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Learning To Build A Business In ‘One Month’

The offices of One Month, Mattan Griffel’s startup in SoHo, are the first I’ve ever seen that have a wine fridge en suite. They also feature a fridge stocked with kombucha, and a pillow adorned with a smiling image of Griffel and his One Month co-founder, Chris Castiglione.

When Griffel met me at the office on a Wednesday it was, surprisingly, empty. He explained that on Wednesdays employees work from wherever they want.

“We focus on the work-life balance thing,” he said. “What I’m building is what I see as the ideal life for myself and for other people around me.”

That goal of building an ideal life, whether at home or at work, came up again and again in our conversation. If there’s one takeaway from Griffel, who last year was named to Forbes’s 30 Under 30 list in Education, it’s that he’s obsessed with making all things — online education, the process of building a startup, his company’s workplace culture, himself — better.

Griffel’s position on the Forbes list is a symbol of the way in which the education industry is changing. In schools, the ratio of computers and iPads to students grows closer and closer to 1-to-1; more broadly, the Internet has opened up the world of self-education and continuing education in unprecedented ways. One Month, which Griffel describes as an online school for entrepreneurs, is geared toward the thriving technological start-up world, a new form of education directed toward members of a new industry. It’s a telling example of what the next wave of education might look like.

Griffel himself is soft-spoken and straightforward; coming from him, claims that might otherwise risk sounding boastful — like when he says the first online course he ever taught was “tremendously successful” — sound simply matter-of-fact. He’s meticulous in his personal life, waking at 6 a.m. each day to meditate, exercise and write before getting to work; usually it’s just a stream-of-consciousness, but sometimes he ventures into science fiction or murder mysteries. He’s obsessed with data, likes constantly shifting roles, and is enthusiastic about the potential for globalization to forever change the way humans interact. He is, in other words, almost perfectly suited for the time in which he lives.

One Month started after Griffel, a self-taught coder, met Castiglione while teaching classes at New York’s General Assembly, a hub for entrepreneurs. The duo saw some gaps in the educational opportunities available for those interested in the rapidly expanding world of startups. While there was no shortage of online outlets offering classes in coding, there were few that provided a well-rounded guide to building and running a startup.

The duo also saw an opportunity to scale up the quality of classes on offer.

“Chris and I would be kind of obsessed with fine-tuning the lessons,” Griffel said. “We wanted to focus on a platform that was teacher-first and gave the teachers the information they needed to make a better class.”

As the company’s CEO, Griffel has spent a lot of time putting that philosophy of teacher improvement into practice. He sees three big sectors of growth in online education: innovation in distribution of content, innovation in the presentation of content, and innovation in how the education is being created and refined.

The third sector is the one that’s most captured Griffel’s focus. His desire to improve on the online education models in which he himself had learned and taught, after all, spurred him into building One Month.

“What kind of technology can we put together to help make education better?” he asked. “To help teachers make better lessons? To help them figure out [that] if you have 10 minutes of video, where are people dropping off?”

For Griffel, the ability to analyze that sort of information — what’s engaging students, and what’s failing to — is a huge benefit of online education, especially when it comes to a field as rapidly changing as coding.

“When you’re teaching about things that change constantly,” he said, “that’s an opportunity, because a lot of the more traditional educational systems haven’t caught up to what needs to be taught.”

Where universities teaching computer science might face difficulties in changing their curriculum to meet the pace set by changes in coding language, Griffel thinks an online platform is ideal for keeping up.

“There’s an opportunity for us to follow on much quicker with what’s changing in technology,” he said, “to the point where if we teach a course in a language, if that language changes or a major update comes up we have to be able to change the class literally within a week. That’s not something most universities have the flexibility to do.”

30 Under 30: Mattan Griffel was named one of Forbe's 30 Under 30 in Education for 2015 for his work in online education. Image by One Month

Griffel was born in Israel and moved to the United States with his family when he was 2, first to Pasadena, California, and then to New Jersey. Growing up, he said he was something of a disinterested student. His interest in online education wasinitially sparked when he started college at New York University, where he studied finance and philosophy.

“I used to download the classes on iTunes University for classes I was taking in college,” he said, “and then I would listen to them like hypnosis tapes instead of studying. That was my first foray into online education and how it made it so much easier for me to learn.”

It would take some time for Griffel to start exploring that interest. He applied for jobs in investment banking after graduating from NYU, with no success. Shifting gears, he ended up as the marketing coordinator of a small startup. With little experience in marketing, he started a crash course of self-education in the field, leading him to General Assembly, and to Skillshare, an online learning community that hosts classes on everything from music theory to 3-D modeling.

Griffel was hooked on entrepreneurship, and he was hooked on learning outside the traditional classroom, but he still hadn’t decided to pursue education as a business. He taught himself to code, started a few different companies, and decided to teach a class on teaching yourself to code. The class gained, by his memory, close to 6,000 students, and Griffel recognized what a thirst there was for fast-paced, high-quality education in coding. One Month started as a coding school, but it has recently started trying to provide users with a broader range of information to help them build a company. It now offers courses on growth hacking (strategic marketing for startups), product management and Web security, alongside its original coding classes.

As One Month’s CEO, the day-to-day demands of running a business mean that Griffel doesn’t get to teach as frequently as he used to. Still, leading classes is one of his passions, and he finds the time to bring what he’s learning to students.

“For me,” he said, “teaching has always been part of the learning process. If I wanted to learn about a topic I would say: ‘I have to teach about this topic in two weeks’ time, so now the heat is on. If I don’t know what I’m talking about I’m going to look like an idiot in front of a classroom of people.’”

He’s currently teaching a series on managing a team, which is fitting, as managing One Month’s staff is now one of his primary responsibilities. And with policies like work-from-wherever Wednesdays, and an annual month-long sojourn for the team in Berlin — a practice, in Griffel’s words, “that allows us to change our habits, try new things, really get to know each other” — he’s trying to bring to his new challenge the same innovative drive he initially brought to online education.

Looking forward to the future of education, Griffel has high hopes.

“I think we’re going to get to a model where we find ways to scale an amazing teacher across hundreds of thousands or millions of students,” he said. “Kids will grow up wanting to be them.”

Talya Zax is the Forward’s culture intern.

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