Become a life-long learner

(Guest post by Joe Dallago and AJ Nelson of clusterFlunk) Education is something we are very passionate about at clusterFlunk. Passionate enough to take our “leap of faith,” and completely ditch the typical route of higher learning that most teens and early twenty-somethings feel they have to take in order to succeed. Passionate enough to…

Founder Friday is a weekly guest post written by a founder who is based in or hails from the Silicon Prairie. Each month, a topic relevant to startups is presented and founders share lessons learned or best practices utilized on that topic. November’s topic is education. 

About the authors: Joe Dallago (left) and AJ Nelson (right) are the co-founders of clusterFlunk.

Education is something we are very passionate about at clusterFlunk. Passionate enough to take our “leap of faith,” and completely ditch the typical route of higher learning that most teens and early twenty-somethings feel they have to take in order to succeed. Passionate enough to build a company out of those pain points we were feeling as students—all while we ended up learning the one most important thing that no one ever told us: You don’t have to attend college to learn or to help others learn.

We personally see the world in a pretty black-and-white sense. There are people out there who are going to make it happen, and there are those who aren’t. No matter the obstacles, you consistently see these people succeeding—most of the time in many different ways. It’s no surprise that when you start studying “successful” people, you quickly see that:


  1. They didn’t become successful overnight. It was a long, meticulous path.
  2. They consistently surrounded themselves with people who are more intelligent than them. 
  3. They are all life-long learners.

You might be asking, “WTF is a life-long learner? And how are the co-founders of clusterFlunk life-long learners if they’re only 21 and 22 years old?” We’re not, at least not yet. We are, on the other hand, taking the correct path to become ones—learning doesn’t stop once you stop going to school.

When we decided to take our “leap of faith,” we decided we were going to hold each other to a different kind of standard, and that our learning was going to go into hyperspeed. It’s a crazy, unexplainable feeling when learning starts to become fun. When you love what you do so much, that you’d rather stay in on a Friday night in Iowa City and crack open a book then go to FAC.

Our first step to becoming life-long learners was holding each other accountable for reading one book a week. People don’t believe us when we tell them, that we owe at least half of our companies growth—which is about to explode to 50 public universities as we scale next semester—to literature. Everything you are doing has been done before, maybe not specifically, but conceptually. So go and learn about it, about how that person or company approached it, and what the best way was to tackle that problem. Your answers are somewhere in the world, and probably on the Internet, which is accessible to any of us at all times. It’s really a powerful feeling, once you realize you can change the world, and there’s a step-by-step playbook waiting for you in the form of 50 books on Amazon about how to do it.

That being said, surround yourself with people who are way smarter than you. We learn from our investors—who by the way, have been kicking ass: Anthony Marlowe’s company TMone was recently acquired, we learned that Brad Dwyer can release a game and get more than 500K users in the first month, Josh Cramer—who we share office space with—literally enhances our company every time we talk to him, and, of course, Ben Milne who is doing crazy, awesome stuff hourly. We learn from our newest hire, Joey Robert, who created something very similar to clusterFlunk (way before clusterFlunk existed) while he was in college, and almost got kicked out for it.

Our parents, our friends and others are constantly telling us we are doing something wrong—because we are. We mess up daily. We’re just lucky enough to be surrounded by people who let us know what we’re doing wrong, and help us come up with a plan to fix it. We have no idea what our path will be, but we have and still are building a team that can adapt with us. One of our company mottos we got from Jim Collins’ book, “Good to Great”: “Get the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus and the right people in the right seats.”

Before we knew all of these people, we started following all of them on Twitter. Just hearing these people’s daily thoughts will help you mold your own thoughts. If you’re passionate enough, DM one of the guys you’re following, shoot them an email. Most of them will respond if they see that you yearn to learn. You’d be surprised the caliber of people you can reach by simply tweeting at or emailing them. Give it a shot. Pick their brains.

You may be reading this and thinking, “This all sounds great, but how do I fit this into my already busy schedule?” Kids, the company, the job, school, the list goes on and on. News flash! Everyone is busy. Successful people make the time to learn.

A perfect example is, before Ben Milne invested in our company, we were obviously fanboys of Dwolla (as you all should be). We were following him on Twitter, and one day saw him tweeting about his “learning days.” He was setting aside time in his busy schedule, where he could just learn, whatever it may have been, three times a week for some amount of time. If Ben Milne can have learning sessions with the kind of schedule he has, we all can. This is a guarantee. This prompted us to start doing the same thing, blocking off these times two to three times a week, to strictly just learn.

Those sessions prompted us to set aside time each month, deeming them “future days.” These days we would put everything else aside, and just map out the future. Learning about what were the big things we could do, the big technologies we could use and so on.

We are finding the life-long learners here at clusterFlunk. We want to make these people “celebrities.” We crown (literally) the users that are helping others learn, the users that sit on the site and give up their time, for no other reason than just to help others learn. We are teaching students that learning doesn’t just stop once you’re done with school—it continues in a community aspect, very similar to the community of users on clusterFlunk.

We hope our mindset at clusterFlunk has helped inspired you to become a life-long learner. It’s really as easy as you make it. We are lucky enough to be surrounded by people who motivate us, and make it as easy as possible to keep learning. We advise you do the same. Now go out and flunk something.

Credits: Joe Dallago photo from FacebookAJ Nelson photo from Facebook.

About the authors: AJ Nelson, 21, is co-founder of clusterFlunk, a startup based in Iowa City, Iowa. He previously worked at Dell and Maxim Management Group. Joe Dallago, 22, also is co-founder of clusterFlunk. He previously worked at Google, SurveyMonkey and Rockwell Collins.

This story is part of the AIM Archive

This story is part of the AIM Institute Archive on Silicon Prairie News. AIM gifted SPN to the Nebraska Journalism Trust in January 2023. Learn more about SPN’s origin »

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