Alexander Deeb is the co-founder and CEO of ClassHook, the #1 website for incorporating educational scenes from popular TV shows and movies into academic lessons. ClassHook has two components: 1) A curated library of over 7,000 videos organized by topic and aligned to educational standards; 2) a discussion platform that teachers use to create interactive learning experiences for students, such as facilitating live discussions, creating video comparisons, teaching vocabulary, and designing lesson plans. Teachers in over 20,000 U.S. K-12 schools today use ClassHook to make learning more relevant, engaging, and tangible. Alex is a strong believer that education and entertainment are not separate; they can be used to enrich learning experiences for students, spark new ideas, and lead to better conceptual understanding of abstract concepts. In his free time, Alex enjoys going on hikes, playing video games, reading about science, and learning new languages.
Where did the idea for ClassHook come from?
I was in a business idea brainstorming session with a couple of friends, and I wondered how I can find content within videos. I like to read to learn new things, and many times I’d come across videos but wouldn’t want to watch them to get the information I needed. I brought the idea to my friend and now co-founder, Joyce, and she suggested applying this “video search” technology to education. We would help people find the best educational videos, not just those that were ranked at the top of the YouTube algorithm.
I reflected on my schooling up to that moment and thought about the impact that the best educational videos would have in a classroom: greater student enjoyment, more knowledge gained, and less time wasted on activities that don’t add value. I reminisced over the times my teachers would show short clips from TV shows and movies like The Simpsons and The Office. The lessons from those videos stuck with me and created the impact I wanted to create. The guiding question for ClassHook then became: How did teachers find these amazing videos from popular media, and how can we help them use these videos more frequently in class?
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
Every day is different. I’m both a leader and an individual contributor, so like many other entrepreneurs, I wear multiple hats and touch all different areas of the business. My schedule usually follows this general formula:
Morning: Go to the gym, get ready for the day, get some work in (reviewing work, catching up on email, maybe even some coding). Sometimes meetings start around 8 – 9 AM.
Late morning / afternoon: Various meetings with teams/departments, prospective customers, potential partners, and prospective interns/employees. Often I’ll have small pockets of time to read email, follow up on an action item from meetings, and address messages from the team. Usually I’ll fit lunch in there somewhere.
Late afternoon / night: More meetings. Follow up on action items from meetings, future planning, and working on tasks to support our goals in product, marketing, engineering, and sales.
How do you bring ideas to life?
The key to bringing any idea to life is to set both a goal and a timeline for that goal. Without a timeline, it may never come to fruition.
When I have an idea, I spend some time brainstorming, researching similar solutions, and fledging out how it will look and feel. It could be a new feature, a new market to consider, or an improvement to existing processes. Then I share with other people to get feedback and perspective. I usually ask my co-founder, Joyce, first. I also ask people who would be beneficiaries of the idea. These conversations usually lead to improvements and different approaches that I had not thought about. At this point, I determine if it’s worth pursuing further. If not, I will put it in the backlog as an idea to consider in the future. If so, I will start developing action items to bring it to fruition and a timeline for rolling it out. I will do all of the legwork in the beginning, like creating mockups for new features, because I need to convey the idea as clearly as possible. Once the timeline is in place, I’ll prioritize it with other items in our roadmap and then bring together the resources to release it.
What’s one trend that excites you?
The decentralization of the web is a great thing. I believe it will allow for fewer restrictions and more freedom for creators and builders. Today, a few big companies hold a lot of power on the web, and that’s not the way the web was meant to be. I do agree there are situations in which centralization is important, such as regulatory and economic issues, but there are others, such as communication, where a centralized system is not necessary.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I am an avid gym-goer and wake up at 5 AM to go to the gym before I start my day. It fills me with energy and is a healthy way to prepare my body and mind for the work day. Plus, I feel good that I’ve already gotten my exercise in!
What advice would you give your younger self?
Focus, focus, focus. It’s easy to get caught up in calls, meetings, and tasks that either add minimal value or don’t add any value to your business. Make sure to stay focused on work that will clearly take the business forward. Otherwise weeks can go by, and you won’t know exactly how you are making your company more successful. I made that mistake for too long, and I’m a lot more thoughtful about how I spend my time. Remember that you are in control of your own time.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
Crypto currencies are great in theory, but today they are not actually currency; instead, they are investment vehicles. This is also illustrated when people invest USD to get crypto in the hopes that its value will increase. Then, just like traditional stocks, they will sell high and gain a return. As long as crypto is tied to traditional currencies like the USD, I don’t think it will be able to stand on its own as a currency.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Pitch my company! Practice telling people all about your company in a concise way. Strike up conversation with strangers in unexpected places like waiting in line. Doing so helps you develop confidence and communication skills. You want as many people in the world to know about you as possible, and who better than the founder to convey your vision?
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Partnerships with other, larger companies. We initially intended to partner with startups who had many synergies with ClassHook because we felt they’d be more willing to do so. But a wise mentor of ours told us that larger companies have many of the product and marketing pieces already figured out, including a larger user base, so it’s worth partnering with them. So we took that approach and have partnered with SSO providers such as Clever and Google Classroom. These partnerships help us onboard thousands of new users onto the platform each month, not only because it makes login easier, but also because they help promote ClassHook to their existing customers.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
My last company was a failure. It was called NoProb Software, and we made desktop software for Windows to help college students stay productive in their studies. As a software engineer, I spent so much time building new things and not nearly enough time talking to users and marketing our products. I also didn’t pick up on the trend of SaaS solutions phasing out traditional desktop applications. Overall, we didn’t sell very much, and I spent years building software that few people have used. We did have some success when we released mobile apps: our homework planner app reached over 10,000 users, and we partnered with Lenovo and Orange UK to distribute it in their respective app stores.
I ended up closing down company and walked away with many lessons that I’ve applied to ClassHook: 1) Understand the customer pain very well; 2) use low-cost (time and money) ways to get validation for your assumptions; 3) talk to users frequently, and involve them during the building process; 4) create a business model early so you can be sustainable in the long term.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Recycle Runners – an app that hires exercise runners as volunteers to collect small electronics recycling from homes and bring them to a nearby recycling facility. Runners get their exercise, and electronics recycling becomes more sustainable and accessible to a greater number of people.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
Not even $100; I spent just $15 on this snap-on strainer. It makes straining water from pasta and other foods so much easier and saves a lot of time, especially because I cook a large batch of food upfront then eat it throughout the week.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
I love Calendly; it saves me so much time with scheduling meetings! I just send out a link with my availability and have them book time. Since I started using it, I can count on my finger the number of times I’ve had to list out my availability in an email to schedule a meeting.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
“Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation” by Steven Johnson
This book gave me a deeper understanding on how innovations form and suggests ways you can increase your capacity to create innovation.
What is your favorite quote?
“Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people” – Eleanor Roosevelt
I’m naturally meticulous, and this quote helps me focus on the bigger picture when I need to get in that mindset. I interpret the quote in this way: push the boundaries of what’s possible regardless of what happened or how you’ll make it work.
- Focus on activities that actually move your business forward. It’s easy to be occupied with activities that don’t add value.
- Create mutually beneficial partnerships with other companies to grow your business.
- Tell everyone you can about your business. As a founder, you’re the best salesperson and marketer.
Steve (Stefan) Junge hails from Germany and helps with the day-to-day publishing of interviews on IdeaMensch. While he and Mario don’t share a favorite soccer club, their enthusiasm to help entrepreneurs is a shared passion.