, essentially, like it, let me give you this context, the way we are like what we’re building is a bunch of very specific communities. For audiences that fit our criteria of being stuck in some area of life with some particular metrics, people who need significantly more psychological safety, before they take an action or take a risk or learn something, they need a bit more human attention, people who need a bit more guidance, a bit more order structure, as opposed to just being an emotional state to be able to just kind of like go into something very uncertain and come up with your own structure and you know, figure out learn. And then so we have these specific communities in which bring people together based on their intrinsic motivations, these intrinsic motivations that are going to last for at least six months, because we want people we don’t want a new year resolution learning experience that anyone’s going to quit after two weeks now that we understand that first time parents have serious problems that they can’t simply quit or figure out instantly, and there’s no place in the world for them to just no playbook. People trying to figure out carrier at this point in time, there’s no playbook, although millions of people have been doing it. Relationships are difficult. There’s no playbook, I mean, so on the one hand, recreate some sort of interest base place to narrow down the context. And within that you have this much more structured curiosity based experience that these are very granular, like a one week experience, in which you get to meet five other people like yourself one week, following one teaser, and the whole thing will disappear after week, one week together to figure out Google on your own learn it.
Michael Waitze 36:45
Got it. What’s the concept here around this universal basic education,
Sina Meraji 36:49
I wish we would have advanced education for everyone. But I’m convinced if we can have a universal basic education in the way that people talk about universal basic income. So that’s what I think I think what we’re creating here is essentially a universal basic education that enables every human, especially the ones who are, I guess, the middle 60% of the population to survive, and then grow. And I do that, because I come from a segment where I’ve seen that’s not given by default. Yeah. That’s something that I think should be the job of education right now. It’s not happening. Yes,
Michael Waitze 37:18
definitely not. Is there a business model around this? Right? Yeah, there
Sina Meraji 37:21
were very early stages. It’s one of those products where zero to one product, you’re gonna take a while to figure it out. At this point in time, it’s a monthly subscription. Essentially, you’re getting access to one learning loop a month, you can think of it as an expiring group chat, except the people in it are facing exactly whatever problem you’re facing. Exactly. And everyone has been that one week, there’s this surge of intrinsic motivation for everybody to figure it out.
Michael Waitze 37:43
Yeah, I was gonna say you curate this. Yeah, you’re ready to challenges? Yep. Is there one person in the group that is the default teacher? I don’t know what a better word is to use for this or problem solve? Or is it just everybody trying to solve the problem together? And if that’s the case, like how do you stop it from just being a place where people yell at each other
Sina Meraji 37:57
time. So nobody’s a teacher, it’s like, imagine putting five first time founders in a group, and give them a teaser with respect to raising the first $10,000 in funding, right? They all badly need it, they all have good reasons to figure it out. But by putting them together, and giving you the time element and giving them your crit, increasing the likelihood of them doing it and succeeding, succeeding at a time where without that sort of structure, the amount of noise they would need to go through could convince them to just not take that path. Okay. And I mean, that’s a very extreme example.
Michael Waitze 38:24
Yeah. But it’s a it’s a good example. But how do you then how do you go about building that community of people that come in red? So one of the biggest problems for any startup is just discovery? How do people know you’re there? Yeah, they know you’re different. How do they know they’re going to get something out of this as well, we I think
Sina Meraji 38:36
this is something that will make us different from the ethic industry, because primary education as well, and like not in the primary, but just like the traditional education as well, which is in those forms of education. The person goes through that school through that website, right? We’re going after a segment that is by default, not going after stuff, not because it is lazy, not because it is inherently enjoys being stuck. But because for a bunch of different reasons. So are being able to target and get to the person. I think that’s the thing that really makes us different from the rest of the industry. I’m happy to share more. But essentially,
Michael Waitze 39:07
I’m curious how you get people to discover you, right?
Sina Meraji 39:10
my hypothesis that people won’t learn stuff, because it’s nice and gamified. And whatever they would do it if their friends do it, anything works for them. Got it. So then the question is, what a first 100 people to get? Who exactly are they? Where are they? What does the life life looks like every day, every week? Are you able to give them a 12 star learning experience that makes them visibly better? That they’re like, damn, like this works? I learned to like this basically work, and then to go from 100 to 1000. And then the question is, how do you go from 1000? To 10,000? Yeah, we break down the problem into those sort of stages. And have you started that process? Yeah, yeah, we’re six months old as a company. We are currently in the process of going from we’re dealing with our first 100 users basically, a product like this like as an industry call it a zero to one product, you spend all your time on product market fit, trying to ship something and put it out, give access to a number of people. In our case we have a waitlist and then we Some people say, hey, try this out. And then we watch. We try really hard not to say anything not to influence them, or whatever, just watch, and then see what goes wrong. And then
Michael Waitze 40:08
so what has gone wrong? Like what have you learned
Sina Meraji 40:10
a lot of things. So many things can go wrong from basic things, you know, we can talk about very high level, but the reality is, from a user’s point of view, you know, I want to see how to sign up how to join how to, like, everything can go wrong, really, I think everything we’ve talked about can go wrong and will go wrong. So some of the lessons we’ve learned is, for example, in I used to think that the curated content is really important that we need to have some cute, I was lucky, let’s not produce content. There’s a ton of content on the internet. But let’s handpick a bunch of them say, Okay, you want to learn this thing? Watch this existing YouTube video and listen to this podcast, read this book in this order, whatever. Let’s find a way for some people to do this. Let’s make a flywheel for this and what that’s a bad idea. That turned out to be I guess, in some other form, it could be I don’t think absolutely about it. In our case, it was a terrible idea because we were having these curated playbooks as I call them and getting some people to knit group to learn with that in a particular way. Turnout, everyone loved the whole social part of it. The people thing like people loved meeting other people like themselves, right? To answer very specific questions, but like, nobody really appreciated the content. But again, I don’t when I say that, I kind of feel like I’m trying to sound as if you know, we have figured things out. And that was like a failure. No, like everything we do by default. 9% is probably I guess, something that 59% is wrong. In every hypothesis we have. The way we’re approaching this problem solving is we are a tech company without hypothesis we need to learn. And we’d have enough money to make sure why we do this. You know, we have enough time to figure it out before we die. Oh, okay. Well, then we won’t die.
Michael Waitze 41:37
Yeah, exactly. Well, look, that’s a great way to end. Now at least everybody understands what you’re trying to do and what stage you’re at. I really want to thank you for having what I consider to be an amazing conversation, Sina Miraji, the CEO of Learning Loop.
Sina Meraji 41:51
Oh, no. Thanks for having me.
Michael Waitze 41:53
No, it’s my pleasure. I really appreciate you doing this today.
Sina Meraji 41:55
I appreciate you. Thank you so much, Michael. I didn’t realize it’s been an hour. I would love to look back at this and some years from now and say, it took me a one hour episode to explain what I’m doing.