The Babur Habib Hypothesis: Rapid Iterations Drive the Slow Growth That Overcomes Inertia

Babur Habib is the Co-Founder and CEO of the Portfolio School, with years of experience including cofounding edtech company Kno which sold to Intel, being the VP of Video at Shutterstock, the Head of Engineering and Development at Intel Education, and a technical consultant and manager at Exponent. In this episode of the Product Science Podcast, we talk about how the Portfolio School is trying to transform education from the ground up and how to train a generation of students that understands the power and ethics of tech.

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Questions We Explore in This Episode

The Babur Habib Hypothesis: Rapid Iterations Drive the Slow Growth That Overcomes InertiaHow did Babur move from a hardware background to working in nuclear proliferation research? What was his quantum computing thesis about? How did Babur’s work with Exponent transition him into the software side of things? How did Holly and Babur’s science experience carry over into their work in product development?

How did Babur decide to start a school and what is it all about? How did his work convince him to look at what learning and education means from scratch? How does he view his work with schools as an engineering problem? How have we moved out of the industrial age and into the innovation age, and how can schools keep up? How does Babur bring iteration into education?

How do you bring an experimental approach to making a change in a big ecosystem? What pieces of information did they look at in order to make key process decisions? What kind of research did Babur do before deciding to run an independent school? How does the Portfolio School measure growth?

What does Portfolio look at when they do efficacy studies? What are their larger goals for growth? Why are they focused on outcomes before they try to scale? How do you avoid falling into the trap of “success theater?” Why can growth be a big threat to an organization that is trying to change the system from the ground up?

What is Portfolio doing to account for how tech is changing our lives? How do you educate students for jobs that haven’t been invented yet? How do you put students in a position to make ethical decisions regarding technology in the future? How can you approach technology like any other tool in a creative toolbox?

Quotes From This Episode

A lot has changed in our world around us, and a lot is changing very fast around us in the next few decades as well. And we should really look at schools and what learning and education means from scratch. - Babur Habib Click To Tweet The science had been figured out, but now it was an engineering problem of taking that science and implementing it in schools, and how it would actually practically work and all of that stuff. - Babur Habib Click To Tweet You have to always keep an eye on that big idea, but then be very focused on okay, how are you going to get into it? What are you going to do in your first few years? How are you going to grow from there? - Babur Habib Click To Tweet We want to grow thoughtfully and in a measured way because if you grow too fast, then the way we want to iterate and the way we want to make sure we're being thoughtful about things won't be possible. - Babur Habib Click To Tweet


Holly Hester-Reilly: Hi, and welcome to the Product Science Podcast, where we’re helping startup founders and products leaders build high growth products, teams and companies through real conversations with people who have tried it and aren’t afraid to share lessons learned from their failures along the way. I’m your host Holly Hester-Reilly, founder and CEO of H2R Product Science. This week on the Product Science Podcast, I’m excited to share a conversation with Babur. Babur and I worked together at Shutterstock, and I’ve been getting involved in what he’s up to these days at the portfolio school. So welcome.
Babur Habib: Thank you. Great to be here.
Holly: I’m so glad to have you. I’m excited because I feel like I’ve known you for a while but I haven’t really gone too deep into the stuff you did before I met you, so I’m excited to get to know another part of your life.
Babur: Yeah. Sure. I’m a technologist by training, and by most of my experience, my sort of recent foray into education and schools has kind of got me out of technology, although I do stay in touch. I grew up in Pakistan, and came here to the US to do my undergrad, which was in engineering. And my first job out of college was at Intel designing Pentium 3 at that time, this was mid ’90s, and we were trying to break the 300 megahertz speed limit, which makes me sound very ancient now. And so from an experience perspective, I’ve worked in hardware engineering, hardware product design.
Babur: My second job once I left Intel was at Philips semiconductors and this is sort of late ’90s where digital was going to be the main way to design future products, from setup boxes to digital cameras, digital TVs, digital music players and all that, and that’s the group I joined back in ’98 and it was just a great experience, both from a chip design perspective, but fully looking into things like what does it mean to design a digital camera and digital TVs and things like that. And Philips was a great place to do a lot of that work, because it’s one of the companies that has done a lot of innovation in different engineering products. Whether they stay sort of top of consumers mind and mind share, that can be debated, but certainly from an innovation perspective, they’re the [inaudible 00:03:00].
Babur: And then from there, I decided to do my PhD, which was in Quantum Computing, and that brought me to the east coast, and I was at Princeton for about six years, both doing my PhD work as well as got involved in fellowship program which was a two-year program at Woodrow Wilson School of Public Policy, looking at how science and technology can inform public policy, and specifically, I actually looked at the nuclear proliferation issue. That was something that was very close to my heart because that’s the time when sort of Pakistan’s nuclear program got a lot of news coverage, because there was information that was leaked out to Iran and to North Korea through the agencies in Pakistan, and so it was sort of forefront in the news. And I decided to sort of jump into that sort of area as well through this public policy program, which was great actually. I mean I think I looked at technology and science from a very different perspective in those two years.
Holly: That sounds really interesting. I want to know more about that one. How did you learn about the program and get involved in it?
Babur: Yeah. It was actually funny. It was pretty coincidental because I knew a friend of mine who was in that program. We were just having coffee and discussing Pakistan’s nuclear program. Him and I got into a really sort of a healthy and passionate debate, I should say. After the cup of coffee, he’s like, why don’t you apply to our program? We do a two-year fellowship for engineering and science majors. Of course, my advisor at that time, my PhD advisor wasn’t too happy that I was going to be doing this part-time. But it turns out he was from Iran. So he was like, you know what, I empathize. So that’s how I got into it.
Babur: It was great because the center, which was science and technology in public policy within the Woodrow Wilson School was all scientists and engineers working and had made a career out of it back from the ’60s onwards. And so I learned a lot from those folks as well. We met with people at the State Department, at the Department of Energy, which in fact, actually Department of Energy is the department that controls the nuclear program in the US. So yeah, it was a great experience out there.
Holly: Wow. What did you do your thesis on in Quantum Computing?
Babur: Oh gosh, do you want me to say this loud? It was material science of aspect of quantum computing. My thesis was on gallium arsenide, p-type materials and their effectiveness in building quantum transistors. So that’s what my thesis was. Yep.
Holly: Wow. So did you do a lot of work both in the lab and in the analysis using computers, or was it more computer theory calculations and such?
Babur: Yeah. I sort of figured out over the years that I’m not the best math guy when it comes to engineering and science. So to me, the particular aspect was more interesting. So I was in the lab. We had these fridges, is what they’re called, where you cool down your material to literally millikelvin scales, really very, very close to absolute zero to study sort of the quantum effects of different things, because the noise levels of everything just dies down at that temperature. Yeah. So most of my thesis work was actually in the lab. The funny thing is now, in fact, I should see quantum computing the past few years has actually come out of academia and labs and gotten into places like Google … IBM has been doing it for a while, but Google, Microsoft, Intel, where a lot of very active work is going on both on the hardware side as well as software side. And now eventually there’s a couple of startups that have been funded in this space as well, which is exciting to see, very exciting to see that.
Holly: Yeah. That’s so cool. I used to do lab work as well in chemical engineering, and I [crosstalk 00:08:18].
Babur: Oh, I didn’t know this [inaudible 00:08:19].
Holly: Yeah. See, there you go. Different things. There’s a part of me that misses it. Wow, I was not using fridges that tried to get close to absolute zero, but we did use vacuums, and I did magnetic resonance imaging testing, and so we were creating … We were working on different materials that you can use to see the way things flow through complex chambers. I feel like there’s parts of it that just still apply to what we do as entrepreneurs, because having gone through, how do you design and set up and talk about experiments and share your results out and all of that in the rigorous academic setting, and then going and seeing the way people do it day to day in, say, Shutterstock, I feel like we bring a different perspective than people who haven’t done it in the science world.
Babur: That’s a very good point, actually. I hadn’t thought about it that way. But you’re absolutely right. There’s that rigor to the academic world which at times is lacking in the industry, so yeah.
Holly: Yeah. So how did you get from there? I mean, wow, there’s got to be many more steps to this journey. So what came next?
Babur: So what came next was I did a consulting … I shouldn’t call it consulting gig. It was a consulting firm called Exponent out of Stanford that started about 40 years ago as failure analysis firm. And so it has become … Now it’s called Exponent. And they started just in California in Menlo Park and now sort of have their presence in about 19 cities in the US. And this is a … It’s a technology and engineering consulting firm. And so I joined that right out of my PhD and worked on very interesting projects over there from looking at IP litigation issues around technology patents and working with some of the biggest firms Fortune 5 firms, Fortune 10 firms now to doing some interesting work around radiation and its effect on human bodies and things like that to designing …
Babur: We actually had a small group which designed very particular engineering products for the US Army. And so we looked at … I was part of that team as well for a little while designing some … They needed immediate radar detection systems in the theater, and I was part of that as well, which was great experience. And from there, a good friend of mine who was my college buddy, he was coming out of a very successful ed tech startup called Chegg. And he was looking to do sort of this next step in textbooks, which was to become sort of the Kindle for textbooks.
Babur: So him and I started that company back in 2008. This is when iPhone had just come out about a year ago and it was very evident that the touch interface and tablet designs will be the future. So we looked at building a two screen, dual screen tablet for educational purposes and then have the full on software stack on it as well. So build sort of the precursor to iPad, because iPad wasn’t in the market yet, and was much bigger screen as well because it was for education.
Babur: And then back then, cloud wasn’t a main sort of thrust in a lot of products. But our idea was to, in fact, actually have that piece as well for analytics and stuff around how students are using textbooks, where they’re getting stuck, where they’re breezing through, what are the important sort of topics, chapters in each textbook that we find through our data. And so we became sort of the Kindle for textbooks at that time, which is what got me back into education. From there, I started, say, to be completely entrenched in education and started a school recently.
Holly: Yeah. How many years in are you now?
Babur: We are now … It’s been what, three years now. Yeah. This is the end of our third year. Yeah.
Holly: Yes. Yeah. I don’t know if that’s still recent. Recent comparatively, I suppose.
Babur: I guess so.
Holly: Yeah. Yeah. Tell us more. I obviously know quite a bit about the school, but tell us for our listeners. How did you decide to start a school, and what is it about?
Babur: Yeah. What happened after my experience in ed tech, and both in the university space as well as K through 12, we got acquired by Intel. So I was at Intel education for about a year and a half integrating our software product into sort of Intel’s ecosystem. And there, we did sort of massive grand projects around deploying technology in schools. My sort of whole thesis coming out of that was that there is a emphasis on innovation in education, which is just through the lens of technology. And to me, it was evident that it’s not just that when we talk about schools and education and learning. A lot has changed in our world around us, and a lot is changing very fast around us in the next few decades as well. And we should look at schools and what learning and education means, really from scratch.
Babur: The good news there was that there was a lot of thought leaders in education that were talking about similar things. So it wasn’t like we had to sit down and figure out a lot of things that we needed to do. To me, it was like a lot of the science had been figured out, but now it was an engineering problem of taking that science and implementing it in schools, and how it would actually practically work and all of that stuff. So that was the reason I felt like it’s important to start a school so that we can really show what we can do. What kind of real innovation we can do in schools if we were to start from scratch today. So that was the impetus. That was the exciting part about starting it.
Holly: Yeah. I’m sure some of our listeners have spent so much of their time in software and physical products, and probably not a lot in designing entire ecosystems like schools are. And so I imagine it might not sound so clear how that all fits, but I love the way that you framed it as sort of the science of knowing what works and what doesn’t work had been figured out, but the engineering of how do we apply it and make it come to life hadn’t. Tell me more about sort of how you came to that thesis? What kind of things did you see maybe back at … the company, it was Kno, is that how it’s pronounced?
Babur: That’s right, Kno.
Holly: Okay. What kind of things did you see back at Kno and at Intel when they were doing these large scale implementations of new technology in the classroom?
Babur: Yeah. What I started observing was that, of course, the delivery of content through tablets, for example, is a great idea. Right? Or to see how technology can make certain aspects of teaching more efficient is again a great idea, and that has its benefits. But fundamentally, the learning model was still … or the teaching model was still the same. There’s the sage on stage, who’s the teacher, who comes in, who delivers a particular set of knowledge to students, and students are sort of considered this vessel where sort of more and more content needs to be poured into them. And after a while, they’re supposed to be tested, and the test actually shows how much they’ve learned. And that’s how you sort of progress over 13 years of your very important years of your life.
Babur: And it was evident that there’s a lot of sort of evidence around how that model, which started sort of with … correlates really well with the industrial age and the advent of industrial age, but which is a very outdated model of education now. And whereas it was kind of needed that the students who come out of, say, schools in New York City versus the students who come out of schools in Ohio should all be learning the same thing because they’re going into the same sort of job market, which requires a certain set of knowledge that they all need, that idea, that philosophy of schooling does not apply anymore.
Babur: And so what we like to call it is that we’ve sort of moved out of the industrial age into the innovation age, and that’s where sort of the skills of creativity, the social emotional sort of habits of kids, the idea of how they work in teams, how they persevere, those aspects which we now call within our school enduring skills are so much more important. And the problem remains is how do you create the right kind of genuine experiences for the kids to be able to experience that and learn these skills in a school setting? Because in a lot of ways, schools are very sort of, in a lot of ways, a very sort of artificially created environments. And so to make them more authentic so that kids are able to learn these enduring skills in a much more authentic way, is what a lot of thought leaders in education have been talking about.
Babur: For example, the idea of just having them sit in a classroom and listen to a lecture and then be tested is not applicable, but like, okay, if you’ve gained a certain piece of knowledge, if you’ve been exposed to it, how do you apply it? That’s much more relevant now, because content obviously is in our back pockets now, in our phones. So how do you apply it? What do you do with it? How do you show you can actually work with it and the other pieces of knowledge that you have? How do you connect all of that and do something with it is way more important.
Babur: So now, the good question becomes, how do you put a sort of school environment together which includes the space design, the role of the teachers, role of students, the role of the administration, all of that should be sort of thought through in a sort of from a ground up level and figured out like, okay, this is how the space should be designed. We need classrooms. Do we need separate areas for certain sort of specials that kids go to? Why isn’t it all integrated? Why isn’t it more open? Why aren’t teachers and students co learning rather than a teacher, student kind of atmosphere? And so all of those things need to be looked at and figured out from a practical perspective. They’re all great in theory and stuff, but how do you practically do it? And that’s what we’re doing day in and day out. And it’s just been incredible to see how much progress we’ve made and the kind of issues we face every day and how we’re tackling those as well.
Holly: Yeah. Absolutely. So tell me more … I’m thinking about what you were just saying with the classroom design and the spaces, and knowing that before we started recording, you and I were chatting about your new space is opening and there’s construction going on there. And I think you’ve told me that your school’s just finished their third year. And I think you did some construction every summer, right? So you must have started somewhere and iterated continuously in as much as you could in the confines of a real world. Maybe you can tell us a little bit about what did you try in the beginning? And what did you learn from it? What did you have to throw out? What did you keep?
Babur: Yeah. So I think one of the things that we think about in our school is that it’s a changing world, and what kids have to be sort of trained in or be very comfortable with is how many jobs they’ll have. It’s not going to be one or two jobs in their career, but it’s going to be multiple different jobs. They’ll have to sort of learn new things as they grow in their careers and always need to be agile. And we wanted to actually apply that to the culture of the school as well. I mean if you look at schools, it’s one of those verticals that actually sells you on tradition and not changing things, right? I mean a school is considered an amazing school or best school where everybody wants to go is because they’ve been in existence for a 100 years, for example, right? It’s very hard to think that way about anything else we do. But for school, it’s all about that.
Babur: So we really wanted to change how the culture of the school is and be able to make thoughtful, meaningful changes as the year progresses, as the number of grades that we increase, and always be thinking about, are we doing it the best way or can we improve on things? So that idea of iteration that we sort of are constantly talking about in product design, right, that is something that I feel we should be also bringing into schools. Now, the timeline of that, what goes into it is very different in a school environment than say, a software product that you’re building. You can’t change things on a dime in a school. But you at least have that philosophy that we look at everything … Our units go for about a few months, therefore, every few months is when we finish our unit and go on to the next unit. Even after the unit is done, there is a big sort of time for reflection.
Babur: And we try to understand, okay, what went well, what didn’t go well. We teach that to the students, but we also sort of in the adult organization sit down and talk about it, so that we can, in fact, actually improve even in the second unit of the year, right? And that’s the kind of sort of spirit that I want to maintain in the school as well, like, even as we grow, even as we go more than 10, 20, 30 years, right, when supposedly you’re all set in terms of what your schools are about. But that sort of should be the culture of change, the culture of improving all the time should be there in that organization forever. And it’s important.
Babur: I mean we’ve learned a lot. We’ve learned a lot about … from our first year, how we designed the space. We had to change things for our second year. And a good example that I like to give is that in the first year we had less number of students but also we kept it a lot more open, but we realized that we do need quiet spaces within that open design. So how do you do that and bring that in without losing that spirit of openness in the school? So that’s one example of what we found we could sort of improve on from a space perspective.
Holly: Yeah. Sometimes the things we think about sort of one side of the positive of something, but then we forget about the other side, right? So it’s like, we’re going to have open spaces, people will be able to collaborate, they won’t feel like they’re stuck in a room. But then on the other side, sometimes it’s like, well, where do you go when you want quiet?
Babur: Exactly. Exactly. It’s very important thing to actually keep that open mind that you come in with something that you may be passionate about, and I speak for myself there that I was very passionate about having open spaces in the school, but we realize that yes, open spaces are nice to have, but there has to be a balance. So you have to be open completely about making those changes as well.
Holly: There must have been … I mean I think you’ve kind of expressed this, but as I’m thinking about how this maps to the day to day experiences for those of us who are still working with software products more than whole ecosystem, I’m thinking about sort of that delicate balance between the agile and the decision making and the iterating and improving, but also having the core guiding principles that people can come back to and have that frame around it to be like, okay, is this dynamic working for what we wanted?
Babur: Yep. Yep. Exactly. It’s a balance there that you have to maintain. You can’t change things too quickly, especially in a school kind of setting, but if you’re changing it, you have to go to their core principles as well to understand, hey, this is why we believe we started this. What are the values there that we can’t just give up on? And also, I think there’s … In that vein, one of the things that … When you’re looking at sort of making a … you’re looking at a really big product, like okay, we want to change the game for schools, that’s not sort of a small idea. It’s a big idea, right? And how do you tackle something that big and figure out how you’re going to break it down and work on things that are most important in the beginning stages. And how are you going to wedge yourself into an already very big ecosystem and then be able to expand from there, as opposed to building products which may be improving on a couple of features or are sort of smaller in scope.
Babur: If there are entrepreneurs, product designers who are thinking about … I hate using this word, but that’s disrupting certain industries, right, I mean I think you have to always keep an eye on that big idea, but then be very sort of focused on okay, how are you going to get into it? What are you going to do in your first few years? How are you going to then grow from there? Those are important things to … and what are the things you’re going to keep changing, keep iterating on that’ll actually take you there to that big idea, the big goal that you have in mind?
Holly: Yeah. Are there any sort of debates you had in the early days of portfolio school where maybe there was something that you had to decide a lot around on that, like, how are we going to wedge in here? Like, how do we get this to hold?
Babur: I mean I think sort of the big debates for us were things like … Our big vision was that yes, we wanted to do something by building a school ourselves, and then we want to affect sort of education. Ultimately, the goal is to affect education in a sort of a much bigger way where we can partner with public schools or other private schools and stuff and really change the game for how education is thought of in schools and stuff. But initially, we were like, okay, so what’s our edge? And is it our own school? If it is, then is it a private independent school? Where would we put that private independent school? If it’s not a complete private independent school, is it a charter school? Or if it’s not our school, is it some sort of a collaboration with a public school? And we looked at all of those different options as to okay, how are we going to start this idea?
Babur: And when we looked at it, we felt like the best way to sort of keep control of our vision is going to be an independent school where we are not bound by, say, the public school system and the idea of showing results through testing and things like that. Charter schools also have that issue. They can be a lot more independent, but still have guidelines and rules to follow from the State departments of education. And so we felt like to sort of own our destiny, we have to do it as an independent school. And once that is established, is working, we can then go from there and partner with other schools and other organizations to take our ideas to a much broader scope.
Holly: Yeah. And did you … I’m thinking about that kind of decision, right? It’s like it has ramifications, lots of ramifications, because then you get set like that, you get started, and now you’re in that system. And I’m curious, you must have done … What kind of research did you do to get a sense of what those ramifications might be and what these options might lead to?
Babur: Yeah. I mean I think … So we talked to quite a few people. We visited schools, independent schools in New York City, we talked to a lot of thought leaders in education who were either say, for example, associated with making changes in public school systems, had been working with public schools or charter schools or had started charter schools and were running successfully. And as we were talking to them, we were looking at okay, if we started an independent school, here are the things that we’ll have to worry about. And if we started a charter school, here are the things that will concern us the most. So if we’re partnering as a … If we’re just an organization helping public schools, what does that look like and how much effect we can have and how quickly we can actually have that effect?
Babur: On the pro side, yes, it made sense to do an independent school because of the control we would have. And then the flip side is then that also means that when it comes to funding, when it comes to resources that you’ll have, it will be a very … it’s a very sort of direct to consumer model at that point, and that has its challenges, especially as you’re building something like a school. So we would have to actually then make sure that those are things that we will understand, like, how to tackle those and stuff. And we had certain ideas about it when we started, and as we stepped into it, as we learned more, we began to in fact … Actually, our point of view of those ramifications has changed also.
Holly: Yeah. Sometimes we learn lessons on the go, right?
Babur: On the go. Yes. Exactly.
Holly: Yeah. Well, I’m also curious to share a bit of your growth story or portfolio schools growth story. So the school is about three years old, right? What is the journey looks like so far? How do you measure it? What are you looking at to know?
Babur: Yeah. I mean I think it’s a few things that we have in mind. The growth of course is the growth of the students. So we started with just seven students. We’re going to about … This year, we were 24 students, and now we’re going to be about 32 students in our new space. So we go growing thoughtfully and in a measured way, and the reason is because especially in early years, if you grow too fast, then the way we want to iterate and the way we want to make sure that we’re being thoughtful about things won’t be possible. There are certain schools who have grown very quickly in their initial years, and it’s the traveling part of that or the thing that gets sort of out of control is that then you’re just more concerned about the organizational side of the school rather than the sort of pedagogical teaching or learning side of schools. So that’s one metric. But we’ve been very thoughtful about that metric, because it’s something that we want to …
Babur: We obviously want to grow, but not at the expense of the quality of the program. So the quality of the program is another thing that we keep an eye on, like, how do we build our units? How learning takes place? How are we measuring that learning. And it’s not just measuring by tests and things like that, there are other things that we put in place that are important. And when we do sort of efficacy studies as well, for example, we had one of the professors at the teachers’ college at Columbia, his graduate students spent the whole last year with us, and they were able to qualitatively show and in some cases quantitatively show that what we talk about in our philosophy of the school is in fact being implemented. So those things are very important to us, and we measure those along with just the growth side of the school.
Babur: And in terms of the growth, the idea is not to just remaining a small private school in New York City, but to in fact have a network of schools. And that network of schools would hopefully one day be not just in New York or adjacent areas, but across the country and even internationally as well. But in order to do that, the other side of what we have our eye on, the quality of the program is extremely important. Once we have that right, the growth will come.
Holly: Exactly. You have to deliver on the outcomes that the product is all about before you can scale the people that are getting in.
Babur: Absolutely. Exactly.
Holly: Yeah. Yeah. And I think that’s one of the things that in the conversations and the writing that gets spread quickly from Silicon Valley and startup world, it gets lost more than I would like. There’s a lot of just focus on growth for growth’s sake and the sort of I almost want to call it success theater, but it’s not long lasting success if it doesn’t deliver those values, the outcomes that it’s supposed to.
Babur: That’s so true. I mean I think it’s a very important aspect of something that is troubling in Silicon Valley and what’s happening over there. In fact, actually, there is an example of a school system which was started in San Francisco by a tech entrepreneur, and their growth, the way they grew out of San Francisco into New York City, it was so fast that they couldn’t sustain it. And then this year, they’ve actually shut down all of their schools and sort of pivoted into just a tech company. And to me, when I used to look at that model, I used to always say that, look, you cannot apply the same principles that we think about in say for example, software product design in these other areas. And I think you’re absolutely right that even in software product design, I think we need to be mindful of things like rapid growth and viral growth, exponential kind of growth and things like, how soon it happens and why it happens and whether it’s sustainable or not.
Holly: Yeah. They closed all of them? I remember when they closed the New York one, but they’re all-
Babur: No. Just now, they have closed all of them.
Holly: Wow. Okay. Yeah.
Babur: I should actually be … I think the correct way to say is they’ve transferred the ownership to another school system, of the remaining ones.
Holly: Yes. Got it. That’s a nice way to say it. Yes. I remember one person I had a private conversation with who had a startup that they sold. He said it was a fail sale. And I was like, Oh, I never heard that term. But okay, that’s a thing.
Babur: Actually, I would say, hell yeah. I’ve heard of fire sale being used, but fail sale is I think a better one.
Holly: Yes. Exactly. I was like, that’s a good story. Yeah. But sometimes, yeah, sometimes we don’t know about what’s really going on. So one of the things that that I love about what you’re doing that I’d love to talk a little bit more about, and also just in general, this season of my podcast we’re talking more about sort of policy and implications for the world at large and society and things. I’m thinking about how the portfolio school, it’s not just like we use tech in the school, but it’s also the school understands how tech is changing the world and what that means for the future and what that means for what people need to do. And I think that is … I don’t know. Do you think people are talking about that enough I guess now maybe more than they were even three years ago?
Babur: Yeah. I think people are talking about that in sort of schools and like, okay, what’s the future of work and how much technology is going to play a role into our lives, and what does all of this mean? And one of the things that sort of is commonly then talked about is, what will jobs look like? Some of the statistics that are common in the internet are things like 65 to 80 percent of the jobs that our kids are going to have, have not been invented yet, for example. And that usually sort of scares people. Got okay, oh my god, what does that mean? What does that mean for the education of my child? And what are they learning in schools? And are schools relevant? And all that stuff.
Babur: And the way we try to answer that is that I think what we need to do fundamentally when it comes to technology and the future is that kids need to be comfortable with how all of this technology works. What sort of the under the hood ways that AI works, for example, or blockchain works, for example. What is software? What does it mean to actually be designing hardware products and things like that. And kids need to be sort of … I think all kids need to be exposed to it. Like we expose all kids to arts, we should be exposing all kids to how technology actually works.
Babur: They now don’t all need to be engineers. They don’t all need to go into software programming and things like that, tech product design, but they need to know how all of this works. Because I think it’s important that whatever they’re going to be doing, they’re going to be using this technology, and they can’t be afraid of it. They have to sort of be more like, okay, how can this kind of technology help me do my work better? How can I take this technology and do more things with it? And not just more things with it in their line of work, but I think there’s going to be a lot of ethical questions that our future generation is going to be answering about the future technologies, right? And they can’t come from a perspective of being fearful of these technologies because they don’t understand.
Babur: Our view on all of this is that if they are comfortable with all of these technologies, they’ll in fact actually make better ethical decisions around it. And they’ll actually be able to use it in a much better way in their work life and whatever line of work they do. So that’s how we sort of try to answer that question. It’s not something to be fearful of. It’s something to be actually embraced in a way where you understand the good side and the bad side, and are able to make good decisions out of it. I think a lot of the … I mean I think a lot of the things that we are seeing from our technology hubs like Silicon Valley is that people who really understand technology are not worried about the ethical side of things, and people who are worried about ethical side of things don’t necessarily understand the technology piece that well. And I think that gap has to just be closed. That’s how we perceive of like [inaudible 00:45:05].
Babur: In our schools, kids will do a lot of hands on work. For us, the technology plays in like they’re on some online learning platform, but that they actually can open a computer and understand what’s inside. They can build a computer on their own. They can use drills, soldering irons. Carpentry is a tool in their toolbox, and it’s something that they use to build on their ideas and show what they can do with all of this. That’s a big part of what we will want kids to spend time on. And not just opening a computer and stuff, but to me, all of this is like pencil and paintbrush that you use for … that’s a tool, and so is the rest of technology, right? And so this merging of arts and tech and humanities and technology is so important, and that’s what we work on when it comes to the curriculum side.
Holly: Well, I think we’re about out of time, so I’m going to wrap it up. Are there any sort of final things you want to share I think particularly for entrepreneurs or people who are trying to disrupt something that’s been around for a long time?
Babur: Yeah. I mean I think to me it’s a couple of things. One, we just talked about is, especially if they’re entrepreneurs thinking about big ideas, how do you wedge into the right place within that big idea? I like to give the Tesla example that Tesla wanted to disrupt the whole auto industry, but they started with a very high end sports car, and that’s how they wanted to tackle the market. You have to figure out what that place is where you’re going to come in.
Babur: Secondly, a lot of people talk about it, but I can’t iterate enough is the team that you build, it’s so important. The focus that you place on the bigger vision that you have, you can kind of get lost into sort of small details day to day and how you’re going to figure out the next 100 things that you’re worried about. But if you have a big idea in your head, just from time to time look at that as well.
Holly: Sometimes you got to do that. Well, thank you so much, and congratulations on how much Portfolio School has done so far. I’m so pleased to see it’s thriving.
Babur: Yeah. We have to bring you in and show you the new space. And you we will do more with you this year. And this was fantastic. Thank you for inviting me to this podcast.
Holly: Oh, you’re welcome. Thank you for coming. It’s going to be so fun to share all these things and see how our listeners react and respond to everything we’re sharing this season. So I’m super excited to share this one. Thanks Babur.
Babur: I’m looking forward to it as well.
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