Relentless: How One Guy Brought the Internet to America’s Schools

  • Why did you start Education Super Highway: Evan was looking for his next challenge. He just didn’t know what to do. I read this book called Bold Endeavors: How Our Government Built America and Why It Must Rebuild Now. What I took away from the book was that each of these big projects (Erie Canal, rural electrification, Transcontinental Railroad etc) happened because there was one person who had the crazy vision and kept at it and kept at it and kept at it until the government showed up with the money. [3:44] 

  • What traits did these people have? They were strategic, they were relentless. They were persistent. They were great sales people. They kept selling and selling and selling. [5:06]

  • I thought that would be exciting: I was wandering in the wilderness thinking it would be cool to do an infrastructure project but I had zero ideas. [6:03] 

  • Here’s the problem he found: Even at my daughter’s well-financed school they had slow WiFi. A cable modem. An 8-year-old WiFi network that didn’t reach all the classrooms. So we brought in fiber optic connections to the school. Teachers trusted the network and started integrating technology into their classes. (8:06) 

  • Evan goes to a meeting at the White House that is trying to figure out how to make America better with technology: He finds out America is spending $2.4 billion a year buying broadband. Evan was like BOLD ENDEAVORS! You have to keep at it until the government shows up with the money. The government has already shown up with the money! [11:25] 

  • The entrepreneurship emotional roller coaster: Educational Superhighway was started in January 2012. It was an emotional high point. There isn’t an entrepreneur who doesn’t experience it. The highs are higher than anything you’ve done for work. And the lows are lower. [14:25] 

  • Another problem: If $2.4 billion is being spent every year to buy good broadband for schools - but 80% of schools don’t have good broadband - what is the money being spent? [19:12] 

  • Your network is incredibly important: The care and feeding of that network is incredibly important so when the time comes when you need to call (for a favor) they are excited to help. . . I spend a quarter of my time caring for my network. That means that anyone who asks for a meeting (besides salespeople) get it. [20:28]

  • I have a few postulates on how to be successful as an entrepreneur: 1. You have to invest in your network. 2. You have to be focused. Focus focus focus. 3. It’s better to be lucky than smart. [22:50] 

  • We learned schools were way overpaying for the Internet: The typical school was paying $22 per month per megabit. Businesses were paying $3 per month per megabit. Learning that was an incredible moment because I saw it was a problem that could be solved. It was an execution problem, not a technology problem. [23:39]

  • Evan has to prove that the internet is public schools is a problem: He has data: 80% of people in public schools are saying the internet doesn’t work. He found that a lot of the money ($600 million to $1 billion a year) that the schools are paying for the internet is going to phone service. The data is not compelling enough to government bureaucrats. [33:27] 

  • How did you prove this was a problem? He solves this problem by getting 75% of schools in Wisconsin to test their broadband speeds. 30 states follow suit: 800,000 people in 35,000 schools test their broadband. The results: only 10% of kids have fast enough broadband to use technology in the classroom. [36:47]

  • The solution: We put all the data about what schools we’re paying and put it online. Schools could see what other schools were paying. And service providers could see where they had the opportunity to sell their product because they had lower prices. As a result, we have seen an 80% decrease in the cost of broadband for schools. [39:49]

  • Full podcast here.