As an entrepreneur you’ve got to trust your gut, but to a point. You’ve also got to be a great listener.
Nancy Weinstein is the co-founder & CEO of Mindprint Learning, a Princeton, NJ-based educational technology company that specializes in helping children develop a growth mindset through research-backed online cognitive assessments. Mindprint’s personalized learning solution for parents, schools and education professionals is the only affordable and scalable solution to accurately identify how each child learns best and provide follow-on strategies for each child to succeed. Mindprint is an entirely online solution used around the world with students ages 8-21 to highlight areas of giftedness as well as their needs for specific supports.
Nancy has extensive experience working in both start-ups and large companies, but she started Mindprint while taking a break from the workforce as a stay-at-home mom. She identified the lack of evidenced-based approaches in tailoring instruction to each student’s individualized learning needs. She set out to find an effective way for parents and teachers to understand how best to support each student, from gifted learners to those with learning differences. A year of exhaustive research led her and her husband to partner with neuroscientists at the Brain Behavior Lab of the Perelman School of Medicine at University of Pennsylvania to bring Mindprint Learning to children around the world.
Nancy began her business career as an analyst in the Principal Investment Area of Goldman, Sachs & Co. where she was a member of investment teams analyzing and investing in mid- to late-stage companies in retail, publishing, technology and transportation. She went on to join the Corporate Technology & Strategic Planning Group at The Walt Disney Company where she supported the development and launch of Disney Online. Nancy has also held corporate roles at Bristol-Myers Squibb and several start-ups including CitySearch and idealab. She graduated summa cum laude from the University of Pennsylvania’s Management & Technology Dual-Degree Program with degrees in bioengineering and finance. Nancy went on to get her MBA from Harvard Business School. Mindprint Learning is based in New Jersey where Nancy lives with her husband and co-Founder, Eric Weinstein, and their two middle school daughters.
Where did the idea for Mindprint Learning come from?
Mindprint evolved from my own experiences as a parent. My daughters were doing well in school but let’s just say that after they started getting homework, it became abundantly clear that their minds worked very differently from mine. If I wanted to support them, I realized that I needed to adapt to their thinking. Like many who aren’t teachers, this just didn’t come naturally to me. When I asked about existing measures to assess HOW they processed and learned I was told my only option was a multi-thousand dollar assessment with a child psychologist. I literally said “there’s got to be a better way” and then I set out to create it. And here we are.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
I have two middle school daughters, the time in their lives that experts say kids need us most, so my schedule works around their day. I wake up before them in the morning, check emails and get more blocking and tackling items off my to-do list. Once I get them off to school, I try to do any work that requires more deep thinking or analysis while my mind is fresh and most people aren’t yet in the office. The rest of my day is spent in anything from meeting schools, to marketing initiatives to brainstorming with my team. On most days I break at 3pm and spend the next few hours with my kids. I usually do work while they do their homework. I think the variety in my day is what keeps me productive throughout. I try never to focus on a single task for more than 2 to 3 hours a day which keeps my mind fresh.
How do you bring ideas to life?
The best part of being in a small company is that any idea can be brought to life quickly if it’s good and practical. It’s not like a big company where you require inputs from multiple constituencies, budget proposals and sign-offs. Instead, someone has an idea, someone else likes it, and then someone digs into to figure out how much time and money it would take to make it a reality. Based on the numbers, we decide if it’s worth pursuing now or putting it on the back-burner. Not much more complicated than that.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
The option to crowdsource research data has enormous potential. It enables researchers to get data much more quickly and less expensively than they ever could with traditional methods. A kid sitting in the classroom right now shouldn’t risk missing an opportunity because “the research isn’t yet available to prove it works.” Crowdsourcing is a true accelerator. However, I want to temper my enthusiasm with an emphasis that the data MUST be handled by skilled researchers to ensure accurate interpretation. The risk of crowdsourced data is that when it’s not in professional hands, erroneous conclusions can be drawn which is very dangerous. So I’m excited at the opportunity while nervous at the same time.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
When I worked in big companies, I rarely took long breaks during the day. Don’t get me wrong, I got up and chatted, had a cup of coffee, etc. but taking a long lunch, exercising, or going for a walk was just not a regular occurrence. Now it often is. It keeps my mind fresher. There’s plenty of research that validates my experience, but the reality is when you’re in a traditional job it’s not that comfortable to leave the office at 2pm because you need to re-fresh. But it should be, because taking longer breaks for things you enjoy really makes you more productive and creative.
What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?
I think the toughest jobs are when there’s a bad cultural fit, regardless of the work. My general motto is that if you do the right thing, success will follow. I worked at company where the implicit philosophy was “do what benefits us the most now and deal with the consequences later.” Needless to say, I learned the importance of working with people who share my motto for success. The people who work with Mindprint all share the same value system. When we hit early bumps along the way, the quality and integrity of our solution was never in question and that’s what held our team together.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
When we first started out we were focused on delivering our service to parents. Experts in the industry cautioned me that it’s too hard to sell directly to parents. I believed so strongly that parents would see the value of our service it would be a “no brainer.” The experts turned out to be right, at least initially. As an entrepreneur you’ve got to trust your gut, but to a point. You’ve also got to be a great listener.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Don’t make hiring mistakes. Surround yourself by good people who you trust. It’s a lot harder to have someone who doesn’t fit in a start-up than it is in a big company. So be careful who you hire.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.
I never thought it would be the case, but it really is social media. I was the most reluctant person to go on Twitter and it’s probably been my #1 source of business connections. Through twitter, I was able to identify industry leaders who shared our view of how education needed to change. I just reached out to them, and people were incredibly responsive. Many of our best relationships started from people I met on twitter.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
There’s no single failure that stands out but there were definitely many small failures along the way. As an entrepreneur you know you will make mistakes, that’s inevitable. However, the goal is to make certain that no single decision, if it goes wrong, is so big that it’s crippling.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
I really don’t know. My daughter and I were discussing a bag that you put in the street and explodes ketchup on cars speeding in school zones or residential neighborhoods. I’m not sure that’s a great business but I think it’s a great idea.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
I’m not certain what qualifies as recently, but I spent money on a professional photography class before I started Mindprint. It was something I always wanted to do but never seemed to have the time. I love taking pictures and it got my creative juices going. I now have amazing family photos and I’m able to take my own photos when I need them for my website.
What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?
I can’t say I love any software. I view software and web services as productivity tools. Do they help me be more productive or less (there are plenty that make you less) and to me that’s not something to love. Ask me about educational apps and games that I love and I could go on forever. But you’re best off going on our website for our free reviews and see what our teachers and customers love. Among my personal favorites are math apps are those from Artgig (Mystery Math Town, Mystery Math Museum and Jump!). And Bloxels Builders is an awesome new combination of app and gameboard that I think is phenomenal. And so many others, I can’t name them all.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
The Gift of Failure by Jessica Lahey. If we expect to raise a next generation of entrepreneurs, it starts with parents who raise well-adjusted kids who are able to handle failures without crumbling.
What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?
My mentor as an entrepreneur was Charles Conn who I worked for when he was CEO of CitySearch. He is now the Warden of the Rhodes Trust (yes, that Rhodes). Besides being brilliant, he was an amazing teacher. There’s not enough room to write all the great things he did, but one thing he did so successfully was creating a culture that allowed us to be “appropriately inappropriate.” It’s hard to find an environment that enables everyone to feel comfortable and yet isn’t so politically correct that it feels stifling. And yet that culture is essential if you want people to have the freedom to think clearly and creatively.
In the education world, I love reading Daniel Willingham, John Hattie, Katrina Schwartz and Annie Murphy Paul. They do the best job of taking complex scientific concepts and making them accessible for non-scientists. Education needs to move in a direction that is more research, less “gut” based, and yet feel accessible to all. These leaders are providing the essential interpretation the education community needs.
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