Ep. 356: What’s Up with Omella – With Brett Kopf

February 2, 2023

Mike McShane on his “What’s Up” series chats with Brett Kopf of Omella to discuss his entrepreneurship in the education space.

Mike McShane: Hello, and welcome back to another edition of EdChoice Chats, and specifically my series, What’s Up with Mike McShane. I’m Mike McShane, director of national research at EdChoice, and today on the podcast, I am talking to Brett Kopf. Brett Kopf is the co-founder of Omella. And anybody who is in the alternative education space, whether you’re in a microschool, or a hybrid homeschool, or a private school, or folks building and starting new things, if you haven’t heard about Omella, I am so glad you’ll have the chance to listen to this podcast.

Brett and his team are building tools to help people start and scale schools. And I don’t want to step too much on the story, because I think what he’s going to talk about is so interesting and so useful, but also his experience. Before he started Omella, he started another company that you may be familiar of, which is Remind. Given that, I think he will tell us the incredible penetration of Remind in the American school system. Odds are, most of you on this podcast who are listening, if you have children in school, there’s a very good chance that your children’s teacher, your children’s school, uses Remind to send messages and to communicate.

You may not even know this, but as he describes it throughout the course of the podcast, you’ll probably say, “Oh, wait. That kind of sounds familiar.” Turns out, that was Brett and his team doing that as well. So a fascinating entrepreneur. We have this wonderful opportunity to talk about lessons that he’s learned, not only just as an entrepreneur and building two fascinating companies and all the lessons that have happened along the way, but also what he’s learned working in this sector.

So this is great. It’s like a twofer episode today. If you’re interested in entrepreneurship and education, tons of great content. If you’re interested in microschooling, alternative schooling options, and that whole cool world, we’ve got stuff for you as well. Two for one, and all at the price of absolutely nothing, just your time. So without further ado, here’s my conversation with Brett Kopf of Omella.

So Brett, thanks so much for being on the podcast. I think before we get into Omella, you have, I think, a fantastic, interesting backstory as an entrepreneur. This is not your first rodeo, as they say. Can you give us a little bit of your background and some of the other work that you’ve done?

Brett Kopf: Yeah. I’ve done many hypothetical rodeos at this point. So I like to tell people that I started my first company when I was in fifth grade, which is a lie. That is not a true statement. But that is where the why came from, because I was diagnosed with all these learning disabilities that I basically felt like an idiot for 18 years of my childhood to early adult education. And not feeling smart bred low self-esteem, which of course I don’t have now. I’m really happy with who I am and who I’m not, but it took a long time. And that not feeling smart drove me emotionally to want to solve this problem.

And so, the first company I actually started was called Remind, formally Remind 101, but it’s remind.com. And I started it because I had this teacher named Denise Whitefield. She was my IEP manager. And for anyone who doesn’t know, that’s basically, in a public school, for kids who have disabilities or learning differences, you get assigned, usually, a teacher who helps you with all of that stuff. And she just totally changed my life. She was just an amazing human being, and I babysat her kids, and I’m still close friends with her. She’s just wonderful.

And as I got older, I basically noticed that there was a lot of teachers like her that were doing things inefficiently and struggling in school. And so, I ended up building Remind, which is basically a communication platform that connects teacher, students, and parents via text message and push notification, and it’s safe, and it saves them a bunch of time. And Remind, fortunately, got very big. So we have over 30 million active users, roughly 85% of teachers in every school in the United States, public, private, you name it, uses it. They send about a billion messages a day, yada, yada. But it all started with a few, and it really had deep impact.

So that was the first company I started, and I ran that for roughly nine years, and I’m still on the board of that company. And then, recently in the last few years, I started a company called Omella, O-M-E-L-L-A. And there’s no fancy reason why. It doesn’t mean Greek God or anything like that. It was a reasonable URL that was a thousand bucks that you could say. And the reason I started it, and I’m sure we’ll talk about this more, and I won’t go too in depth, but I started it because I noticed that all of these teachers kept trying to collect money on Omella.

So specifically, Mrs. Whitefield, our teacher would send a text message out to 100 kids saying, “Hey, we have a field trip next week, please sign your permission slips that I physically handed out in class, and pay 12 bucks for the museum.” And then 50 kids would come in with a signed permission slip, half of them would forget to pay, and then they have very expensive credit card fees.

And just sort of zooming out, I thought to myself, “Well, if I could Venmo you, which I know I can’t right now, because you’re in Ireland, but if you were in the United States, if I could Venmo you 10 bucks, or if there’s a digital way to transact, or if you bought a house, you would probably DocuSign something. Why does that not exist for education?” And we saw billions of these transactions happening at Remind. Billions with a B. A lot of money being transacted.

And so just to close this out, as an entrepreneur, I don’t believe that technology will revolutionize education. I just think that’s a load of BS, excuse the French. I do think, though, that its place is helping to augment, make more efficient, save money, save time, and that’s what we are focused on. And so, Omella basically helps microschools, alternative schools, hybrid schools, pods, and also public schools and PTAs, this category of education, collect payments, forms, and digital signatures, and then we eliminate the credit card fee. And so, that is most of my entrepreneurial experience in what I have been working on since I was not really in fifth grade, but it’s more like 18 years old.

Mike McShane: Well, look, I want to get into Omella, but it would be a dereliction of my podcast host duties to not at least linger for a moment on 30 million users, 85% of folks in education, a billion messages every day. So I’m curious, you started that, just you or with a very small team of people, and then by the time you left, what had that grown to? How many folks were working there? What does it take? I mean, that sounds just like a tremendous amount of information and what’s happening. What does it take to do something like that?

Brett Kopf: It’s such a good question that you asked that, because until you’ve actually built it… You hear Gmail has a billion users, or WhatsApp has whatever, they have just a ton of users. But to actually work back from scratch and say, “How do you even do that,” is not something I realized until we did it. And we didn’t even know we were doing it until we were doing it. I know that sounds crazy, but as it was happening, it was nuts. So just that one point of clarification, we send about a billion message a month, not a day, just for-

Mike McShane: So, it’s an insanely large number, just not an unfathomably insane large number. Fair.

Brett Kopf: It was a big number. So the question was how did we do that?

Mike McShane: Yeah, I’m just curious. So it starts with you, you and five people, then it becomes 50 people, 500 people. I’m just… Because happening in the sort of background of all of this is we’re hearing right now about there’s layoffs in the tech sector and others, and one of the things that I take away from that, obviously, in addition to all of those people and the bad things that are happening, which I care about them, and I’m sorry that that’s happening, but part of it’s in my mind is that I just don’t… And this is just ignorance on my part.

When Google says how many people are needed to run something like that, I just have no sense of scale. If someone told me, to run Google Search, it took 10 people, or 100 people or 10,000 people, I’d say like, “Oh, yeah. Okay, that probably makes sense,” because it’s just so far outside my area of expertise. So I’m just sort of curious, something like Remind, in order to process all of that, what does that take? How many people? All over the world? Are they in one place? What does it look like?

Brett Kopf: Yeah, got it. So it’s abstract and I’m going to try to make it not abstract. So first of all, the main person I started with was my brother. He’s my brother first, my co-founder. He’s way smarter than me. And I don’t mean that in a self-deprecating way. He has an extremely high IQ. I have a high EQ. The reason I’m saying that is because if you look at the culture of our-

Mike McShane: Oh, for sure.

Brett Kopf: Yeah, it’s always a mix of half him, half I. And it’s great because the company ends up balancing itself really well. And so I started with him, just in our bedroom in Chicago, when I was 19, I think, my first company. I’m now 35. And we grinded for two years. My brother had a full-time job. I was in my bedroom trying to figure out how to start this thing. And we ended up getting into what’s called an incubator, which is now Y Combinator.

And so, an incubator, for anyone who doesn’t know, it’s like when a baby’s born, it can’t fend for itself, it needs food, water, heat. Startups, the same way. You don’t know what you’re doing when you’re young, or even maybe when you’re old, to start a company, and you need capital, food, and you sometimes need some guidance. We didn’t know what to do. And they basically gave you some cash and they took a small equity percentage and they helped you focus.

And what we ended up doing was just talking to teachers. And so, I thought to myself, “Well, if Ms. Whitefield is struggling, I wonder if other teachers are.” And so I would just go on Twitter, and this was back in 2011, and I got on a phone call or physically in person with hundreds of teachers, public, private, all over the country. And my objective was to try to understand what their problem was.

And as soon as we saw a trend, “I don’t have a safe or easy way to communicate.” “I don’t have a safe or easy way to communicate.” “I try to send the kids a message on Facebook, but then I feel like I’m going to get sued.” This is unfortunate, but there’s like a 0.1% of times in the country when there is something unfortunate that happens, maybe even smaller. And then there’s this overarching, they’re terrified to communicate, but they have to, because they need to be able to communicate information and talk to parents and increase parental engagement.

And so, it just started with my brother and I, and then we slowly added on. So just to zoom back out, there were times at the company where we were adding 300,000 unique users a day, of which, and this part’s important, 80 to 85% of them would retain. The reason I say that is because I didn’t know this before I was in tech, even though I don’t really like to think I’m in tech, I’m really just talking to customers. When a company says, “I registered 1,000 users today,” it’s like, “Okay, great. But do any of them actually retain?” And retention is the true sign of, they love your product, they come back a lot, and you’ve built something valuable.

And so, it was an insane number. We were number one in the app store, growing faster than Facebook, and Google, and WhatsApp at the time, and we’re this small little education company. And at the time we had 10 employees, I think seven of which were engineers. So to give you an idea of the scale, you could do a lot with a little. Now it was like holding on for dear life. If you can’t see me in this, if it’s just a voice, I was shaking my hands as if I was driving a horse there.

Mike McShane: Horse at the reins. The horse has bolted from the stables.

Brett Kopf: Yeah. It was insane, the growth. To build the technical infrastructure, as an analogy, imagine if you build a really big house, you need to make sure that the concrete and the plumbing is really solid before you add the granite countertops, which is features, which is features that help the product do things that help increase retention. And so today, Remind has low hundreds of employees. We are nowhere near the size of Google, but we probably have 100-150 employees, and that supports the scale.

And you’re actually zooming out seeing a lot of things that, like Twitter, do not need to get into any of the politics of Elon Musk and all that, but there was probably a lot of bloat. The nice thing about software is you could just do a lot with a little. The reason I like building software, first necessarily, consulting, is that you could build something once, and then scale it to thousands, hundreds, or millions of people and help a lot of people. And so, that’s the current scale. We have roughly low hundreds of employees at Remind.

And that Omella is small. We have 10 people, 100% remote, very technical, and very good customer focused team. And we support hundreds of microschools, pods, PTAs, public schools all over the country. And the last part, we do not intend to actually increase that headcount aggressively. And this is just coming from making a bunch of mistakes in the last 20 years of my career. But I don’t actually think that adding a bunch more people usually equates to higher efficiency, more revenue, happier customers, more retention. And so, we want to hire people who are really, really good, very mission aligned, and keep it thoughtfully small, and just focus on growing that to a profitable, one day, large business. And that’s specifically Omella that I’m talking about.

Mike McShane: So I’m so glad that you’re talking about Omella, because I have two different areas of questions that I’m interested in, really around the lessons that you’ve learned in this. One of the areas is around just educational entrepreneurship, lessons you have learned as an entrepreneur in this space. For folks who are listening to this, who are starting new ventures, if they’re starting new schools, if they’re doing something similar, where they’re building new tools for educators or folks who are running schools, lessons that you’ve learned throughout this process.

And the other area is lessons that you’ve learned about the space of microschools, alternative schools, all of the cool people that you’ve got to work with, and the problems that you’ve helped them solve. So maybe we’ll start with that second one first. So I would be interested, as you speak with, meet with, talk with this really interesting constellation of school options, what are some of the issues that they’re running into? What are the problems that you are helping them solve?

Brett Kopf: Those are such good questions. I think I’m going to intertwine it. I’m sorry if it’s rude to do that, but I’m just going to… I’ll try to-

Mike McShane: Not in the slightest. The floor is yours.

Brett Kopf: Okay, I’m taking the floor. So number one, let’s just acknowledge my ignorance to this. I did not know what a microschool was three years ago. This whole movement of alternative schools, homeschools, pods, didn’t exist to my world. And I was a reasonably educated person on education because I had built Remind for 10 years and I was in classrooms talking to teachers. The reason I fell across these microschools is because, back to your first question, I talked to tons of customers. Generally, as a framing for any entrepreneurs trying to start things, I think you should just talk to a lot of customers. You have a hypothesis, i.e., “I think it’s hard for schools to collect money. Why?”

And the only way I can validate that hypothesis is go talk to a bunch of them. And so, before actually writing a line of code, we spoke to 500 customers one-on-one. And I happened to meet in Acton Academy, which is just for, I’m assuming a lot of people know, but Acton Academy is a network of schools in the United States that usually have the theme of being self-directed, individualized learning. And they’re usually private schools, and they’re a little bit smaller, but there’s over 250 of them, I think that’s the accurate number, throughout the world. Roughly probably 150 or 200 in the United States.

And my whole world sort of exploded, metaphorically speaking, in that I didn’t know that this type of education could exist. And then I just went super deep, mostly out of interest because I have a young son now too. And I found hundreds of microschools, whether it’s an Acton, or if it’s an individual microschool, or if it’s a hybrid school, or if it’s a homeschool. And I was just really blown away by it, because if I look back at my education, I was just this kid that obviously, as you could tell, I have a huge amount of energy and passion for things that I enjoy doing.

But for me, and just for me, the physical structure of a typical school system that I was in for the first seven years of my life in education, I went to a private school, and then public school, and so it’s a really nice mix, it was really hard for me to sit still for eight hours a day. And it was really hard for me in school, because I would just go slower with things. Because of my disabilities, I literally had to have a piece of paper when I would read a book that covered every single line other than one at a time, which Ms. Whitefield helped me, if you listen to the first part of this podcast. And I couldn’t consume more than that, because I have ADD and dyslexia. And so it was really hard for me.

And so, zooming back out to where we are now, when I found all these microschools, and just generally, I’m using a microschool as a term for alternative schools, it’s not just microschools, I was just blown away by it. And so, to the first question of how do entrepreneurs start and, quote, be successful, you talk to a bunch of customers.

Up to this point in the three and a half years I’ve been running Omella, I think I’ve spoken to over 2000 customers, one by one. We have done the work and we’ve actively listened. I know I’m talking a lot now, but I have two ears and one mouth for a reason. We usually try to listen more. And then from that, we try to build a really simple product that solves a big problem. And fortunately, we have proven that to be true now with Omella, because we’re growing super fast.

Just going back now… So that was the first question, and I’m happy to go into that more if you’d like. To the second question, which is more related to this sector, I have a belief that this type of education, and when I say this type, it could be a microschool, alternative school, hybrid school, it’s just different from what is the typical, either a public or private school, I believe that it’s going to account for 15 to 20% of every kid being educated in the United States over the next 20 years. It’s a very big, bold statement. And the reason that is only validated not by some McKinsey top-down research, it is talking to literally thousands of local startup school owners.

And part of the reason I believe that is because I think mom and dad will want to have more choice for their children, and I think the market will demand it. So I’m not going to go on here and say public is better than private, or private is better than public. I’m not going to go down that route. But I do think that parents should have the option to choose and even know that it exists. So I think one of the other issues that exists in this space is that I don’t think most parents know that these options even exist. They were sort of like me, in that they didn’t know it exists.

So I think this type of education, and you would know this way better than me because you guys research this for a living, accounts for roughly 2.5 to 3% of every kid being educated in the United States right now. And so, my bet is I believe that this is going to be 15 to roughly 20% in the next 20 years, and I’m betting every waking hour of the day when I work on my company on supporting that vertical. Those were long answers that were very intertwined to both your questions. I’m happy to-

Mike McShane: No, that’s great. I would love to know, so when you talk about the types of support that you provide, you’ve mentioned a couple things in passing, but I’m happy for you to dive in now and really talk about the suite of things that are made available to these schools.

Brett Kopf: Yeah. Oh, sure. So specifically what Omella does… So first, let’s define the problem. When we talked to all these schools, we heard from them that they spend too much time trying to manage their back office, specifically collecting tuition payment, ticket sales, membership dues sometimes, or enrollment registration, or they have an enrichment program after school and they need to collect forms. And they would use, on average, seven services, bear with me, Venmo, cash, check, Google Forms, QuickBook invoicing if they were larger, and a few other services, and it would take so much time to manage that.

And so, Omella basically simplifies it. You can collect any type of money. It could be a $10, $20. We even have customers collecting $40,000 tuition payments, and it breaks it up into monthly payment plans automatically. You could do ticket sales, donations, fundraisers. You could also do all of your enrollment and registrations, and you could do digital signatures.

And then the cool thing is we’ve figured out how to save customers, on average, $30,000 for every million dollars they collect. And I’m just going to explain something there really quickly because it’s important. We have customers that will collect $2-3 million a year. It’s not small. They are real businesses, quote-unquote. I’m using my bunny ears. You can’t see me. But they’re real businesses that are collecting a lot of money.

And when we were building this, we thought to ourselves, “Well, if you can go down to the local coffee shop and Square,” which is a payments company, they’re very big. Square you swipe your credit card, and it’s powered by Square. “For the hundreds of thousands of local schools and organizations, and sometimes startup schools, by the way, we support tons of individual teachers at a public education system, and they just decide to start a school from scratch, and they have one kid, we help them too. And why don’t they have something that can help save them time and save them money?” And so that’s what Omella does.

And the last point I’ll make, what I say to my 70-year-old mom, who I love and also is not super technical, is to imagine if Venmo, GoFundMe, Google Forms, DocuSign, and Eventbrite, had a baby, and the baby was super simple, all-in-one, and only for this very niche but growing category of private schools, and microschools, and pods. And we also do support public schools and PTAs, et cetera. But that is what we’re building. It saves time, saves money, and is super simple, and all-in-one.

Mike McShane: So how are people finding out about you? Is it schools talking to one another? Is it advertising? How do people find out?

Brett Kopf: Yeah, we’ve never done any ads. It’s all been word of mouth. And I literally talk to every single customer one by one, unless they don’t want to talk to me. Usually most of them do, just because they learned about the product faster. But it’s all word of mouth. And part of the reason of that, that was intentional. We didn’t focus on any typical marketing activities because the way we think about building companies… Which goes back to one of your earlier questions on, if you’re an entrepreneur starting something, what do you do?

And you can’t see me right now, but I’m holding a glass. I’m literally holding a glass in my hand, if you could hear it. If I were to fill this glass up with water and the glass had a hole in the bottom of it, it would be leaky. And no matter how much water we filled in it, it would never stay. And so metaphorically speaking, when we think about building companies, we want to make sure we have really good retention in that we built something that people love.

And so we spend a lot of time building product and talking to customers and they love it. And in the last six months, I’d say we got to the point where they love it so much and that the cup never leaks, meaning they all love it, and they stay, and they’re referring people. So it’s been 100% word of mouth. We’re starting to do some things, like on our website, we have over 75 free templates for specifically microschools, like if you need a COVID-19 agreement, or if you need an enrollment packet, because a lot of our schools who start from scratch don’t have that, you can click a button and start using it. So it’s been really word of mouth, and I talk to everyone one by one.

Mike McShane: One of the things that you said that I thought was really interesting was you used, I think, the metaphor of a house and the difference between the plumbing and the granite countertops. And so I’m really fascinated. So as you’re dealing with folks, particularly initially, that balance of bells and whistles versus general functionality, maybe if you look at the market, is it like 90% of people just want the basic functionality, and there’s 10% of people who really want the bells and whistles?

Because sometimes I wonder, speaking with other entrepreneurs or people that are looking to start, that could be something that’s very useful to them, to know you don’t actually have to build this thing all the way beautiful, and perfect, and, as you would put it, with the granite countertops and everything. A lot of people just need four walls and a roof for a while, and then maybe later on, they want the granite countertops. But how do you think about that balance between the core functionality and what people want versus the, I don’t want to say bells and whistles, but additional functionality that helps people do even more and different things?

Brett Kopf: That’s such a good question. So we built the four walls as quickly as we could after we talked to a bunch of customers. I believe very strongly in talking to customers and validating a hypothesis, and so the first product was literally on a piece of paper that I would hold up to my computer screen and say, “Hey, we heard you. We’re thinking about building it this way. What do you think? Would that help you?” And then we validated that a lot. And so, it was first the four walls, and we got really good at the four walls. Let me give you a concrete analogy.

When I was building my first company, Remind, I remember our whole executive team was in a room, and we were talking about building some feature. I don’t remember what it was. I think it was like an emoji or something. And one of our executives, her name was Minal Bolar, she’s wonderful, she stood up, and she slammed her fist on the table, and in a lovely but fierce way said, “Why would we talk about building a feature when we haven’t yet nailed communication and sending a delivery of message from A to B? Because Remind is a communication company, and at the core of it, the concrete plumbing, as an analogy, we need to be really good at sending a message.”

And I was like, “Oh my God, you’re right.” And that kind of instilled this philosophy in me in that, for Omella, we solved three problems. We save time, we save money, and we help these schools look good, which means we have to be really good at payments, we have to be really good at forms, and we have to be really good at document signing. And we didn’t really get to the polishing and building additional features until recently, because frankly, we weren’t good enough at it yet. And that reflected in our growth.

But now in the last six to 12 months, we’ve gotten, and I mean this in a humble way, but the product is so good, it’s no longer four walls, but it really solves an acute problem, and then we’re filling things out. So specific example, just yesterday, we launched the ability for organization, so let’s say you’re a microschool and you collect a million dollars a year, or if you collect whatever, a hundred grand a year, and you have an accountant, or you have a second teacher that needs to manage the account, we just built the ability for you to invite them on Omella. Up until this point, you had to ask me to do it, and we manually did it on the backend, which of course isn’t scalable, but because we talked to customers so much, we knew what really mattered to them.

And so, that’s a long way of saying we built the four walls, we made the four walls super strong, and then now we’re layering on the granite, and we’ll continue to do that. But it’s not something that just starts and finishes. This is another, I think, important point for any entrepreneur. It’s not like, “Oh, we built the four walls, and now we’re laying on the granite, and now we have a roof, and we’re done.” It is this constant iterative cycle of like, “Hey, we’re talking to customers more. What do they need? What do they want? Why are they struggling?”

So let me just give one more example so you know that I’m not blowing smoke here. We support a customer named Ani. She is a teacher and she also has a full-time business called We Spark Learning. And I was on the call with her, I think, Monday maybe, or it was last Friday, and she said, “I love Omella, yada, yada. The thing that it’s missing, though, is a concept of inventory. Meaning I sell all these classes at Omella,” meaning she teaches these classes, “but I only have limited number of spaces. Do you have a concept of being able to say when there is no more space for her classes.”

Meaning if she has five spots available and five of those spots are paid for on Omella, they need to go away. It needs to say like, “Hey, this class is full.” We don’t have that yet. And the only way that I knew that that was something she needed is because I talk to her so much. So again, a long way of saying, just to summarize, we built the four walls first. We made those super good. And then we focused on concrete. But it is not something that just ends. It is iterative.

Mike McShane: So now you mentioned a prediction, a bold prediction that these alternative learning environments, broadly defined, could have as money as 15 to 20% of American students in the next 15 to 20 years. I’m sort of curious, if, let’s say you and I get together for a beer in 15 or 20 years time and that didn’t happen, we didn’t see that predicted growth, what do you think would have been the reason? What are the barriers that schools are facing now that’s hindering their growth, that might prevent that from coming true?

Brett Kopf: Yeah, that’s a good question. So there’s two parts to it. One which I am woefully ignorant. I don’t know the answer. But there’s definitely a top-down political side, which is different state by state, and you guys know way better than me. But we were fortunate to be a VELA grantee and have talked to tons of people who have received grants from VELA. And all these different top-down laws, state by state, really provide a lot of friction sometimes, and then in others, don’t. As you know, in certain states, it’s much easier to start and scale schools if you want, versus other schools, where it’s super rigorous. But that part’s very opaque to me. I’m not good at that.

The one that we are good at and we’re clear on is there’s just a lot of friction to starting something from scratch. Let me give you an example. Let’s just assume that you’re in a state that makes it easy to start a school, and you’ve taught in the public school system for 10 years. Literally, what is your first step? How do you incorporate your company? How do you do that? And should I do a nonprofit, or should I do an LLC, or should I be a sole proprietor? And then I have to go get a physical space, and I have to negotiate that space, and I need the startup capital to do it.

And so, there’s all these points of friction, that’s a really important word, friction, and something that we’re trying to help. And we play this little but important part where we want to reduce the friction to start and scale the school for anything that has to do with financial or business operations. And I know it doesn’t sound sexy, but we think it’s important. So let me just kind of explain where this could go.

Right now, they collect payments, forms, digital signatures, but one day, I wonder if there could be a button where it says, “Oh, you want to start a school? Click this button. We’ll walk you through the tutorial on how to become a certified LLC, an individual sole proprietor, or a nonprofit. Just click these few links and we’re going to remove the fee instead of paying thousands of dollars to a lawyer.” That is an example of friction.

One more example of friction is we have a lot of customers that, when they start using Omella, they need to spend a bunch of money. They need to pay their employees, or they need to pay vendors, or they need to go buy pizza for their kids because they’re going on a field trip, and they have no way to pay because they can’t go to Chase because they have no credit history, because they never started a business before.

And so, one day, Omella could hypothetically, and it’s actually not that hypothetical, it could be very true, very real in the next few years, we could just give them a credit card, and they could just start spending that money. Because we know that they’re really solid businesses, because we’re helping them collect all the money. So removing Omella for a second, and back to your main question, it is friction. It is hard to start things. And I’m hoping that we’re working on our little part, but there’s others, of course, as well, who are helping remove the friction. As I was saying that, I did think of one last one. Can I add that in?

Mike McShane: Oh, absolutely.

Brett Kopf: Yeah. I think that there’s an awareness problem in that this whole world that I know you live deeply in and I live deeply in, and I’m assuming a lot of people on this podcast live in, most people don’t know this exists. I don’t think most parents know that this concept of what I’m calling individualized, self-directed learning that allows a student to choose or a parent to choose what is best for their kid, they just don’t know that this exists, this movement. And the reason that I know that is because I talk to hundreds of these schools, these local entrepreneurs, and it’s all super organic, all from the bottom up, and they’re just doing it because either they’re fed up or because they believe in it and they want to build it themselves.

And so that’s the last piece is this top-down awareness on knowing what this is as a consumer and as a parent. Because you have to be quite driven to say, “This type of education isn’t working for my kid. I’m going to go find something myself,” and then just start Googling on the internet or talking to your friends. And sometimes these local schools don’t even have a website, but these parents are driven enough because of course, what’s more important to any parent than their kid being successful in their life, whatever that version of success is, other than, of course, their health? They just want their kid to be happy and healthy and have a great life. And so, I think parents are quite ambitious and driven, but there’s still this larger awareness issue.

Mike McShane: Well, Brett, thank you so much for taking the time out of what I can only imagine is an incredibly busy day to talk about the fantastic stuff that you all are doing at Omella.

Brett Kopf: Yeah, of course. It was great talking to you. And if there’s any schools that need help, whether it’s Omella related or not, my email’s just brett@omella.com. I will publicly say that. I am an open book and would be happy to help. And thanks for having me.

Mike McShane: Man. What a great conversation. I am so glad Brett took the time to chat. I learned so much. His reflections as an entrepreneur and the lessons that he’s learned. I just thought it was so fascinating talking to 2,000 customers, the idea of just listening, listening, listening, solving problems, solving problems, solving problems. I think oftentimes, if you spend any time in the entrepreneurship space, people will come to you with their great idea, and you sort of, after a period of time, start to think, “These folks I think are probably going to be successful, and these folks probably aren’t.”

The folks who start with, “Here is the problem that we are solving, and here’s how we are solving it,” as opposed to, “Here’s this cool thing we built,” or, “Here’s this awesome thing. Hey, come check out this demo of what it looks like.” It’s like, “Well, what problem are you solving?” And to talk to someone like Brett, who he and his team are so laser focused, they’ve identified the people that they’re trying to help, they’ve identified the problems that those folks are facing, and they’re working like crazy to try and solve them, just a really interesting person to talk to. Really appreciated his energy, really appreciated his whole worldview on all of those things. I hope you all did as well.

As always, I’d like to thank Brett for his time. I’d like to thank our podcast producer, Jacob Vincent, who is going to edit all of this together and make it all sound great. Also, as always, if you have interesting people in education that you would like me to talk to, please send them my way. I’m always interested in talking to people, not just entrepreneurs, not just people who are starting schools, but anybody who’s doing interesting stuff in education. I am an unfailingly curious person, and I like talking to folks, so I’d be excited to talk to them. And I look forward to talking with all of you again on another episode of EdChoice Chats and my series, What’s Up with Mike McShane. Take care, everybody.