Matthew O. Brimer

Co-Founder of General Assembly

THIS CHAT HAPPENED ON November 24, 2015

Discussion

Matthew O. Brimer@brimer · Co-Founder, General Assembly
Hi, I’m Matthew Brimer! I do a few things, but mostly consider myself an entrepreneur, artist, and instigator. I co-founded General Assembly a few years ago, and also co-founded Daybreaker. I love community building, supporting other entrepreneurs, creating movements, dreaming up the future of education empowering people to transform their lives for the better, traveling, and helping make the world a better place. Excited to jump into the conversation! Btw, as a bit of an extension to my intro above -- I co-founded General Assembly in 2010, and also co-founded Daybreaker back in 2013. I started a social gaming startup 2007 (which failed!), but I learned a ton from it and got my feet wet in the startup space. I love community building, supporting other entrepreneurs, creating movements, dreaming up the future of education empowering people to transform their lives for the better, traveling, and helping make the world a better place. Excited to be here, and looking forward to diving in and chatting with you.
Erik Torenberg@eriktorenberg · Former Product Hunt
what's something you used to fervently believe that you now see as fundamentally misguided?
Erik Torenberg@eriktorenberg · Former Product Hunt
What's the big vision for Daybreaker?
Arpit Gupta@arpitgupta · Product Manager
@eriktorenberg Helping to promote its 2nd party in Boston so really excited to know more :)
Matthew O. Brimer@brimer · Co-Founder, General Assembly
@eriktorenberg Big vision for Daybreaker, wooowee! In short form -- to create a world-changing cultural movement and lifestyle brand dedicated to inspiring a global community of individuals through mindfulness, camaraderie, self-expression, wellness, and mischief. What we've created -- are creating -- with Daybreaker is unlike anything I've ever seen before, and it's incredibly inspiring and humbling to me to see what is happening. We're *waking people up*, figuratively and literally!
daniellevine@daniellevine · Fireside
Hey Matt! Thank's for doing this AMA. I'm wondering, what's the best thing you've come across in the last 30 days and why? Could be anything, a product, an article, a tea, a quote. Anything! Thanks for answering.
Matthew O. Brimer@brimer · Co-Founder, General Assembly
@daniellevine Something I've come across recently that I love... I was coming off the L train today in the Union Square subway station, and lo and behold I saw this amazing underground retail installation: http://www.wired.com/2015/11/the....
Matthew O. Brimer@brimer · Co-Founder, General Assembly
@daniellevine Compared to the normal subterranean bodega fare in NYC's subways that are usually filled with cheesy magazines, processed food, and generally unappealing vibe, this place called "The New Stand" was beautifully designed, well-lit, with thoughtfully curated products, healthy juices, and a cool neon sign. It was awesome and totally something that there should be more of. Perfect for setting up shop right off the L train from Williamsburg too. ;)
Phil Nguyen@p_ngu · The Daily Water Cooler + Vettery
@brimer Thanks for the heads up on The New Stand, looks really neat and I love the thought behind it.
Aditya Gopal Ganguly@gopcruise · Developer, Practical Knowledge Labs
You started a gaming company as well? What are your views about the domain of serious games?
Matthew O. Brimer@brimer · Co-Founder, General Assembly
@gopcruise I wouldn't consider myself a gamer really, much less a serious gamer, though my social gaming startup that I co-founded back in 2007 was a team-based community-powered social gaming platform called PickTeams, which leveraged college rivalries and sports rivalries, allowing people to 'play out' their affinity groups and competitive rivalries online through fun massively multiplayer team-based games that we built. The post-mortem is here: http://www.gocrosscampus.com. We never ended up figuring out how to generate any significant revenue, and when the recession hit in 2009, we ran out of cash and had to close up shop. Difficult times for sure, but ultimately a powerful learning experience. All entrepreneurs go through failures, and the best entrepreneurs learn from those failures and go on to bigger and better things, humbled and more experienced than before.
Arpit Gupta@arpitgupta · Product Manager
How do you stay devoted to all the projects/startups you are working on? Related to this, how do you make sure that the teams at each of your startups feel that you are available for mentoring?
Matthew O. Brimer@brimer · Co-Founder, General Assembly
@arpitgupta It can be tricky at times! Time management and prioritization are critical. It's something I've gotten better at but still struggle with -- there's never enough hours in the day to do everything you want to do. Which means you have to cut out what doesn't matter, you have to be able to say no. I try to manage my professional 'pie' so that I remain devoted -- time-wise -- to the projects that need me the most, but also those that I choose to devote my time too. You don't want to feel overwhelmed with obligations such that you can't focus on everything. I try to choose one or two HUGE projects to focus on at any one time that I'm operationally involved with, accompanied by some other endeavors that require less of my day-to-day operational involvement. For me, right now at least, that means I'm primarily spending my professional time on General Assembly and Daybreaker, accompanied by some time carved out to support a few other companies/projects I'm supporting or advising, like the co-living startup Common (http://hicommon.com) for instance -- but making sure that I keep my primary focus on the company or companies that need me most.
Arpit Gupta@arpitgupta · Product Manager
@brimer How did you get Alexis Ohanian to invest in GA? What a cool investor to have on board! http://alexisohanian.com/pages/i...
Matthew O. Brimer@brimer · Co-Founder, General Assembly
@arpitgupta We spent time with him, became friends, got him involved in our hackathons and events and early educational offerings, and when we were ready to raise our Series A, he was in! It's all about building relationships with people who believe in you and your mission.
Jourdan Bul-lalayao@jourdanb21 · Co-Founder & CTO, Jobox
Hi Matthew! Thanks for your AMA on Product Hunt!! My question is intentionally vague as I'd love for you to answer based on your interpretation of the question :). If you had only one tip to share with entrepreneurs on how to build a successful startup, what is your absolute #1 tip?
Matthew O. Brimer@brimer · Co-Founder, General Assembly
@jourdanb21 one tip I have for entrepreneurs is to *hire people who are better than you at specific things*. As you build your team, bring on people smarter and more capable at particular areas of the business where you feel your skills lacking. As your company grows you want the average quality of talent to be going up. It's a humbling thing to be surrounded by so many incredible people in your company, but as a founder that's vital!
Emily Hodgins@ems_hodge · Operations @ Product Hunt
Thanks for being here today 🙌 During your career to date, what has been your a) most challenging moment and how did you overcome it? b) proudest moment and why? c) most surprising moment?
Jacqueline von Tesmar@jacqvon · Community at Product Hunt ⚡️
What are you favorite hobbies lately?
Matthew O. Brimer@brimer · Co-Founder, General Assembly
@jacqvon some of my favorite hobbies -- I love creating new experiences for people that push them forward as humans. Sometimes that means hosting an intimate dinner with new and old friends where everyone goes around the table and shares one thing they're vulnerable about and one thing they're proud of. It gets really deep really quickly, and it's amazing to see how people's facades break down and how real and authentic they get when you create the space for that. I'm some combination of a creative and sociologist at heart (I majored in sociology at Yale during undergrad), so I love thinking about and creating ways for people to find transcendent moments that enable them to become better versions of themselves. It's really rewarding too, to see people find fulfillment in an experience or a product or a piece of art you've created. I've come to realize that one of the best ways to be happy yourself is to create happiness for others. :)
Erik Torenberg@eriktorenberg · Former Product Hunt
What do you understand about community building that other people don't? What makes you so good at it?
neeharika sinha@neeeharika · Google, Threadchannel
Hello Matthew! So great to meet you here for the AMA. I would love to know if General Assembly is planning to expand into Indian and Asian markets? What was the growth roadblock you had to face expanding into foreign markets.
Matthew O. Brimer@brimer · Co-Founder, General Assembly
@neeeharika We're expanding a lot into Asia-Pacific actually. We recently opened General Assembly Singapore, and have campuses in Sydney, Melbourne and Hong Kong already. Much more to explore!
Erik Finman@erikfinman · Founder of Finman Technologies
Do you think that more startups will take on the physical space of edu more? and if so how would you scale that to k-12?
Matthew O. Brimer@brimer · Co-Founder, General Assembly
@erikfinman I think in-person education, when done well, can be incredibly powerful. We've seen it all over the world at GA's campuses. Turns out people like to be around people! You can only have so deep of an experience through a glowing screen, but IRL experiences can be really powerful and transformative, allowing people to engage and connect and learn with each other, motivating each other face to face and making the learning experience more tangible.
Corley@corleyh · COO @ Product Hunt
Thanks for joining Matthew! Let's talk travel. What's your favorite place you've visited and why is it your favorite? And what is a place that is next on your list? And is there any place you would never go back to?
Matthew O. Brimer@brimer · Co-Founder, General Assembly
@corleyh I've been really jones'ing for Cuba lately, before it gets taken over by tourism... I got to spend a week in Guatemala last year during an expedition with Pencils of Promise (http://pencilsofpromise.org), where General Assembly funded the building of an elementary school down there. It was an incredible trip and really humbling and eye-opening for me.
Matthew O. Brimer@brimer · Co-Founder, General Assembly
@corleyh For NYE I'm going down to Panama for a 150-person adventure at this amazing eco-village in the jungle called Kalu Yala: http://kaluyala.com. Should be a great group of people with a lot to share and learn. Two years ago I got to spend some time at Maderas Village, another incredible eco-village in Nicaragua, where they're doing a lot of retreats, learning journeys, design work, furniture craft, and more. It was nice to get out of the hubbub of daily urban life and spend some time in nature soaking up the natural beauty that we miss so often in NYC...
the doer@thedoerdoes · frontend developer, UX designer
Hi, any tips on community building? Any great guys, cases to learn from? Your experience with what works best and how to do it right?
Matthew O. Brimer@brimer · Co-Founder, General Assembly
@thedoerdoes Tons! Community building is something I think about all the time, and I've actually considered potentially writing a book or a series of essays on the topic. When building a community, you have to start with the core values, and then live those values yourself every day. Decide what you want the community to stand for -- at Daybreaker, we chose five core pillars before we even launched our first event: mindfulness, cameraderie, wellness, self-expression, and mischief. These five values are the foundation around everything we do and what we focus on when building our community. If something isn't aligned with one or more of those values, we don't do it! Some of the most inspirational communities to me that I've been involved with are Burning Man, Summit, Sandbox, Daybreaker and General Assembly (my own), Camp Grounded, and others.
Haider Syed@haidersyed · Co-Founder, Frostbite
Hi Matthew! Great to have you here on Product Hunt. With both General Assemby and Daybreaker being incredible in there own ways, what would you say was the biggest hurdle you faced at the early stages of both? The initial stage of startups (even if that's just the idea stage) is so crucial and many things can go wrong if you're not careful (unfortunately). I'm curious to know if there was a common problem that arose throughout the earlier stages of General Assembly and Daybreaker?
Matthew O. Brimer@brimer · Co-Founder, General Assembly
@haidersyed Good question, a few things here. One big challenge early on was figuring out what was the real 'meat' of the business or product. Let's say you have something that's working or gaining traction, how do you know what's just novelty or flash in the pan, vs. what's real and sustainable in the long term. Consumers are fickle and always want the Next Big Thing. If something gets too popular too fast, it runs the risk of being old news when the next popular things comes along. We were fortunate in that GA and Daybreaker both took off pretty quickly upon launch, but the trick was transforming what was popular at the time into a real long term business proposition that is going to last. Sometimes that means having to let go of what works early on and pursuing bigger opportunities as you build them. For example with GA, we launched by offering coworking memberships for early stage startups in NYC, in addition to all the classes, workshops and events we were offering... but as we grew, we realize the bigger value proposition for GA was not in coworking so much as it was in transformative education and empowering a community of people around the world to pursue work they love... so a few years in we closed out our coworking revenue stream and focused 100% on education + community.
Haider Syed@haidersyed · Co-Founder, Frostbite
@brimer appreciate the response, Matthew!
Theoharis Dimarhos@theo_dimarhos · Marketing+Biz Dev at AngelouEconomics
Hi! What's your take on online schools/education? What's the one component missing that will make them grow exponentially?
Kate@katesegrin · Head of Social @ GitHub
Who are some of the people who have made the greatest impact on your life thus far? (Stories, please!)
Kate@katesegrin · Head of Social @ GitHub
What was one pivotal moment in your personal life and in your career?
Matthew O. Brimer@brimer · Co-Founder, General Assembly
@katesegrin The failure of my social gaming startup PickTeams (aka GoCrossCampus -- http://gocrosscampus.com) in 2009 was a big transition time for sure... I was also just graduating from college and trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life... I knew I didn't want a 'real' job and instead wanted to continue on my entrepreneurial journey and create more communities, products, and companies, I just didn't know how/where all that would end up. After PickTeams failed, I moved to NYC and started immersing myself in the burgeoning startup community here (2009-2010), hosting events, meeting people, trying to be as useful and helpful as possible, etc... and in so doing I started developing the idea that eventually became General Assembly, which we founded in 2010 and launched in early 2011.
Andreas Klinger@andreasklinger · Tech at Product Hunt 💃
Hey Matthew - long time no see Hope it's ok to ask strategy questions: What are your current expansion plans - eg Strategy for Europe / Berlin?
Matthew O. Brimer@brimer · Co-Founder, General Assembly
@andreasklinger Hey man! We were actually running some workshops and events in Berlin a few years ago as you probably recall but never had a full campus there. It's tough in Berlin because traditional education is so subsidized by the government, but GA is not... so it makes it hard for us to compete against traditional college. ;) Europe is definitely on the radar and we have a big presence in London. We're expanding to Denver in early 2016, which is exciting.