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Extra, extra! Our guest in this episode is Daniel Stedman, Founder & CEO of Pressto! Pressto helps foster students’ love for writing and journalism while helping them improve their critical writing skills and media literacy. Daniel tells us about his startup’s origins in Brooklyn while volunteering with local schools’ newspapers. We also chat a little about how Daniel went through the YC Startup School experience to fuel the fire of bringing Pressto to life! Learn more about Pressto and what their goals are going into the new year in this episode.

Check out Pressto here:Β https://www.joinpressto.com/

VO: Let's get geared up for startup success. Join Josh as he interviews knowledgeable guests from all corners of the entrepreneurial world and gets the answers to the questions you've been asking. Get ready to learn something new on this episode of From Idea to Done

Josh: Everyone on this episode, I'd like to welcome our new guest. Daniel. Daniel is the founder of Pressto. So Daniel, welcome.

Daniel: Hi, how's it going? Thanks for having me.

Josh: Awesome. Yeah, no, it's, it's great to chat today. Um, you know, I wanted to learn a little bit more, uh, what, what, you know, for our listeners, what is Presto

Daniel: Pressto is a better way for kids to write

Josh: And what, and what makes Pressto a better way for kids to write?

Daniel: Pressto is a better way for kids to write. Pressto is a really simple, intuitive, fun writing platform aimed at kids. Uh, we use artificial intelligence to give real time feedback on things like positivity, reading level, their use of active herbs and passive verbs, objectivity and subjectivity. And we intend to use things like the objectivity and subjectivity to teach kids important things that adults should know, like the difference between fact and opinion and how to identify misinformation. Um, um, but really at, at its core. I mean that in, in some ways that's, that's my personal north star is to create this next generation of kids who have a more healthy relationship with the content that they consume and more importantly, the content they create. Um, but really what Pressto is doing is it's, it's addressing this, this more acute current problem of, uh, helping young people to learn writing and to learn, to write well and to motivate them to write and make writing a daily exercise.

Josh: Cool. How, how did you come across, um, this is a problem within the kind of educational ecosystem or,

Daniel: Yeah, well, so of like very brief backstory, um, my brother Scott and I started a little digest size newspaper in Brooklyn, New York in 2003 worst possible time in the history of print to launch a location, but a great time to be young and trying new things and hustling and to be in Brooklyn. And it felt almost like we, uh, we kept throwing things against the wall and everything stuck. So, um, we ended up with this constellation of Brooklyn largest outdoor movie series, uh, music festival called Northside, a tech conference, a food symposium, and another magazine called Brooklyn magazine. And, uh, as the publisher of Brooklyn magazine, we were really entrenched and rooted in the community. And at a certain point I felt the desire to go out and volunteer. I went to a bunch of high school newspapers and in particular, I went to James Madison high school where Charles Schumer and Bernie Sanders and Ruth Bader Ginsburg each attended as high school.

Daniel: And I found that their newspaper had closed and heard the same story over and over again. And then when my son Graham was in kindergarten, I volunteered at the school to launch an elementary school newspaper, cuz I had first been published when I was in third grade and then became the editor of my high school newspaper. And uh, went on to have this long publishing career. And in, in, in trying to start up this elementary school newspaper, I spoke with parents and teachers and principals, and really got the notion that this could potentially be a business. So when we built our very early MVP, I don't know if I'm kind of skipping over a bunch of your questions here, but I'm just,

Josh: It's all good.

Daniel: The, the purpose, the, our goals, our, our goals were see if we get a hundred people signed up, see if we could help get early signs of product market fit and see if we might get something that we could put in front of investors.

Daniel: And so we were successful with all three of the things, but what we found was that this was when we found that, um, rather than journalism per se, which is still very important to our mission. We found that. So we were speaking with New York city department of education, where we got a pilot going and they were so enthusiastic about the, the product just as something that would, could help motivate their young people to write. And we learned that this is a really big challenge, particularly kids who can't write, uh, writing is not fun when you can't do it. So there's plenty of tools out there. If you love, love to write, there's plenty of other tools. But, uh, learning to write is really the, the, the acute, what we found is like the, the acute acute problem that we're solving and happens to be an incredibly large market and a very big problem.

Josh: Awesome. So you talked a little bit about schools and kind of the educational piece to it. Um, is your target customer directly, the, the kids? Is it the schools, the parents, like who are you going after with Pressto?

Daniel: Well, I would say the, I'd say it's possible to put something in front of teachers. That'll get them excited. It's possible to put something in front of districts and superintendents, that'll get them excited, very difficult to put something in front of kids that will actually get them excited. So I feel like our great success at this very early stage is that we've got something that kids like. Um, I don't know if that answered your question, is our question questions more around the customer?

Josh: No, no, that's, that's, that's definitely a good perspective on it. Um, that, you know, getting something that the kids will like, um, obviously you can monetize and different ways through that, or, you know, even if monetization is a, is a goal for the company, but, um, getting the end user to enjoy the product is always a, a nice feather in the cab, cuz um, yeah, if, if, like you said, if you don't like it, you're not gonna use it. If you don't use it, you're not gonna learn. And you're gonna back back at square one all over again.

Daniel: Yeah, yeah. That's right. So yeah, so we're, we, you know, we're, we, we, I really strongly believe the thesis that, uh, such an early stage company should be laser focused on product market fit and building a great team. And that monetization can be a very third because if you really achieve strong product market fit and you have a great team, you're very likely gonna be able to monetize that product. Mm-hmm . So we imagine, uh, selling direct to consumer, to parents and we certainly imagine selling to schools and to districts, but I will, you know, I'll be candid. It's still, it's a bit of a, it's a bit of a guess at this point. I mean, sure. It's not a complete guess. We're having a lot of success with schools. Trouble is just that schools have an extremely slow selling cycle.

Josh: Yeah. Annual budget and budget cuts and all of, all of the fun stuff that goes along with, with that. Yeah.

Daniel:

Josh: So take me back to you have the idea for Pressto to help students, uh, increase their, uh, literacy around journalism and writing. When, when was this, like, when was it, when did Daniel say, Hey, I want, wanna take the leap from, I've got an idea to starting to make this a, a reality.

Daniel: Well, we're, we're we're it was, it was in the middle of coronavirus. Uh, I've been in New York city for about three, four months. And, you know, we were scratching our, I think just like the rest of the world. And, um, we left New York city. We're spending a little time in Massachusetts and I had this, I, I guess the idea had really just been kicking around in my head and I was like, this is what I'm gonna do with my time. Right now I'm gonna build a SaaS application and, you know, it'll be monthly recurring revenue and we'll address in, in a really important challenge at the time. At the time, I, I was certainly focused on disinformation and, um, you know, Donald Trump was our president at the time and hearing the news, the news was so addictive mm-hmm and also so, so messed up and so disturbing. Um, I really felt like it was an opportunity to do something that like was deep in my bones as, as a need, uh, you know, a space that I felt some domain expertise and real, real passion for, and also something that, you know, could potentially be really monetizable.

Josh: So you kind out the idea, uh, obviously COVID is, is the best place to start a business when no one knows what tomorrow's gonna bring right. Yeah. Like you said, the, the political landscape was, uh, confusing to say to in the, in the best of cases, um, what were some milestones along the way, as you said, I wanna start this, you know, getting maybe you getting to your first, your first beta customers kind of talk through the journey, just a little bit of, of how that went for you and any, any milestones kind of along the way. Yeah,

Daniel: I think there was one, there was one really, there was one early milestone that anybody listening could achieve, which was that I was strongly recommended by my, my friends to apply to Y Combinator. And for those who don't know Y Combinators are great accelerator, they give you a small amount of cash or a large amount of cash, depending on how you look at it in exchange for a percentage of your company. And I was told that just the application alone is, is, is pretty rigorous. And you'll actually learn a lot about your idea just by applying. So I applied to Y Combinator. I did not even get into the interview process. I was, you know, we, we didn't, we didn't make it past the first step, but that very same day that we didn't get in, I signed up for what they call YC Startup School, the Y Combinator free startup school.

Daniel: And I think the startup school only requires you to do about three different things. Um, you have to watch a bunch of videos. They're all incredibly helpful. Actually. Can't think of what the third thing is. But the second thing is do a weekly update and we are, I, we started doing a weekly update rigorously and fairly early on cuz I, cuz I, I remember, I remember like thinking, okay, I'll do this weekly update, but I'm only gonna send it to like my, my brothers, my best pals, I don't know. And someone said you should add every single person you ever speak with ever speak to about preso to your weekly update. And then by adding, uh, strangers and people, I didn't really know or people that I looked up to, people that I wanted to fund us in the future, people that I wanted to partner with, I added everybody this Y Combinator weekly update.

Daniel: And so I felt a huge amount of pressure every week to grow, to like to achieve milestones, to hit my goals and then to report it, to report it weekly. It was, it was very, it was at times incredibly challenging. I mean, the thing that's so great about it is it's so easy. It's like three questions. It's like, how are you feeling on a scale of one to 10? How many people did you talk to? Something good had happened, something bad that happened. And um, and I guess you report your recurring revenue, but it, it, it's incredibly easy. You can do it in three or four minutes. If, you know, if you, if you have something to report, if you don't have something to report, you can spend hours ag over it. And um, I mean, we still do it and it is like that I guess has been a, it's not exactly a milestone, but in some ways that was like our first milestone, like just deciding to apply to Y Combinator mm-hmm, join their free startup school and start doing a week. The update was, um, that was really, that was a lot of, I guess you could say gasoline.

Josh: Well, it's, it's real at that point. I mean, it's, it's a humbling experience too, to come in and say, I have $0 in reoccurring revenue and I'm trying to get people to talk to me. And if you're willing to share that with stakeholders, like with your tribe, like it I'm, I'm on that list and I get your weekly emails and it's something I look forward to just seeing the update of like awesome, good job. Like, it's it, it's a easy way to remind your stakeholders, even if they're not bought in or an investor at this point, but they're kind of sitting on the sidelines. I think something like that really gets them activated and pulled in closer, you know, if, if they're truly care about the company. So I, I think that's a great thing to do and must be, must be pretty humbling some weeks of like, I don't wanna send this out cause, uh,

Daniel: It's really hard. And then of course you're like next week we're gonna get this contract and the contract takes like 10 weeks and you know, so you make some little mistakes, but those are, they're all forgivable. But yeah, the net result probably is that you end up with a large community of people who see you hustling week after week after week, even the ones who don't read it know it's there and that you're doing it. And for some of them that's, that's enough. That's all they care about. You know, they're like, oh cool, got the thing. Not gonna read it, but love that. It's there love that it's still happening.

Josh: Yep. How, how much time did you, did it take to go through the Y Combinator application? Like I can't imagine that's a real, uh, cut and dry process.

Daniel: Well , well, one of the, I mean, I believe by far the most challenging piece of it is doing your one minute video. So I think my first video was probably three minutes long and oh, it was like agony. It's just like agony trying to get your idea down a one minute. And then when you get it down to one minute, you know, making it good, I think at a certain point, you're just like, oh, well that's it. I mean, that's, that's, that's, that's the video. And um, so that, so yeah, so the whole thing was hard also, you know, the first time you a Y Combinator application for a new business, you probably don't know all the things about the business that are required to answer in the Y Combinator application. So you really do learn a sort of a tremendous, you learn a tremendous amount about your own nascent idea. Then you have to, you have to make this video. , it's really hard.

Josh: Yeah. It's, uh, I've, I've done the one minute and I've done on the other end a 15 minute and doing, had to do those live. And so it's like just the amount of practice that needs to go into it to either get it down to a minute to where you're actually saying something to value or the other direction to make sure you're hitting your mark. Like it, it's not an easy task. No,

Daniel: No, I I've never seen, I've seen plenty of other applications that require videos. I've seen two and three minutes. I've never seen anyone else require a single minute. Mm-hmm , it's, it's, it's really hard,

Josh: But proof prove to me, you can tell your story in an elevator ride. Like it's yeah. Yes. It's hard. Yeah. So why Combinator are getting the updates out there? Talk a little bit about kind of the, the journey from there until till here. Um, you, you got a functioning, uh, product in the market right now. Um, you know, what were some miles to along the way that, that helped you get that product into the market?

Daniel: On, on the recommendation of some incredibly intelligent folks? I think probably yourself. I read the book, the mom test, I think it was the mom test introduced me to the concept of customer development, basically developing future customers while you develop your idea. So, um, so I added, I, I, I must have had one or two or three or four conversations every day for weeks or months before we had our MVP built. So when we had our MVP built, we had a ton of people who were willing to like check it out, try it even the, and then the, the big, the big one for us was when we got the pilot going when need York city department of education. And honestly, I think that came about that, that that came about, you know, after years of doing my best to be a kind and friendly person.

Daniel: Um, I brought my son Graham to school every morning. I heard this, I heard the principal's voice on the loud speaker when I built Pressto, she was my first phone call and she helped, she helped create the relationships that got pressed to a pilot going with New York city department of education. So it was a, you know, that big milestone was the result of just a friendly, personal relationship with, with my kids educator. But I guess that also ties in with me trying to address a problem that, you know, I was fairly intimate with. I knew educators and, you know, I was working, I was working on an ed tech product and I had spent time getting to know a bunch of educators. So, but it still took, you know, I mean, it's still taking time, you know, they're all, they're all slow. They're all.

Josh: So what I'm, what I'm hearing in this is like, your success was not sitting in a room trying to just figure out the perfect product. It was, you know, getting out there, doing a weekly update with the, with your stakeholders, you're grinding it out, talking with a lot of people to understand, you know, validating the problem against, you know, are they experiencing the problem the same way you are? Um, you're, you're kind of doing the, the ground combat, you know, the, the hand to hand stuff of finding people, people in your network, the, the principles and the educators that you can talk to. And, um, everything I'm hearing is figure out that problem, get it in front of people and, and start having the right conversations. Is that kind of succinctly pull together?

Daniel: Yeah. Yeah. I would say in particular with like a super early stage thing, I mean, there's a lot to be said for there's a lot to be said for planning. , mm-hmm, , there's a lot to be said for planning and writing down specs and business requirements. Um, but, and, and we, and we did that with our MVP and, and I, and I, and I read somewhere, I believe it was Michael Seibel from Y Combinator who said, you know, for your MVP, like decide on your specs, write them down, which is an incredibly important step and then determine a deadline. And as that deadline approaches, and you are inevitably behind schedule instead of pushing your deadline, which is such a natural, it's such an obvious thing to do. And everybody says, oh, well, just delight instead of changing your deadline, you reduce your specs.

Daniel: And so we stuck to that. I think we have been a day and a half late later than we intended with the, you know, the, the, the, the lo the the much anticipated launch of our MVP, which I'm joking because, you know, these launches go much more quietly than expected. like, there's only two people who are like really on the edge of their chair, like, you know, me and my, me and my developer. Yeah. Um, so yeah, so taking that advice, we, we, we determined and wrote down our specs and we launched, we launched. And, and luckily by having, by having added everybody in the world that we'd ever spoken with preso we did have a community that was receptive to the launch of our MVP, and we were able to, and we were able to get a lot of feedback. Yeah. Um, and that, and, and, and that's, and that's another thing that you report on the, on the weekly, Y Combinator thing, and in some ways that might be one of the most challenging things, parti, if you do it for as long as we've done it, I think we've done it for over a year.

Daniel: One of the weekly questions is how many customers did you speak with this week? Cause one of YC is sort of slogans is, uh, you know, talk to customers and ship code, talk to customers and ship codes. Only two things you're supposed to do in any given day talk to customers and ship code, but there are weeks where you're just building and you don't have any customers to talk to speak with. And so I remember looking at that field, how many ti, how many weeks, I didn't want that field to say zero, but recently we last week, or the week before we spoke with, we got, we got surveys back from 104 students. So, you know, to anybody looking at that field and how many customers did you speak with today? And it's a zero, you know, there'll be weeks where you get where you get a hundred, four, 104 surveys back.

Josh: Well, that's really powerful. Cause we see a lot of entrepreneurs come in, they build the thing, they're getting ready for their, their acceptance testing and they want to take it to market. And it's like, all right, now we gotta start talking with people. And I think that's a huge disservice to their, their startup that they're not talking with people very early on, like before the development started as a elements going on, like getting feedback on wire frames and features and you know, just all of that stuff because it's so, it's so easy to make a bad assumption and that becomes a core like tenant of your app now. And then everyone goes, that's great. But this thing over here that, that you built it around just doesn't make any sense.

Daniel: Yeah. Oh yeah.

Josh: So what, what what's in store for Pressto what is, what is, uh, end of the year, uh, 20, 22, hold, hold for Pressto

Daniel: What is, well, one thing that's been, that's been great is that we, uh, well, it's interesting. We have we've vacillated, I might say between this message of, you know, these different marketing messages, uh, building the next generation of journalists, saving student journalism, which then later we kind of dropped the journalism angle and focused more on writing his play preso is a better way to write preso is a better way to learn, to write pres. And actually what we found is that it's really a hybrid of the two, um, um, the, the, the pain and the problem that we're we're we're solving best is, um, is motivating young people to write. But the journalism is still it's, it's still a really, really strong hook. And I might say that every single school that we've brought on this concept of using student journalism in core curriculum, across subject areas has been very, very compelling.

Daniel: And I, I brought that up because we have a very cool partnership with now, mayor elect Eric Adams formula, well currently the borough president for Brooklyn and, uh, he will be the next mayor. So we have students who can use preso to report on the activities of his office, like alongside professional journalists. Awesome. So that, that program is it's cool. It's great. It's rewarding to see students creating journalism around, you know, what he's got going on, whether it's, you know, COVID testing or, you know, what he's doing in Brooklyn and it's all, it's also attracting a lot of schools. So in some ways it it's a, it's like a bit of an early stage growth hack. It's not like truly scalable. We'll never get a million customers through this, but we're speed with other mayors. So we really want to go beyond New York city and go into a rural communities or suburban communities, uh, towns that have a mayor office, you know, if it's 18,000 people or 30,000 people and, and work with schools and students and, and, and, and keep that going, it just seems to be, it seems to be getting, getting lots of customers.

Daniel: Also, it it's a great usage for Pressto. It ties in with civics and media literacy, journalism and writing. And, um, so, so that's, so that's like, that's, what's next. We wanna get up. You know, we'd like to get a thousand classrooms using preso 5,000 classrooms using preso before we really start to focus on monetization.

Josh: Awesome. How, how can we help? How can our listeners help Pressto? What can we be doing for you?

Daniel: Oh, wow. This is a, this is a public call to arms and, and a plea that there is a writing crisis. And we all write all day long. Like our fingers don't stop writing, we're texting, we're writing messages. And we often don't really stop to think about the meaning behind the things we consume, the headlines we read disinformation, and also the things that we create even accidentally accidentally sharing disinformation without taking the time to really read and digest it. So I would say our generation is lost, but there is hope with the next generation and you can go to join preso.com and sign up and spread the word and tell your, tell your teachers and principals and, and, and get your, get your kids on there.

Josh: Awesome. Well, we'll, we'll certainly do it in our household and, uh, looking forward to everyone out there listening, uh, join, join the revolution, join the cause. And, uh, the revolution,

Daniel: The revolution. Citizens, citizens, lovers, friends. Yes.

Josh: Awesome. Daniel, thank you so much for your time today, telling us about your journey and, uh, what's happening with Pressto. We're looking forward to, uh, big, big news from you guys in 2022. And, uh, just thank you so much for your time today.

Daniel: All right. Thanks for having me.

VO: Thanks much for tuning into this episode, from idea to Don. If you're enjoying the show, please feel free to rate, subscribe, and leave a review. Wherever you listen to your podcasts, we really appreciate it. And we'll catch you in the next episode.

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About the Show

Erick and Josh talk about big ideas, companies that are winning and those that aren’t, and current events in the crazy world of software startups.

Josh Christy

CEO

Erick Roder

Director of People
and Nerd Culture