What I Learned from Ryan Delk & Barrett Brooks

How Ryan Got Me Thinking About Transforming Education

Read time: 5 minutes

Welcome to The Ascend Archives Friday Edition where I share insights from the brightest minds in business and life and how I'm applying them to my life.

While at Craft + Commerce in Boise earlier this month, I met Barrett Brooks. He was the former COO of ConvertKit and helped them scale from $3M to $30M in revenue. He left to figure out his next life move and found himself as an executive coach and podcaster.

Barrett led the session that I discussed in my conference recap where I felt out of place and left me feeling inspired to build a business large enough to belong in the room next year.

Below is my chicken scratch notes from his talk. But take a look at what I boxed in the top right. This guy made such an impression on me from leading an hour and a half workshop that I left wanting to hire him one day. He only works with CEO’s and executives running businesses with $1M+ in revenue. I have a ways to go but I’ll make it happen.

He recently launched a podcast called Good Work which is a show about what it really takes to make impact at scale. They are long ~2 hour episodes but Barrett is a great interviewer and goes in depth like I’ve never seen before on other podcasts. Some of his first guests were a few of my favorite thought leaders James Clear and Paulina Pompliano.

Today I want to recap what I learned from his interview with Ryan Delk, the founder of Primer, a company working to transform education to deliver better outcomes to teachers, students, and families.

I’ve been interested in education and financial literacy in particular for the past 6 years since getting involved with the non-profit Junior Achievement. But this discussion really sparked my curiosity when it comes to redefining education in this country and finding better ways to teach our children what they need to know to be successful in life.

Ryan also has some interesting takes on life. Let me know if you resonate with any of these!

Takeaways from Ryan Delk & Barrett Brooks

1. The benefits of homeschooling

Homeschooling provides autonomy.

Ryan talked about how he would do school work for 2-3 hours per day and then have the rest of the day to explore and try different things. Since there are fewer admin and logistics, you can get the same amount of work done in a shorter time. His afternoons were free to practice building a business or exploring hobbies like woodworking and playing an instrument.

This freedom allows kids to speed up the course work if they want. That’s why we see many homeschooled kids graduate early.

2. Swinging the pendulum from generation to generation

Ryan had an interesting take on children opting for opposite parenting styles as their parents.

His parents both grew up in households where there was a clear right and wrong answer and emotions were not openly shared. So when his parents had Ryan and his siblings, they made a conscious effort to do the opposite.

For example, Ryan’s parents only cared about outcomes. They didn’t care about how their kids got to the outcomes. His parents once said to him “We don’t care what you’re like at 13, we care what you become at 25, 35, 45”.

Ryan’s parents might have overcorrected. Generational growth at its best is swinging the pendulum less and less to find a middle ground that optimizes the best family principles and values.

3. The rigid finance/corporate promotion structure is flawed for high performers

In the world of banks, consulting firms, and private equity, you have to “pay your dues”.

During the early stages of one’s career, there is no way to skip ahead. You can only get promoted after 2 years. You can only get hired by a Private Equity firm after 2-3 years at an investment bank or getting your MBA. The smartest and most talented people don’t have a way to progress at a faster rate.

That’s why Ryan and Barrett opted for the startup world because there is less structure and more opportunities to grow. Instead of waiting 2 years to get promoted, they were told “If you accomplish X, Y, & Z, then you will get promoted. Whether it takes 6 months or 2 years, that’s up to you”.

4. The problem with homeschooling

Homeschooling is not accessible for majority of Americans.

It requires a two parent household, one of those parents to stay home, and for that same parent to have an interest in educating their children.

Ryan founded a company called Primer that is using Micro schools to take the benefits of homeschooling and make it accessible to the median American family. These Micro schools focus on small group learning in mixed age classrooms where students can explore their curiosity.

Students get personalized academics, the freedom to explore their interests, and learn how to set and achieve goals instead of just grades.

5. You can succeed in any industry if you do these 3 things

Ryan gave 3 steps to succeed in any industry or job. These are an oversimplification, but I do generally agree with the principles.

  1. Work hard consistently and produce results

  2. Do what you say you’re going to do

  3. Be willing to take risks and delay status and/or power

6. Find ways to add value before you ask for value

I love this and I do this. I wrote about it a few weeks ago with Jon Youshei.

You could send 500 cold emails asking leaders in your industry to grab coffee or hop on a call to chat. Maybe 10-15 respond. Maybe you talk to 1-2.

During that same amount of time, you can spend time researching 10 people you admire and want to connect with. Then you find a way to solve a small problem for them or give a thoughtful recommendation for how they can improve an aspect of their life. I bet at least 50% will respond.

Not only will you get a higher response rate, but trust between you compounds at a much quicker rate than when you ask for value first.

7. People are default lazy

I loved this takeaway because it’s so true. I fall into this bucket too. It takes discipline and motivation to get out of bed and do shit. So most people don’t.

It’s simple but putting in the work gets you far.

Barrett added one important piece. Put in the work, whether that might be doing research or preparing a presentation, but then add your own flavor or perspective to it. Don’t just do the same work everyone else is doing. We all have our unique experiences and skillset… So use it.

8. Attack hard problems

Ryan decided to attack the hard problem of education.

But he admits that most people don’t start with the hard problems. They opt for an easy problem first like building another SaaS company or starting a marketing agency or buying real estate. Then, once they have financial security, they are willing to take a risk on hard problems like healthcare, climate change, and education.

Ryan makes a case for smart people to start with the hard problems. It’s different than just seeing an opportunity and taking advantage of it. Trying to fundamentally change the world is rewarding. It’s also easier to recruit smart people to work with you on really hard problems vs the basic ones.

Thank you for reading! As always please reply and let me know what resonated, what didn’t, or what you question. I love chatting about this stuff!