Dougald Hine

School of Everything

In the early 1970s, Ivan Illich wrote about educational webs and peer-matching databases by which learners could find each other. At the time, this must have sounded utopian. A generation later, it sounded like common sense.

In 2006, five of us set out to create an online platform which would make it really easy to find people near you with the skills, knowledge or interests you were looking for. School of Everything was inspired by Illich and by practical experiments like the Free U and The Learning Exchange.

At an early stage, we were picked up by the Young Foundation - a centre for social innovation which carries on the work of the founder of the Open University. They housed us and provided some seed funding while we researched and developed the project.

In September 2007, we were picked to take part in Seedcamp, a hothouse for Europe's top early stage tech start-ups. An FT article on the camp noted that our technical director had missed the final presentation "so he could buy a tank to drive to a protest at a London arms fair." (This was the same tank which would later turn up at the G20 protests in April 2009.)

That winter, after a lot of meetings - including one in which I accidentally gave a Channel 4 commissioning editor a masonic handshake - we closed our first round of angel investment.

We were now bona fide internet entrepreneurs. We were also part of a scene emerging in London which, as my co-founder Paul Miller argued, didn't want to be the second Silicon Valley - but the first city of meaningful, socially-driven technology start-ups.

Such rhetoric can sound like something from another era, before the waves of crisis and austerity had begun to hit. (These days, Paul's blog is titled Don't Panic.)

But School of Everything is still going and still growing - and I suspect that tools like it will play an important role in the world we're heading into. They increase our ability to self-organise around the edges of the institutions we inherited, where government and the market let us down.

That was the main lesson of my career as a dot com entrepreneur: the internet isn't here to make us rich, but to help us make a better job of getting poorer.

I moved on from day-to-day involvement with School of Everything in 2009, although the spin-off meetup Tony Hall and I set up that summer - School of Everything: Unplugged - continues to be part of the rhythm of my London weeks.