builder playbook

farza majeed

mar 12, 2024

builder playbook

farza majeed

mar 12, 2024

builder playbook

farza majeed

mar 12, 2024

Hey.

This is like a 10-minute read.

Usually, I think being concise is far superior — but, in this case, I let myself just write and tell our story in a really raw way. This company is over four years old now, and I want to bring everybody on the same page.

So, if you want to dig into stuff like where we messed up, where we were geniuses, and what’s next then read on.

Else. TLDR:

  • we killed a $1.5m biz.

  • in 2023 we got huge.

  • saying "no" to a $2m gov deal.

  • we wanna do better in 2024.

  • delaying s5 to summer.

  • we're building a product.

  • we're hiring -- a lot.

As founders our job isn’t to be more likable, it isn’t to pretend like everything is okay or to be fine with average — it’s to solve the problem we set out to solve at the highest level possible.

And, holy shit we picked the big boss of all problems — education.

I started this company at 23.

I’m 28 now.

A lot has changed.

The days are difficult, my hair is going grey.

But I’ve never been more excited.

In 2018, we started by building products for homeschoolers.

In 2019 and 2020, we ended up building an online elementary school and grew it to over 100,000 students aged 4-11. It focused on teaching kids about topics they were curious about vs just pushing math/reading exercises on them.

In 2021, we took a massive risk deciding to completely pivot away from the elementary school idea, to a new direction.

We called it buildspace.

At the time, I had very little idea what buildspace was but the core principles were clear:

Modern-day education is stuck in the rat race of degrees and certificates. What if there was a place where people simply worked on shit they were passionate about. We wanted to prove that if you simply work on things you love, you’ll find greater success and enjoyment.

By 2022, the company was making $1.5M a year on a product called “Projects”.

These were essentially fun little side-projects developers could build alongside us, things like: “build your ai avatar generator” or “build your nft based video game”.

What blew our minds was we started to see a small % of users actually take these side projects as a base and build them into full-fledged products that they either turned into revenue generating businesses or put on their portfolio to apply to jobs.

We saw this and in 2023 and we took a big risk.

We decided to stop working on Projects.

From $1.5M to $0.

Many would consider this dumb.

But, honestly we weren’t interested in building another course platform — which is what Projects was turning into.

Tons of companies before us built massive course platforms in pursuit of solving the “education problem” but ended up just becoming small/medium-sized companies that would make most of their money from selling to enterprise and never solving the core problem.

Fuck that.

When we saw people taking Projects and using it as a starting blueprint to build their own ideas, we saw a hole in the market.

We felt institutions like YC were a fantastic home for the founders looking to build the next billion dollar company. And, we felt universities were an okay home for people that simply wanted to join the workforce.

We wanted to serve the people in the middle.

If you’re someone that wants to make your hip-hop album, work on your short film, write your novel, build your own indie software, work on your own youtube channel — where do you go?

We felt these people needed a home — a place with people to push them, their craft, and give them a path forward.

So we decided to take a chance to focus on this kinda wacky idea we called “Nights & Weekends”.

We wanted to create something that felt like the TV shows we watched when we were kids. Where you’d watch it every week like it was a big event, obsess over with your friends after, and continue talking about it online with other fans.

Where it felt like you were part of something bigger.

So, we built it.

N&W was six-weeks where you could start any idea from zero on your nights and weekends, and by the end you would have your first fans, revenue, downloads, whatever. And we truly didn’t care what you were working on — it could have been a breakthrough ai product, a niche tiktok account, whatever.

We gave people weekly live lectures, funny skits, anime music videos — all sorts of stuff to push them to create + make progress each week and feel together.

And, it would all end with a 3-day IRL event where all the graduates could come together.

It was all stuff that we would have wanted in such a program — because we ourselves were always working on random side stuff but of course didn’t want to join a random “course” or online “residency”.

We just wanted a cool place where we could mess around

From the outside, it all looked kinda crazy and weird.

But, guess what…

In the last year, Nights & Weekends has ended up becoming the largest accelerator in the world for any idea.

We have now run four “Seasons” of Nights & Weekends.

And over time the program took on a life of it’s own.

It became a place where makers and creatives of all types gathered to start their next thing — we had people creating YouTube channels, launching indie SaaS businesses, developing indie games, recording their metal albums, manufacturing jackets for dogs, even had a team building a computer with neurons.

All in one place.

It feels impossible to recap.

Impossible to recap every great idea that took its shape and form.
Impossible to recap every individual that took a bet on themselves and pursued their passions.
Impossible to recap every story about how buildspace affected their lives.

But we do have some numbers.

  • 12M+ ppl saw our content across Instagram and Twitter.

  • More than 30,000 people joined Nights & Weekends to work on their own ideas.

  • 3,000+ ended up actually building their ideas, shipping them, and getting their first fans/revenue.

  • 1,000 people flew to meet us and others like them for 3-days across 5 events and 2 cities – SF & Dubai.

In a world where Mark Zuckerberg has 1 billion DAUs – these numbers seem minuscule, even ignorable.

But, when you scroll through this page – you quickly realize what 3000 unique people working on their own ideas actually looks like.

What blew our minds is what happened next.

Our inboxes were flooded.

Stories about how our experiences helped people towards better outcomes.

Outcomes like:

  • Finding sustainable ways to make money working on their passions

  • Rekindling their joy with an old hobby

  • Earning their first dollar from their creations

  • Earning enough to quit their full time jobs.

  • Getting a new job more aligned with their passions.

  • Getting into YC and other top accelerators.

We could hardly believe it.

By the end of 2023, it felt like the new educational system we were in pursuit of was coming to life. But, as much as we adored Nights & Weekends — it had its obvious problems.

The monetization model was one concern. And I wrote more on it here if curious.

But, our biggest issue:

The entirety of buildspace is duct-taped together via email, discord, youtube live, framer pages, whatsapp, insta, and twitter. We didn't have tight control around the quality of the experience — we sorta just hoped that you'd be checking these various platforms and stay connected.

This was okay in S1 (500 ppl), S2 (3000 ppl), and S3 (7500 ppl).

But, S4 had 18,000+ people.

We believe that buildspace improves dramatically as more people join in because there's a much higher chance you meet others like you.

For example, if you're a musician in Pakistan and you don't know any other musicians — buildspace gives you a massive power-up. All of a sudden you have a shot at finding other musicians to chat with, get feedback, and be motivated by.

Historically we leaned a lot on Twitter for this.

Users would share their work on socials and find other buildspacers in the wild.

But in S4, we saw the duct tape starting to tear:

We saw amazing builders getting zero traffic on their posts because the Twitter algorithm was changing constantly, you could no longer keep track of interesting projects because there were just so many, participants no longer had an efficient way to find others like them. Even our team constantly missed incredible demos that were posted on Twitter.

From the outside, S4 was still a huge success.

But, we knew the experience could have been 10X better.

Overall, we're glad we hacked it together for a year.

We learned a lot and wasted no time.

But we want to reach higher. To do something new, yet familiar.

We believe the only way to make buildspace bigger and better, something that can help millions to pursue their passions, is to improve the core experience of being a part of it.

So — we’re, finally going to build a product that can do that.

And we’re excited as hell about it.

It's going to revolve around what makes buildspace most special: it's people.

And I’ll be honest, we’re very early.

We barely know what it even looks like right now lol.

We’re going to look at the buildspace experience holistically and build a product that feels cohesive to an existing user, yet fresh to a new user.

But, we know we definitely don’t want to build “nights & weekends, but, as an app” or build some nonsense like “twitter for builders”.

Hell no.

I know it all sounds hand wavy. But, we have those magical paper sketches that are often the start of all of our good ideas. And, we feel good.

Here's a peek into our future.

We plan to remain an education company at our core.

I want to be clear though — this doesn’t mean we’re going to build a learning product (ex. a course platform, a better way to do homework, etc).

I think “education company” has become synonymous with “learning company”.

But in our eyes — learning isn’t the major problem in education anymore.

You can pretty much learn anything at this point for free online.

Education isn’t just the skills you learn — it’s the system itself.

It’s the path you can climb towards something greater, it’s the people you meet along the way on the shared struggle, and it’s the promise that if you go through the system you’ll come out the other side better able to navigate this world and pursue your goals.

And today, we believe existing education systems aren’t fulfilling that promise.

Too often now I see — teenagers become nothing more than exam machines, college new-grads struggling to find jobs, adults grinding through useless certificates in the hopes of a better future, my own friends with amazing ideas who continue to sit at jobs they hate or continue getting depressed searching for a path forward.

It’s tough…

Today, the modern education system of higher-ed (college, bootcamp, etc) -> workforce is the system that has the most successful data points. So it’s the system that everyone flocks to.

And look — if the system actually worked we’d be cool. But it doesn’t.

Our vision is to build an alternate system — a system for the people that wish to navigate the world by building things they love and pursuing what they’re passionate about.

You can argue this is a far-fetched, flowery reality but we’re already seeing it happen. There are a lot more data points or stories that you can look at now.

People earning money on the internet, content creators, small D2C businesses, indie hackers…the list goes on and on.

It’s our belief that over the next 10 years, more and more people will venture out into this unknown and just do shit that they love — and the barrier to entry will go down overtime as well.

We’ll do our part this by giving these people a home to work on their ideas and shedding more light on what outcomes are possible through our stories, content and everything in between.

After all — I want to live in a world where we have the next Fred Again, the next Miyazaki, the next JK Rowling.

Also, “pursuing your passion” doesn’t necessarily mean you gotta start your own thing. For example, if someone loves robotics, hacks together some side-projects in Nights & Weekends, and ends up getting hired by a local robotics company they love — that’s success.

After all, in a world where AI is making it simpler than ever for anyone to learn anything and create whatever it is they want to create — it is those that can actually use the tools and actually build things for the real world who will be the most sought after and most equipped.

We’re simply building an alternate path.

In many ways, our work with Nights & Weekends was a mini-version of this path — where people learned new things, met new people, followed a path to a finish line, and ended up with outcomes they likely never expected.

We plan to start testing an early version of our product as early as next week with a very small group. Not going to waste time building perfect in our lab. And, we plan to actually open it up to everyone in Summer 2024 -- that’s also when Nights & Weekends S5 will go live.

2023 was about creating really high-quality content + experiences.

2024 will be about building a world class product.

We’re excited.

And, hey we’re hiring.

If you made it this far thank you for reading, and if you have any thoughts, questions, whatever — always feel free to drop me an email.

Farza.