Taking On Technology Education for Women with Skillcrush Founder Adda Birnir

The Nitty Gritty:

  • Why, after working 4 years in media, Adda taught herself to code — and founded Skillcrush shortly thereafter.
  • How customer interviews inspired Adda to repackage Skillcrush’s tutorial-style learning to classroom-based online learning with dedicated instructors.
  • How Adda approached customer research to take the guesswork out and really get inside her ideal customers’ head to create just what they needed.
  • Why the Skillcrush team is fully distributed and how a remote team forces you to deal with structural issues — quickly.  

Today on Profit. Power. Pursuit., I talk with Adda Birnir, founder of Skillcrush, an interactive learning community that teaches (mostly) women to code. Only a few years ago, Adda left her media job, learned how to code, and launched Skillcrush. Impressive!

She used her newfound coding skills to change her career path — and knew that other women could use those same skills to transform their lives, too. In this episode, we talk about how Adda uses customer research and feedback to design a service that her ideal customers love — and what the realities are of growing a business with a fully distributed team.

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On customer research

When all else fails, just going out and taking the time to talk to your customers, it will always send you in the right direction. And I will also say, we’re almost always wrong about what we think going into it. Every time we want to skip that step, we’re always so glad that we did it.

Adda Birnir

Customer research is at the heart of everything Adda and the Skillcrush team does. When Skillcrush first launched with two tutorials, they followed up with customers. Were they interested in buying more? It turns out that most said no.

Adda wanted to understand the why behind their disinterest. So using advice from the book Running Lean by Ash Maurya, she scheduled in-person customer interviews to find out more. Not only did she call up everyone who fit her ideal customer — Adda also asked friends to introduce her to their friends who fit the bill.

By sitting down with her ideal customers, face-to-face, Adda gleaned information that transformed the way Skillcrush operates today.

On taking risks in business

There’s no way to guarantee success ahead of time. You just have to, at the end of the day, risk to the extent that you can. Then balance the risking it with the fact that when you launch something you’re going to learn a lot. Even if something flops, that’s good learning which is still excruciatingly painful for me every time.

— Adda Birnir

Having a new program campaign underperform, new platform messaging not resonate at all, or having zero people sign up for your new course. No one likes to see their idea fail — but, at the very least, you’ve learned something new about what works and what doesn’t.

Adda brings this very approach to everything she launches in Skillcrush — and, even years later, having an idea flop is not a good time, no matter how much she learns. Running — and growing — your business requires you to adapt, change, reiterate, and try, try again…

And when it comes to product development? “What you try not to do is do it based on what you like,” says Adda. “Just assume that you have no idea what you’re doing and operate from that place, because, in my experience, it’s the healthiest place to work from.”

On growing a distributed team

I think that problems that growing companies face (at least structurally) — you hit them earlier with a remote team. Or, let’s put it this way, there’s no way of getting around them.

– Adda Birnir

Wouldn’t it be nice to figure out organizational issues while your team is still small? That’s exactly what Adda thinks, too. From her experience, she’s found that having a small, yet distributed team helped her identify organizational issues that needed smoothing out before growing more.

Sometimes even hiring a single contractor highlights where tasks or project assignments fall through the cracks — but it’s a good way to test the structure of your business.

Listen to the full episode with Adda Birnir, founder of Skillcrush, to hear more about how to use customer research to repackage your offerings and how to take risks, even if they flop.

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