In his best-selling book Zero to One, billionaire entrepreneur and investor Peter Thiel said that:
It’s easier to copy a model than to make something new: doing what we already know how to do takes the world from 1 to n, adding more of something familiar. Every new creation goes from 0 to 1.
Boy is he right! Many of the things we have done at Chessable have been taking us from 0 to 1. When we started, we had some idea of what we wanted to make, but we could not foresee everything. The more we listened to our community and used the product ourselves, the closer we got from 0 to 1.
These inherent difficulties of creating a new product, combined with bootstrapping and a lean approach, meant that some of our first chess books were lacking just a tad of love. Some features were developed months after the release of these books. While many of these features get automatically rolled out when we write them, some require a bit more human touch.
Because we want every single book to feel like the best chess learning experience you have ever had, today we are announcing our plans to revamp many of Chessable’s oldies. We have begun by completing a new quality assurance of John Bartholomew’s Scandinavian, the classic #teamscandi book.
With John’s book, we have checked all comments for accuracy, added missing comments in some locations, got John to clarify certain positions, improved annotations, re-ordered variations for better study order and more. We have added informational and alternative lines where appropriate, and all in all made sure that the learning experience is up to today’s higher standards.
We plan to work on Chessexplained’s books and GM Alex Colovic’s books next, to allow for the same awesome experience in all of these excellent books. This is not to say they are not great as they are, as the many 5-star reviews will attest. These books are already awesome, but we want to go beyond that!
If you have already bought the book, as always, you will receive all the updates for FREE. However, to reflect the extra work that goes into making exceptional interactive eBooks, some of them may have to have a slight price increase. John Bartholomew’s book was a steal at $9.99 and from today on it will cost $14.99.
However, to give you a chance to jump on board #teamscandi we’ll run a 5-day sale at $7.49. Half price. How’s that? Enjoy (and don’t miss out!).
Chessable is always improving and evolving. Building it has always been a product of passion and love for chess and chess education. Moreover, listening to our users is one of our top priorities, and as a result, we have a product that might change all the time!
Therefore if we were to release an update every time there was something new, you might just get tired of hearing from us! However, this summer many awesome things have happened so I thought I’d write a quick post showcasing the latest features. Let’s start with the newest.
The new opening explorer will show you winning and drawing percentages based on a database of millions of quality chess games (thanks to TWIC for building up such a collection of valuable PGNs). You can see this information for the first five moves, beyond that its fully unlocked if you are a PRO member. The opening explorer is in v1, and we already have planned improvements for v2 which will allow you to sort by variations in Chessable or Games in Database, whichever you want. As a bonus, the performance and speed of the explorer have been improved for everyone, and you will notice it is now much faster and better than before.
We have improved our e-mail notification system so that now you will also receive an e-mail if you people respond to a comment of yours (including book authors). To make it even better, we allow authors to opt-in to notifications on comments on variations or books they have published, so that it is easier for them to respond to your comments or queries. Of course, you can disable these notifications any time via the subscription settings page here.
After the release of 100 Endgames You Must Know we had multiple requests for an analysis board where you could check out various moves and analyse them. We listened to your feedback and released a first version of our analysis board a couple of weeks ago. As a slightly technical note, this allowed us to start using Vue.js as a technology on Chessable. Vue allows for a better user experience and we hope to soon implement it in other key areas of the site.
We’ve also had a chance to improve the import a PGN page which desperately needed a face lift, together with some functionality improvements. You can now copy and paste your PGN text, or drag and drop a file to the field selector.
We try and keep a list of updates in our FAQ, you can find it here, however, not everything we do makes it on to it. One thing is for sure though, you can expect more and more updates and Chessable should get better and better as time goes by. Stay tuned and thanks for using Chessable!
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.
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!
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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:
In 10 months, we’ve reached over 13,000 registrations.
We’ve gone from 0 to 2,200,000 chess positions studied.
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.
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.
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 🙂
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!
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!
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.
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.