First Fridays: Matthew O. Brimer, Co-Founder of General Assembly
Q+A with the leader of a new movement in entrepreneurial education
Life / 1 Mar 2013

In this month’s edition of First Fridays, we hear from Matthew O. Brimer, Co-Founder of General Assembly, a global organization that provides education and opportunity in technology, design, and business for a growing community of learners, practitioners, and entrepreneurs. Read on for what Matthew hopes to accomplish with General Assembly, as well as his most valued bit of entrepreneurial wisdom.

If you had to choose one word or phrase to describe General Assembly, what would it be?

Learning by doing. People before the machine.

How do you define success for your enterprise?

For us success means many things: A thriving community. Highly engaged students learning hands-on practical skills. Outcomes and opportunities available to people that were unavailable to them before General Assembly. Thinkers becoming creators.

What is the one thing you wish you knew before you founded General Assembly?

How challenging it would be to grow so fast! Scaling is hard work, and constant adaptability is crucial every step along the way. Keeping the wheels on the bus is easier said than done.

What is the one thing you never want to hear (or, most want to hear) from a customer/user/client?

I most like to hear that they love what we we're doing, want more of it, and are going to tell all their friends about it.

What compan[y]ies (other than your own) are you inspired by, and why?

I grew up in an entrepreneurial family, and both my parents are small business owners in St. Louis, MO. I really admire the two companies they built over the years, and they continue to inspire me in my own entrepreneurial career. On a different note, I'm a huge fan of what Elon Musk is doing with Tesla and SpaceX. If there is any entrepreneur thinking and working on some of the biggest ideas of our time – and succeeding – it's probably him.

General Assembly is clearly at the forefront of education’s future. What other innovations in the education space do you find exciting and why?

I'm excited to see universities opening up more and more of their educational content and making their knowledge more accessible to the world – either through their own channels or through one of the emerging MOOC (Massively Open Online Course) platforms. All of us in the education space are just at the beginning of what's possible, and I'm looking forward to seeing how things progress in the coming years.

Other than join General Assembly, what’s the most important piece of advice you’d give a new entrepreneur?

There's a quote I love from Steve Jobs in an interview he did with PBS back in 1994. It's great advice for any entrepreneur and resonates with me in a big way:

"When you grow up you tend to get told the world is the way it is and just to live your life inside the world. Try not to bash into the walls too much. Try to have a nice family life, have fun, save a little money.

That’s a very limited life. Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact, and that is: everything around you that you call life, was made up by people that were no smarter than you. And you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use.

The minute that you understand that you can poke life and actually something will, you know, if you push in, something will pop out the other side, that you can change it, you can mold it. That’s maybe the most important thing. It’s to shake off this erroneous notion that life is there and you’re just gonna live in it, versus embrace it, change it, improve it, make your mark upon it.

I think that’s very important and however you learn that, once you learn it, you’ll want to change life and make it better, cause it’s kind of messed up, in a lot of ways. Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again."

—Steve Jobs, 1994

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