Brandon Goon is the founder and CEO of Be Anything, a project management platform that enables students to direct their learning and helps teachers give the right feedback at the right time. When Brandon was 16, he dropped out of high school. His lust to design and invent didn’t have a place in education. Now, Brandon’s mission is to reinvent education its self.
Here are some highlights from the conversation:
Can you tell me about Project-Based Learning and how BeAnything fits in?
Brandon Goon: A lot of schools are moving towards project-based learning. And the reason why is because it increases student engagement. Increases teacher satisfaction with their jobs decreases dropout rates, increases attendance rates.
It’s like this perfect pedagogy and, and there’s a lot about a school that can go right when you do project-based learning. but unfortunately, when doing project-based learning, there’s a lot that can go wrong. For teachers. Assessing project-based learning is time-consuming. Keeping projects aligned with learning objectives is extremely difficult.
Assessing project-based learning and giving feedback all throughout the process and always knowing what students are working on, what they’re working on completely different things is nearly impossible. So we’ve taken some of the interfaces like Trello, Asana, air table, these really great project management software for the way work happens and applied them to the classroom and merge them with assessment features and, and management features that you’d want, for collaborating with students and between students and teachers and between students and other students.
We’re really kind of like an LMS for the way work happens.
Why do you think educators need a learning specific tool for PBL?
Brandon Goon: So, the project management software out there is really great for the workplace, right? So, if we wanted to work on a project together, maybe we’d put our tasks on Trello, come up with different stages. Developers have JIRA, Asana just filed for their IPO and whatnot.
And Slack too, like they’re great tools. I don’t know a single startup that’s not using Slack. And the simple matter of the fact is that people when they work, need to break down their work into smaller pieces. And collaborate with each other. And it also is really great for keeping accountability and knowing what everybody has worked on in the past too.
And then when you think about schools, that’s exactly what schools need too. Students should be collaborating. They should be working on things together and developing those social skills. Students should be able to break their own work down rather than have people tell them, okay, here’s step one, two, and three.
They should be able to think critically and break things down into smaller pieces and start to contextualize them and whatnot. and teachers also need a record of what students are working on. But the problem is that a lot of project management software is geared towards the individual for the individual to do those things with just themselves, but they don’t have anything of the sort of like rubrics, some sort of tracking feature to see mastery over time.
Or even if you’re not in a mastery-based environment, maybe you just want to look at one project and what skills were learned through that project, and look at exactly which skills were taught by which tasks or which tasks help students figure out the skills that they need to learn.
And current project management software is just not built for that sort of thing.
Can you tell me about your journey from dropping out of high school to becoming an entrepreneur?
Brandon Goon: Yeah. So after middle school, when I was in high school, I was extremely bored.
I was far more interested in learning things out, Scott outside of school than what I was learning in school. so I remember thinking about the future of work one day and I said, what? I should just drop out. It doesn’t make sense for me to be here. My goal wasn’t to start a company, and I don’t recommend anybody like to drop out of high school and start a company.
That’s a terrible idea. Your life’s going to be a lot harder than it needs to be, even if you are successful. And for me, sometimes I still look at it and I’m like, yeah, my life is a lot harder than it really could have been. but I just knew that a school wasn’t going to get me where I needed to be.
So after dropping out one day, I wanted to understand how I learned as a person. So I decided to take apart all of my Google searches and I started to see patterns in the way that I was searching. It was like, huh, that’s fascinating. and then I started to find that the pattern was specifically strongest when I was working on projects.
It’s interesting. So I interviewed some friends about their Google searches, found the same pattern and we all had different interests. So I also was very comfortable sort that as well. And I found the same pattern and theirs was also strongest around. When they were working on projects. then I started to research things like learning through projects and I found project-based learning.
Then I started looking for research papers on project-based learning. Then I started to see that it was like this magical thing that apparently made every single classroom better. but it was also really hard to do. And I was like, interesting. So why was my school not doing this? So then I started visiting schools that were doing project-based learning.
That would basically sign up on the parent tours. Of these progressive private schools, and I was like 16, 17 ish at the time. And I’d show up there with my little baby face and then I’d start citing research papers on project-based learning. And they just look at me like, what is this like? This is either like a sick joke or this kid’s just trying to run away from home and enroll himself in our school.
so after that, they would invite me back. Weirdly enough, cause I guess they just like got a kick out of it or something. and then they would, I would basically do product interviews with them and talk about specific things that I saw in their classrooms. And a lot of those conversations became part of our product.
And part of the conversations we started to have with public school teachers, we referenced some of the things that we learned, in that, in those schools.
How did you gather your initial contact list of 200+ educators interested in project-based learning?
Brandon Goon: I went to a lot of EdCamp sessions purely just do research. And I would either post up things about project-based learning or just go to existing project-based learning sessions and ask my questions there and whatnot. And what I found was that there were certain short term things that teachers needed.
So for us, we found that it was project planners. Assessment tools for project-based learning, just like paper assessment tools, or just like guides of practices and whatnot. The guides for Xs and whatnot.
So I just stick to project planners for now and other rubrics and whatnot. And I just put little barcodes on them with like a little, flip this over, and you could get a digital version on Google docs as well as a little brief, a better product. And then when they scan it, they can check out our product and then they sign up on our waitlist.
And they also get a digital version on Google docs. So, it’s A) something that’s. Helpful to them. B) we know that they’re looking for our product because you wouldn’t be interested in a project-based learning planner if you are not interested in project-based learning. And also like even if you were interested in a project planner but not interested in project-based learning like I, I think you’d probably just like to look at it and not really scan it and actually take the steps to fill out a very long form.
Where I ask you for a lot of information that you clearly have figured out at this point is a sales tool. Like that sort of thing. So that, and also what’s really great about it is that we could also gather data about it so we can gather like which sessions. So I can look at the times at which I handed them out, and then when the barcodes were scanned too, and I could see which sessions.
So then I could cross-reference that with keywords in the sessions as well and that sort of thing. And I find that very helpful. And also, yeah. I mean, we get about a 30% conversion from handing them out. We don’t know if people pick them up or not, but like out of handing them out, about 30% of those usually convert onto our waitlist.