5 Years, +1000 days & 40 notebooks at Minds Studio

It feels as though it were just last night when, seated alone with my thoughts at a Balinese table, I decided I was going to start this company.

There was no Business Model Canvas, no product, no clients, no actual Business Plan built. It was just me, stumbling alone in an inner search to find something valuable I could dedicate the next few years of my life to. I settled on an idea I’ve always cared about: helping people find the spark that only good teachers and good learning design have ignited for centuries. The spark that starts the fire of becoming a real, unstoppable learner. It’s now been over 5 years since that moment.

Minds Studio’s vision, the fuel that keeps me and the people around this company going through the ups and downs, has always been inner curiosity. Five years later, many things have played out very differently from what I originally envisioned, but that energy remains. I still feel slightly emotional when magic happens. And it happens more and more often.

Why is curiosity so important to me? Having reflected long enough on my own learning experience, I believe curiosity is the secret ingredient that enables the learning reaction to happen. It is the curiosity about what we don’t know, what we can’t understand, what brings us closer to discovering new angles of reality that end up changing our minds and rewiring our brains. It is curiosity about people who are different from us, what brings us closer, what helps us grow. One question, one answer at a time.

The obstacle doesn’t lie in cultivating curiosity – it’s an innate trait within all of us – but rather in preserving it. I believe instilling curiosity, particularly in our children, is what is going to help us solve most of our most pressing challenges as human beings. I dedicate as much time as I possibly can to address this challenge.

A 10-year mission and the 5-year check-in

I’ve allocated myself a decade to establish Minds Studio’s community and develop a sustainable business model. I’m aware that this approach may contradict conventional wisdom from Business Schools, Lean Startup methodologies, or the “Move fast and break things” mantra I once embraced, but it aligns with what I currently feel is necessary.

Committing a minimum of 10 years of my life to construct something I deeply cherish instills a sense of liberation and security within me. The company isn’t solely about seizing a money-making opportunity; rather, it serves as the platform to foster a community grounded in ideals and values. In a world fixated on speed, I find solace in a slower, more deliberate approach. Whether growth occurs swiftly or gradually, I nurture it akin to a gardener tending to growing plants. I cannot rush the process. This mindset enables me to dedicate my utmost effort to those who engage my services and the professionals within the Minds Network that I collaborate with.

This sustained and nurturing endeavor has yielded initial results, which I’d like to share with the world through a concise set of graphs, while safeguarding sensitive information. Here’s where I stand, represented by five simple and direct Key Performance Indicators, after five years of diligent work:

Total Projects executed: 30, distributed as follows

Countries where we have clients: 9, distributed as follows

Total Yearly Revenue follows this progression thus far

Total Minds Studio Members payouts follows this progression thus far

Total Minds Studio Network Members follows this progression thus far

The story I don’t like to tell

After two previous attempts with co-founders, I embarked on this project with my own savings, minimal investment, and no business partners. I transitioned from earning six figures to paying myself the minimum salary for a few months. I relinquished the fancy office, the perks, the Thursday drinks, and the health insurance. Along the way, I lost friends and partners I never thought I would. It has undeniably been brutal and mentally exhausting, to a degree that I struggle to articulate with words. Particularly in 2020, due to COVID, and during the summer of 2022 when I lost 70% of the Studio clients and nearly everything I had earned until then in one month, all while being personally devastated. I genuinely believed “that’s it” at that point. Somehow, it wasn’t. Don’t ask me why.

I took several months off work due to burnout or depression — or perhaps both; I don’t really know. There were times when I didn’t have a clue where to go or what to do. I lacked the motivation to wake up in the morning and face work. I had to reach out to my closest friends for help and question every single belief I held about myself. At some point, I lost faith in humanity and in life’s meaning. I found myself in places I never thought I’d visit, and I don’t know how I held it together. If you’re seeking for answers here, you’ll need to look elsewhere. I’m still here because I couldn’t find anything else to do with my life that would spare me that much pain while remaining true to myself.

Since starting the company, I take one week every year to reflect without technology or connection to the world. During one of these weeks, I realized that I was seeking results too prematurely, and I resolved to evaluate whether Minds Studio is succeeding — or not — as a sustainable business after 10 years of dedication. It’s a significant gamble, I know. In the meantime, I continue to support communities of learners with the expertise and learning science I’ve accumulated over the past 15 years, striving to offer something of value to them.

One thing I can say with pride is that after 5 years, I spend most of my time with people I like and deeply care about. I may have fallen short in terms of making the most money, growing the fastest, and changing the world, though.

My most valuable finding so far

One of the primary discoveries during this period of experimentation has been a personal paradigm shift resulting from my observations while collaborating with groups of learners. Previously, I had always approached the learning journey from an individual standpoint—focused on passing exams, obtaining degrees, and so forth. However, I have now witnessed and experienced the transformative power of learning within a strong community of learners.

Consequently, I now believe that acquiring new skills and knowledge is more attainable when I engage with individuals who share a common interest in the same challenge, rather than attempting it alone. Whether it’s mastering linear algebra, perfecting swing dancing, summiting a mountain, learning a new language, or grasping accounting principles, there’s something about participating in and belonging to a community of learners that evokes a sense of magic, propelling continual growth and progress. Passing tests and obtaining certifications become integrated into the journey rather than being the ultimate goal. This shift fundamentally alters one’s perspective. Suddenly, a transition happens from being a mere student to becoming a true learner, from competition to cooperation, from “me” to “us.”

This discovery has profoundly influenced the trajectory I envisioned for this project. I aspire to architect those “magical experiences” that I have personally encountered. Hence, it’s now prominently featured as the focal point on the Minds Studio homepage, and it underscores my desire for this company to be recognized for constructing “Inspiring learning communities that make learning feel like magic.”

Technology as a tool, not an end in itself

Technology will serve as a crucial component of facilitating that “magical learning” experience. Having graduated from engineering school in 2009, I’ve spent 15 years navigating the intersection of education and technology, experiencing numerous waves of excitement along the way.

The initial wave I personally witnessed was the advent of “mobile apps” following the release of the iPhone. Subsequently, there was the rise of MOOCs, Web3, Virtual Reality, Artificial Intelligence, and more. Over time, I’ve come to realize that while technologies may emerge and fade, as a practitioner, the significance lies not in the technology itself, but rather in what it empowers us to accomplish. Technology cannot—and should not—dictate the course of action; it is humans who set the direction.

Viewing various technologies as tools, similarly to physical implements, and mastering their usage by understanding their fundamental principles proves immensely beneficial. However, mastering them requires substantial effort. Otherwise, I believe our current “techno-driven” society can become indulgent and distracting rather than genuinely helpful, leading individuals to feel lost amidst the incessant noise.

Not AI, just a good old routine

Each workday, I sit before a notepad and pose a simple question to myself: “What did I accomplish yesterday, and what tasks lie ahead for today?”. I’ve repeated this routine over 1000 times now. Some days yield only a few words, while others result in more elaborate entries. This ritual provides structure and purpose to my day. It’s a habit that proves invaluable, particularly during challenging moments. The inertia of habit has propelled my progress. I urge any learner to establish such a routine and adhere to it. It’s something that AI cannot assist with.

The harsh reality is that there are no shortcuts. It’s not easy, and often, it’s not enjoyable. I’ve endured many silent days, many solitary days devoid of the excitement and camaraderie found in an office environment. I’ve questioned the point and relevance of my efforts numerous times.

The answer has always been simply: “I care about this work.” This internal conviction has remained a foundational principle throughout my professional journey, and I’m still committed to it.

The path ahead

Having weathered a pandemic, experienced setbacks, and navigated through unexpected challenges over the past 5 years, I’m cautious about envisioning the next 5 years. We may face financial struggles and close doors this year, or we may still be thriving in 20 years. Only time will tell.

Nevertheless, I’m inclined to make my intentions public and allow the universe to conspire in their realization:

  1. I aim for Minds Studio to emerge as a go-to brand for constructing learner-led communities grounded in the science of learning research. If I were to quantify it, I envision serving over 100 clients across 30 countries by the 10th year.
  2. I aspire for the internal Minds Studio community to evolve into a space where educators, learning experience designers, and technologists congregate and support one another, particularly during challenging times. I aim for the Minds Network community to surpass 1,000 members.
  3. I hope for Minds Studio to develop at least one new learning product and establish one hybrid school that evokes a sense of magic and fills us with pride.
  4. I strive for Minds Studio to identify a clear market fit and secure robust financing from its community (ensuring a runway of more than 5 years) by the 10th year. I target achieving $2.5M in Annual Recurring Revenue by year 10.
  5. I envision more than 50% of the studio’s projects dedicated to learners currently excluded or at risk of exclusion in society.

To the next 5 years 🥂,

Álvaro Sanmartín Cid

5 Years igniting the spark of curiosity🔥. Read more here!