How Daniel became CTO without going to school

Daniel Crompton is the CTO of Oplerno and completely self taught 

Getting started in tech -

I got my first computer when I was 5 and I continued messing around with it & playing with it for the next decade. I knew I loved technology immediately, and haven’t looked back since

On the first business-  

My first business was repairing computers. I was 17 years old, and me & my friend got together and decided to start a company. Back then, everyone was running Windows and nobody knew how to really use it. There weren’t as many manuals, troubleshooting websites or instructions on the internet back then. When people were so frustrated with their computers that they were about to throw them out of the window, they would call us. We were usually the last resort. We also charged abysmally low prices.

In fact, we had a policy where we didn’t charge money if we weren’t able to fix the problem. People loved that. But we also completely underestimated the marketing needed. We were young and had more time than money so we would travel long distances & get really good reviews. That’s also where I learned about how important customer service is & the power of recommendations and referrals.

Love for education

So my business is running great, we’re not making too much money but people like what we do, and it was a not-bad amount of money. At that age though, I was absolutely smitten with the idea of formal education. I thought that the only way to become someone important, to do important things, was to go to a good school & get a formal education. I still believe in that even though it didn’t end up being true for me.

Dropping out of school

About a year into school I got offered a lot of money to work at an ISP, and it just made sense. I wanted to go to school and get a degree in Information Technology or Information Science but they were still teaching BASIC. Which is a great language if you want to learn programming, but quite useless if you actually want to do anything. Everything in school was totally obsolete.

On other companies & learning about users-

My experience with the ISP taught me a lot, right from how to explain technology to people who have never see a computer to really levelling up my technical skills. This includes things like how to use a browser, how to dial in, how to use buttons to navigate on a screen. We were a pretty innovative group, also migrating projects and doing fun stuff with databases - I still consult on databases.

This taught me another powerful lesson that I’m still learning today - never make assumptions about the user. Never assume the user knows as much as you do. I’m 38 years old, but I grew up with tech, while many people who are 35 and up today did not. In fact, most people didn’t. So I learnt a lot about empathy, and learning to think from someone else’s perspective.

After the ISP project stopped receiving funding from the government, we were given some cash & told to go our own way. This was during the first dotcom bust. Since the goal of the project was to reduce expenses and not generate a profit, we ended up being the biggest cost centres. We began to start to build databases and try to sell them which is what we wanted to do anyway - it was enterprise level stuff but we didn’t have contacts to sell it on the large scale - competitors were netscape, microsoft, no sales were happening and we burnt through all the money - so we decided to separate - this is the 2nd company that I left. I was around 24 or 25 years old.

Adventures with the Lean Start Up methodology

The next business I started with a friend was a combination of kickstarter, patreon & 500 px. Artists in the netherlands could put up their work, get patrons to subscribe. My partner, apart from being a highly qualified IT professional, was also an actor, who had a little fame in the Netherlands. We had some traction but not nearly enough. We spent 2 years, nearly $35000 & made all of $100.

Those were some hard learnt lessons. How back then, a lot of artists, and this includes painters and sculptors, a lot of them were introverts who’d never done self promotion before. So we ended up having 2 customers - the patrons and the artists. It was interesting that a lot of painters were not in control of their own distribution - their mailing lists were fiercely guarded by galleries - so even though they were successful, in terms of outreach they were starting from scratch.

The next lesson was about running a lean startup. I’d recently read about it, and was eager to try it, but me and my partner would often argue on the interpretation of a lot of the methodology & we ended up with a lot of friction in the business process. It was a lot of crashing and burning before we found something that worked for us.

On MOOCs and becoming CTO at Oplerno

After the last venture, I was looking for some consulting work on Angellist when I came across Oplerno. I was still obsessed with the idea of a formal education and had recently started a lot of MOOCs. I loved them but there were so many problems, mainly having to do with engagement. I used to think that I wasn’t engaged because I hadn’t received a formal education. But that turned out to not be the case.

Most people who enroll don’t complete the courses, questions are not answered immediately, people are still afraid because they don’t have the “authenticity” of college credits.

I came across Oplerno and their mission immediately clicked with me. They were still in very early stage, and I reached out to them. They saw my excitement & we realized that we shared the same values and I joined them 2 years ago as a cofounder and we haven’t stopped ever since. The great thing about startups and especially being part of an EdTech startups is that “formal” qualifications are becoming less and less important. I’m really excited for the future of education.

Daniel has kindly offered a 60 minute intimate discussion for people with questions about learning tech & starting a company. 100% of the proceeds go to charity.

You can find out more here -

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