Stories, stories, stories

When’s the last time you ended your team meeting with tears welling up in your eyes? Now, when’s the last time you worked at a company where this happened EVERY WEEK at the end of your team’s weekly check-in meeting?

Every Monday’s “Company Update” at Khan Academy ends with team members reading aloud 3 letters that we’ve recently received in the mail. One might be from a college student in Canada telling us how Khan Academy helped him get through calculus. Another might be from a 40-year-old mom in Minnesota discovering that she doesn’t actually hate math. The crazy thing is that all of them will have been from the past two or three days.

So where do the tears come in? Well, the impact Khan Academy has had on so many people’s lives is nothing short of astounding, and hearing them convey it in words is immensely touching. We recently heard from a girl who had dropped out of high school because of poor performance in math and also lost the faith of her parents. After discovering Khan Academy years later and building up her math skills, she came back to high school, graduated, and got accepted by Juilliard, one of the most competitive and famous performing arts colleges in the world. Hearing this story had everyone smiling. And for me, tears were close.

I’ve thought a lot about the power of stories and testimonials–in the two years I’ve worked with Ramit Sethi at I Will Teach You to be Rich, my entire job has been to organize the influx of testimonials that come into Ramit’s email inbox. He gets incredibly amazing stories as well. Both IWT and Khan Academy have helped me realize two big reasons why such stories can be so valuable to an organization (in addition to just being awesome to hear):

1) Social proof for your product

Especially in Ramit’s case, testimonials help drive sales for his paid products. For a customer, hearing the results that your peers have gotten with a certain product can be the reason you make the leap to invest for yourself. It’s been proven to make a huge difference.

Similarly, Khan Academy has a whole page highlighting some of its users’ stories. Khan Academy has no paid products, but even spending the time to try out a free tool is an investment in time and energy that becomes more doable if you hear how it has been worth it for others. This will be especially important as we continue to encourage more teachers to use Khan Academy in their classrooms.

2) They remind us why we do what we do

I wrote about the years that Sal spent making videos with very little public recognition. For a certain portion of that time, he had quit his job and had no external funding for his work. What kept him going during that time? He says it himself: the letters and emails of people all over the world saying how instrumental Khan Academy was for them.

It’s the same reason we end every team meeting with the letters from our users. I literally walk back to my desk with a tingling sensation and a crystal clear vision of how valuable my contributions are to real people across the globe.

Ramit Sethi has had all kinds of nay-sayers in the years he’s spent building his products and and his brand. Such critics can make you question your work and its value. But when you get an email saying, “Thanks to your recent course, I’ve gotten my finances under control, found my dream job, and recovered my marriage and my life.” – that’s when you close your eyes and say to yourself:

“OH YEAH. This is why I do what I do. Now back to work.”

I’ll end with this recent note from our stories page:

I really can’t begin to explain what seeing your site means to me. I’m a 36 year old man who 18 years ago wanted to be an engineer but as I progressed through school I got further and further behind and I dropped what I wanted to do in favour of what I thought I could do. As I watched your video explaining your vision I literally started crying because I saw that this is exactly what happened to me, the swiss cheese of the holes in my education added up to an insurmountable wall. I’m now on the way to becoming an engineer and I wanted to let you know that your videos have made a world of difference to me and mean that its possible for me to live a life I want rather than exist in a boring drudgery… wish you the very best, you’ve blessed me more than I can express…

Best Regards -Dave

See what I mean? ;)

P.S. It’s a double bonus when you meet someone in real life who uses and loves your product. That happened to me twice today. Knowing that REAL people thatyou know use your product and love it is excellent motivation to show up to work in the morning.