Ice Breakers

Ice Breakers with Sina Meraji

May 25, 2023

Sina Meraji is the founder, CEO, and CTO of Learning Loop, a Singapore-based peer-to-peer platform that hosts weekly discussions between startup founders. It’s a golden opportunity for you to pitch warm intros to people in the industry. 

In the future, they’re planning to nurture a community of mid-level execs, first-time parents, artists, athletes, so you can meet like-minded people to have meaningful conversations with. Learning Loop raised an undisclosed pre-seed led by 500 Global back in 2021. 

👋🏼 How would you explain your job to someone outside tech?

Feels like solving problems for survival, and growth. You have a finite amount of time and money and a chip on your shoulder, plus a list of really hard, specific sub-problems every day that is fulfilling to work on yet extremely inconvenient.

These problems will need a major investment of time and effort and will make you experience a level of uncertainty in which so many forces pull and push you in so many directions, you feel temporarily directionless. You have so many convictions it feels like you have none. 

But you gradually learn how to learn and become better at choosing when to use which mental model, and when to talk and listen to which person. Until you feel stuck again and you unlearn and relearn.

Generally, I always need to have an answer for these questions, so everything I do gives me new data on whether my current answer is correct or if I need a new answer (or if I need new questions):

  • Why am I building Learning Loop? Who am I serving? Who do I want to serve? Are they the same?
  • Is the current product the best form of alignment between my worldviews, a valid solution [at some scale] for the problem we're solving, and the practical realities of market/user behavior/business model/proprietary power/hiring/fundraising?
  • What is our product right now?
  • Is it easy to understand from the outside?
  • Is it easy to sign up for?
  • Is it easy to use?
  • How many users do we have?
  • How do the current users feel?
  • What's our retention like?
  • How much of users' attention do/can we have daily/weekly?
  • Are we getting new users? How many over what time period? Who is inviting them? How many steps does it take to invite someone? Why would someone invite someone else?
  • How much more money/time do we have vs need?
  • Who will I bring on board this journey with me?

Some of the answers change weekly or daily, some much less frequently, the first one rarely changes but can evolve.

🧐 What's something about you or your job that would surprise us?

My journey of starting Learning Loop took quite a bit of risk-taking and fighting to create luck. I went flat broke twice, homeless once, and moved to Singapore when I had $0 (thanks to a $15k stipend from Entrepreneur First, a British talent investment firm).

🏆 What has been the biggest highlight of your career so far?

Spending over a decade and a half building competence, resources, and a global network in a hard problem space that most smart technical people avoid because it takes years and decades to solve it at a meaningfully large scale, and not months and quarters.

That is, the education problem space.

Most people live a lifetime and die without ever discovering what they love and can be great at, and there are exactly 0 organizations working full-time to solve that problem at a sufficiently large scale. 

When we don't solve that problem, leads to all sorts of mental, financial, and societal problems globally and costs billions of dollars annually.

🔍 What's a startup trend or space you're watching this year?

Relationship management, attention management, AI-generated content that creates network effects and/or increases UGC, consumer social, productizing startup financing/fundraising to have 10x more high output startups.

These are all high EQ and high IQ problem spaces that are important but have historically not attracted enough talent, either because it seemed like there was no money in them or because we just didn't have the tech to pull them off. Both of those 2 factors are now gone.

💼 What advice would you give someone starting out in your industry? 

  1. Study the American culture of entrepreneurship (the culture that celebrates success and constantly aims to replicate it, unconditionally).
  2. Rate yourself on the spectrum of being American-minded in the specific context of tech startups, vs jealous and/or having a big ego and/or building something that's factually mediocre (the American culture isn't the only culture that celebrates and rewards excellence but it's probably one of easiest one to self-study on Youtube).
  3. Always be moving towards the extreme end of celebrating success, whether it’s yours or someone else's, and always be learning enough to be able to replicate it if it's a good fit for your company.
  4. Understand that there are 2 types of edtech apps/websites: those with high stickiness that fail to teach you anything useful, and those that have great content and curriculum but terrible person/content fit and completion rate.
  5. Understand that creating online courses in 2023 as a VC backable business model is a mistake since most great content is already created and the missing bit is data collection on learners and matchmaking people and content and time.
  6. Study venture capital deeply and fundraising deeply and don't assume it's an unimportant part of being a startup founder or something to avoid just for the sake of virtue signaling.

🗣 What's one thing you can keep talking about for hours? 

All the mistakes I've made as a founder so far and all the lessons.

🎥 What's your favorite movie/TV show? 

Mad Men.

🍨 What's your go-to ice cream flavor?

Bastani Sonati (Persian saffron ice cream).

FYI. We’ve edited this interview for clarity.

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