In this week’s edition of Grounded, you’ll:
Get a quick update on the squad
Learn about attachment theory and how it’s shaping the way Maria thinks about consumer companies
Get a sneak peak into what questions Jomayra asks companies tackling the higher ed/adult learning space
Hi fam ✨
First, we wanted to acknowledge that we intentionally paused Grounded over the past few weeks. We felt there was a lot going on in the world that was far more important than another newsletter and wanted to create the space for conversations around racial inequity to take center-stage. Given that we are all in venture, we wanted to highlight one org we think highly of and believe are doing incredible work:
Before I pass it over to M+J, here’s a quick update on us:
Jomayra has officially converted into a true Palo Alto-ian after witnessing a dramatic fight between a Palto Alto resident and a squirrel 🐿 over protecting an apricot tree. We don’t think she’ll ever be the same again.
My mom has been trying to convince Maria that being a public market investor is where it’s at. She’s been following her Robinhood account very closely since then. Send her your favorite finance books; she just started The Ascent of Money 💸.
I am OOO all week, and have been taking some time to think super long term. Should I build another company? 👩🏽💻Should I continuing being an investor? 💰Should I be a therapist? 🧠Can I be an investor and a therapist? 🙇🏽♀️ If you have an opinion about what I should be when I grow up…please @ me.
Hope you’re all staying safe and healthy.
Welcome to Maria's corner! 🧠
Hello my fellow thinkers. Last week we talked about psychological entropy. I've been digging deeper into how our young brains develop strategies to minimize entropy. Many of these strategies live with us everyday. Which leads me to this weeks topic: attachment theory.
Some of you will know this concept from your own psychology knowledge/training or because you've been in therapy dealing with your specific attachment style (oh so fun). The first time I learned about it I was v focused on understanding what this meant personally. But 3 years later, I am now a healthy distance from it to dive into depths of the literature. (will ask my therapist if this is healthy intellectualization?)
Attachment style develops when we are helpless and dependent lil creatures. Our brains build their first predictive model to reduce feelings of fear and anxiety. We feel vulnerable since we depend on our caregivers to meet our basic physiological needs. Psychologist John Bowlby proposed a series of if/then questions that we go through in those early days.
Over time, we develop predictive mental models (in attempts to minimize psychological entropy) of others and of ourselves based on past experiences with our caregivers. This results in four adult categories of attachment styles: secure, fearful, preoccupied and dismissive. These four styles are not stagnant but a combination of two dimensions 1) anxious and 2) avoidant. Scott Barry Kaufman explained it really well in his last book:
"The anxious-attachment dimension reflects a concern about being rejected and abandoned and is the product of beliefs about whether others will be there for you in times of need.
The avoidant-attachment dimension has less to do with a sense of safety and more to do with how you regulate your emotions in response to stress—whether you use others as a secure base or pull away and withdraw from them."
I added my own for shits and giggles. Started from the bottom now we here. Anyways, attachment style is one of the most central parts of every individual’s psychology. Regardless if they believe in mental health or not. I will continue digging but a couple of questions came up:
Does attachment style impact customer acquisition strategies? Found some studies on how consensus claims in advertisement don't work well for higher on anxious dimension type.
How does this play out in social networks? One study says "people high on attachment anxiety or avoidance had weaker tie strength (how close the ties in your networks are) and people high on avoidance reported lower multiplexity (how many roles are filled or functions are served by network members).
DM me if you want to nerd out more.
Jomayra’s Temple 🧘🏽♀️
Tackling the higher ed/adult learning space? Here are questions I typically ask
One of my pet peeves is when someone who went to a very elite university, has a relatively comfortable job, and a robust network says something like "[Insert consumer social app that highlights the voices of too-cool-for-school tech bros] is the future of higher education".
Don't get me wrong - I love Twitter, podcasts, newsletters, Clubhouse, and the whole range of ways I learn new information about issues I care about. But information/knowledge =! a higher education pathway.
A lot of ink has been spilled debating the purpose of higher education, so I won't rehash this here. But, in my opinion, higher ed is generally composed of three things:
Education and Knowledge
Network and Social Capital
And the purpose, for the vast majority of people, is to help them get access to a job/career. There have been many attempts to disrupt traditional higher education institutions over the past few decades of which I provide a very high-level illustration below. Each phase continues to get closer to expanding the accessibility, affordability, and efficacy of these learning pathways for students.
As we enter into a phase where reskilling & upskilling continuously will become the norm, rethinking how we deliver adult learning is critical. I spoke a bit about this in a recent TechCrunch article, but the issue with many solutions at the moment is that they don't take into consideration the needs the vast majority of students will have as they navigate their higher ed pathway, particularly for the first time.
For quick context -
Only ~30% of Americans have college degrees
Of undergraduate students today, 38% are older than 25, 58% are working, and more than 25% are parents
Hundreds of millions of people will have to retrain/upskill over the next decade, many who will have to do post-secondary learning for the first time
Existing post-secondary institutions were not made for these new types of learners in mind, creating a huge opening for entrants to better serve learners throughout their careers.
Instead of telling you what I think the future of higher education will be, I'll share the questions I generally consider when I look at early-stage companies in this space. There are no right or wrong answers to these, but it does help to surface key insights.
How do we think about balancing accessibility with program quality? For example, do we have online offerings, part-time, asynchronous vs synchronous learning?
Do we charge upfront tuition? Do we leverage ISAs or other forms of deferred tuition? Can we use public financing? Is it an employer-paid model?
Do we have an earn-and-learn model where the learner can generate income while learning?
What is the ROI of the $s spent and the expected income (and income ramp) from the job?
Is the learning engaging, active, and project-based?
What modalities are we using for learning (live, online async, online sync, VR/AR, simulations, etc.)?
Is the learning and curriculum connected to workplace needs and is the content adaptable?
Does the learning include both "hard" and "soft" skills like critical thinking, the ability to learn, self-efficacy, collaboration, communication, etc.?
Wrap-around services & efficacy
What are the goals of this curriculum (upskilling, job placement/reskilling, undergraduate college alternative) and does the robustness of the curriculum and support make sense given the goals?
How do we think about coaching to help ensure completion and provide support (especially when there are inevitable bumps in the round)?
What support do we provide when it comes to interview prep and job placement?
If we have a least a cohort of data, what is the completion and placement rate?
Consumer acquisition (Note: student acquisition cost is the fastest growing line item for most schools. In a downturn, college enrollment typically increases so this may not be as challenging over the next 12-24 months)
What are our plans for acquiring customers and do we have a unique angle around distribution?
Are we operating in a less crowded space where it might be easier to break out from the noise?
In a space that has had historically bad players (private for-profit colleges), how do we communicate a brand promise of trust and outcomes?
Relationship with employers
What is our relationship with employers in the industry we are tackling? What is the nature of that relationship (e.g. do we have an employer-paid or apprenticeship model)?
Is the relationship tight and does it inform how the curriculum adapts over time?
Do we have dedicated team resources to building out our demand side?
Unique supply and demand dynamics in the industry (this one is super important and probably too tricky to distill in a few bullet points)
What is the credential barrier for the role/career we are targeting and are we going after the right angle? (e.g. cybersecurity is a booming field but 88% of the jobs available require a BA degree - until that changes, most of the opportunity is probably in upskilling in "cyber-enabled" roles instead of entry-level roles)
What is the current supply and growth of supply in this industry?
What is the current demand and growth of demand in this industry?
Are we planning on going vertical (and owning training and placement) or going horizontal (and expanding the learning to other verticals) and how does that change the industry dynamics?
Community & alumni network
How do we help learners build social capital during the learning program?
How do we plan to leverage their alumni and build a community of support post-completion (this is important for building network effects AND especially if you're leveraging ISAs)?
Let me know what questions I'm missing (that aren't generalized diligence questions). For the next post, I'm debating between sharing why you should consider having a personal board of directors or sharing a higher ed vertical I think is ripe for disruption and interesting angles a company could take. DM if you have preferences!