Thu, 18 April 2019
Matthew was a guest of StartCon, Australia’s largest startup and growth conference. It was held at Randwick Racecourse in Sydney on Nov. 30 and Dec. 1.
When he was young, Matthew Brimer spent his days taking apart old electronics and dreaming of space exploration. A child of the Midwest, he was raised on the belief that hard work and passion could turn even the grandest dreams into realities.
As he grew older, he continued to hold tightly to this conviction, and, with the blood of two entrepreneurial parents pumping through his veins, Brimer knew he wouldn’t be stuck in his high school job selling ice cream forever.
Always that tinkering kid at heart, Brimer wanted to be an inventor. And he ultimately achieved his dream, but in a way he never would have imagined while growing up. He became an inventor of businesses, of communities, of experiences.
Co-founder of several brands to date, including dance party/lifestyle brand Daybreaker, VC firm The Fund, and most notably online education platform General Assembly—Brimer has developed an incredible knack for building passionate, engaged communities. Today, General Assembly has 20 campuses and more than 35,000 alumni, and Brimer serves as a mentor to members of the next generation of entrepreneurs through his role at The Fund, a New York City community of founders that he co-founded.
And it all began with an old piece of furniture and a lucky break on eBay.
In 2005, during Brimer’s freshman year at Yale, he and a few buddies noticed that some of the buildings were under renovation and the university was selling the contents in the process. After perusing the items for sale, they decided to buy an antique piece of furniture to see what they could get for it on eBay.
They took a couple photos of the item, posted it and hoped they could make a few extra bucks from the sale.
They had purchased the piece for $50. It sold for $1,000.
Minds blown, they rushed back to the buildings, bought more items and the college freshmen launched a small online business in the antique furniture space.
Having caught the entrepreneurial bug, Brimer wanted to try his hand at something a little bigger—something that required more technical skill.
In 2007, he and four other college students launched the website GoCrossCampus.com, an online game that turned college rivalries into a wildly popular online battle.
“We made every first time founder mistake in the book. It ended up a few years later becoming a total failure,” Brimer says. “But for a while we were the largest college gaming network in the country.”
He acknowledged that with too many founders and no way to generate new revenue, the project was doomed to fail, and GoCrossCampus shut the doors to its battleground in 2010. But while his first project may have ended, Brimer’s desire to create new things had only begun to grow.
He graduated, moved to New York and freelanced as a web designer while he spent all his free time immersing himself in the tech space. Although the city was bursting with brilliant entrepreneurs and new, exciting ideas, Brimer soon realized that bringing them together to interact and exchange those ideas was a challenge.
What if, he wondered, there was a physical building dedicated specifically to serving those in the tech space? What if there was a place where they could work alongside each other and learn while building meaningful community?
With that dream in mind, Brimer, Jake Schwartz, Adam Pritzker, and Brad Hargreaves co-founded General Assembly in early 2011.
Education for the 21st Century
General Assembly launched as a place for coworking, education, and community, under a single membership model, and this system worked well at first. But Brimer quickly noticed that, to better serve members, a greater emphasis had to be placed on building out the educational branch of the brand.
“There’s this huge skills gap between where traditional higher education leaves off and where the 21st century begins,” he says. “College education isn’t changing that much relatively speaking. But the 21st century—in terms of what employers are looking for, in terms of the talent they’re hiring, in terms of the skills you need to be effective in any industry today—that’s moving quickly.”
Brimer says that a traditional university education can leave graduates in tech fields woefully unprepared for the challenges ahead, and this was the gap he hoped General Assembly could fill. So they eliminated the coworking aspect of the business and doubled down on providing quality education from stellar instructors.
According to Brimer, these practical training programs on digital skills taught by actual practitioners currently working in the space were the most powerful, the most transformative thing they could provide. He wanted to equip students with valuable skills that enabled them to land a new job, upgrade their current position or pursue their passions in the digital economy.
Brimer and his cofounders threw themselves into the new phase of their business, raising more capital, expanding their curriculum both online and off, and launching a new branch that offers corporate training and assessments to large companies. They also built out a credentials program and launched a philanthropic wing designed to lift up those with talent and tenacity from all socioeconomic backgrounds.
With this grand expansion came a need to cement the trust consumers had in the brand.
From day one, Brimer placed a significant focus on delivering measurable outcomes at General Assembly, as a way to build firm trust in the brand. He wanted to answer the question, “What can I do after experiencing this product that I couldn’t do before,” with an unequivocal answer: get a job in tech.
It’s no secret that a college degree doesn’t necessarily guarantee a job after graduation, and this, Brimer feels, is a major issue right now for traditional colleges and universities.
“So here you have spent all this money, all this time getting a college degree and it doesn’t guarantee you a job anymore,” he says. “The outcomes are a little nebulous.”
Brimer and General Assembly wanted to provide something with more certainty. By supplying classes in coding, data, design, marketing, business, and career development, as taught by instructors with the most up-to-date information, Brimer feels that General Assembly fills the gap left by traditional education, more directly preparing students for a career in the industry.
The co-founders of General Assembly also made a concerted effort to attract instructors who were not only excellent in their fields, but also who cared deeply about passing their knowledge and skills on to others.
Brimer says that the best instructors at General Assembly are those who love giving back and empowering others, even if they’ve never had any teaching experience. Today, according to its website, there are more than 250 expert instructors. With an ever-evolving curriculum, and continued expansion, General Assembly is bound to continue making a splash in the tech world.
Brimer began as a cofounder, later transitioned into a part-time position, and this summer he stepped into a new role as an external “evangelist for the company,” when the Adecco Group acquired the brand for $412 million.
While his day-to-day work at General Assembly may have come to a close, he is still extremely passionate about what he was able to accomplish during his time there, and is excited to see what new frontiers they are able to conquer in the years to come.
Brimer is no longer the kid tinkering with household electronics in Missouri, but with free time to concentrate on new ventures, he’s still dreaming big.
“It would be a hilarious thing,” he says, “to explain to my 6-year-old or 8-year-old self what it is that I am, have been, and will be.”
4 Ways To Establish Trust in Your Brand
When competing with major colleges and established universities, the way Matthew Brimer was when he co-founded General Assembly, it is absolutely essential to establish deep trust in the brand as quickly as possible. But all brands, not just those in the education space, have to find a way to build a bridge of trust between company and consumer to become successful. These are four of Brimer’s best tips on how to establish trust for your brand.
1. Deliver Measurable Outcomes
Brimer says that one of the best possible ways to build trust in your brand is to deliver outcomes that are clear and measurable. To decide what that outcome is, he recommends asking, “What is possible for a customer after engaging with the brand or product that would have been completely unattainable before?” By nailing down the measurable outcome and then delivering it, it turns word-of-mouth references into undeniable, tangible results.
2. Celebrate Success Stories
Once you’ve determined what “measurable success” for your brand looks like, it’s time to celebrate those who have achieved it! Brimer says that even prestigious colleges only gained the clout they have because of the success of their alumni. In the same way, the successes of others who have interacted with your product reflect back onto your brand.
3. Establish and Adhere to Core Values
By crafting a definitive and concrete set of core values you can stand by, customers learn what they should expect from your products and services. Brimer says that by delivering on those values, you can develop an invaluable level of trust with consumers that can only come from maintaining integrity.
4. Stay Humble
Brimer says that, all too often, as companies grow larger, so do the egos of the people at the top, preventing them from quickly acknowledging mistakes and accepting feedback with humility.
“The more human of a relationship you can have as a company with your users, the more trust you’re going to have,” he says. “Trust goes away when it’s a faceless brand—a faceless corporate entity—interacting with live humans on the other side. That’s when things go downhill.”