Write of Passage is a school built for the way the world is today, not the way the world used to be.
The Internet has made our success possible. Firstly, the Internet is the best matching tool ever invented. It rewards creators. Sharing quality ideas on the Internet is tinder for the flame of serendipity. For those who write well, it’s never been so easy to be discovered. The whole world is connected, and information travels at the speed of light.
The Internet is the best thing to ever happen to education too. By driving the cost of distribution to zero, it altered the economics of education forever. If we were a traditional in-person school and could only serve people in Austin, we’d go out of business. But because we teach online, we can serve the entire world, which also means that we benefit from economies of scale.
Writing is more important now than ever. All of us have a smartphone in our pocket that can access the accumulated knowledge of humanity from anywhere on the planet and allows us to broadcast ideas in high-definition from almost anywhere. Video might get all the hype, but smart people read, and smart and successful ones read the most. Because of that, we teach writing so people can improve their lives (personally, socially, and professionally). Personally, we help them publish quality ideas. Socially, we help them find their people. Professionally, we 2x their potential by helping them increase their income, the size of their audience or find work that’s twice as meaningful.
These shifts provide the backdrop for the products we plan to build at Write of Passage.
We’ll eventually have three products: Flagship, Liftoff, and Business Writing.
Though we’ve taught more than 1,000 people to date, there’s still so many details to improve, from the way we track their success to the quality of our editing program. We’ll use survey data to nudge students toward mentor groups and resources that match their specific goals. Our students need more support after the five-week cohort ends too. To give it to them, we’ll launch a membership program. We’ll help students solidify friendships, distribute their writing, improve their craft, clarify their Personal Monopoly, and grow their readership in service of real-world outcomes.
We see writing as a means, not an end. Because of that, we’ll go beyond writing and help students make more money, have more influence, and live a more meaningful life. We’ll launch a recruiting wing to help students find higher-paying jobs, such as becoming a Chief Evangelist for a company that orbits around their Personal Monopoly.
Flagship will become a hiring pipeline for us too. When we find a student we like, we’ll promote them to an alumni leadership position such as the mentor program, and if they continue to stand out, we may just hire them internally. This will give us a huge recruiting advantage because we can get to know people before hiring them full-time.
We’ll also launch an investment arm, similar to Y-Combinator. When a quality writer with a dynamite Personal Monopoly comes along, we’ll give their company seed funding and pair them with strong operators. Just as Y-Combinator pioneered the Founding Engineer model, we’ll run with the Founding Influencer one. We won’t just produce quality writers. We’ll fund companies too, which will give us a stake in the long-term success of our students. All these goals touch our three core commitments: (1) Publish Quality Ideas, (2) Find Your People, and (3) 2x Your Potential.
Liftoff: Our Program for High Schoolers
The big secret in education right now is that the world’s most talented teenagers are much more talented than people realize. Many years ago, I asked one of the world’s most successful angel investors: “How has investing changed?” To which, he replied: “The world’s smartest young people are smarter and more competent than they were 10 years ago.”
He’s right. Teenagers understand cutting-edge digital technology better than even the most talented adults, and the Internet gives them unprecedented access to information that can make them smarter. My experience working with high schoolers confirms his intuition. The challenge is that they attend local schools that squash their ambition and suppress the fire of curiosity inside of them.
With Liftoff, we’ll train 14-18 year-olds to become online writers. Traditional high schools teach to the lowest common denominator and put a ceiling on gifted students’ potential. There are tens of thousands of high schoolers who are ambitious and obsessed with a topic, but don’t yet know how to channel that passion. As we like to say, “we don’t want kids who like rockets. We want kids who love rockets.” Once they’re writing consistently, we’ll help them build their own websites where they can showcase their best ideas. Instead of writing five-paragraph essays about a novel they don’t care to read, they’ll get to write about their favorite topics with fiery intensity.
A decade from now, we will have 10,000 kids in the program at once. It’ll be an always-on program. To do that, we need to rethink education and utilize the advantages of big class sizes. Like Peloton, kids will be able to log onto Liftoff 24/7 and join a live writing class or writing group. Time won’t be a constraint. Just log on and write. With that many students, we’ll have an “Internet inside the Internet” where kids can meet people on their intellectual wavelength. Instead of feeling alone, they’ll say: “I can’t believe there are so many other people like me.”
We’ll hold them to the same expectations as talented adults. Simone Biles’ coach doesn’t want her to be the best gymnast for a high schooler. She wants her to be the best gymnast in the world. We’ll maintain the same lofty standards. We’ll ensure quality by giving professional feedback for every piece and insisting on our stamp of approval before it gets published.
Kids want to work hard, so long as they can choose their goals and what they write about. Based on that insight, we’re going to do things differently than traditional schools. We’ll only admit committed kids. Once they’re in, we’ll simultaneously hold their hand and push them incredibly hard. We’ll track their participation, publishing frequency, and rate of improvement. If they’re not improving or giving it their all, we’ll kick them out.
We’ll hire differently than schools. Instead of hiring traditional teachers’ assistants, we’ll hire former Olympians and professional athletes. They’ll work with kids to define their goals, make them more ambitious, and develop a plan to achieve them by writing online. Instead of hiring traditional teachers, we’ll hire YouTubers and TikTokers with a proven passion for education and an ability to connect with teenagers. Instead of letting teacher’s unions run the show, we’ll listen to kids and take their feedback seriously. Add all that up, and Liftoff will become a launching pad for motivated and intellectually curious teenagers with idiosyncratic interests who love to write, but aren’t served by the current education system.
Once our program for high schoolers is up-and-running, we’ll move into business writing. Since the pandemic, the world has permanently shifted towards remote work, but many companies are struggling to adapt.
In an in-person world, work happens synchronously and by talking. In a remote work world, it happens asynchronously and by writing. Decisions need to be documented and writing is the best way to do that. Thinking happens best in Google Docs where people can collaborate asynchronously. You can’t do that with video and audio. It’s no coincidence that two of the world’s most successful Internet-first companies, Stripe and Amazon, are famous for their writing-heavy cultures.
To develop our business writing program, we’ll hire veterans from prominent writing-first companies. In collaboration, we’ll develop methods for project planning, retrospectives, and strategy documents, all with a focus on the changes brought about by remote and asynchronous work.
Students will learn to surface problems with company leaders through clearly written memos. We’ll show people how writing can increase their impact inside a company. We’ll help companies reduce meetings, improve decision-making, and preserve company knowledge. We’ll become an outsourced training firm for companies who want to build a writing-centric culture in a remote work world.
Ultimately, we will develop a modern business operating system with writing at the foundation.
Building an Independent Media Platform
The marketing of our products will be fueled by the independent media company we’re already building. Right now, the vast majority of people who sign up for Write of Passage find us through my Twitter and newsletter. But moving forward, the Write of Passage brand will shift away from me and towards our community of writers.
We’ve already made a lot of progress in this direction. On the brand side, we now have a brand identity that reflects the Write of Passage spirit. On the content front, we’ve launched our Writing Studio accelerator, published alumni essays on our new website, and launched a dozen editions of the Write of Passage Weekly newsletter. To top it off, we just finished a state-of-the-art production studio in Austin, Texas. Now we’re hiring a video production team to make the best use of it.
We’re building systems to identify, elevate, and distribute great writing from our alumni community. Our team of trained editors will help us scale our alumni collaborations and publish hundreds of essays a year, all under the Write of Passage umbrella. We’ll also bring on several paid Writers in Residence and host themed writing competitions. The bigger our email list becomes, the better our value proposition will be for the writers we want to work with.
Later this year, we’ll launch a How I Write Podcast. Think of it like How I Built This, but for writing. Additionally, my YouTube channel will be 100% devoted to online writing.
Five years from now, our flywheel will be in full effect. Our independent media platform will let us elevate our students, attract the world’s best writers, and sell our courses. We’ll be positioned as a brand of exceptional quality, worthy of comparison to traditional educational institutions instead of slapdash online courses. We’ll benefit from low customer acquisition costs and extreme brand loyalty. Our company email list will exceed six figures, and analytics will help us direct our subscribers through personalized learning sequences.
What’s Our Company Like?
Elon Musk was once asked about which product at Tesla he was most excited about. The Model S? Model X? Model 3? None of those. “The factory is the product,” he said. If you can get the factory right, quality cars are inevitable.
The equivalent for us is our company culture. How do we work? What do we stand for? What do we insist on even when we can’t justify the decision on a spreadsheet?
Internally, we have a culture of trust, autonomy, measurement, Students First, and Hearts on Fire. One example of trust is our auto-approval process. If you ask for feedback from a superior and don’t receive a response within 24 hours, consider the idea approved. By autonomy, we don’t do micro-management. Leadership will set clear goals and big-picture visions like this one, but everybody can get the job done as they wish, so long as they’re aligned with the direction of the company. By measurement, we don’t just set lofty goals. We measure student outcomes to align on goals, study our shortcomings, and continually improve our product. By Students First, we listen to our students’ challenges, struggles, goals, and dreams. Then we passionately prioritize their needs because we are the most student-centric education company in the world. By Hearts on Fire, we hire people who care deeply and have an earnest commitment to excellence. Everybody who interacts with us should instantly feel our posture of warmth and kindness. Even if it’s just a hunch, they should say: “There’s something different about Write of Passage.”
In everything we do, we have an exceptionally high quality bar. I once attended a conference hosted by Patrick Collison, the CEO of Stripe, which is one of the best-run companies in the world today. Upon arrival, every attendee received a brochure with directions. At the bottom, it said: “Please contact somebody on our staff if something isn’t impeccably perfect.”
By the standards of the world, that’s insane. Unreasonable, even. But standards like that are what it takes to do great work. The world’s quality bar is way too low.
Write of Passage is a high-end, quality brand. We are the Four Seasons of writing instruction. We aren’t just in the business of education. We’re also in the business of hospitality. We stand for excellence. We judge ourselves by our own standards, not the outside world’s. In service of our students, we must continually resist the quiet creep of mediocrity.
Everything we do will orbit around our core commitments to students:
- Publish Quality Ideas
- Find Your People
- 2x Your Potential
The time has come to build a transformative writing school built for the way the world is today, not the way the world used to be. Write of Passage is that school and we are the ones to build it. Between Flagship, Liftoff, and Flight, we have an opportunity to change how writing is taught, friendships are made, ideas are shared, and careers are built. This is our own Write of Passage.