Where did Big Think come from?
Victoria Brown is co-founder and chief executive officer of Big Think, the knowledge company that makes people and companies smarter, faster through efficient e-learning from world-renowned-experts.
Since founding Big Think in 2008 along with fellow Harvard alum Peter Hopkins, Brown has transformed the company from a thought leadership forum to the leading knowledge company for a competitive edge in the knowledge economy. She’s overseen the development of Big Think’s e-learning solutions to improve how people think and how companies perform through BigThink.com, and its corporate e-learning solution, Edge.
As CEO, Brown directs Big Think’s strategic partnerships with Fortune 500 companies including initiatives with Shell, Intel, Mercer, Microsoft, HP and JP Morgan; co-branded content creation with MSNBC, The Washington Post and the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University; and licensing agreements with educational institutions and corporations including Harvard Business School, University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, Pearson and McGraw Hill, among others.
A former business development executive and producer for the “Charlie Rose” show on PBS, Brown received an Emmy nomination for her work in 2005 featuring television mogul Ted Turner. After graduating from Montreal’s McGill University in 1997, Brown worked in film finance and production in Los Angeles before receiving her MBA from Harvard Business School in 2003.
Question: Where did the idea come from?
Victoria Brown: First of all, I work with a partner, Peter Hopkins. And he and I had similar interests when we met working at a job together. And both of us were very focused on the media and what needed to happen to make it better. And we saw something missing in the space.
We actually had an idea for an online university and pitched that for a while. And people thought, “This is way too broad. Who are these crazy people?”
And so we were told we had to bring it down to a smaller level. And we kind of thought alright, YouTube, we had a bit of an idea like that. And then YouTube came and popped up. And so we thought, we need to create something that’s answering the need of educated, smart people on the Internet. Because on the Internet, as everybody knows and you know, there’s a lot of really, really poorly created content. And there’s not an awful lot of good and thoughtful content.
So we saw a need for that, but we also saw a need for people to participate online. Instead of just watching the Internet, obviously it gives users the ability to participate in conversations. So we thought what about combining these two – great content and the ability for users to participate in the content or with the content and kind of join a conversation. And so we came up with this hybrid content model.
Question: How did you get the big names?
Victoria Brown: I think, first and foremost, as soon as people hear the idea, if they let us have the time to tell them the idea, they kind of like it and get it. It’s like, behind closed doors all these important conversations go on; where the thought leaders of the world go and talk about what’s going on. But wouldn’t it be just as important to get the people that are actually leading their lives and doing things involved in the conversation, rather than just these very limited, tiny, minute number of people?
And so we thought about that, and that’s how we presented it originally to the first people who participated. It’s kind of like ___________ democratized. So we ask you about important things and then open the conversation up to other people.
So the idea, first and foremost, kind of resonated with these thoughtful people. And then once we had a few people signed on, I would have to be honest and say that the names of those people meant something to other people and they said, “Okay, if somebody like Richard Branson has done it, maybe I’ll do it. If somebody . . .”
The first five people were personal friends and favors we called in, from friends of friends, to get them to do it. And then after that it hasn’t been as difficult.
Recorded on: January 2, 2008
Victoria talks about the challenges of creating an online space for thinking people, and of getting the project off the ground.
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