Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Jesse Richardson, Founder of The School of Thought, located in Philadephia, PA, USA.

What's your business, and who are your customers?

The School of Thought is a non-profit which has been self-sustaining through selling merchandise to a small subset of our audience. We provide free creative and critical thinking resources to students, teachers, universities, parents, and everyday people around the world in 7 languages.

Tell us about yourself

After many years of arguing with people who were wrong on the internet, I realized that evidence and rationality were utterly useless in the face of entrenched beliefs and motivated reasoning. After wallowing in the despair of this sad realization for a while, I had an epiphany while eating a fish burger on my lunch break (the fish burger had nothing to do with the epiphany, but specificity is, they say, the soul of narrative). What I suddenly understood with great clarity, punctuated by the tangy sting of tartar sauce, was that the root cause of almost every problem in the world was nothing so complicated as money and power, but simply that most of us are never taught how to think independently and critically. We spend twelve odd years of our life being taught facts and knowledge, but we're never taught how to question our own biases, identify logical fallacies, or how to reason coherently. We have our creative spirit thwarted by a system in which there can be only one right answer that we must regurgitate for a standardized test. We learn what to think but never how to think.

Normally such an epiphany would serve as little more than a frustratingly impotent idea flopping about pointlessly in someone's mind, but in this particular instance, a perfect storm formed right there in that quasi-hipster fish and chip shop. I am, you see, an internationally award-winning advertising creative director with a background in design, art direction, copywriting, and digital strategy (la-de-dah). I've spent over 20 years honing my skills to manipulate people into buying things they probably don't need. I also created three of Australia's most successful viral campaigns (including a video about nudists and streaker sausage dog enthusiasts). And I'm also a scholar of philosophy and human behaviour, and a public pseudo-intellectual.

With these strange powers combined, a lightning bolt of an idea from the aforementioned perfect storm struck: what if I applied what I knew about design and advertising to create an online school providing free creative and critical thinking resources? What if we made learning how to think truly fun and engaging? That's a great idea, but great ideas are a dime a dozen, right? What we needed was a great execution as a proof of concept. So, after several months of work, I launched a little microsite that took 24 of the most common fallacies of logic that politicians, the media, and advertisers used to deceive and manipulate people and made them something that wasn't entirely boring.

Specifically, I took each fallacy and condensed it down into a single simple sentence that anyone could understand, added some nice graphics, and made the microsite URL interactive so that anyone could use it to tag someone committing a fallacy online, e.g., The website went immediately viral, hit the front page of Reddit, was tweeted by Stephen Fry, Jimmy Wales, and many thousands of others, and melted our servers. Since then, we've launched a sister site on biases at, a list of the best free educational resources online at, and a new microsite app helping us reframe difficult conversations into a quest for shared understanding at We also launched to sell physical versions of our freely available Creative Commons resources at (we sold over $1m of merch last year).

What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?

Our free critical thinking resources have reached over 30M people worldwide.

What's one of the hardest things that come with being a business owner?

Admin! I am perpetually distracted by shiny new creative endeavors and must steel myself to take care of the everyday grind of running a business. Waaay too much time responding to emails.

What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?

  1. Test and understand your market before you do anything. There are many ways to find out where your product or service might find a good market fit, and the earlier you explore and validate this, the better. For example, run ads for your product that direct people to a landing page where they can sign up to be notified when the product is available. Landing pages are a lot less expensive than manufacturing, legals, warehousing, etc. Also, Google Analytics and similar analytics software is your friend.
  2. If you're looking at eCommerce and social marketing, fairly be warned that this market is a lot more difficult than it used to be. If your price point is under $50 and your profit margins aren't very healthy, then you will have a bad time. Post the iOS14 update, Facebook advertising, in particular, has become a lot more expensive and ineffective due to its inability to target users accurately. Instead, consider focusing on email marketing, influencer and affiliate marketing, and activations/innovative guerrilla marketing.
  3. Invest time in understanding the competitive environment and market share potentials. Are there dominant players with deep pockets who can easily crush threats to their market share by outspending or out-discounting you in the short term? Do you have a unique and proprietary competitive advantage, and if not, what are your medium-to-long-term strategies?

Is there anything else you'd like to share?

Feel free to check out the TEDx talk I gave a while ago titled 'How to think, not what to think':

Where can people find you and your business?


If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solo or small business entrepreneur that you'd like to share, then please answer these interview questions. We'd love to feature your journey on these pages.

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