Category Archives: RateMyTeachers

“The Social Network” and a Personal Reflection on the Past Decade

Punk Prophet Billionaire

It is hard to describe what I felt watching The Social Network. I knew going in that much of the account it presented of Facebook’s founding was fictional. Certain things, however, hit too close to home not to make me at least a bit sentimental and a bit embarrassed as well. Why should I feel anything? It was a just a movie, right?

I sometimes pride myself with being one of the first people ever to have been friends with a personal computer for their entire conscious life; although this experience is a commonplace among today’s children. And so, I often wonder — how does my experience compare to that of Mark Zuckerberg and other Internet pioneers? How different of a person am I?

I watched The Social Network in the middle of a packed New York City audience — and each time a familiar experience was depicted on screen I felt self-conscious, or something like it — as in, how could this audience, seeing this, genuinely understand the excitement over Mark Zuckerberg’s achievement? I felt it acutely because it tasted so much like my own formative years — and I realized how much I would probably like Mark if he were even 50% like the caricature painted in the movie.

Mark Zuckerberg

Me

Mark had an overnight success with Facemash.com at Harvard (20K hits in the first day, according to the movie). He was forced to shut it down by Harvard. The summer 1999, between my junior and senior year at the University of Maine, I launched RateMyFace.com (the precursor to HotorNot – referenced in The Social Network), generating over 100K hits in the first weekend.  I shut it down because it was too popular and I had to graduate. I later launched RateMyFaceOff.com (Summer 2000) – which was exactly the same concept as FaceMash – and for the same reasons cited by the Zuckerberg character in the film.
Course Match – an application Mark developed to help identify who else was in your class at Harvard RateMyProfessors/RateMyTeachers – In 2001, I developed a ratings platform which millions of students have used to date – revolutionizing how students choose their courses and still among the most popular education websites ever created.
Conceived of Facebook (November 2004) Conceived of IMConnected (Nov 2001)
Plenty of crazy people trying to leech away his creation Plenty of crazy people trying to leech away my creations
The Social Network portrayed Mark as someone who walked quickly and/or jogged around campus, so as not to waste time getting from here to there. Not sure if this was the actual Mark’s habit. This sounds minor – but it was one of the most curious parts of the movie for me. I used to be laughed at by my friends for doing the same thing at UMaine. I hated wasting time between locations and hated wasting time getting where I wanted to be.
Worked with Peter Thiel, the main angel investor of Facebook I only once met Peter Thiel at a lecture here in New York and consider him a business hero of mine. Peter invested in an early and inferior competitor to PeekYou, Wink.com, and more recently in a legitimate competitor, Rapleaf (a similar data company with a different approach). I’ve wanted to work with Peter for years, certain he’d appreciate my take on the future of the Internet.
Net worth: X billions, liquid Net worth: X millions, but almost entirely tied up in the net worth of PeekYou and RateMyTeachers.

 

Did I waste 2002-2003, when I was sitting on business plans, some of which were foundational blueprints for Social Networking? I still am unsure of the answer. My fit-all excuse is that the Internet economy had crashed and investment dollars were scant, to put it mildly – and everyone I presented IMConnected to asked the same question, to which I did not have a good answer: How will it make money? Had I known then what I learned over the following years, I’m certain I could have gotten it off the ground for less start-up capital than I thought I needed but I was afraid to enter into the project without sufficient resources for scaling up immediately (I’d been through that with RateMyFace before and didn’t want to experience a failure to scale again). When Friendster launched in 2003 (as well as AuctionDrop – a copycat of another business plan I spent a lot of time developing) – I was starting to feel sorry for myself (the worst possible thing for an entrepreneur to do).

The lesson learned was that great ideas are often obvious – and even if they weren’t, someone else will probably think of them eventually and set about their execution. I had a two-year head start on Social Networking (I called it “affinitology”), but failed to execute. Despite knowing full well how important an innovation it was, there was always an excuse to put it off until tomorrow (when I would have the resources to “build it properly”).

IMConnected - November 2001

In 2004, after Friendster had essentially failed to scale (my own biggest nightmare come true) and had come and gone from popular public consciouness, MySpace and LinkedIn were ascendant, and Facebook was on the rise (and, I assumed, destined to overtake MySpace by virtue of its well-structured architecture) – I began to obsess over the opportunity lost, but I also wondered about the fate of a site like Friendster, which had all the promise in the world, only to see its opportunity slip away overnight. I wanted to create something eternal – something that would change the way people think about the Internet forever. It was too late for that something to be IMConnected – but I knew I had it in me to think of something else, potentially better, and with the ability to make it happen. I also knew that when it hit me, I wasn’t going to waste a day. I thought about this at least every week for the next couple of years. It was an ongoing obsession and I enjoyed the thought process.

A couple of years later in April 2006, I woke up in a semi-conscious state of mind, with the crystal-clear concept of re-indexing the web around people almost fully formed in my head – perceiving right away that if I could identify the actual individual behind any given URL, I could create a database that would not only be relevant 100 years from now, but might rank as the most important web database since Google’s. I vowed not to waste a day — and three months later, I had a prototype of the database ready to go. … After much deliberation, I named it PeekYou.

Today the company is growing by leaps and bounds – month-over-month increases in revenue throughout the past year – we’re hiring great new people, and the markets we are entering into fit as a glove within the original vision. The sometimes ridiculous challenges I’ve faced in building this company are eventually worth writing separate stories about – but we’ll see how things stand a year from now. I’m thankfully surrounded with good people who share my vision for this database and we’re in that period of rapid growth all bootstrapped start-ups dream about.

The Social Network induced me to reflect back on the past decade. Here are some final thoughts on what I believe I’ve done right and what I’ve done wrong.

Some big mistakes I’ve made:

  1. Underestimating the urgency of executing my ideas.
  2. Feeling sorry for myself, for whatever reason.
  3. Assuming that everyone who says nice things has my best interests in mind.
  4. Not focusing on building and utilizing my personal network and goodwill – turning down opportunities and lifelines out of stubbornness or fear of failure:
    1. Example: In 2004, Mark Pincus, CEO of Zynga (formerly founder of SupportSoft and Tribe), offered me an apprenticeship to learn the ropes of entrepreneurship under him. I thought Mark was awesome, I thought Tribe.net was an interesting approach to social networking, and I thought I could run RateMyTeachers on the side. In the end, I was afraid to move to San Francisco with no money in my pocket. I’ll always regret this – and now I wonder if Mark even remembers me.
    2. Accepting deals I knew were fundamentally flawed, hoping against hope that things would work out in my behalf because my own goodness would eventually win the day for me.

Best things I ever did:

  1. Retained a lawyer to review my contracts and to negotiate sticking points on my behalf
  2. Sought to create something eternal – I directed my ambition on building something long-lasting instead of placing too much focus on the immediate
  3. The day I conceived of re-indexing the web around people, I did not waste a day in developing a business plan and prototype.
  4. Marrying Kejda – for the first time in my life I was responsible to someone I love as much as myself. I was forced to defend my decisions to someone more intelligent than me. This didn’t stop me from making mistakes – but I have made many fewer mistakes because of her.

RateMyTeachers, Teacher Unions and the UK

Do not believe the excuses put forward by the teacher unions — demanding that internet censors protect teachers from cyber-bullying? RateMyTeachers is at the forefront of protecting teachers online by promoting the best and the most effective among them. Since our inception, RateMyTeachers has instituted rating rules to protect teachers from bullying. Any rating that crosses these rules is removed without question. A moderating force of over 5,000 individuals is constantly on the look-out for any ratings that do not meet these standards. Every rating is reviewed before it is posted live on the website.

See for yourself: http://www.ratemyteachers.com/info.php?type=RateRules

A tyrant demanding absolute control is the first to censor whatever threatens its power. Teacher unions recognize the threat websites like RateMyTeachers pose to their monopoly and use “cyber-bullying” as an excuse to enact censorship. The fact is, not all teachers are created equal and RateMyTeachers is making this plainly obvious to anyone with an interest in the education system (parents, students, administrators, taxpayers). Despite any rhetoric to the contrary, teacher unions by their very nature view every teacher as a cog in a great education machine.

Teacher contracts are negotiated so that every teacher, good or bad, is treated the same. Teachers who opt out of paying union dues are punished even though they are required by law to accept the union negotiated contracts. Tenure tracks ensure that horrible teachers will waste students’ time and taxpayers’ money; and in some cases, a bad teacher can seriously harm the education and mental development of a child. Pointing out to the public which teachers are creating an environment for learning (as most teachers are successfully doing) and which teachers are failing in that mission (a small minority), leads people to question a system that restricts choices.

The point issue, which the press always ignores, is that any pressure to allow school or teacher choice threatens the teacher union’s power. For a tyrant, choice is to be avoided at all costs — and censorship is always on the table when losing power is at stake.

The United Kingdom stands at cross-roads. By allowing its citizens to access websites and servers outside of the country’s borders, the UK has unwittingly granted incredible new freedoms to its citizenry, the implications of which were not foreseen. This freedom threatens many of the institutions that prop up the State apparatus; hence rumblings of this kind are not at all surprising. The choice at hand is between protecting citizens’ rights to access information freely and looking to China for inspiration in controlling people and the information they may consume. Sadly, considering the recent rhetoric ringing through the highest levels of the UK government, I would not be shocked to see the UK look east for inspiration.

Partnered with Bolt.com

Classface
I recently moved to New York City, as I have partnered RateMyTeachers with a teen media company called Bolt.com. Bolt is selling targeted advertising for us at significantly higher rates than we were capable of on our own. So far, so good. I have also partnered with Bolt on a new venture called classface.com. If you have heard of TheFaceBook.com for college students, classface is essentially the same thing, except for high school students (using RateMyTeachers and Bolts significant membership to promote it). TheFaceBook attracts well over a million daily users and billions of page views each month. We are hoping to attract a similar audience. We’ll see.

Update (11/28/05): No longer working with Bolt.com. Classface has been renamed StudyBreakers.com.

RateMyTeachers on CNN

Today I was interviewed on CNN’s “In the Money” regarding RateMyTeachers.com. I was behind Wolf Blitzer in the makeup line. All I could muster was a weak “Hello” with a faint nod of the head. He looked really focused on getting to the news desk and I suppose I didn’t want to disturb him. He had a good, positive, disposition about him, though. All-in-all, an interesting experience, even though it felt like a radio interview (all I had was a ear piece to listen to the questions – I had no idea with whom I was speaking). Here is a recent USA Today article, as well. Overall, the press exposure has been great.

NPR Interview – All Things Considered

I was recently interviewed for this NPR piece discussing RateMyTeachers.com. This was my third appearance on All Things Considered. It is amazing how much has happened since I first was interviewed by NPR regarding RateMyFace.com in December of 2000.

“Jennifer Wing of member station KPLU in Seattle, Wash., reports on a Web site for school children across the country — RateMyTeachers.com — that allows them to “grade” their teachers.”

Press Archive – 2003

* Journalnow.com, NC – December 26, 2003
* Fayetteville Online, NC (By Jessica Banov) – December 25, 2003
* The Herald Mail – Hagerstown, MD – December 21, 2003
* The Evening Tribune – Hornell, NY – December 17, 2003
* Kidspeak! – December 14, 2003
* WMTW ABC Channel 8, ME – October 8, 2003
* Maimi Herald, FL – November 30, 2003
* USA WEEKEND – November 28-30, 2003
* The Mercury News – San Jose, CA – November 28, 2003
* San Mateo County Times, CA – November 25, 2003
* Oakland Tribune, CA – November 25, 2003
* Dallas Morning News, TX – November 19, 2003
* WLTX-TV Columbia, SC – November 18, 2003
* Reno Gazette Journal, NV – November 16, 2003
* The Tampa Tribune, FL – November 13, 2003
* The Las Vegas Sun, NV – November 10, 2003
* Edmonton Journal, AB – November 8, 2003
* San Diego Union Tribune, CA – November 8, 2003
* Wellesley Townsman, MA – November 6, 2003
* Chippewa Falls, WI – November 6, 2003
* Kansas State Collegian, KS – November 5, 2003
* WFSB-3, Eyewitness News, CT – November 4, 2003
* WTVR-6 CBS Richmond, VA – November 4, 2003
* Newsday, NY – November 4, 2003
* The Collegiate Times, VA – November 4, 2003
* WAVY-NBC Norfolk, VA – November 4, 2003
* WGOW 102.3 FM – The Morning Press, Chattanooga, TN – November 3, 2003
* The Daily Press, VA – November 3, 2003
* The Washtington Times, DC – November 3, 2003
* Times Herald-Record – November 2, 2003
* The Greenville News, SC – November 2, 2003
* tjTODAY Alexandria, VA – November 1, 2003
* Milwaukee Journal Sentinal, WI – October 31, 2003
* 1500AM WGHT, North Jersey’s Talking w/Lee & Teresa – October 31, 2003
* Fox News Radio Live with Alan Colmes – October 30, 2003
* Team Clark Howard’s Consumer Action Center Radio Show – October 30, 2003
* RadioU Columbus – The R!OT with Nikki & Obadiah, OH – October 29, 2003
* Cumberland Times News, MD – October 28, 2003
* 630 WMAL – Chris Core Show, Washington, DC – October 28, 2003
* Journal Times, WI – October 28, 2003
* FoxNews.com – October 28, 2003
* Asheville Citizen Times, NC – October 26, 2003
* Syracuse Post Standard, NY – October 26, 2003
* Beaufort Gazette, SC – October 25, 2003
* Phoenixville News, PA – October 25, 2003
* Raleigh News Observer, NC – October 24, 2003
* News 3, WI – October 22, 2003
* WAFF-TV – Huntsville, AL – October 22, 2003
* St. Petersburg Times, FL – October 22, 2003
* The News & Observer, NC – October 22, 2003
* Milwaukee Freeman Newspapers, WI – October 20, 2003
* Atlanta Journal Constitution, GA – October 20, 2003
* Times Record News, TX – October 18, 2003
* San Luis Obispo Tribune, CA – October 17, 2003
* Ventura County Star, CA – October 16, 2003
* Cecil Whig, MD – October 16, 2003
* Mail Tribune, Medford, OR – October 16, 2003
* Mail Tribune, OR – October 15, 2003
* KVAL 13 News, OR – October 14, 2003
* Corvallis Gazette-Times, OR – October 14, 2003
* WHNT News Channel 19, AL – October 14, 2003
* Democrat Herald, OR – October 14, 2003
* Salem Statesman Journal, OR – October 14, 2003
* Register-Guard, OR – October 13, 2003
* The Sun News, SC – October 13, 2003
* NBC4 Washington, DC – October 13, 2003
* WBIR-TV Knoxville, TN – October 13, 2003
* Wisconsin State Journal, WI – October 12, 2003
* Herald Tribune, FL – October 12, 2003
* Net Family News – October 10, 2003
* Student Press Law Center, Arlington, VA – October 10, 2003
* UPI/Washington Times, DC – October 10, 2003
* Capitol News Service, MD – October 10, 2003
* Concord Monitor, NH – October 10, 2003
* Florida Times-Union – October 9, 2003
* KOCO-TV Channel 5, OK – October 9, 2003
* The Monument, ME – October 9, 2003
* The Journal News, NY – October 8, 2003
* Virginia Gazette, VA – October 8, 2003
* Portland Press Herald, ME – October 7, 2003
* Concord Monitor, NH – October 6, 2003
* WJLA-TV News 8, DC – October 6, 2003
* Ventura County Star, CA – October 6, 2003
* Washington Post, DC – October 6, 2003
* Gannett Suburban New York Newspapers, NY – October 5, 2003
* The Daily Camera, CO – October 5, 2003
* The Journal News, NY – October 5, 2003
* Bangor Daily News, ME – October 3, 2003
* Frederick County Gazette, MD – October 2, 2003
* CBS 3 Philadelphia, PA – September 30, 2003
* KUTV-TV Channel 2, UT – September 29, 2003
* BBC News World Edition, UK – September 29, 2003
* Peoria Journal Star, IL – September 29, 2003
* Deseret Morning News, UT – September 29, 2003
* Inland Southern California, CA – September 29, 2003
* The Press-Enterprise, CA – September 28, 2003
* WTIC AM – Newstalk 1080, Hartford, CT – September 26, 2003
* School Wise Press – September 24, 2003
* Maryland Gazette Newspapers, MD – September 23, 2003
* Council Bluffs Daily Nonpareil, IA – September 23, 2003
* The News Journal, DE – September 21, 2003
* Baltimore Sun, MD – September 21, 2003
* St. Louis Post Dispatch, MO – September 21, 2003
* Napa Valley Register, CA – September 21, 2003
* Florida Today, FL – September 20, 2003
* Gaylord Herald Times, MI – September 19, 2003
* The Bagpipe – Highland Park High School, TX – September 19, 2003
* Baltimore Sun, MD – September 17, 2003
* Education Week – September 17, 2003
* Michael Smerconish ow, 1210AM Philadelphia, PA September 17, 2003
* Pasadena Star News, CA – September 15, 2003
* Seattle Post Intelligencer, WA – September 15, 2003
* WTNH News 8, CT – September 15, 2003
* Dallas Morning News, TX – September 15, 2003
* Philadelphia Inquirer, PA – September 14, 2003
* King5.com, WA – September 13, 2003
* Naples Daily News, FL – September 13, 2003
* WBAL 1090AM Baltimore, MD – September 11, 2003
* East Valley Tribune, AZ – September 11, 2003
* Federal News Mirror, WA – September 11, 2003
* Wrangler News, CA – September 10, 2003
* TechTV – Tech Live – September 8, 2003
* Coloradoan, Fort Collins, CO – September 6, 2003
* King County Journal, WA – September 5, 2003
* USA TODAY – September 4, 2003
* Tuscaloosa News, AL – September 4, 2003
* HeraldTribune, AL – September 4, 2003
* Fox 11 News Tucson, AZ – September 3, 2003
* The Dallas Morning News, TX – September 2, 2003
* Pioneer Press, MN – September 1, 2003
* Tri City News, BC – August 30, 2003
* Pittsburgh Post Gazette, PA – August 30, 2003
* FYI London, ON – August 27, 2003
* KSDK ST. Louis, MO – August 25, 2003
* Jerry Moore’s School Talk – August 24, 2003
* The Standard – August 23, 2003
* WTSP Tampa/St. Petersburg – August 22, 2003
* WTSP Tampa/St. Petersburg [VIDEO] – August 22, 2003
* The Saratogian – August 22, 2003
* Albany Times Union, NY (Rick Karlin) – August 18, 2003
* Penn Live – August 16, 2003
* Duluth News Tribune – July 30, 2003
* Portland Tribune – July 29, 2003
* The State – July 14,2003
* Jonesboro Sun – July 10, 2003
* Amarillo Globe News – July 6, 2003
* Tampa Tribune – June 29, 2003
* KMOV TV- June 27, 2003
* Quad-Cities Online – June 22, 2003
* The Patriot Ledger – June 21,2003
* WOKR TV Rochester – June 18, 2003
* New Haven Register – June 15, 2003
* Education Week – June 11, 2003
* Bristol Press – June 11, 2003
* United Federation of Teachers – June 6, 2003
* Record Journal.com – May 28, 2003
* Bronx High School of Science – May 23, 2003
* Brookline Tab – May 21,2003
* Library Journal – May 21, 2003
* App.com – May 20, 2003
* NY Times (Lisa Guernsey) – May 8, 2003
* NY Times (Marcia Biederman) – May 8, 2003
* Newton South High School’s The Lions Roar – May 1, 2003
* Akron23.com News _April 30, 2003
* ABC NY – April 17, 2003
* Clemsford Independent – April 16, 2003
* Acton Institute – April 8, 2003
* Hollister Freelance News – April 4, 2003
* New York Post – March 31, 2003
* The Optimist – March 31, 2003
* QO Prowler – March 24, 2003
* Abbotsford Mission Times – March 11, 2003
* The Phillipian – March 9, 2003
* Tampa Tribune – February 28, 2003
* The Lamp – Frebruary 28, 2003
* Montreal Mirror, PQ – Frebruary 27, 2003
* Pasadena Citizen – February 20, 2003
* Orlando Sentinel – February 17, 2003
* CNN.com – February 17, 2003
* Lawrence Journal-World, KS – February 17, 2003
* Yorktown Indiana Revealer – February 12, 2003
* Niles High School, IL – February 2, 2003
* Newsleader.com – January 27, 2003
* Kansas City Star – January 24, 2003
* Augusta Chronicle – January 20, 2003
* MSNBC.com – January 19, 2003
* CyberPresse.ca – January 17, 2003
* NetNacs – January 17, 2003

Launched RateMyTeachers.com Today

RateMyTeachers.com

RateMyTeachers launched today, bringing the funcationality of RateMyProfessors to middle and high school students – created by ordinary people with a vision for a better way of doing something. This past year, the concept of “accountability” in education entered the public consciousness. Many of the original founders had an interest in education (two of them are teachers) and asked who is accountable to whom? Are schools accountable to the federal government? We concluded that students have a right to discuss the quality of their education and that teachers must be accountable to their students. We decided that a site like RateMyTeachers.com would be an effective tool to elevate the student voice into the public discourse on quality education.

RateMyTeachers aims to help facilitate a positive change in the way parents, students, and teachers alike look at the education system and therefore to encourage structural changes with regards to school and teacher choice. Secondly, it is a place for students to have their opinions validated.

Lastly, RateMyTeachers is a useful resource to the teacher who is open and self-assured enough to face the opinions of their customers, i.e. students. Every teacher wants to be respected by his or her students, and every teacher entered this profession in order to help students develop as individuals. By studying their ratings, the teacher can often adjust their methods, helping create that environment of mutual respect, whereby their knowledge will translate more effectively to the mind of the student.