The first person to ever complete a Pathwright course was a retired gentleman in his 70s. He’d never even used a computer before. His granddaughter set him up with a laptop, internet connection, and a barely-working Pathwright account that he used to blaze through the course faster than all the other beta testers.
That was in 2011 when Pathwright was just two twins (Mark & me) hacking together in our spare bedroom and spare time. Our first goal was to design a course experience so simple anyone could do it. And this fine gentleman validated that we were on the right track. That felt great.
Back then, we wanted nothing more than to make a simple, beautiful product that teachers and learners alike would love. We spent the next five years bootstrapping Pathwright from a side project into a team of people serving thousands of educators.
Then, after launching Pathwright 2 in 2016, I slumped into dissatisfaction with our product. It’s not that it wasn’t working. In fact, Pathwright educators loved the changes we’d made. But I’d begun to fall into the Silicon Valley trap of thinking that somehow our little software app needed to “change the world.”
Now we’ve never fit the mold of a Silicon Valley startup. We turned down venture capital in favor of bootstrapping and have always been profitable because we’ve had to be. We run Pathwright more like a family business than a startup. That isn’t to say we’re not ambitious, but we’ve never been motivated by truckloads of money or fame. We’ve always been more interested in making a dent in the world for good while we can.
Despite this, I’d drifted towards the stereotypical Silicon Valley siren call that our product might just change the entire world. But the reality is that most businesses — and especially software businesses — aren’t going to change the world. And that’s ok. Software is merely a tool, after all.
We’re not hoodie-wearing heroes, we’re the craftspeople and tool makers. Our role in the story is more like Ollivander, Harry Potter’s wand maker, Batman’s assistant, Alfred, and Don Quixote’s horse.
Let’s get over ourselves. Sure, viewing our trade as techsmiths isn’t as glamorous but it is fulfilling and noble.
It’s also freeing and clarifying.
Once we stopped navel-gazing at our product and put ourselves in our proper place, we had the clarity to formulate our true purpose. Here’s what we came up with:
Our mission is to multiply the impact teachers make on the world.
This simple mission frees us from struggling to play the hero and focuses us only on helping the people who truly make a difference in the world: Teachers.
If you’ve got something to teach, then you’re the hero of our story. And if our little app can cut down your busywork so you have more time to teach and give you tools that help you teach more personally and reach more people, then we’re multiplying the impact you already have. And that’s what changes the world.