We initially wrote this letter to our team and decided to open it up to the Arist community. Feel free to email us your thoughts and reflections on 2020 and the year ahead — we’d love to read them.
We know it’s been quite the year — full of triumphs, struggles, and just about everything in between. In reflecting on all the craziness, we wanted to share a few lessons learned. But first, a quick story.
On March 31st, we thought Arist was going to go out of business. In the preceding two weeks, our entire team had been sent home from college, the stock market had plunged as COVID-19 cases skyrocketed, and all of our clients suddenly paused their learning programs, leaving Arist with no revenue, no customers, and a dwindling supply of cash. Things were not looking up.
Yet, in that moment of despair, we also realized that we were extremely lucky. Our friends and families were healthy and safe, we had team members we could rely on, and, most of all, we were lucky to be in a position to help. As COVID-19 rapidly laid bare the inequities in learning — from the 30 million Americans who lack access to high-speed internet (and thus access to video courses) to the 100 million Americans who now struggle with video fatigue — we happened to have a tool that could teach anyone, anywhere, and at any time, entirely via text and WhatsApp.
As a result, over the next few months, we focused on ways we could help. From delivering COVID-19 training in the Nakivale refugee camp to supporting Anti-Racism training at some of the world’s largest companies, we were able to see first-hand the transformative power of something as simple as a text. This focus — on trying our best to help — is what ultimately saved Arist.
To us, this stands out as an example of the duality of this year. Despite being filled with uncertainty and sadness, this year has also been filled with remarkably beautiful moments and learnings that we will never forget, and we’d like to share a few of them here.
First, this year taught us the meaning of trust. When you’re sitting alone in a room for hours on end, as we all have done for much of the past nine months, trust in others becomes paramount, and despite having never met more than half of our team in-person, the mutual trust we have in each other is what enables us to do our absolute best. From the trust our investors placed in us and our vision to the trust our clients placed in us as they took a chance on a brand-new learning medium, this year encouraged us to not just trust others more than we ever have, but to show up for others and do whatever we can to uphold sincerity, stability, and kindness in the face of extreme uncertainty.
Second, we’ve learned that a lot of early success hinges on just a few people giving you a chance. In a time of such uncertainty, everyone had a great reason not to give us one, yet so many did. We know that Arist wouldn’t exist without the chances that others have taken on us this year, oftentimes purely on the basis of our vision, and we can’t express enough the gratitude we’ve felt this year for our team members, clients, investors, and supporters — all of whom have given us a chance. With that in mind, as Arist grows, we must remain steadfast in our mission to provide chances for others.
Finally, we’ve been continuously inspired by our team’s relentless focus on serving others. We know that each and every one of you comes to work each day with the sole focus of creating joy — whether it be for the learners and employees who take Arist courses or the learning leaders who create them — and that makes a huge difference in how we operate. As a startup, we will occasionally make mistakes, but as long as our intent and focus is on serving others as best as we possibly can, we will do right by our customers and stakeholders.
As we look to 2021, gaps in the way we learn persist, and we will be here to fix them. In February, we’ll be launching a brand-new Arist platform, which will make course creation even easier while introducing new course models and new delivery methods such as Slack and Microsoft Teams. In June, we’ll roll out our first Arist Originals — text message courses created and taught by luminaries and industry experts — and in September, we’ll finally make our AI work public, giving learning designers and leaders the ability to rapidly accelerate the pace at which they develop courses.
Exactly one year ago, Arist had delivered a total of a few hundred text message courses, and the idea of text message learning and training was still very much in its infancy. Today, we’ve delivered nearly 40,000 courses created by over 1,000 companies, nonprofits, and creators, with satisfaction, completion, and engagement rates up to 10 times the industry standard. In the year ahead, we plan to deliver over one million courses to learners and employees around the world, and we couldn’t be more excited to work with you all to make that a reality.
Here’s to learning, gratitude, trust, and the journey ahead.
Michael, Co-founder and CEO
Ryan, Co-founder and President