The anatomy of a (business) class

Though it feels like a series of rants, I don’t mean to rant, nor make a series out of it. However, I can’t help but express my frustration with another class I took this week, this time centered on helping people start a side business.


General Assembly

It was a class offered by General Assembly and it sounded cool – How to Start a Side Business. It was taught by someone who is a serial entrepreneur and claims to have started or help launch quite a few companies.

The class basically went off of a handout that provided 10 steps for launching a company. Over two hours, we basically just flipped through pages, did a few exercises (one of which included meditation that, for me at least, had no tangible connection to anything we were doing), and listened to the instructor talk.

The talk is what was least impressive. The instructor failed to impress me with any of her theory or examples from her own past. She could not remember names of companies, the things they did, the tools she pitched, or explain in depth the resources she was recommending. A brief conversation about SEO went nowhere, for example.

And she, on purpose, excluded one major topic – money! We were meant to have it figured out by then, she said. But that’s often the biggest reason people cannot start or scale their business – they don’t have the cash. It’s one thing to build a proof of concept, or to launch a business where you are making something by hand on a small scale. But when you want to aim for something a bit more capital intensive, you need to know where to gain financing, so that you can pay for technology, tools and, most importantly, people.

When I asked her about how one gets developers, she told me that you either learn to code or hire one, which aren’t really useful answers, unless you’re talking to someone who has done literally zero research before. Given that every single person paid $50 for this two hour class, chances are, they all invested a lot of time into thinking about their idea and felt that they now needed to commit some financial resources to take their thinking to the next level.

This is where the class failed.

If it was a free class that was meant to give you some general direction about how to start thinking about your business, it would be fine. Or if it was described in a way that made it obvious to folks who have been pursuing their ideas for some time that this was too entry-level, that would be fair as well. Instead, it was a relatively pricey class that sold itself as something more advanced than it actually was, and this is what I take issue with.

Under-promise and over-deliver. That’s a business mantra that GA should have stuck to.

The anatomy of a (crappy) dance lesson

One of the promises in my wedding vows was that I would finally learn how to dance salsa. I knew that this would make my wife very happy and, given that this was a vow, I have to make good on it.

So, a month and a half after moving from London to Los Angeles, I found myself in a Santa Monica dance studio in a “salsa for beginners” group class.

There was nothing “beginners” about it, though. The class, an hour long, was divided into roughly two halves – beginner and intermediate. With about 20 students, the instructor, a fiery/feisty character named Jose, told us that he wasn’t going to dwell on the basics for any amount of time. His goal was to make us reach for higher levels, which we were somehow expected to do without knowing where to start.


Jose showing us salsa steps

He started off with showing us the basic steps – first for the ladies, then for the guys. While simple in principle, this is something that I need practice in and can’t just pick up on the fly. But time and patience was a luxury he wasn’t going to spare and soon we were doing more complex moves and dance patterns, involving hands, slides, and walk-arounds. I can’t even comment on how the others were doing (better than me, I’m sure), because I was just trying not to step on my wife’s feet. Needless to say, I didn’t remember any of the basics, nor was I able to pick up any of the more advanced stuff because I was getting frustrated with myself, the pace and his (lack of) instruction.

After the class, my wife and I chatted about the logic of these types of classes. In her opinion, they are designed to make beginners realize that they are worse than they think they are (and that this is harder than they thought) and to splurge for the more expensive private lessons.

Perhaps. Though I didn’t think that parting with $18 per person was a particularly cheap affair, given that I got nothing out of it.

I actually think that this is a crappy way of going about soliciting more expensive business. If I were the instructor, I’d identify prospects for private dance lessons during these group engagements and give them a bit extra attention to show them that I am a good and capable instructor. Afterwards, I would have a chat about what the students were hoping to achieve and offer them some private dance options. Instead of feeling deflated and defeated, the encouragement would secure some higher margin business for him/studio as well as group-class patrons for down the road.

As things stand, I think that the class, as well as the studio, was a bit of a joke.