ABOUT THIS EPISODE

When you run a company, you hear two pieces of advice over and over again. One is that you must persevere at all costs. And the other is that you have to be ready to pivot on a dime. To persevere or pivot: it can be hard to tell which is right. But when Evan Marwell set out to tackle a huge national problem seven years ago, he didn’t really have to choose. Persistence is his default. Evan tells Alex the crazy story of how he helped to bring high speed Internet to American school children — thanks to a bit of luck and a lot of perseverance.

Without Fail is hosted by Alex Blumberg. It is produced by Sarah Platt and edited by Alex Blumberg, Devon Taylor and Nazanin Rafsanjani. Jarrett Floyd mixed the episode. Theme and ad music by Bobby Lord. Additional music by Jupyter.
English
United States

TRANSCRIPT

00:00:00This episode is brought to you by merrill lynch at merrill It all starts with you the you who works from home the you who's working on that dream home Start investing for the life you want with a dedicated advisor self directed investing or a merrill lynch professionally manage
00:00:14portfolio Learn more at ml dot com slash you this episode of without fail is brought to you by pick me up branded podcast from gimlet creative and lift Each episode of pick me up follows a lift driver who is on the way to something big like a library
00:00:33assistant who's working on publishing his first children's book or an army veteran who's launching her singing career with some advice from her childhood hero What went through your mind when you saw her No damn that's a shot pick me up is hosted by maria smith and is out
00:00:52now Subscribe wherever you get your podcasts From gillet media I'm alex bloomberg and this is without fail The show where i talked Athletes artists entrepreneurs visionaries of all kinds about their successes and their failures and what they've learned from both When you find yourself at the head of
00:01:21a company started four years ago i think you find yourself doing actually i'm gonna drop you because i am talking about myself The thing i found myself doing i was reading lots and lots of books and articles about leadership and when you read these books and articles about
00:01:34leadership there's a couple things that come up over and over two pillars of advice that you tend to get one you have to be persistent and two you have to be willing to pivot so persistence you have to like focus focus on the thing that you and you
00:01:49alone know how to do best You have to just keep on doggedly pursuing it through all sorts of obstacles until you finally get to the place where it actually working No company has been built without persistence and then there's pivoting you have to just make something see if
00:02:03it resonates If it doesn't resonate you have to change that thing and make something else and see if that resonates And lots of lots of huge companies have been built by pivoting as well But those two essence are sort of at odds with each other right pivoting is
00:02:16in many ways is the opposite of persistence and persistence is in fact the absence of pivoting you can't persist and pivot at the same time you start I have to choose and it's hard because i would definitely put myself in the persistent camp I had this kind of
00:02:33personality i could get lost in something i zone everything out People will be saying my name and i don't hear them and that's sort of what i took as the rule for how to succeed persistence is the key to succeeding but then you know starting gimlet there are
00:02:46lots of things that i persisted at that didn't work We spent years making certain shows that we ended up having to cancel and that happens a couple times and you read a couple books about pivoting and i started to wonder like is this thing that worked for me
00:03:01Is it now going to work against me Something about all this stuff In a while ago i was at this conference and i saw this guy talk his name's evan marwell He told a story that was a very very clear endorsement of the philosophy of persistence and i
00:03:16found it first of all fascinating and second of all really helpful toe understand Okay here's the strategy of persistence and here's what it looks like broken down over time his story begins about seven years ago and just a little bit of background on evan he's one of these
00:03:31serial entrepreneurs he'd started companies and a bunch of different industries financed telecommunications software consumer retailing He'd sold most of them for a nice pile of cash and he was at the point in his life where he was looking for his next challenge But he didn't want to just
00:03:45be another company that it was starting make a bunch more money He wanted to do something that would make a difference in the world But what exactly would that be He didn't know and then he came across this book I read a book by a guy named hey
00:04:00felix rohit one of the lions of wall street thing guy who saved new york city from bankruptcy back in the seventies Ray and he wrote this book called bold endeavors and the book was a call for the us to set Up an infrastructure bank and his idea was
00:04:16that on ly government was big enough to really do infrastructure that scale and that infrastructure was game changing for the country and the book consisted of ten vignettes things like the eerie canal the transcontinental railroad rural electrification And the interesting thing was what i took away from this
00:04:38in addition to his conclusion that you know government was really the only ones who could get things to scale Each one of these things happen because there was one person who had the crazy vision to do one of these big infrastructure projects on sort of kept at it
00:04:54kept at it kept at it until the government showed up with the money This is a really interesting point Most of us when we read books we're like oh that's wow look at that person They're so different from me And you saw you saw yourself in some of
00:05:05these people exactly because i looked at that person and i said what is it about those people They're very strategic started in management consulting I did pretty well I think i'm pretty strategic They're relentless and persistent I thought i had some of that and then finally and in
00:05:21some ways most importantly they were great sales people right They kept selling and selling and selling and so you know i thought i was a pretty good sales person you have to be a good sales person to be a successful entrepreneur and so i said huh That would
00:05:33be really exciting to do an infrastructure project that would change the face of america The problem was i had no idea what that waas so i just sort of put that in the back of my head as i was going through my search for for the next thing
00:05:46that i was going to do once you read this book and you started thinking that like describe how you're feeling you know i'm feeling excited but sort of wandering in the wilderness right Because i was like well how am i going to possibly find in infrastructure checked of
00:06:00this kind of scale to dio like you know i wasn't an infrastructure guy had never built a road or a bridge or a school or anything like that so you're literally walking around be like where am i going to find A gigantic problem that i consult it sort
00:06:14of i was wandering in the wilderness going it be cool to do it a new an infrastructure project but but honestly had zero ideas One of the pleasures of talking to evan is just how foreign his approach to everything is to me like this is a guy who
00:06:29literally went in search of a huge problem The biggest problem he could find I think i'm like most people when i say that is not my approach to problems I don't go in search of them if i'm honest sometimes hide from them It's not good I'm trying to
00:06:43get over that but anyway i definitely don't go searching for them Not like evans And in the days and weeks after reading bold endeavors he set his mind to finding something big and hard to fix At one point he actually got an idea at his daughter's school This
00:06:58was a k through a private school in san francisco so but pretty good school ready good school you know well resourced great teachers and one teacher tells me a story and she says well you know i did this assignment in my my class where i asked each of
00:07:16the kids to grab a laptop go to the ted website pick a ted talk watch the ted talk and then create a power point presentation to present to the class and i said wow that's great she said yeah it was terrific for the first eight girls i was
00:07:32like what do you mean she's Like Well by the time the ninth girl started watching her video the video started to slow down and by the time the tenth girl started watching they kind all stopped and i had to stop the assignment and i said oh so what
00:07:46you're saying is you had lousy internet okay Yeah That's what i'm saying that's why i didn't work that's why didn't work Pedagogical e It was fine It was just literally it was an infrastructure problem Exactly And i went to this school Yeah And i said what do we
00:08:02have for internet access And it turned out we had a cable modem So we had a cable modem for five hundred people I have a cable modem at home for five people and i get no end of complaints from my children about how slow it is Ok so
00:08:17imagine for five hundred peoples that was problem One problem too We had a wifi network that was eight years old it didn't reach all the classrooms and it was super slow in the ones that it did I mean literally it was described to me once like sucking peanut
00:08:31butter through a straw so i was like okay well we gotta fix this so we brought fiber optic connection to the school and we put in a new wifi network and suddenly it all worked on dh Then what started happening in the school was teachers or like oh
00:08:46i can trust the network now so i'm going to start integrating technology into my classes So that was sort of the next big sort of fortunate event was i had this interaction when i understood like oh internet access and schools this might be a problem and it was
00:09:02a problem It evans daughters fancy private school in san francisco tech capital to the world chances are there's a problem everywhere technology is becoming increasingly important in the education classroom Learning isn't just about writing papers and taking tests anymore students Are using technology all the time to collaborate
00:09:20to create present through technology Students could have access to huge virtual libraries and research materials and youtube tutorials and all sorts of things that they don't have access to Justin the regular library's right and with online programs teachers can tailor lessons in assignments and track student's progress there's
00:09:37just tons and tons of ways that technology could be a huge benefit in the classroom Access to broadband internet Khun b the difference between a student getting ahead and a student falling behind soto evan this felt like oh this is a very important problem that i can set
00:09:54my mind to fixing So while he's mulling all this in wondering will internet for schools become my bold endeavor thousands of miles away in washington d c president obama has created a new position in the government a chief technology officer to the united states and this new ceo's
00:10:12job is to find ways for technology to make america better for security for jobs infrastructure whatever and the way this new cto does that is by setting up these roundtables with tech people from across the country Chances for industry leaders To brainstorm ideas or point out problems that
00:10:29the ceo's office could fix And evan you know being a successful entrepreneur with lots of money and contacts he's exactly the kind of guy that gets invited to round tables like this and sure enough i got a call from a friend who said hey we're bringing in you
00:10:44know ten to fifteen tech ceos and serial entrepreneurs to the white house to talk about how to make america better with technology you should come and i was like okay well i'd be happy to come but what that come i going to talk about So i'm thinking about
00:10:59it i'm thinking about it and i'm going like yeah school broadband So i started doing research I found this survey that had been done by the fcc that said eighty percent of schools have lousy broad man and i was like great that's all i did So i go
00:11:13to this this tec table in january of two thousand twelve at the white house and the first thing that happens is the chief technology officer of the united states a guy named in each chopra at the time comes in and says tell us okay so what should we
00:11:30do to make america better with technology And he gets to me and i say well we should fix the school broadband problem and he looks at me with sort of like this confused look and says what school broadband problem All our schools have broadband we we have this
00:11:43program that spends two point four billion dollars a year buying broadband for schools and i'm like yeah they have cable modems and they have lousy wifi and so they can't use technology in schools never mind the fact that your department of education is counting on technology to help
00:11:57transform education in this country And he started looks at me and then he moves on and i'm like okay well that was my that was my chance and i was like well i leased put the idea in his head and are you Are you literally thinking like okay
00:12:11well i guess that's not going to be my thing like at this point are you think where are you now And you're sort of excitement well here's the thing that was the first time that i heard about this two point four billion dollars a year program like i
00:12:23didn't know about that and so i was like hey bold endeavors you've gotta like have the vision and keep at it keep at it till the government shows up with the money he the government's already shown up with the money it's already there because if we can't fix
00:12:36this for two point four billion dollars a year boy that that seems like plenty of funding So so then the president comes in president obama and the cto and each sits down next to me and the president gives his little speech and then he starts going around the
00:12:53table What should we do what we do And he sits down next to me and while somebody speaking he leans over to me and he says hey you should go fix that on each of the ceo says this year yeah okay i said fix what He's like that
00:13:06school broadband problem i said uh aren't we here to tell you what to fix at ease History says have let me tell you a secret we're the government we don't fix anything we make policy we provide funding but we can't actually go in fix problems and i was
00:13:24like wow that really discouraging they left this lift this part out of bold endeavor exactly but he said but you should go start a nonprofit to fix this and i said to him i said okay well what will you do for me And he said well i'll introduce
00:13:40you to the people you need to know in the government So at this point i'm i'm sort of leaving the room and i and all i can think about is like two point four billion dollars he's gonna introduce me to the people in the government This is what
00:13:54i need to dio and you're excited and i'm super excited and i call inish and i say and he said okay i'm going to do it he's like dude what I'm like time to start that out profit to fix the school broadband problem and he says ah really
00:14:07I said yeah he's like nobody ever takes me up on that offer i said well i'm going teo and so january two thousand twelve is when i started education superhighway so i want to stop you at this point because this sounds like the emotional high point I call
00:14:28it the entrepreneurship and emotional roller coaster There isn't an entrepreneur out there who doesn't experience it right The highs are higher than anything else you've ever done for work in The lows are lower Yeah So yeah absolutely I you know january two thousand twelve about ojai I'm like
00:14:49i found the opportunity I have a chance to change the world you know let's get how are how are you behaving when you're on that high What do you do Well i talk incessantly to my wife i'm saying i've found my purpose i found what i'm going to
00:15:02do next i'm going i'm going to do this thing and she's she's saying okay great where you know we're starting this journey again for the fourth time and it always starts the same way you coming off the same way you come over excited and then you make a
00:15:15decision and and she's like you're about to go into the black hole again aren't you what i'd like Yep but to go into the black hole because you know as you know as a start up person yourself like the first few years of a startup you've got to
00:15:30be all in yeah what's the what's the first thing you do to like sort of get this thing up and running The first thing i do is i figure out okay what's my plan how Am i how am i going to attack this problem and that's when i
00:15:45realize that Okay i need to figure out what the problem is what are the root cause is why do we have this it's interesting Your answer is a little bit kind of rude of the first thing that you did was essentially i have to figure out what problem
00:15:58i'm solving that's right which i did ink is a lot of people might blow past that because you've already settled on a problem right You know the problem It's broadband like i just got i got to get that money you know and start fixing the problem What made
00:16:10you want to dig deeper into the actual nature of the problem Well because every problem has a set of root causes and so i knew yeah the outcome wass that our kids didn't have good broadband So why was that You know what was the reason that this was
00:16:26happening after the break Evan discovers a billion reasons why this was happening That's right after these words from our sponsors This episode is brought to you by merrill lynch at merrill It all starts with you the you who is expecting a new edition that you have building a
00:16:42new edition As your needs evolve merrill provided advice and guidance that evolves with you They help you build a personalized financial strategy that starts with what matters most to you with the right balance of straightforward tools and access to professionals when you need them Whether you prefer working
00:16:57with the dedicated advisor self directed investing or a merrill lynch professionally manage portfolio merrill provides advice and guidance to help you live the life you want Learn more at ml dot com slash you investing in securities involves risks investments or not Fbi See insured or not bank guaranteed
00:17:14and may lose value Merrill lynch and merrill make available products and services offered by merrill lynch Pierce fenner and smith incorporated a registered broker dealer registered investment adviser member a pc and a wholly owned subsidiary of bank of america inc This episode of without fail is brought to
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00:18:30zip recruiter dot com slash no fail once again Zip recruiter dot com slash no fail zip recruiter the smartest way to hire welcome back without fail in my conversation with evan marwell where we left off evan had just started a new nonprofit education superhighway which was intended to
00:18:50provide broadband internet access at every school in america and in the beginning evan was just trying to figure out why is it that schools don't have good internet already And the first thing you want to look at was that two point four billion dollars that the ceo to
00:19:05america had mentioned that two point four billion dollars was in something called the e rate program This program was supposed to help schools pay for high speed broadband and was a lot of money to point four billion dollars Evan wondered if this money is supposed to be buying
00:19:19good broadband but eighty percent of schools don't have good broadband What exactly is that Two point four billion dollars being spent on now There was a website where schools applied for money for the raid program tens of thousands of applications a year each asking for a small piece
00:19:36of that two point four billion evan thought One way to answer that question is just to review all these applications maybe he could learn a thing or two about how that money was being spent so there were literally tens of thousands of applications every year from schools for
00:19:52this program and i said how the heck are we going to review all this information And this is another one of these examples of you know your network can be really helpful So i called a friend of mine who's working at a hedge fund and i say hey
00:20:06any chance that some of those quant guys at your hedge fund could write some code to scrape down all this information and put it into an excel spreadsheet for me any chance you want teo has half a million dollars worth an engineering costs right at little data skipping
00:20:23program for me Yeah the answer tayback sure we'll do that Yeah that's a nice friend to have exactly exactly You know your network is incredibly important and the care and feeding of that network is incredibly important So that when the time comes that you need to make a
00:20:42call like that they're excited to help Yeah but talk about that How did you sort of karen for I don't know like i mean this makes it sound very quid pro quo but like talk about like all the time the ground work that went into building the relationship
00:20:55to the point where when you called this person they were like sure yeah so i would say that i probably spend um you know a quarter of my time building and caring and feeding my network and what that means essentially is anybody who asks me for a meeting
00:21:14pretty much except for salespeople I take it really pretty much i gotta linked in message a month ago from i must have been a twenty five year old kid working for google in ireland and he said can i do a call with you Because i'm thinking about x
00:21:34y and z and ed tack and would love your toe understeer your story and understand and get your advice so i took it you know most people would take that call right Yeah well i don't think that call right and i think when i don't i'm always like
00:21:48cause i want teo because i'm curious about people and i like meeting people but i don't because i have this notion of like oh i'm a ceo now my time is valuable i shouldn't be taking these calls because i have to stay focused on what you're it sounds
00:22:01like you're saying things like you do af to stay focused but but you need to invest in your work So you you think that's a mistake on my part Well i mean it's hard for me to judge your particular situation but i think the time invested in you
00:22:18know building your network and i should say with no expectations right So like i don't have any expectations for this person but what i know is that over time if you are helpful to people that when you need help people will be helpful to you right And it's
00:22:36not always true but but i can tell you for sure that the success that i have had is an entrepreneur has been in no small part because of the incredible help that i've gotten from people in my network along the way i have a few sort of postulates
00:22:53about you know how to be successful as an entrepreneur One is you gotta invest in your network The second is you've got to be focused like focus focus focus I preach that all day long and then the third is it's Better to be lucky than smart Yeah which
00:23:10is hades down one hundred percent true Okay you you call your friend he helps you out with some data analysis guys who can help code some scraping programs and you start combing through the what is it Tens of thousands of applications Yeah about fifty thousand applications Fifty thousand
00:23:29applications And what are you looking for how's The money being spent and what we learn is that schools were way overpaying The typical school was paying twenty two dollars a megabit per month for their internet access while businesses were paying like three Whoa And so if you just
00:23:51put that in perspective paying twenty two dollars a month for megabit would be like paying five hundred dollars a month for your cable modem Whoa Okay And so we were like okay this is a problem The affordability of broadband is clearly one of the problems Was it sort
00:24:07of like an ah ha moment for you when you sort of looked at what they came back when you like actually analyzed all these fifty thousand applications Oh it it was a nen credible moment because i was like okay here's a problem that can be solved This is
00:24:21an execution problem This is not where we have to invent some new technology Fiber exists wifi exists internet access exists and the money exists and the money exists What the heck's going on and now ah ha what's going on is that schools are completely overpaying for their internet
00:24:42access In addition to looking and seeing that schools were overpaying for bandwidth we also found that a billion dollars a year this money was being spent on phone service And so that i talked to somebody who's like well it's because in nineteen ninety six the way you got
00:24:59broadband was through dial up connections So you had to have a phone line so it paid for phone lines so that you could get a dial up connection And i was like oh my god a billion dollars was being spent on the phone lines of schools which were
00:25:15eligible because back in the day that's how you got your internet access to schools were weren't even spending this on broadband they were just sort of using it to defray their just operating car Exactly Yeah the program that was funding at all I needed to change All right
00:25:32so now how you feeling So now i'm feeling psyched because i'm like okay like every one of these problems can be solved So we got on a plane and we went to d c and in d c we went and met with a woman named karen cater who
00:25:44at the time was running the office of educational technology in the u s department of education And we went to her and we said hey we need to fix the school broadband problem she's like okay what problem Nobody knew that schools had a broadband problem right It was
00:26:01like the cto of america when i i said we have to fix the school broadband problem and he looked at me with like a blank stare That was the reaction we got everywhere It's always say okay eighty percent of schools only four million kids have you know good
00:26:15broad bad Do we need to fix that she's like okay well how do we fix that Like we we've already got funding What's wrong And so that we take her through our little consulting study and we lay out the problem for her and she's like oh interesting And
00:26:28this is something you've been through quite a few times at this point Exactly Exactly what is that like to constantly be like we have to solve this problem And people are saying what problem is that Is that unusual in your experience No That's that's that's The truth of
00:26:41every entrepreneur right You have the opportunity because nobody else had solved the problem you found And to me it's just like you know that's the sales piece of this right So you've evangelized and then what happens And then she tells me you need to go talk to the
00:26:54fcc okay She helps me arrange a phone call with them And so i get on the phone with this person given my pitch and he says to me well how are we going to solve that Like how you gonna pay for that I say there's six hundred million
00:27:07dollars being spent on phone service at the time I thought the number was six hundred million dollars He's Like what Like six Hundred million dollars being spent on phone service We don't need to do that That's not helping anything it's like there is not six hundred million dollars
00:27:20being spent on phone service and i'm like no no like i looked at the data and i'm pretty sure that he hangs up on me I was like yeah exactly admit he literally hung up on you We literally have got by me and i was like okay that
00:27:33didn't go so well that i'm sitting here thinking to myself policy is one of the problems I'm just talking to the first person who has anything to do with the policy that's related to this and he hung up on me How did i haven't i've been hung up
00:27:48on once in my life I think it hasn't happened to you before No how did that feel Ah okay remember that emotional roller coaster Yeah dive at the bottom like oh crap right So like this is like is this the end of the line If i can't figure
00:28:11out an answer to this right this is our money and if we can't get the money to be spent more effectively and we can't do some other stuff that we need to do like how we're gonna solve this problem And are you mad at this this government bureaucrat
00:28:25who won't even take the time to listen to you Talk about more and flabbergasted huh Because i'm sitting here looking at the data and he's like there's No way And i'm sitting there going but like i got the data like e so i'm kind of like it was
00:28:42my first introduction to the fact that government is not necessarily data driven But we're changing We're changing that that's like just laughing because it's a pretty it's a pretty big understatement Yeah so anyway here's what happens three weeks later my phone rings and i'm like you know hello
00:29:06and it's this guy who hung up on me and he's calling me back he's here he's like it was like i think we got cut off you know yeah that's what he says yeah about that phone service Ah it's Probably a billion dollars Okay i'm back at the
00:29:25top of the roller coaster like a billion dollars he's like yeah i had some people look into it and yeah it's probably a billion dollars So let's talk someone what happened during that When did you ever get the story of what happened We for sure were creating noise
00:29:43around this problem right in the department of at and like trying to get to other people and all this kind of thing And so i think i think he partially realised we weren't going away I think his boss was interested in this problem and so i think he
00:30:00was like well let me look into this and and i think what he really realized ized was that oh my god were the fcc we spend two point four billion dollars a year on this and we have no idea what we're spending the money right and that's a
00:30:14scary thought if you're and that is a scary thought right as he became a partner Did he ever apologize for hanging up on you That's not his personality that he probably wouldn't describe it is hanging up He probably cycling i got to go On that so he says
00:30:34that the billion dollars so now he's like he says it's a billion dollars and he says come back to d c and let's talk some more and and so that sort of started our engagement at the fcc so ivan gets connected with the fcc but then he encounters
00:30:49the same problem that he's been encountering over and over again he says we have to solve this problem the people he talks to say what problem There is no problem and they give the blanks there and what's worse some of the people who claim there's not a problem
00:31:01are the telecom providers who are getting that billion dollars that schools are spending on phone lines So not only do they not to the problem they really don't want to see the problem The fact that no one but evan believed that the problem was actually a problem was
00:31:14of course itself a problem and one that wouldn't go away until evan figured out a way to prove beyond the shadow of doubt that the internet and public schools was bad Prove it so clearly that no one could look at the proof and deny that the problem existed
00:31:30How evan found that proof after these words from our sponsors this episode without fail is brought to you by google home hub so i'm going to get something i think probably happened Other people have you ever gotten up in the morning checked your phone looked at your calendar
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00:33:14used the africa wf to save ten percent off on your first purchase of a website or domain welcome back to without fail and my conversation with evan Marwell so at this point evan is desperately trying to prove that this problem that internet and public schools is bad is
00:33:29a real problem And of course he knows it's a problem because he's looked at a bunch of data that suggests it's a problem he has that survey that he found on the fcc his own website where they actually syrian people and eighty percent of them said that the
00:33:43internet didn't work He has also run his data scraping program to find that schools are wildly overpaying for their internet and also that a lot of the money that they're paying is actually just going to regular old phone service But somehow that is not compelling enough to the
00:33:56people that he's talking to and he realizes he needs even more compelling proof that this problem that he knows is the problem is actually no problem And so the next thing he does is come up with a way to prove it to the people who don't believe it
00:34:11or don't want to believe it and the way he's going to prove that is with a test a simple test that every school across the country could Take that would measure how fast the internet in that school was he thought If he could just design this test and
00:34:26make it easy for school to take then that will be the proof that he needs So he called another favor He got a computer engineer to make this simple easy to use speed test that any network administrator at any school just for could run and then all they
00:34:38needed you was get all the school districts in the country to run it Not all of them but a big majority of them So evan his team got the department of education to send out a huge email blast all the schools to publicize it on their website Evidence
00:34:52seemed got the fcc to talk about this test news sites wrote about it They did everything they could to get the word out about this high speed internet test to the tens of thousands of schools across the country In the end we get a thousand people to test
00:35:07their rod man They were like oh crap how many do you need A lot more than a thousand people that's their ride bad but remember what happened said better be lucky than smart at this point he got some luck in the form of someone who's very close to
00:35:28him So i get a call from my mother and you know she been following what i've been doing and she says your network that i have been taking care of attending to i've been taking care of it exactly on she says i just ran into my old boss
00:35:45His name is curt kiefer He was in charge of all ed tech for the wisconsin department of education and ah and i told him what you were doing and he said oh that's really interesting because you know were we have to roll out this testing across the state
00:36:04and we have no idea idea if our broadband networks are ready for it why don't you give him a call Maybe you can work together i call him up and and he said yeah i've got this problem I hear you're doing something about measuring broadband and i'm like
00:36:18yeah right and he says and he says okay well i know your mother and you're from wisconsin so you must be it okay Guy so let's try it So we lodge this programme where the department of education wisconsin markets toe all of the school district's and schools and
00:36:38wisconsin get seventy five percent of them test their broadband What strikes me about this At this point you've got this sort of like recursive nesting sort of set of problems that you're solving to solve this larger problem and at this point you're way down in this loop you
00:36:56have this big problem which is slow internet no broadband then you sort of figure out the root causes even though you've figured out the root causes you can't get the people in power to believe the root causes so then you have to figure out a way to convince
00:37:07them so then you need data but then to get the data you don't have a way to data So then you have to like sort of go state by state and start partnering with state departments of education at this point you're so far away from this original problem
00:37:21It's a lot Of faith that this far away from where you started it's eventually going to lead you back to a solution didn't feel that way Know it felt like i am on the path I am making progress The glass is half full by the way You know
00:37:36i felt like i was completely on the right track on you know you take a lot of left turns that you should have turned right and you've got to get back on course So it's not a straight line as you can tell right But but no i felt
00:37:51like i'm making progress here Got it Okay so you have this ah ha Moment like because through through the wisconsin experiment you realize ok this is our path In order to get a big enough data set to prove that there's an actual problem to the powers that be
00:38:05we have to start partnering with state departments of education right And turns out kurt's an amazing guy amazingly well connected So we start calling on other states and we give kurt is a reference and he says yes you should work with these guys They're good guys I know
00:38:19his mother on da ultimately something like thirty states or something like that over the next year that partner with us and we do these tests and we end up with eight hundred thousand people in thirty five thousand schools test their broadband and so now we have a data
00:38:38set and shockingly the data says only ten percent of our kids have good enough broadband to use technology the classroom So like we knew the answer before we started but now we have data on dh so now i'm able to take that dita to the white house and
00:38:56i show up with this data and they're like oh this is real and fortunately the new chairman of the fcc this guy tom wheeler was a business guy and so he was like well here's the data this makes sense and by the way we're we're paying you no
00:39:14schools or paying eight times as much as businesses so like we can't be doing this too well so we got to make some changes And so after after a year and a half of work that the fcc does a major overhaul major modernization of the year a program
00:39:29they phase out that billion dollars of phone service so that takes us from a billion for a year for broadband to two point four billion but then they had another billion and a half dollars So now it's a three point nine billion dollar program and it's poised to
00:39:43make all that data that was confidential publicly available and that was key because we then took all that data about who was buying what from whom and at what price And we put it online and as a result every school in the country could see what every other
00:40:00school was buying and who they were buying it from and how much they were paying And every service provider could see where doe i have opportunities to sell my product because i have a better price and as a result of that we've seen in eighty percent decrease in
00:40:16the cost of broadband for schools just by greeting ah marketplace with less information a cemetery exactly and and so that eighty percent decline in the cost of broadband has led to that ten x increase in the number of kids that now have enough broadband wow to use technology
00:40:36in the classroom So right now in america what percentage of schools have access to broadband internet About eighty eight percent of schools and roughly eighty eight percent of the forty six million students in public school districts have the key components of good internet access and when we started
00:40:56when you started this company how many students had access to broadband in two thousand thirteen on ly for million students had access to high speed broadband in their classroom so that was less than ten percent of the forty six million public school students in the country So we
00:41:13went from four million students having access to forty and that's that's almost ninety percent of students in america now and it's basically all because of you Well i wouldn't say it's all because i know you way lot of there's a lot of people who they know there's a
00:41:34lot of people but none of them got the ball rolling like if you hadn't got on this mission a while ago i think it's safe to say that we wouldn't be anywhere close to where we are today Yeah i think that's fair It strikes me that you had
00:41:46to be so many things to solve this problem You had to be a management consultant You had to be a data Ah data gathering service You had to be you know data analysis shop You had to do some coding You had to be a networker and then you
00:42:01also And then ultimately you had to be You had to go into the business of sort of like policy Abbott sexy And and then we had to be product developers to put out the website where everyone could see what everyone else was paying And then we had to
00:42:15be network consultants to work with school districts to help them figure out what they needed to buy and buy and run good procurement and work with the service providers And then we have to be salespeople to convince service two riders to bid on these opportunities So yes we
00:42:30have had to be a lot of things but kind of just like any other business At this point evan's been at it for six years a champion of the school of persistence versus the school of pivoting the champion of diving into all the minute details We'll never forgetting
00:42:48the big picture of what it's all in service to the end And since evan and i first talked education superhighway has released a new report with updated numbers According to the report forty four point seven million students in america are connected that's ninety seven percent of america's public
00:43:04school students They're a little more than two million students to go ever optimistic evan said he's pretty confident those students will be online by his goal the year twenty twenty Next time without fail i talked to a woman who grew her business from a simple storefront where she
00:43:21was the only employee to an empire that now brings in over a billion dollars in revenue every year And she says that the main thing that helped her business take off was a change in the way she thought about herself until i forgave myself for being female an
00:43:37african american and smart at the same time i did okay My business started to really grow the day that i forgave myself for being smart and female My candid and fascinating conversation with janice bryant howard on the next episode without fail without fail is hosted by me and
00:43:58produced by sarah platt it's edited by me nazanin rafts and johnny and devon taylor Jared floyd mixed the episode Music by bobby lord if you're enjoying the show leave us a review It really helps other people discover the show or better yet tell your friends don't just keep
00:44:14it a secret Let everyone know this is a show to listen to and as always thanks for listening At merrill it all starts with you the you who's a carrying parent thie You who's carrying for a parent no matter what your priorities are to merrill provides advice and
00:44:37guidance to help you live the life you want Learn more at ml dot com slash you Thanks again to our sponsors Zip recruiter A lot of job boards can overwhelm you with a lot of the wrong resumes Zip recruiter is smarter than that They find the right people
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