Wednesday, August 15, 2012

From AOL Squatter to Start-Up Sensation: The Eric Simons Story & Claco Launch

a student's story through a teacher's eyes...
- Eric Simons: founder of ClassConnectInc & Claco

As I stare at my blank writing canvas, I contemplate where to begin with the remarkable story of such a talented and inspirational person.  Perhaps the beginning is as good of place as any to tell it best.

Eric Simons reached out to me via Twitter a little over a year ago.  This was the same time I was getting my own feet wet with blogging and social media.  At first, I ignored his direct message on Twitter to check out his new product.  However, a few days later, this persistent stranger sent me another message.  This time, he mentioned that he started his company when he was 19 years old.  Of course, this caught my attention. 

We spoke on the phone one July evening on 2011.  I found out he had just graduated high school, moved to California, and received funding from Imagine K12 to continue working on a company he started, ClassConnect.  As a mother, I kept wondering what his parents thought about his decision to put off college and pursue his dream of being an entrepreneur half way across the country.  We set up a date to Skype to continue the conversation.

I knew after our first Skype conversation in early August of 2011 that not only would Eric and I form a relationship over social media, but we would become great friends.  I also knew that his parents must be very proud of the courage their child possessed to take such risks and follow his dreams.

I was drawn to his extreme enthusiasm for creating something bigger than he understood.  I was honored because he valued my ideas.  I was interested in his story and wanted to know more.  We continued to touch base weekly by Skype, text messaging, phone calls, Twitter, Facebook, etc.

August 11, 2011: Our first Skype conversation

After searching the archives of our Twitter conversations, I found it interesting that I was just out to visit the team in Palo Alto, CA during the exact time in which Eric and I first formed a friendship - one year ago exactly.  Eric didn't start ClassConnect a year ago.  His story dates back to his high school years.

August 2012 - visiting the team in Palo Alto, CA
Visiting Facebook: Erin Klein & Jack Hanford 2012
 For the rest of my photos, you can follow me on Instagram:

Eric is an adventure seeking - risk taking - full of life with a love of learning kind of guy!

Stop Reducing Education to Employable Skills
- Shift towards a Creative Talent Oriented Education  - Yong Zhao

Eric explains...
As a student I was your worst nightmare.
I couldn’t stay focused in school, I wasn’t interested in homework, and I wasn’t motivated by grades.

This dismayed my parents and frustrated my teachers. Then, during my junior year of high school, my chemistry teacher pulled me aside and asked the question that changed the focus of my life: "What would make you interested in learning what I’m teaching?" I was stumped. She didn't ask me to try harder, she didn’t ask me to stay after for help or study more - she asked me to figure out how she could grab my interest. No one had ever bothered to ask me that before. A few moments later I replied, "let’s get everyone working together on computers – I'll even build the software for us to use".

I'm reminded of the words Yong Zhao uses to describe entrepreneurs, "black collar workers - inspired by Steve Jobs." He defines entrepreneurs as people who are unhappy with the current situation and choose to change it.  Zhao explains that these people don't wait for someone to create a job for them, they create the job for them self.  This is precisely what Simons was doing in California.

Do we teach our kids to fish or do we give them the fish?

- no one ever said to get me a coach in what I'm good at but to get me a tutor in what I suck at
Cameron Herold

Meeting Pat Simons
- the young entrepreneur's mom - 

I recently had the pleasure of spending nearly a week in California with the ClassConnect team, including Eric's mom, Pat.  The first night I arrived, Pat and I stayed up for hours talking.  She described Eric as a child who was interested in learning everything about the world he was growing up in, except what he was supposed to be learning in school.

This was perplexing.  Doesn't school teach you about the world you're growing up in and prepare you to be successful within it?  Sadly, Eric had a different experience.  While he aspired to create, produce, and connect, he struggled with standardized testing in a traditional learning environment.

I am fortunate enough to work in an environment where I'm not bound by standards and test scores.  I focus on the individual learner and support the strength's that child possesses.  As a community of learners, we grow from each others knowledge, experiences, questions, and creativity.

Yong Zhao describes a classroom culture where the curriculum follows the child.  The curriculum develops the strength of the child as it is personalized and strength based.  He states that school shouldn't be about fixing student's deficits but rather enhancing their strengths.  Zhao explains that this happens beyond our walls because the globe is our campus.  I couldn't agree more. 

Claco offers a space for teachers to create and share curriculum across the globe.  Eric's dream is for teachers to network together to find the best possible resources for each specific student.  Imagine if we shift the educational focus from fixing deficits and move towards enhancing strengths.  How much more creative potential and confidence would children share with the world?

From ClassConnect to Claco
- the AOL Squatter turned Start-Up Superstar - 

Eric launched ClassConnect and received an overwhelming positive response from teachers around the globe. Nearly every popular #edtech blog on the web from Hack Education and Edudemic to FreeTech4Teachers and Web20Classroom was sharing his product with their readers. 

Though Simons was receiving popularity among the education crowd, it was living out of the AOL headquarters building that gained him international notoriety.   Eric received funding, hired a team, found a home, and went to work on improving ClassConnect.  Eric never gave up, and against all odds, his entrepreneurial spirit continues to propel his success.  Today, he is launching Claco!

Eric's attitude is to be admired.  He states...

If you were to invest in a company, would you invest in someone that closed up shop and went home or would you invest in a person that against all odds figured out a way to pull everything together when everything was literally stacked against them? 

Simons Launches Private Beta for Claco
- a beautiful, clean platform to make the best lessons open for all - 

“It was pretty shocking to find out that it wasn’t that I didn’t like school,” Simons says, “I just didn’t like the way they were delivering content. It was boring.” (source)

Claco is a free community for great teaches to collaboratively generate content and share it with the world.  Simons is opening Claco to private beta invites.  His goal is to get quality content on the site to start before he opens it to the public.  I admire Eric's patience with rolling out his new site.  It takes a great deal of restraint not to open the site to everyone.  I know he is anxious to receive feedback and share his work with all teachers, but he's able to recognize the downfall in doing so right now.  The product must be built to it's fullest potential at the highest quality before it can grow legs and expand.   

Tell me & I forget. Teach me & I remember. Involve me & I learn.

 - Benjamin Franklin -


 Do your students believe they can achieve anything? 

Each member of the Claco team shares these characteristics.  It was such a refreshing trip to visit these young and passionate people.  We shared many laughs together over the delicious lunches and dinners that Eric's mom would make.  Their commitment to their work was admirable. 

Being on eastern time, I was typically up first.  I'd walk down town to grab a coffee.  By the time I would return, Matt (one of the coders) would already be back from his quick jog and working on his computer.  Eric and Albert were usually up next, heading straight to their computers.  Jordan, their social media manager, would arrive not much later.  She and Jack (her social media partner) would get to work, too.  The team would only take a break to run a quick lap around the block to wake up or to eat.

They each put in about 18 hour days.  Interestingly enough, they each consider themselves 'average' students in school.  However, as a teacher, the work I witnessed was anything other than average.


  1. Inspiring Erin! As a tutor I find myself aching with a reminder to look at my students differently. I may just ask that same question his Chemistry teacher did. Thanks.


  2. Adrianne,

    Great feedback. You're a wonderful teacher!



  3. So cool! These "kids" are showing the world the future of learning! ClassConnect first caught my interest when Jack kept popping in on #2ndchat. The fact that they are breaking tradition and not going to college is very inspiring. I wish them well! Thanks for sharing your experience.

  4. inspiring.... life takes us on a journey we will never forget. Enjoy making your connections and bringing a positive spice to life.

    Always A Lesson