Essays and Thoughts
Lessons Learned from Matt James
I had been running my own web development company for several years when I hired an enterprising young software engineer named Matt James. I didn’t realize at the time that this programmer would not only become the leader of our product development team but, ultimately, the designer of what would become CourseStorm, a business we would cofound. In 2015, Matt became CourseStorm’s first employee and has kept his eyes on the horizon since — always growing in ways to best impact and guide the company. As his leadership skills have expanded, so have his responsibilities, and today, I am excited to name Matt the Chief Operating Officer of CourseStorm!
This occasion has provided me with a chance to reflect on our decade of work together across two different companies. Growing a startup is hard work, and having Matt as a co-founder has made all the difference in our success. I’d like to share some of the essential lessons I have learned from Matt during our time working together. They’re excellent lessons for both business and life.
Tell it straight, even if it might not be good news. Honesty is for everyone and everything, from communication with our Board and shareholders to our customers and staff. In a business and political culture where there is a lot of incentive to bend the truth for your own benefit, this can feel like going against the grain. With Matt, you never have to wonder if you’re getting a straight answer – you are. And it’s always the best policy.
Keep your promises.
Promises go hand-in-hand with honesty. Matt will tell you clearly what he can and can’t commit to –every time. And if Matt says he will do something, you can count on it, no matter what it is. That feature will launch next month –you can count on it. The pitch deck will be done by Tuesday –you can set your calendar by it. When the inevitable unexpected happens that throws off our plans, he’ll communicate early and often about any changes. His word is his promise.
In a room full of smart people, Matt is not afraid to be the person who asks the “dumb” question that is actually on everyone’s mind. Often, in startup culture, I see people working really hard to protect their reputation — a behavior detrimental to learning and improving. Matt is always asking questions, and he never stops learning.
The value of simplicity is evident in CourseStorm’s beautiful product that Matt architected, and our team continues to evolve. Matt values simplicity overall and continually looks for ways to cut through the chaos. He had the vision to know that in our increasingly complex lives, simple software will resonate deeply. I know our 500+ customers agree.
Focus is an elegant counterpart to simplicity. Matt focuses our team on doing a few things exceptionally well. This focus has been a huge contributor to our success at CourseStorm, and the continued sharpening of it will pay dividends long into the future. In a startup, there are so many areas that require attention, the tendency is often to try to do them all. Matt is aware of all that we can do but he quickly zeros in on what we should do. It’s truly a superpower.
Having observed them every day, it’s evident to me that Matt’s principles have provided guidance for CourseStorm as a company and product alike. They are, of course, simple (Matt wouldn’t have them be anything else), but they serve as a guiding framework that supports all the work we do.
I know I couldn’t have made a better choice, and I’m excited every day to continue the journey with Matt and the rest of our amazing team at CourseStorm.
Nic is skilled in scaling start-up edtech and education organizations to growth-stage success through innovative marketing. A former journalist and copywriter, Nic holds a postgraduate certificate in digital and print publishing from Columbia University School of Journalism's publishing course.