Never Stop Learning

January 27, 2014 / AND NOW FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT

Never Stop Learning

January 27, 2014

Jessica Cudzilo Founder, The Define School

Jessica Cudzilo is the founder of The Define School, an online photography school offering classes in a range of topics. DEFINE’s focus is to foster authentic artists, combat loneliness and make learning photography easy, affordable and accessible to people all over the world.

It’s not easy to act upon an idea. When I launched DEFINE, I began with an image, followed by a deep brainstorming session, a few frustrations, and eventually a business plan, logo and website. I’m sure the picture painted is very similar to what most entrepreneurs experience. There’s a lack of something—a void or a need—and as entrepreneurs it annoys the hell out of us, until one night we awake suddenly from our sleep with a (seemingly) viable solution. The next day we’re thrilled to present the answer to the masses and hope it’s what the people are actually looking for.

It’s a bit embarrassing to admit, but the truth is I thought the hardest work would come in the initial building and birthing of my new business, an online photography school. Little did I know that the hardest work would come after the people started to show up at my door. The need to stay fresh, innovative, and invoke forward thinking was quietly, but evidently, expected. People are attracted to new companies, but what keeps people around is how those companies continue to re-invent themselves in a relevant way.

I’m certainly not complaining about the fact that my business has taken off rather quickly, but I can’t deny the fact that it’s also been terrifying. I created an answer to a problem and when the work became too much for just me, I started to hire more teachers and more support staff. Today, just over a year in, my team exists of 20 brilliant minds.

I don’t recall much from college, but there are a few one-liners from specific teachers that will be etched into my brain forever. One of those lines is this: The problem with our school systems is that there are a group of adults sitting in a room talking about their ideas on how to make things better. If you want to make things better, ask the kindergarten teachers.

I’ve implemented this idea with DEFINE by not just having staff meetings in which we brainstorm new ideas for growth. Yes, these types of meetings are important (if done right), but what has become the biggest source for growth are the surveys we send out to our students just after a block of classes has wrapped up. The key is that the questions are few and they are answered anonymously.

I’ll admit that my least favorite email to get is the one labeled, “[Month’s] Survey Results.” Sometimes I open it immediately and other times I wait a few days. This is because even though majority of the comments are enthusiastic and positive, there are always a good number of comments that sting. And of course, as the founder, my work is my love child. If you tell me my baby is pretty minus his ugly toes, I am only going to walk away thinking about his unfortunate looking toes.

At this point you may be wondering, “then why set yourself up to be told your baby has ugly toes?”. We should clearly just lock ourselves in our offices and create work that we think is good and pretend as if everyone else agrees. If they don’t, it’s their loss.

Obviously, this is ludicrous. And prideful. And a reason why many new companies crash and burn.

So, I read the results and I cringe and I sometimes overact and convince myself that this whole thing is going to go down in flames the next day. And then I put on my big girl pants and I make a list of ways we can improve, additional training we can implement for teachers, ways we can communicate to our community in a more seamless manner, design elements we can add to make our website better… and the list goes on.

And this is why the email I dread the most has been one of the biggest sources for growth for my business. We simply created a space for our customers to be heard and then we use it to fuel our business forward.

I’m fully aware this idea is not new or even unusual, but I believe it to be one of the most underutilized tools amongst businesses—big and small. If you don’t currently have a way to get raw and honest feedback from your customers, no matter what field you are in or product you are selling, a good question to ask yourself is why.

Offering a place for customers to tell you about areas of your business that are flawed is certainly not an easy pill to swallow, but if you’re willing to gulp it down and listen up I can tell you from experience that it will catapult your business forward. 

Jessica Cudzilo Founder, The Define School

Jessica Cudzilo is the founder of The Define School, an online photography school offering classes in a range of topics. DEFINE’s focus is to foster authentic artists, combat loneliness and make learning photography easy, affordable and accessible to people all over the world.

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