Dream come true.
“Hando” as everyone calls him is one of those rare guys, he’s a financially savvy businessman with a warm and generous heart. He and I teamed up and co-founded our little company, “PikiPeople, Inc.” It was exciting to formally start a company in Japan and a big learning experience for me. It certainly forced me to depend on others to translate the very difficult and complex forms, laws systems and expenses in this foreign land.
Hando was instrumental in getting enough cash together to pay for our programmer and other costs. His genius was in finding funding without going into debt, so our initial private investment was actually quite small. It was a good time. Establishing a company in Tokyo, getting things in motion, networking with a lot of people; feelings were good and the future looked bright.
No, don’t wake me up!
For the next few years or so, the programming side of things was progressing WAY behind schedule and we were becoming afraid that our programmer wouldn’t be able to pull it off. After all, he’d never done anything like this before. He is one of those people who is highly confident in his ability to do practically anything, and we realized he suffered from “substantial overestimation syndrome,” it’s a new disease of my invention.
So we shopped around quite a bit to see what other programming options we had. We discovered that no matter how we programmed PikiFriends, it was going to cost us many, many times more than our programmer was charging, and since Hando and I are very conservative financially, we continued the struggle. We lived with it. It was going to be long and painful, but at least we wouldn’t owe anybody. Having no debt is a very good thing.
Great patience was required as the program ever so slowly came into form. Time and time again our programmer missed deadlines, but at least we learned to expect it. However this meant we couldn’t make any promises to schools, educators and most importantly, investors whom we had met and were starting to take a little interest. We were, and still are, in need of more funding to fulfill the potentials of the program.
But as you must know by now, the program eventually developed into a usable form, and we trialed it at a few schools including mine. Talk about computer bugs! More patience. Try not to implode. Try not to burn down my programmer’s house. It was agonizing.
At the same time, I was making a lot of great contacts. I traveled to a few countries, visited schools and met lots and lots of educators in person and online. I spoke at a few ESL forums. I developed a lot of peripheral materials to support PikiFriends. Hando was networking like crazy, too, and had investors very interested. But the slow programming kept killing a lot of that momentum. We certainly learned a lot.
Was it worth the pain?
By the time the the major bugs were cleared, we had a few thousand users (not bad!) and I set about building the PikiFriends curriculum. It was obvious that it needed to be created. Otherwise PikiFriends is just another blogging tool, really. It needed an educational rudder, so to speak, to really get the most out of it and for teachers to have easy ways to incorporate it into school.
It took me several months of long nights and weekends, but with the help of a university professor and the amazing design advice from my wife, I finally completed it. Hando and I found a great printing company, and I found an ingenious distribution solution: my university would house the textbooks and mail them out to schools for us, for no charge. It pays to make contacts out there, people will support you if you’re doing the right thing. We printed up lots of beautiful textbooks and I started to talk about it to the education community as best I could.
Next, I created our YouTube Channel and started using the curriculum in my own classes. A highly biased opinion, but I found it to be absolutely terrific at both the junior and senior high school levels, and was glad to hear similar comments from teachers in 4 other schools.
That just about brings us up to date. While the PikiFriends program is still a far cry from where I dream it can go, I’m very happy to say that I actually managed to bring my idea to life. It’s still in beta (a few programming bugs in there!), but there is no doubt in my mind that PikiFriends has had a positive impact on many of the students using it.
What will become of PikiFriends in the future? Will we find any investors willing to take a risk in this crazy economy? Will positive word of mouth start to work its wonders? Or will we be another one of those startups that didn’t make it? Time will tell. In the meantime Hando and I aren’t giving up.