My Biggest Failure

Many of you have been asking for more practical how-to make money content and more of my personal stories. I’m going to combine both of those topics by sharing some of the projects I’m working on.The best starting point for that discussion is the biggest business failure of my life.

How to Not Succeed at Business

I wasted many tens of thousands of dollars and thousands of hours of work on a project that never went anywhere. Certainly there were problems with execution, but the main reason was that I tried to tackle a monumental project, while running a full-time business at the same time and I just burned out.


My Biggest Failure

Here is it is. My biggest failure is It’s a children’s educational platform to teach English to non-native English speakers. I have a full learning platform developed in ASP.NET, about 20 game engines that can be repurposed for various language targets with multi-language support built in, hundreds of professionally illustrated images including a great logo and character. This represents thousands of hours of work from dozens of outsourced professionals over the years.

It’s not my biggest failure just because of the amount of money and time I invested in it. The real reason is that I feel it’s biggest contribution I can make to the world, and I know I failed to maximize that impact.

Literacy skills, particularly in English, the global business language, would have transformative impacts on generations of most disadvantaged in the world.

Imagine if hundreds, thousands or even millions of low income people had the ability to communicate in English. The knowledge, opportunities and general educational awareness could be world changing.

Even the Xprize Foundation is working on a multi-million dollar Global Literacy XPRIZE to find educational solutions.

With over 60 million children not receiving primary education, basic education and literacy is a significant global Grand Challenge. The XPRIZE Foundation believes a technological breakthrough is needed in the tools and toys for learning and thinking. These include accessibility, quality, scalability, and customization of systems and techniques to learn, both inside and outside the educational establishment. A Global Literacy XPRIZE has been conceptualized to rethink learning by harnessing innovation and technology and by placing the capability and desire to become educated into the hands of the learner. The prize has the potential to change what people think is possible regarding the means and methods used to teach and learn.

What do I do next?

I don’t have the answers. I’d love to see my teaching projects come to full fruition, but they are such monumental projects that I can’t do them alone.

I have little experience raising money for non-profits. The only way forward that I know of is to start asking others for advice. That’s what I do with every business project I’ve ever done. I ask smarter, more experienced people for direction and suggestions.

I’d like to raise about $100,000 to cover development, admin and marketing costs for the next couple of years. I could get by on less, but it would be great to be able to hire a small team of people to do something big in the non-profit English teaching space.

I’m thinking of doing a crowdfunding campaign, but I’m not sure I have a big enough audience yet.

Another option is to keep slowly working on smaller and simpler related projects to gain interest and support and hopefully later complete the larger projects.

What do you think? What else can I do to keep this moving forward?

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My name is John Bardos. My wife and I gave up our business, house and possessions in Japan to search for more meaning and fulfillment in our lives. We've discovered that a satisfying life is about rich experiences, quality relationships and meaningful contribution, NOT consumption.

8 Responses to My Biggest Failure

  1. Hey John,

    Interesting concept, I can see it being expanded into English speaking countries, for a learning tool at a kindegarden or pre-school age. My first question is how are you monetising it. ? Its great to change the world, but I think (Might be me being selfish), you need to get paid for it.

    It lends it self to app development, especially for tablets. As so many kids are now using them.

    Crowd funding seems to be the new way for many start ups on line. But what about develping your business plan then approaching key financial backers. (usually people/business that already invest into Internet start ups).

    any way good luck with it, look forward to seeing what you do with it…

    • John says:

      Hi Darren,

      Thanks for the feedback. I’m not monetizing this at all. I’ve tried to sell teaching material and flash card downloads to teachers in the past, but I’ve found that the most needy can’t really afford to purchase materials or resources.

      Making money would be great, but I want to make sure that the poorest children and teachers can use the site and download other resources for free.

      I think it would spread faster and have greater impact if it were a 100% charity project like the Khan Academy.

      I’m hoping to maximize impact, not profits. Although, I’m not against making money in rich countries in order to support lower income children.

  2. neale says:

    I would not call it a failure, I have some very good friends with sites aimed at kids education. I would touch base with them they may be able to help. Just contact Samir at Cenango dot com his wife Suki looks after the kids sites, they are some of the nicest people you will ever meet.

    • John says:

      Thanks Neale,

      I took a look at the site you mentioned, but I couldn’t find links to any kids’ sites. Please let me know if you know someone that can help with funding.

  3. Ana says:

    I love the idea! Having taught English abroad a few times, I’ve often wondered how in the world a knowledge of English could possibly reach low-income people around the world who no only cannot afford to go to school, they also have little to no access to technology. I mean, what’s the point of providing any kind of computer-assisted learning to people who don’t have access to computers?

    This is something that would be on the top of my philanthropical list if ever I made a lot of money. This field means a lot to me. I’d dearly love to be involved, but I have to make a living.

    Related to that, I second the question a respondent asked: How do you monetize something like this?

    I don’t think it was a failure, either. I just think you’ve got to get funding, and that includes paying the others involved. Starting with crowd funding sounds like a good idea.

    • John says:

      Thanks Ana,

      I think there are many levels to this project. To start with, I’m providing free flash cards to teachers to download and print to bring to classes. I also plan to offer my curriculum and worksheets soon.

      Ultimately, the goal is to provide a complete online course for children. The most disadvantaged don’t have access to computers yet, but that is changing quickly. By the end of the decade, I believe we will have $20 or $30 smart phones in the developing world, making online resources available to most of the planet. That is when the big changes will come.

  4. Tim L. says:

    It seems this needs to be a Bill Gates kind of project, not a for-profit angel investor kind of project. As in funded by someone who wants to change the world, not a company looking to maximize profit. A hundred grand is chump change for the right organization and this is the kind of project that’s measurable, high-impact, and easy to explain. If I were in your shoes, I’d build in a healthy salary for yourself for a set amount of time, raise the price, and start setting up meetings.

    • John says:

      Hi Tim,

      There is potential to sell the service in richer countries, but overall I think it’ll have greater impact if it’s a non-profit where everything is freely available.

      What kind of meetings should I set up?

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