Ya know, it’s great to be mentioned in major publications like Newsweek. For a young startup, that’s really what we work hard for, to be part of the conversation, to have an impact on the world.
But killing the middle class isn’t the impact that I (and we at Curious) want to have.
Kevin Maney wrote today that Curious.com is going to create a small number of winners and a whole lot of losers. About Curious:
Great concept. So, if Curious.com takes off, it could create a class of teaching superstars. A few global guitar teachers become fabulously wealthy by vacuuming up mid-level demand. Serious students still go to the best teachers in person, but mediocre teachers watch their incomes dry up as amateurs find better lessons for less money online. Guitar teaching in the 21st century would become a two-tiered world: the best, who make a lot of dough—either online or live—from top-tier students; and the rest, who have to live on the scraps. In other words, the rich get richer while the poor get poorer.
The thing is, I don’t entirely disagree with him. As much as our objective is to empower anyone with a passion to be an online teacher, we know that the majority of the money will be made by small minority of the teachers. Just like in the app stores: for every Angry Birds, there are thousands of money-losing apps. There’s no surprise there. The real question is whether Curious’ impact (and the impact of the internet as a whole) actually hastens the wealth disparity or not.
That’s Kevin’s point: the relentless advancement of technology will only serve to accumulate wealth in fewer bank accounts.
But let’s dive into why that is. Wealth accumulates because it is investment capital. And those who have access to the capital (i.e., the wealthy) can use that capital to create more wealth. And to Kevin’s point, yes, technology follows where the capital is. If someone invents an incredibly effective new oil drilling machine, who can leverage that technology? It’s not John Q. Public with $500 in his bank account. It’s SuperMegaGlobalCorp with a multi-billion dollar R&D department. Follow that to its logical conclusion, and yes, wealth accumulates.
(Of course, then there’s the finance industry where you generate capital by just moving capital around. It’s incredibly “elegant” and scary its ability to concentrate wealth.)
But there is another kind of technological advancement: one that democratizes access to something only the privileged few had access to before. Obviously, that’s what we hope Curious is. We allow teachers to post video-based lessons and charge students for access to the content. There’s nothing new there; people have been doing that for years. But in the past, posting and charging for videos on a website may have required paying a web developer thousands of dollars; now, we hope to make it easy for any one to do it, with no expertise and no capital. Our technological advances are ones that actually lower the reliance on capital for a teacher to make money online.
Take, for example, online publishing, like blogging. The ease (both technical and financial) with which you can publish stuff online has led to an explosion of sources of information and news. No longer is all news distributed by a few sources, centrally controlled. Gone are the days that we’d see a behemoth the likes of Hearst publishing. Instead, while there is still concentration, because of the incredibly low capital requirements necessary to start a blog, to publish a video, to release a song, to post photography, etc., there will be more people able to do these things, and so more people able to make money doing these things.
That’s what we want Curious to do for teachers: to make it easy to share your knowledge and make money doing it. Instead of Rosetta Stone enjoying a monopoly of foreign language dollars, there will be 50 Spanish teachers who are reaching students they never thought they’d reach. Maybe for every 50 Spanish teachers who can quit their day jobs, there are a few hundred who can’t, but that is still 50 Spanish teachers who can now quit their day job. And that’s powerful.
Kevin’s concern is spot on; I share that concern. Wealth is concentrating quickly and it’s only accelerating. If Curious slows that at all, I’d be exceptionally proud. Our strategy to get there is to make the tools to reach students as easy and cheap as possible. And to work really hard at it. So we can have an impact on the world.
Update: Justin’s (Curious CEO) post on Kevin’s post.