We had a question from an Office Hours listener about why Crash was created as a separate entity than Praxis. (For those who don’t know, I started the Praxis apprenticeship program 6 years ago, and created the Crash career-launch platform with some Praxis team-members about 6 months ago).

It’s a great question, and one I don’t think I’ve ever formally answered all in one place. Many, many conversations with both teams, investors, and my kitchen cabinet throughout the process, but never a full explanation. As I thought about how I would answer on the podcast, I realized there’s a lot there and it might be worth organizing my thoughts and writing it out.

The Origin

We built Praxis from nothing with no team and no money in 2013 to a kickass, growing, profitable, world-class team, highly effective elite program in five years. Every month, every year as we grew and improved all aspects of the program and company, I looked for ways to take the core of what works so well for Praxians and bring it to millions. Starting about three years in, every six months or so we’d have a little brainstorm retreat for a weekend and play around with different models that could deliver the Praxis special sauce to orders of magnitude more people. We came close, but never quite found a model that made sense. We kept on a strong linear growth path with Praxis, but I couldn’t stop thinking about variations on the model that could be lighter touch but broader reach.

In 2018, I began talking with a world-class tech investor who was impressed with what we’d built. We had some great conversations and he asked me really big, challenging questions about growth potential of the Praxis approach and ideas. I had mostly bootstrapped a non-tech business, he had built and invested in venture-backed tech businesses. But he saw something in our point of view on education and career, and I saw something that had been missing from my other attempts in his view on networks, scale, and the process of building something really big. Our conversations and the books he recommended got me out of my own head just enough to inspire a model I thought could be huge, and one that made more sense as a venture-backed tech play than our current self-funded low-tech growth model. (It took me some time, because I am heavily biased against raising venture capital. I think the default for entrepreneurs should be not to do it, and only rare exceptions with business models and teams that really fit the model should. But that’s another article for another day).

I decided to go for it and pitch him and several other investors on building a career launch platform out of the Praxis components. It was an interesting fundraising process. Some investors were incredibly impressed with what we’d built with Praxis, others didn’t get how it fit with what we were trying to build with the platform. I’d try to focus entirely on the platform and still all the questions would be about the apprenticeship. It wasn’t very clear to them what I was building, and whether it really was a tech platform or some tweaks to an apprenticeship. It probably would’ve been easier to raise for one or the other, but I told an integrated story of how this was the next phase of Praxis and a way to morph it into a platform. Despite the lack of total clarity, we raised a great round from awesome investors.

We hired our lead engineer (actually before we closed the round, because I like risk and I like to put myself into must-win situations) and got to work in late 2018 mapping out this platform. It was going to be part of Praxis and branded and run as such.

It didn’t take long to realize that this was a problem. A single company, brand, and team for two very different processes and approaches caused a lot of stress and confusion. This was a really, really hard time. I did a lot of soul-searching, long walks, and many sleepless nights trying to figure out how to do this. It led to a separate name, brand, identity, and team. I realized to maximize the success of the Praxis program, which has so much more of the world to conquer, and the Crash platform which is barely finding its place, they needed to live independent (though very collaborative) lives.

Here are some of the reasons it made sense to split them.

Tech vs. Non-Tech

Building a non-tech company is very different than building a tech company (I’m early in learning this). The processes, the goals, the workflow, the amount and rate of change, and the importance in level of detail are totally different. In non-tech, you can overcome weaknesses with additional elbow grease and human touch. You can live with them for a while, patch over them, and figure out a solution. It’s not sustainable long-term but necessary. In tech, product or model or market weaknesses will kill you quick so it’s all about finding them ASAP and hunting them down and destroying them. In non-tech you don’t need answers immediately. In tech you do. This creates two very different team styles internally and it’s hard to do both at once.

Pre vs Post Product-Market Fit

Startup people talk about a company achieving Product-Market Fit. It’s a fancy way of saying the company knows what the hell it’s doing. When you have PMF, you know who your customer is, what problem you solve for them, how you solve it, and how you make money in the process. Most startups spend years trying to dial in PMF before they can start to really grow. Praxis has PMF. Crash was in search of it.

A pre-PMF company operates very differently than a post-PMF company. Pre-PMF is all about testing hypothesis as quickly as possible. With Crash, we knew the high level vision and philosophy. We knew the goals. And we knew some of the necessary parts – that “secret sauce” of helping people launch careers we learned in the Praxis trenches. But we didn’t yet know exactly who the smallest starting market was, what the initial MVP would be and which smallest bite of the problem we would solve first. It’s all about whittling down the unknowns until they stop outnumbering the knowns. Praxis is all about building on the knowns and searching for new unknowns.

When we split off a small chunk of the Praxis team into a “Skunkworks” for the platform, it was immediately clear that the pace we needed wasn’t quite there. We took too much of the Praxis approach with us. Likewise, our relatively messy fast-pace was bleeding into the Praxis team and making them feel like they needed to operate like a development team in a sprint.

Though there’s overlap in product and market, we just weren’t sure enough how much and where and how it would work. We needed the freedom for both entities to be their own.

Brand and Customer Confusion

Crash needed to be totally free to change on a dime. We might offer one thing or try one product for a week or two, then immediately kill it and try a totally different thing. Praxis customers know what they are there for. An intensive bootcamp and apprenticeship. If they kept seeing new Praxis products and approaches go live, then die, they’d start to wonder what the hell they got into. They’d feel like guinea pigs rather than customers. Crash needed guinea pigs, so we did and do often go to the awesome Praxian network and ask them if they want to help us test some stuff, but it’s clear this is a new thing we’re exploring with Crash and not a part of their Praxis experience.

Praxis has made a dent in the universe. It’s still got a long way to go to continue to blow up the status quo and launch more careers, but we have no interest in curbing or slowing it’s kickassery so that this platform can poke around and test stuff out. We don’t want to drag Praxis down with any experiments that fail on Crash, and we don’t want people who aren’t in the market for an apprenticeship to overlook the platform because they confuse the two.

What’s in a Name?

One investor I talked to had an interesting objection to my pitch. He said Praxis is the name given to this business I built over half a decade. It won’t do to just port it over to this new thing I’m trying to create. The Praxis name came to me all at once with the idea. It’s baked into the fabric of the company. It is the philosophy and the identity. There’s magical power in it. To borrow that name would be kinda like slapping your first kid’s name on your second kid.

He told me that a company name has power. It sends a signal into the world. It’s a rallying point for the team, like a flag on a battlefield. It’s a symbolic act to name something, and you only get so many goes at it. To casually slap an existing name with its five years of blood and sweat and hard won success onto a new idea is selling both short.

I was kinda pissed at him at first. I love the name Praxis. I love the logo. I love everything about it. But after he told me, I couldn’t sleep. I knew he was right. We needed a new name for a new platform. The naming process for Praxis was an out of the blue inspiration that came to me after ten years of my subconscious playing with ideas. It was not deliberate. The Crash naming process was a shitton of deliberate work. That’s an entire article itself, suffice to say that it was brutal and necessary. Coming out with a new name, logo, and brand identity was a big symbolic moment and it mattered.

T-Shirts

I love T-shirts and why settle for one cool company T when you can have two? ;-)

 

This is a long post. But this is only scratching the surface when it comes to everything that went into this grueling process. It probably sounds totally dramatic and overblown to an outsider. But ask anyone on the team who helped forge Praxis from nothing, who endured mockery and scolding and predictions of failure, who fought to introduce the world to a better approach than bloated college bureaucracy, who poured themselves into changing the lives of our first few hundred customers. The process of birthing something new out of your work, then splitting in two is a big deal.

It wasn’t easy, but it was good. Both teams are amazing, empowered, and excited about two great paths to two great futures. We fight side by side like siblings, we share a common origin and philosophy, and we work to spur each other on in our respective approaches.

Oh and all you haters? Buckle up. You ain’t seen nothing yet.