Wendy Kopp’s Elegant Idea to Growing Your Business

Last Monday I asked the question: “Why would anyone in there right mind work with fewer people?”

If you still think it’s either impossible or a bad idea to limit who you work with, read this following story. It should convince you of the power of selectivity. [via]

The idea: convince Harvard graduates to teach in America’s roughest public schools

In th spring of 1988, Wendy Kopp graduated from Princeton with an idea: why not convince graduates from leading universities to spend the first two years of their careers teaching low income kids in the public education system?

She had no money, no office, no infrastructure, no name, no credibility, no furniture, not even a bed or a dresser in which to store her clothes. Leaving Princeton, Kopp moved into a small room in New York City and approached the Mobil Corporation.

Once Mobil agreed to grant $26,000 of seed capital to fund her idea, Teach for America, Kopp spent the next 365 days in a juggling act–convincing top-flight people to join her bus with the promise that she would convince donors to fund the bus… while at the same time convincing donors that she would convince top-flight people to join her bus….

One year later, Kopp stood in front of 500 recent graduates from colleges like Yale, Harvard and Michigan. These graduates assembled for training and deployment into America’s under served classrooms.

And how did she convince these graduates to work for low pay in tough classrooms?

First, by tapping their idealistic passions. Second by the making the process selective.

She basically said to all these overachieving college students: “If you’re really good, you might be able to join our cause. But first you have to submit to a rigorous screening and evaluation process. You should prepare yourself for rejection, because it takes special capability to succeed in these classrooms.”

Selectivity led to credibility with donors, which increased funding, which made it possible to attract and select even more people into the programs.

As of 2005, more than 97,000 individuals applied to be part of Teach for America and only 14,100 made the cut, while revenues grew to nearly $40 million in annual support.

Wendy Kopp understood three fundamental points.

First, the more selective the process, the more attractive a position becomes–even if volunteer or low pay. The same is true if people are paying you.

Second, the social sectors have one compelling advantage: desperate craving for meaning in our lives.

Purity of mission–be it about educating people, connecting people to God, making our cities safe, touching the soul with great art, feeding the hungry, serving the poor, or protecting our freedom–has the power to ignite passsion and commitment.

Third, the number one resource for a great organization is having enough of the right people willing to commit themselves to mission.

In real estate, this translates to creating momentum–a flywheel–that will eventually turn by itself.

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Click Here to Leave a Comment Below 6 comments
Chris Heath

How to get Harvard grads to teach at the roughest schools, pay them bundles and issue with bullet proof vest.

Gary Elwood

That’s definitely one way to look at it, Chris.

Alec Bobdon

This is very interesting. Maybe McDonalds could benefit from using this technique. Then your burger would be given to you by a Harvard Grad.

Gary Elwood

I like that idea a lot, Alec!

Alec Bobdon

Yes, but it could work the other way around, I mean you could go to the hospital and your doctor is a greasy spotted ex-Mcdonalds staff.

Gary Elwood

Too funny, Alec!


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