Endgame training with 100 Endgames You Must Know

By David Kramaley / On / In Chessable news, Features

At the end of last year, I admitted that to improve my own game I needed to learn things beyond the opening. I promised all of you that Chessable would release something to make this possible. However, chess is such a complex game that there will always be many things to learn. We had to narrow it down. We wanted something not yet out there and that would be really useful to chess players of all ratings.

In one of my favourite books, Think Like a Grandmaster, Alexander Kotov writes that “playing the ending well is a mark of the good player, and it is no accident that all the world champions have been noted for this ability”. While this classic book is now perhaps a bit dated, things haven’t changed all that much. The current world champion Magnus Carlsen is well known to outclass most of his opponents during the endgame. Despite this, as De la Villa noted in 2008, there is a tendency for players to neglect this important part of chess. I’ve been guilty of that and lost many half and full-points both online and over the board. Therefore, it seemed logical that we needed to change how improving chess players go about their endgame training. Enter Jesus de la Villa, New in Chess, and their wonderful book 100 Endgames You Must Know.

Playing the ending well is a mark of the good player, and it is no accident that all the world champions have been noted for this ability.Click To Tweet

So what’s new? Why is learning endgames with Chessable better than with a print book and a chess board? Well, De la Villa listed many excuses on why players neglect endgames. It seems appropriate to start with these concerns, and how Chessable changes the picture:

Excuse #1: ‘Studying the endgame is boring.’
No longer does this have to be the case. Endgames are perfectly suited to the Chessable learning method. You can compete in the leaderboards, gain awesome badges, and build up your streak. By making learning fun, we hope to help you gain the motivation necessary to “pay your dues to the endgame as all the greats have done” (De la Villa).

Excuse #2: ‘Half (if not 90%) of the endings I look at are quickly forgotten.’
Chessable’s spaced repetition algorithm will make sure you review at optimal points backed by learning science. Once you’ve started to retain the material, our system will quiz you less and less. Once you know them, you won’t have to review more than once every few months, if at all. Quickly forgotten? More like forever remembered!

Excuse #3: ‘I can’t find a book with good explanations’
De la Villa’s book is one of the most recognised endgame books out there. It’s extremely well written and organised content resonates with many. The author just has a knack for explaining endgames. All the original explanations have been imported with the Chessable digital format. Of course, you can also use our new version alongside the print book. If you choose to do so, for the first time be able to keep track of your progress other than via bookmarks!

You can compete in the leaderboards, gain awesome badges, and build up your streak.Click To Tweet

Other than addressing these typical excuses, we’ve also made sure to go above and beyond that. Now, there really should be no reasons why someone doesn’t study the endgame:

The Book is Supported by 6-men Endgame Tablebases
This allows Chessable to know all possible solutions to the endgames presented by De la Villa. We’ve taken certain alternative variations and common blunders and added them as their own endgames. In this manner, you can commit everything that’s important to memory.

Alternative Moves Feature Released
We made and released a special feature. Alternative moves allow you to play a different move to the text move without penalising you. This means that if Re2 and Re8 achieve the same thing, and you play the alternative, the system will recognise this and refresh your timer so that you have enough time to recall the text move.

Aside from everything we have already done, as always, we will be listening to your feedback and improving things to make it all even better. Enjoy!

PS.- To celebrate International Chess Day, tomorrow, New in Chess have been very kind to run a one-week sale for $14.99 instead of the retail price of $19.99. Don’t miss out. Check out this awesome book now.

Updates to the terms of use, privacy policy and payment gateway.

By David Kramaley / On / In Chessable news

While this may not be the most exciting of updates we have had, we are nonetheless quite happy to announce it! We have new and shiny: terms of service, privacy policy and a checkout/payment gateway. Now that they are finally here, they will facilitate the growth of Chessable to achieve our next set of milestones. Spoiler alert: we want to treat you with great chess content made easy to learn by using the Chessable learning system!

For the terms and privacy, we kept our users in mind at every step of the way. We also followed the best practices listed at https://tosdr.org/ to make sure we were doing the best we can for you. Our lawyers understood our concerns, and we think our new terms reflect that we care about our users first and foremost. What’s more, we’ve provided a running summary in plain English! We know some of us may feel a tad overwhelmed by the language of the law. Please do review these documents as they apply every time you access the site. If you have any questions or concerns, please e-mail us at hello@chessable.com

Today we’ve also released a new payment gateway. We partnered up with Stripe as our new primary payment partner. This allows us to give you the best customer service possible, even better than with our previous partners. For some of you, it may be that some payment methods you have gotten used to (e.g. bank transfer) may temporarily be unavailable. We are sorry about that, and we do plan to increase our payments accepted in the future. Initially, we are launching with Visa, Mastercard, American Express and Paypal. Another big plus of this update is that we can now accept payments in British Pound Sterling (GBP) and Euros (EUR). Shortly, we may support more local currencies. In the shopping cart, simply use the currency converter at the top right of the page. US dollars remain our primary currency. For all other currencies, there may be a slight mark up due to exchange fees. You are free to switch back to USD if it works out cheaper/better. Our system will remember your preferences. We wanted to give you more choice, more flexibility.

Now that these important updates are out of the way, we are going to crack on working on something more exciting. We promise you’ll love some of the stuff we’ve got coming up!

 

The One and Only: The Very First Chessable Legend!

By David Kramaley / On / In Chessable news

Congratulations are in order for user Bumblebee! Over the weekend, he became the very first Chessable member to get the awesome “Legend” badge. The badge is awarded to members who reach 10,000,000 points (whew!).

This is quite the achievement. To put it in perspective, I am the very first Chessable member and had a couple of years head start. I am still about 5,000,000 points behind Bumblebee! Incredible.

To celebrate the occasion, we made a very special one of a kind badge. We called it “The One and Only” and Bumblebee is the proud owner of it. Since we truly love all of our members, there might be another badge or two, but they won’t be quite what this one is.

First Legend Badge

I briefly caught up with Bumblebee, and I can share with you that he is a casual chess player who purely plays unrated games. He loves studying chess openings on Chessable as he enjoys outplaying his opponents from the get-go. It was a bit surprising to me that he doesn’t play chess competitively. Instead he just enjoys learning what Chessable’s masters have to teach in their books. Presumably, he then plays an unrated game or two like a PRO! Therefore, while we don’t have a rating to share with you, this is what Bumblebee had to say about his progress:

“My inaccuracies, mistakes, blunders, and centipoint loss have fallen. I do think I have improved my feel of the game with a better understanding of undermining, pawn breaks, and weak squares.”

Bumblebee is indeed thinking of joining a chess club soon and getting a rating. We look forward to that day (please do write to us with an update Bumblebee!). We think you’ll absolutely rock your local chess club. Keep going!

Our first round of funding is in!

By David Kramaley / On / In Chessable news

Update on the 24th of April 2017: We’ve finally achieved our goal and raised £100,000 for our first round of funding, if you need advise for your crowdfunding campaigns you can find David on clarity.fm

Last year John and I took the decision to fundraise to accelerate the growth and development of Chessable. A whole year and two crowdfunding campaigns later, I am very happy to announce that we have finally done it! We’ve raised nearly £100,000 from private investors. These funds will immediately be put to good use, supporting our mission of making Chessable the go-to source for chess improvement and education.

Paradoxically, investing time in fundraising would always delay many of the things we want to achieve. Our roadmap and backlog have always been overflowing with things we need to do. I often had doubts, should I be working instead of trying to raise funds? However, I think the following story told by Stephen Covey in his famous book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, describes why fundraising was always the right choice:

Suppose you were to come upon someone in the woods working feverishly to saw down a tree.

“What are you doing?” you ask.

“Can’t you see?” comes the impatient reply. “I’m sawing down this tree.”

“You look exhausted!” you exclaim. “How long have you been at it?”

“Over five hours,” he returns, “and I’m beat! This is hard work.”

“Well why don’t you take a break for a few minutes and sharpen that saw?” you inquire. “I’m sure it would go a lot faster.”

“I don’t have time to sharpen the saw,” the man says emphatically. “I’m too busy sawing!”

We didn’t want to be too busy sawing. We wanted to make sure we deliver an awesome service as quickly as possible without compromising on quality. While we have been consistently improving the site, which is now unmistakably better than during our humble beginnings in February last year, there are still a lot of things we want to do! With a two-man team this has been a slow process and while we’ve had a helping hand from some awesome volunteers it just hasn’t been enough to work on everything we’d like to deliver. This is why we chose to fundraise and sharpen the saw.

Now that the process is complete (hurray!), we will immediately start growing our team and bring you more great features and content. We’ve already recruited one of our volunteers to be our first full-time hire (welcome Simon!) and have concrete next steps to bring you more great things that we know you will love. Stay tuned.

Seedrs vs Crowdcube Part II – Key lessons for UK crowdfunding campaigns.

By David Kramaley / On / In Chessable news, Start-up life

Update on the 24th of April 2017: We’ve finally achieved our goal and raised £100,000 for our first round of funding, if you need advise for your crowdfunding campaigns you can find me on clarity.fm

Back in October of last year, I wrote Part I of my take on Seedrs vs. Crowdcube. It was a short and sweet post promising more detail down the line. In part II, the goal is to share a little bit more of Chessable’s story and also try and help other UK entrepreneurs considering the same issue.

If you are an entrepreneur, you may ask what lessons can a failed campaign offer you? Plenty! While crowdfunding did not work out for us, our investment bid is not over yet, and we are in the last stages of raising an angel round privately. We are also one of the very few companies to have been listed both on Seedrs and Crowdcube (not an easy feat!). As a failed crowdfunding campaign, I can say that I wish I knew a lot of what I am about to write before the journey. I certainly Googled around for such a post; there was none to be found. Here it is.

First things first, do you really need crowdfunding?

We opted for crowdfunding for multiple reasons. First, we had many enquiries from our users about whether they could invest. This may sound like a no-brainer then, but be careful! If like us, you have a lot of international and U.S. users, you may find that getting U.S. individuals to participate is next to impossible. Confront the platforms on this issue straight away, as despite what members of their team may tell you, it may just be impossible. For instance, we couldn’t get a £10k accredited US investor on board, and we only found out when it was time to make the payment. Initially, we were told by the crowdfunding platforms we’d find a way to make it work, it didn’t. We wasted the investor’s time, and we wasted our time.

This might change as the field matures and certainly if we were able to let our US and international backers participate, crowdfunding may have been the way. As for us, we then hoped that our UK and European supporters would help us pull through, but we really did miss the rest of our user base. Moreover, considering we had trouble getting German and Swedish users on board, the situation is just as likely to get harder as Brexit looms over our heads.

Lesson: If you opt for crowdfunding and have a large user base outside the UK, be sure to check, double-check and triple-check exactly how your international users can get on board, if at all.

Another reason we choose crowdfunding was that despite the high fees charged by the platforms (nearing 10% when tallied up), it appeared to offer us a better deal. The market seemed to offer higher valuations. The crowdfunding companies promised introductions to exciting investors. The platforms said they would make everything easier than raising money privately. “How will you ever raise money from a crowd without us, they’ll say”!

In reality, I’ve found it so much easier to conduct our private investment. We did have to pay a solicitor upfront to draft up some documents and consult with us, but it has been easier than preparing for the crowdfunding platforms. In the UK, the crowdfunding platforms are FCA regulated; which protects people from “financial promotions”. This adds a lot of overhead and makes things harder and longer than they should be. The crowdfunding companies also work pretty slowly, drawing things out for a long time.

If you think you won’t find investor introductions without the platforms, think again! Our most promising investor leads, U.S. and U.K. based, were already part of our mailing list. Consider that perhaps there are other ways to get these same introductions.

Lesson: Hiring your own solicitor and dealing directly with a few angels, may be a more cost and time effective option to raise finance for your business. Crowdfunding takes more time and effort than it initially appears or promises.

Our most promising investor leads, were already part of our mailing list.Click To Tweet

We also saw crowdfunding as an exercise in marketing and branding. Let’s make some noise, and more people will find out about us! We spent a considerable chunk of our bootstrapped revenue on this, but in the end, we think it was worth it. In particular, our London events worked out really well. We promoted them via our mailing list and more than a few people joined us. New chess book authors partnered with us. We got invited to present at chess events. I even got a chance to once again appear on the BBC! It was thanks to these efforts that we met some of our private investors who will soon be part of Chessable. There must be some magic to meeting prospective investors in person, rather than having your first interactions with them online. In the end, this became the most important reason of them all.

Lesson: The marketing and branding you can get out of crowdfunding can be very successful. However, do not underestimate its price and how much time and energy it will take. We’ve met companies that have spent £5k just on their crowdfunding video. As a young start-up, you may be surprised by how quickly all the fees add up.

Certainly, if in the future I am ever considering the issue of crowdfunding again, it would be a good idea to consider other financing options in a bit more detail. But if I were to crowdfund again (and due to the marketing and branding, I would!), why would I opt for Crowdcube instead of Seedrs? Here is why:

Key Takeaway #1: Crowdcube’s algorithm is transparent, Seedrs offers you a black box.
Let’s cut to the chase. The big one. To get investment you need introductions to investors. To get introductions to investors via the crowdfunding platforms there is only one way. You need to rank above-the-fold on the platform’s main investment opportunities page. Just like in Google search results, the top three results get all the clicks; the rest is left forgotten. The platforms may not admit it, but it’s not too hard to come to this conclusion yourself.

In one week with Crowdcube, we received ten times the number of introductions than we did via Seedrs. On Crowdcube every single investment gives you exposure at the top of their page. Being at the top of the page leads to further introductions and further investments. Social proof, it’s basic human psychology! In contrast, Seedrs maintains a secret sauce for their top rankings. Raise more money they said, and you’ll get there. The truth was, even a £5,000 investment was not enough for page one! What’s my motivation to get another £5k investor on board if it will lead to no introductions? On Crowdcube, a £10 investment is sufficient.

Lesson: Crowdcube offers a clear strategy for you to follow. Watch the Seedrs and Crowdcube homepage before making your choice. See if you understand their success metrics. What do you need to do to get above-the-fold exposure? Don’t take my word for it, and definitely don’t just assume a good investment opportunity will rise to the top by itself.

Key Takeaway #2: Crowdcube offers more guidance and support through the entire process.
Even if you think you don’t need it, it is good to know that it’s there. During my entire interaction with Seedrs, I heard a real person’s voice once. This was when I was chasing Seedrs down and had to call them to get a major issue fixed on launch day. In contrast, simply to get an application in with Crowdcube, I spent at least two hours on the phone with real people who showed an interest in what we do. Ivan, who would become our campaign manager, researched our business and asked critical and important questions that you rather answer before investors ask them! Mike, their marketing guy, helped us with some of our best marketing and branding ideas. It was awesome to have a real partner in our funding efforts.

Many other little things help Crowdcube have the edge over Seedrs. For instance, the actual interface and web platform used to create your campaign, their support documentation, investor rewards, and more. However, since Seedrs may very well evolve and improve I will leave you with the details only on the key takeaways. Certainly, if Seedrs became a more transparent platform, things would change. However, until they do, at the very least I hope I have encouraged you to scrutinise this choice with a bit more care before making such an important decision. Good luck!

 

Season greetings: 2016 year in review.

By David Kramaley / On / In Chessable news, Start-up life

Dear Chessable learners!

It has been an incredible year. Before it comes to an end, I wanted to send our best wishes and biggest thanks out to all of you.

Your support and feedback have made all of what we’ve achieved possible. We look forward to seeing you in the new year, and for now, please enjoy your holidays very much.

Some of you (we can see who you are!) are still logging in and working on strengthening your synapses. (This is a somewhat cool way of saying strengthening your memories). If you are one of us peeking onto Chessable, I wanted to offer you a brief year in review:

  1. In 10 months, we’ve reached over 13,000 registrations.
  2. We’ve gone from 0 to 2,200,000 chess positions studied.
  3. We’ve increased the books in our store from a single International Master (who we all love); to several masters. Our authors now include some of the word’s best Grandmasters. We now cover many of the most popular chess openings.
  4. We’ve added many many features that you can opt-in or out from. In this manner, you can personalise Chessable to suit your individual learning needs.
  5. In September, I was finally able to start working on Chessable full-time.

 

We have some incredibly exciting developments in the works for the new year that we know you will love. As a quick hint or sneak preview, I will just say that I personally need to break the 2,000 barrier! I need to work beyond the opening to do so. This requires some new tools and last I checked; no one else has yet built what is necessary. That’s where we come in!

Lastly, some of you may be wondering about our crowdfunding. If you had supported us on our campaign, I have already sent you a personal note via e-mail. However, if you weren’t able to, I just want to let you know that we did not reach our funding target, mainly because despite trying, we could not get our US members on board. We did, however, make the most out of the process. Our campaign has helped us strengthen our brand and has influenced our achievement of significant milestones. We also have this super cool video to show for it: https://goo.gl/wJqv3S. I plan to write more about the crowdfunding next year.

Meanwhile, while the lack of funding slows things down a bit (e.g.,. iOS app), we are nonetheless confident of successfully achieving our next milestones. After all, learning doesn’t have to be hard 🙂

Stay tuned.

Happy holidays and happy new year!

The Chessable Team

Co-founder IM John Bartholomew in London

By David Kramaley / On / In Chessable news, Start-up life

As part of Chessable’s Crowdcube crowdfunding campaign, this week we put on a couple of events. The first one saw co-founder, IM John Bartholomew play against 25 opponents in a timed simultaneous exhibition. John put on a fine performance in his first ever simul outside the US and finished with a score of 17.5 to 7.5. The field of players was lucky to score some points, as John struggled to keep up on the clock against so many opponents, and I as part of them, will have to admit, we all played the clock!

Timed Simultaneous Exhibition

The next day we organised an event so people could meet us and play some chess. We also talked about chess as an industry, Chessable as a business and a potential investment opportunity. It was awesome to meet everyone who came along and get such high quality feedback; of course, it was also a great and fun evening and someone even managed to beat John!

Chessable's co-founders face off!
Chessable’s co-founders face off!

As a preparation for the London Chess Classic, John also played GM Simon Williams in the first ever Battersea Blitz Tournament. You can read the full report of the evening here http://www.batterseachessclub.org.uk/im-john-bartholomew-wins-battersea-blitz-after-thrilling-play-off-with-ginger-gm-simon-williams/

A big thanks to everyone who came to both events, and a special thanks to the Battersea Chess Club for organising such a wonderful simul. If you would like to find more information about our crowdfunding campaign, please click here.

Chessable CEO David Kramaley invited to present at the London Chess Conference! Will you be there?

By David Kramaley / On / In Chess and school, Chess science, Chessable news

Hello everyone,

I just wanted to add a note announcing that I have been invited to speak at the 4th London Chess Conference, covering the didactics of chess.

I will be running a workshop about “Cognitive insights into chess improvement”, talking about my unique and insightful Master’s dissertation that was awarded Distinction by Bristol University.

I’ll also be presenting Chessable as an online learning system, and lastly participating as part of a panel taking a critical look at some of the latest research published about chess and academic achievement.

The Conference takes place in London at the Hilton Olympia from the 10th to the 12th of December 2016. For more information and the full detailed conference programme, please visit the official website: http://londonchessconference.com/detailed-conference-programme/

This is one of the largest conferences on Chess and Education in the world; there are close to 150 delegates! If you happen to be attending or are nearby, I’d love to hear from you.

Cheers,
David

London Chess Conference

Seedrs vs Crowdcube – Our crowdfunding campaign: Part I

By David Kramaley / On / In Chessable news, Start-up life

Update on the 24th of April 2017: We’ve finally achieved our goal and raised £100,000 for our first round of funding, if you need advise for your crowdfunding campaigns you can find me on clarity.fm

Update on the 28th of February 2017: Part II of this article is now released, find it here Seedrs vs Crowdcube Part II – Key lessons for UK crowdfunding campaigns.

I’ve meant to write this blog post for a couple of weeks now, but things at Chessable have been very busy (good busy!) Many of you may be aware that we launched a crowdfunding campaign at the beginning of this month. Some of you may also know that it was promptly taken down. If you invested non-anonymously I got in touch explaining the situation. I also promised to reveal more detail about the decision in the blog. This is the first of two posts that aim to do so. Due to time constraints, I’ll save the details for Part II. I expect Part II to be very useful to anyone asking the following question: For my UK based startup, should I crowdfund with Seedrs or Crowdcube?

This is the question Chessable faced around July this year. After conducting research to attempt to answer it, we decided that both platforms are just as good. It was 50/50. At this point, Seedrs just edged out Crowdcube because we thought that the “nominee” structure was a nice little perk for investors. While that remains true, it only took one day of being “live” on Seedrs for us to realise that we made the wrong choice.

The next few days would confirm this realisation. For reasons to be explained in Part II, this led to an in-depth conversation with Seedrs and with Crowdcube. It rapidly became apparent that Crowdcube is not only the right choice, but is the only choice for a crowdfunding campaign like ours.

We worked hard to be able to swap crowdfunding platforms, and we were able to do so successfully and very quickly. At this point, it’s worth noting that only 2% of campaigns that apply are approved to go live on Crowdcube. I am happy to announce we are one of fifty campaigns that will launch with the largest UK crowdfunding platform.

Dropping Seedrs for Crowdcube was not a decision taken lightly. We invested a lot of effort to be listed there, and many of you took your time to support our campaign. We also appeared on the BBC during this time, meaning that leaving Seedrs would be seen as a huge sunk cost. Since Chessable is still a bootstrapping startup, our resources are extremely limited. Time is always of the essence. Therefore, I am leaving the details out for the time being and will share my full experience once we conclude the Crowdcube campaign. This new campaign is our primary goal and is set to launch mid-November. I will be able to offer a detailed comparison between both platforms, one of the few (or the only?) crowdfunding campaign that can do so.

To conclude, I’d like to say that on Crowdcube we will be able to give back more to our supporters and investors. When we launch we will have a nice little surprise in store. We think you will love it. The Crowdcube “Reward” structure allows for this, and I look forward to telling you more about this soon. Of course, in the meantime, Chessable continues to grow as measured by all metrics. This is exciting because we really have just begun!

Part-timing a bootstrap startup: Chessable is finally my full-time gig!

By David Kramaley / On / In Chessable news, Start-up life

Bootstrap Startup - Chessable: Approximate reading time: 7 minutes
Approximate reading time: 7 minutes

Yesterday was the deadline day for the submission of my dissertation. For the last twelve months, I have been studying for a Master’s degree in the Psychology of Education at the University of Bristol. Together with John, I’ve also been working on our bootstrap startup, Chessable.

I considered the split of my time to be full-time degree, part-time startup. It eventually turned out to be more like full-time degree, full-time startup and time scraps for everything else. This arrangement wasn’t ideal, and despite my personal dislike of multi-tasking, this particular time, the juggling paid off. After all, science suggests that multi-tasking kills productivity and leads to worsened performance. Multi-tasking is an illusion. Our brains were not made for it.

While I am happy that the multi-tasking worked out, I am also ecstatic that I can finally focus on Chessable with no distractions. After all, I’ve built an idea bank so large that perhaps we should finally start building some of them! If you are interested in making the most out of your multi-tasking efforts or find out a bit more about the Chessable story, read on to see how I made this all work. It worked out so well, in ways I couldn’t even begin to imagine when I began this journey a year ago.

The Bootstrap Startup: Chessable

Failure rates for new startups are reported to be between 50% and 90%. Getting a new startup off the ground is not easy. With such a high chance of failure, why would anyone in their right mind choose to multi-task such a venture? That’s a valid question. Perhaps if I sat down and rationally thought about how hard it was going to be beforehand, I would not have made that choice. Working Christmas break, working holidays and working weekends. Doing this while maintaining some work-life balance isn’t as much fun as it is made out to be in the movies about entrepreneurs. So why did I do it?

Chessable was first made as a tool for personal use only. However, after friends asked about it and used it, I realised that it had potential above and beyond what I used it for. When this realisation happened, I was already involved in a one-year full-time Master’s. I had already quit prestigious UCL in 2008 when my previous startup’s growth rocketed, I wasn’t ready to do so again.

Of course, my entrepreneurial drive was not to be ignored. It could not simply be put on hold for a whole year while I finished the degree. After all, I had recently had a long break where I tested out a couple of product ideas and recovered my energy. I had enough rest. Chessable definitely couldn’t wait. I had to find a way to make the most out of both the Master’s degree and startup life, at the same time.

Next, I improved the tool to make it slightly more presentable and started seeking a co-founder. I knew from experience that to bootstrap a startup on your own, while achievable, would be tough, even more so while studying. A co-founder was mandatory, and International Chess Master John Bartholomew jumped on board.

When John joined, the tool was already working. It was already validated to an extent as I impressively demonstrated a 20 move chess “Sicilian Najdorf” sequence to him. However, after a few calls and a productive meeting in person, we realised that with a few changes we could not only have an amazing tool on our hands, but change chess learning for the better! All the extra work would be worth it. Chessable was incorporated, and we officially became a bootstrap startup.

The Degree: MSc Psychology of Education (BPS)

Psychology of Education is the perfect degree for me. I’ve always had a passion for discovery, learning and teaching. I think we all do, but some of us may lose it due to unfortunate encounters with bad teachers. I know I had my share of them. Philosophically, I believe all human beings, with the right support around them, are all capable of achieving more than we can dream of. I am always thinking of the likes of Elon Musk and his goal to die on Mars, and not upon landing! I refuse to listen to nay-sayers who believe certain stumbling blocks or disadvantages are insurmountable. Perhaps some may prove to be. However, as a humanistic psychologist, I focus on the stumbling blocks that can be overcome.

Because of this philosophy, I harbour a dislike for theories that prove why something can’t be done. I don’t waste time on theories that explain why someone had no choice but to fail. It’s in the genes some would say, okay, but what are you going to do about it now? How are you going to help the person asking for your help today? If you tell this person they lack an essential gene, he or she won’t be around in 1,000 years when surgically modifying the epigenome is possible. Their life is happening now. So let’s find a way to help them as soon as possible.

In this manner, I have already found ways of helping a few people achieve things they never thought could be possible for them. I am also extremely happy to hear from Chessable users, who through their dedication, have used the tools we’ve built to achieve their dreams. Some of our users even push the limits of what can currently be done with our tools to invent new ways of applying them to their learning. Shortly, we will work to make sure these new ways of using our system are fully optimised.

While these beliefs and passion for learning have always been with me, by completing the Master’s degree, I built an in-depth understanding of these topics. I was able to tailor most of my reading and writing degree requirements exactly to my interests. Most of my readings had to do with expertise, expert performance, learning, chess, motivation and related topics. Such relevance to my professional goals and Chessable’s mission made it easy to find the drive and time to complete coursework.

How Chessable and The Degree Blended

It is already apparent that I always found a way to combine both things, but how exactly? I will give a few examples. For instance, what I was doing with Chessable, informed my direction of study at multiple points. For my essays in Cognition and Neuroscience, I researched the science of pattern-recognition and enquired into how experts differ from novices in Chess. More importantly, my dissertation was titled “Can implicit theories of intelligence and chess, together with deliberate practice, improve our understanding of expertise and expert performance?” Because of this, my research even took place at a chess tournament. In this and many other ways, Chessable and startup life were always at the heart of what I did during my studies.

On the other hand, the Master’s degree has been and will continue to be at the heart of what we do at Chessable. All my other readings in Psychology, Education, and Neuroscience complemented the work I do at Chessable. All my readings, not only the relevant ones, were done while keeping Chessable and our mission in mind. By approaching the degree in such a manner, a constant stream of ideas on how to apply science in novel ways emerged. I’ve got a long list of notes about interesting, well-evidenced theories that could benefit learners, not only in chess but other areas of education as well.

My background in technology and computer science allows me to see how science, learning, games, and technology can blend in new and innovative ways. This is incredibly exciting going forward, as we build new features that may prove groundbreaking. Of course, other tangible benefits include ideas for blog posts, as well as a solid understanding of the relevant science that is out there. For instance, a team of researchers recently presented chess in an extremely harsh way, with insufficient evidence, and without peer-review. Their study got a lot of attention from the press and I felt was harmful to the game. Before the Master’s degree I’d probably respect the authors view on the data, but today I am happy to read it and review their work for accuracy. I was able to stand up for chess and present the report for what it really was, actually, a very positive finding.

What About The Downsides?

Of course, there were the downsides. I already spoke about the countless hours put in and missed holidays, but that was minor. A supporting and understanding life partner, a family and good friends are all essential for making it work. However, bootstrapping the startup in such a way means there were other constraints and downsides.

John and I purposefully limited marketing because we simply could not keep up with the work to be done while multi-tasking. A startup should be grown when you’ve optimised your key performance indicators and maximised the value for both the company and the users. When a user tries your product once, and decides they don’t like it, it is much harder to get them to give it a second go. Because of this, you have to be ready before heavily marketing your product. We are almost there now.

Usually to achieve this readiness sooner, after the first month of product validation you would immediately seek a round of investment. While we’ve been building up for that for the last few months, perhaps without the multi-tasking, it could have been achieved faster. By the way, did I mention that raising investment is often considered a full-time job on its own?

The result of our controlled growth and multi-tasking may be some frustrated users, whose thirst for new content and features has not yet been quenched. Admitting that you have customers waiting to spend money and being unable to, is not a good thing. This is when an opportunity for a competitor presents itself. Fortunately, even at a slow, two-man part-time pace, we’ve remained at the forefront of our market and ahead of any competitors. Now that I am working full time on Chessable, we are confident of making up for any time lost.

So What’s Next?

This controlled growth has also had an upside, as we are now sure our idea has been thoroughly validated, with solid revenue and numbers. Such validation justifies a further investment of time and money. Of course, while I’ve talked about slow growth, I don’t want to understate our achievements, as many startups can’t even get to 100 users, let alone over 9,000. If we achieved this with the brake pressed down, I am more than excited for the possibilities coming up.

This month, we are taking the brakes off. We’ve already begun assembling an all-star team, and Chessable, chess learning and maybe even education in general will greatly benefit. With the publishing of this blog post, I am also happy to announce we will soon be raising our first round of investment via crowdfunding. This is the result of months of preparation, writing business plans, completing governmental admin, refining forecasts, and attending meetings. Because of our ground work, we already have up to £12,250 committed before even launching our campaign. Time to make chess learning even easier. Stay tuned!

PS.- As a small token of our gratitude, every single Chessable member before #10,000 will get a very nice and cool “Early Adopter” badge. There is still time to get one. Make sure you get yours. Sign up today.