Each week at TakeLessons.com, I ask my employees a question. This activity gives us time together as a group and helps us all get to know each other better. We always ask questions that are structured around developing community within the company. Last week, I asked “What’s the best advice you’ve ever heard?” Here were some of their responses:
“Back in elementary and middle school, I used to compete a lot in speech and poetry reading contests. My dad, who was my speech coach, always advised me not to fixate on my competitors and instead focus on myself. For this reason, during the competition, once someone completed an excellent performance, my mantra before taking the stage was: ‘while they are good, I’m better.’ As an adult, I cherish his advice more than ever as it is easy to get distracted by your surroundings”
“Aside from the common ‘invest and diversify’ (I think over the next 10 to 20 years Quantum dots and MRAM are going to become very important technologies), an insightful friend of mine once said (and I hope I don’t misrepresent this) that he believes that everyone always makes the best decisions based on what they know at the time.
He was describing some of the stupid decisions I’ve made in the past, but I still think it’s an important message of understanding and forgiveness.”
“Don’t take things too seriously.”
“Don’t try to get every single person you meet to like you. Just like you don’t naturally like everyone you meet, everyone won’t necessarily like you. Save time and energy by just being yourself. (Of course, rules of civility still apply).”
“To quote Conan O’Brien..”
“Sometimes you have to be small to be BIG.”
“Todo a su tiempo, meaning everything at it’s time.”
“Start saving your money early.”
Personally, some of the best advice I have ever received were the following:
“Thoughts ARE things. What you think about, you manifest.”
“The past and the future don’t exist..only the present matters.”
Chris: As I mentioned before the break, we have a wonderful guest in studio today, Steven Cox, founder and CEO of TakeLessons.com. The team at TakeLessons has been connecting music students with the best local music teachers since 2006. They pride themselves on providing safe, affordable, fun music lessons to students of all ages. Steven Cox, welcome to the studio!
Steven: Thanks a lot for having me, Chris. Glad to be here.
Chris: So TakeLessons.com, we’re going to get into what that is. Obviously we’ll find out more about what it is that your company provides, but I want to get a little bit of background on yourself, where you came from, how you got out to the West Coast, and how you got started into TakeLessons.com.
Steven: Sure, well it’s an interesting story. So I grew up in the Midwest and grew up in Ohio, went to school in Kentucky, and I’ll tell you the quick story about how I got out west. So this is also dating myself, which is okay as well … but I was selling Prozac, actually, for Eli Lilly, I graduated — out of school, was selling Prozac for Lilly, there in Kentucky, which I can tell you all kinds of stories about–
Chris: That sounds fun!
Steven: [You can] imagine. A buddy of mine, he had invested in this company out in Las Vegas and he sat me down with a group of us, about six or seven of us, and he said, “Hey, I invested in this company out in Las Vegas.” The year was 1996 and the owner had raised $840,000 and literally gambled it all away. Every single bit of it. So he goes, “So we’re going to go out and take over the company. Do you want to go?”
Chris: All right, all right.
Steven: And I’m thinking to myself, well I just broke up with my girlfriend, I don’t have anything here anymore–
Chris: Didn’t even know what the company was?
Steven: Well that’s one thing I ask him. I said, “So what’s the company do?” And he goes, “Well, we’ve got these CD-ROMs and what we’re going to do is try to let people buy and sell stuff over the Internet.” And I go, “Oh, the Internet, yeah I’ve heard about that. So — yeah, sure, why not?”
Chris: And it’s not selling Prozac. “I’m in!”
Steven: This was literally a Saturday. I called my boss on Tuesday, quit my job, packed everything I owned up in a storage van on a Thursday, and then the next Saturday, literally, we were trekking it cross-country in a budget mini rental van with a couple of things we owned in the back. We traveled out west to start a company out in Las Vegas, where I first cut my teeth really in the Internet space, and it was 1996. Kind of typical, goofy Internet companies, had no idea what we were doing, software didn’t work — that sort of thing — a lot of testing in that era and that environment, but it started catching on and we landed a couple clients and that company grew from about 8 people to 800 people. Went through the whole funding, IPO, was the 3rd-best performing stock of ‘99, I believe — and was kind of able to see a lot about how to build a business as well as how not to build a business. One of the key takeaways that I had learned from that was, first of all, what goes up must come down — as we’ve all experienced — and second of all, it’s to really try to build things that are of high value for people. If you focus on building those high-value items that truly solve a problem for a particular group of people, then … you have a chance of really succeeding in the business.
So I never went back. I was in Vegas, and then I visited out here in San Diego, flew into downtown, and I was like, Wow, I’ve got to move here. There’s no heat wave. This is great. Also, there’s no snow. From there, I moved to San Diego and started with a company here that a lot of your listeners may remember — it’s called College Club, which was one of the very first social networks. And they were around … from about 2000 to 2004. The company didn’t get the chance to go public, but they sold out to a publicly-traded company. Again, it was just like a MySpace or a Facebook before Facebook, so I’ve always done Internet startups.
Chris: There’s actually been some success … too. There’s a lot of websites that people just put up, and nothing happens, right — but you’ve done a little bit better with that.
Steven: We’ve done okay with them, sure.
Chris: So now that you’re in San Diego … now this company came and went, 2004 rolls around, 2005 — what’s the next venture and how did it get started?
Steven: Sure. So I’m a nerd — I’ll totally admit that. What I do — and still do, actually, I was out pontificating — I was drinking a martini, which is something I typically do, and sitting out on my deck, pontificating, “Oh, where is the web going to go?” We had seen this big move over the past five years from, really, the late 1990s and through 2005 to where Amazon started, had launched, and really taken off. They grew from books to basically where you could buy just about any type of product that you would think about. And then we were starting to hear about this little company called Zappos that was starting to get a stronghold in the market. And I’m thinking, “If people would buy shoes over the Internet, they’re going to buy everything over the Internet.”
We started the general thesis back then with a couple guys I knew that, at some point in the future, services would move to the web very similar to how product had moved to the web. We’d see this giant shift — services in general make up over 75% of the economy, yet it’s very difficult to buy services over the Internet — and the main reason is, if I want to buy a product, it has a SKU number, right? I can take a look and I can accurately compare what that product is versus another brand or another site. When it comes to buying a service, whether it be financial services, or an accountant, or in our case, a tutor or a music lessons provider or a dog walker or a babysitter — you name it — we don’t have SKU numbers. So it’s very difficult to compare. Our whole thesis is, that at some point, brands would establish themselves as the place to go where consumers could go to know that they could get a trusted, vetted service provider that would give them a good service, and if they weren’t satisfied, that they could get their money back as well. That was the general premise, as far as the Internet goes, for starting TakeLessons. That tied in with one other thing that was happening at the time — that I could tell you about, if you’d like.
Chris: Yeah, absolutely.
Steven: In-between my startups, I come from a very musically-oriented family. My grandparents cut records, my parents cut records, all my brothers are session players, and I’m kind of the least musically-oriented out of the entire group. But I’ve always been in bands my entire life. I DJ’ed my way to pay for college.
I was playing in a band back in 2002, 2004. No, we weren’t any good. Most of us, anyway. I was, again, the worst out of all of them. But I was the lead singer in the band — and our drummer was just an incredible musician. He had studied for years, had a masters degree in music performance, and not only just an incredible drummer, but also an incredible human being. We had just finished a gig, and after the gig we went over next door to the bar to drink, and he said, “Hey Steven, I’ve got some news for you.” I said, “Well, what’s going on?” He said, “I’ve got to quit the band.” [I was] thinking, if you quit, the whole band’s going to break up–
Chris: You are the band!
Steven: “You are the band! What’s going on?” He had a wife, and he just found out that his first baby was on the way. And he’s like, “I’ve got to make some life decisions and I can’t pay with this. So I’m gonna quit working in music and I’ve got a job lined up and I’m gonna be a cook at Chili’s.” My heart — and his heart — you could just see it, just sunk to the bottom of the floor. And I’m thinking, Wow, this can’t happen to this guy.
We started talking, and I ask him if he was teaching. He said, “Well I’ve got my posters hanging up at the local drugstore, but not too many people [are] calling me.” I said, “Why don’t you use the Internet for that?” He said, “I don’t really know anything about marketing or the Internet and, plus, I just really want to teach. I don’t really know how to really run a business.” I said, “I’ve got a little background in that — why don’t I help you do that?”
That concept was what also kind of — the genesis of the idea was: how do we keep Enrique out of Chili’s — our drummer — out of Chili’s? And really help him make a living out of doing what he really loves to do? The belief of the company is that if we can help enough people make a living doing what they love to do, we can make a very positive impact on the world because we believe people are just generally happier when they’re doing stuff they love to do.
Chris: Absolutely. That’s a great point, great philosophy. So — what is TakeLessons.com? Let’s talk about what it actually is and what it is you guys actually do.
Steven: Sure. We’re a marketplace where you can come onto the site and find a local, vetted instructor for music lessons as well as tutoring service — academic tutoring services — as well.
Chris: Okay, so, perfectly matching up people that want to get instructions either via music or any other type of potential lesson via your website.
Steven: You got it. Instead of — you can imagine Mom hopping on Craiglist and finding some long-haired dude to invite into her house to spend time with her nine-year-old — it’s kind of creepy.
Chris: It can be, sure.
Steven: We take the creepiness out of it. All of our instructors … they walk through a whole 7-step process — all 40,000 that we’ve had apply — a 7-step process where we vet them out, they do background checks, we check with their professors, they walk through best practices before they’re even allowed onto the site. And about half — well over half of the people that apply don’t make it onto the site. They just don’t pass the standards.
So you could think of us — if you think about eBay and it’s a very open-type marketplace online where anyone can come, buy and sell — we’re kind of like that, but just for power-sellers in the same realm. Meaning, just the best-curated type instructors so that way the consumer knows that they’re going to get a really great experience.
Chris: They’ve done all the legwork for the person looking for an instructor because you’ve already vetted them all the way through.
Steven: You got it.
Chris: Okay. It sounds like a great website. I know I’ve checked it out — it’s awesome. We’re going to take a quick break here with Steven Cox, CEO and Founder of Takelessons.com. Stay tuned, we’re going to get right back at it after the break.
Chris: Welcome back everybody, you’re listening to the Market Pulse here on ESPN 1700. We have the wonderful Steven Cox, Founder and CEO of TakeLessons.com here in studio with us, just talking a little bit about your background and how you got into TakeLessons and obviously some of your passion with — your family was … musically inclined, and you had a little bit more business sense as well to go with that. It popped up — how to keep your good friend Enrique out of working for Chili’s. So whatever happened to Enrique? Is he still with you guys? Did you help him?
Steven: So you know what? Enrique never started at Chili’s, which is a big, big win — for both him and me. He still teaches for us today; he is one of our drum instructors. If you are in the Encinitas area of town and need a fabulous drummer, hop onto our website and look up Mr. Enrique. He is the bomb.
Chris: Perfect. I’m glad to hear it. That’s a good story. Now, obviously you have a musical background — and even yourself, you play some musical instruments. Other than that, your passion to getting this involved, and raising funds for it, and understanding the business side of it — what was that process like? Did you guys have to get fundraising for it, or did you use your own funding for it?
Steven: Sure. [I’m] super passionate about music — and one of my even larger passions, or I should say, just as passionate with music is the idea of — how do you build? — you know, we’ve been very specific in the Internet space, that’s all I’ve ever done — and my idea was, can I go start and found a company and then build something that becomes a household name? And continue to build something in — one of our core values of the company is ‘build stuff you’re proud of’? That was something that was very dear to my heart is assembling a team, building out an ecosystem to where if you are working for the company, you wake up every day excited to be inside the company, and if you are not in the company, you’re thinking to yourself, “Hmm, how do I get in working with those guys?” That’s the type of company we wanted to build. That was a big passion of ours from Day One.
When we first started the company and we decided to take a run at that … obviously there’s a couple things that one needs, and that is a decent idea, a lot of elbow grease, and the third is some capital — so we had the first two. The third came from myself — I was my own angel, if you will. Angel money — we put some money into the company to get it started. I recruited five, six guys and they literally worked for zero pay for about the first six months — my co-founders. And then after that, they got a giant raise — they were then making $750 a month.
Chris: Right — huge.
Steven: Unbelievable, huge, huge money. But when you’re starting a company specifically and you’re looking for what we call a “product fit” — right? — and can you build something that the market values enough to pay for? Specifically in the Internet space — that’s … the first minimum viable product that you’re trying to search for. And sometimes that’s exactly what it takes. If one is not a proven entrepreneur with a track record, to where you’ve sold a couple companies off in the Internet space, then what you have to do is you really have to buckle down and either find people that believe in you and [are] willing to pony up and invest in you — because they’re really not investing in the idea; the idea’s going to change a thousand times in your first year — it’s very, very typical — but people who believe in you. Or if you’ve had some kind of exit in the past, and believe enough in the idea that you’re willing to put your own money on it, that really speaks accolades and volumes to the next group coming in.
Steven: So we funded the company — I funded the company myself, starting, and from there we started getting a little bit of traction, figuring out what’s right, what’s wrong. We launched here in San Diego, we launched in a couple other cities, and was able to attract our first round of friends and family. We raised another $800,000 — mostly it was people who just knew me. I had guys that were like, “Man, I don’t understand a thing you’re doing. but here’s some money–”
Chris: “We know you’re going to work your tail off!” Yeah, okay.
Steven: “Just, don’t lose it, okay? Try to make it something.” But luckily for them, we didn’t lose their money — which was great.
Steven: Then we found a local investor, and also a tech guy — his name is Jordan Greenhall. He was an early guy at MP3.com, a local company here in town, DivX — which went public, also a technology company here in town. He was our first lead investor. Finding that first lead investor, who is experienced in the space, savvy — what that does for the young company is that grants some credibility. So all the other guys who were kind of on the fence and thinking about investing — as soon as our lead investor came in — boom! Then all the rest of them. All the rest of them just fell right in line.
So we were able to close that round. The next round, what we did was another friends and family round, and we got a couple other folks from LA involved. One of the early founders of MySpace came into the company, and again gained us a little more credibility. But all along this way, I’m talking about the investors getting us credibility — but we were getting credibility ourselves. We were actually working on a product, solving a problem that we felt customers needed and customers were validating that. …
So this is 2013 — then [in] 2011, so we’re into the company 4 years or so, we had enough gunpowder and enough results here for what we were doing to where we were able to go out and do a first institutional round of financing. [We] looked around in San Diego — there’s not too many venture capitalists here in town, so we did a road show through the Silicon Valley area. Talked with 32 venture capital firms, had really good meetings and follow-up meetings with about 13 of those, we were able to get three what’s called term sheets — which is not a promise or a commitment — but, “Hey, we’re kind of interested–”
Chris: Good intentions.
Steven: If you’d like to work something out, yeah. Our first round was led by a group called Crosslink Capital. They’re a well-known fund out of the Bay Area. They also did Ancestry.com, they were the lead investors with Pandora, and with those guys came SoftTech Ventures, who backed Twitter and Facebook and a bunch of well-known companies — and some guys like, for instance, Maynard Webb, who was the COO of eBay, who in the marketplace space played a big, pivotal role. So guys like that we were able to get in once we had a proven track record that we were going to do what we said we were going to do.
Chris: Gotcha. So at that point, you must have been steamrolling ahead pretty well, having these backers behind you, and people really believing — the people that work for you, plus people that probably now wanted to come on to work for you, moving forward. Was there a pretty quick progression in terms of growth from 2011 to today?
Steven: Sure. There’s an old saying that I like to tell all young entrepreneurs, and that is, if you take a look at the Space Shuttle or a rocket that’s about to blast off, and it’s filled with millions of tons of fuel, and 80% of that fuel that it’s going to use is going to be used in the first mile getting off the ground. And then after it starts getting traction, then it can — not coast a little bit — but it becomes a little more efficient. That’s the same thing; that you are going to spend a tremendous amount of effort on the front end getting things right before you’re able to inject that kind of capital into the business, most times. We did have traction, we were seeing some results, and the funding really just allowed us to put more fuel in that tank and press on the gas quicker. We’ve grown — we were 18 or 20 people when we got our first institutional round. We’re about 70 people now, so in the past year and a half — not quite two years — we have grown substantially just in the number of people. As well as we’re just getting more mature in systems and processes and customer base and we’re really looking to build a company with a lot of long-term value for a lot of people.
Chris: I imagine you’ve been able to smooth out a lot of rough edges along the way. Now you’re almost a finely-tuned machine. There’s still always something you can tweak, I know, right?
Steven: I gotta tell ya, it never feels that way.
Chris: It’s never done, right? Work’s never done.
Steven: If you’ve started a company and you’re a few years into it, and you still feel like, “Jeez, does this ever get easier?” That’s the way we feel.
Chris: It’s what you’re supposed to feel, right? You can’t rest on your laurels.
Steven: That’s right. It’s very natural to feel, sometimes, beat up — sometimes to where you’re like, “Oh man, this absolutely sucks today.” But I don’t know, I wouldn’t have it any other way. if this was a simple task — I think we were mentioning earlier — everyone would do it. But building a company from scratch and getting traction takes a lot of work from a lot of people. Not only just good decisions, but a little bit of luck along the way, and certainly a lot of tenacity to make sure that you persevere through the bad times.
Chris: At least at this point, Steven, you can take a look back and take some stock in what you’ve done and accomplished. I mean, you guys are heading the right direction — you’ve done a lot — your metrics are, what? You said 40,000 instructors now, or at one point? You guys have–
Steven: Yeah, we’ve had over 40,000 instructors apply. We’re in about 3,000 cities all across the US. We’re giving over a million minutes a month in lessons. Certainly a little bit of traction. And I really just give accolades to my team. This is certainly — I had the vision, but there have been just some incredible people — my co-founders, the folks who are with me today — that have been able to truly grow the business way past even where I thought we would be.
Chris: A million minutes a month. That’s remarkable. You’re giving — you’re teaching a lot of people or giving them the foundation to find what they need to move forward in their lives. That’s awesome.
Steven: There’s a lot of happy moms out there — because their kids are happy right now.
Chris: Keeping them on the right track. Keeping them out of trouble.
Steven: We’re pleased to be a part of it.
Chris: Awesome. We’re going to take a quick break. Steven Cox here, Founder and CEO of TakeLessons.com. If you have any questions for us here in the studio. We’re going to talk to him for just a few more minutes after this next break. I want to talk about if you had any mentors along the way if you have any advice for people that are starting their own business or maybe trying to get over that next hump so stay tuned — be right back
Chris: Back to the Market Pulse. We have Steven Cox, Founder and CEO in studio with us at TakeLessons.com. Obviously, they can go to the website — TakeLessons.com — or is there a number they can call as well? To get in touch with somebody or talk about more information about what they can do.
Steven: Sure. The best I did, just hop on your mobile phone or go to the website on your laptop, that’s probably the best way.
Chris: I’m pretty sure most people are — at least hopefully somewhat Internet-savvy at this point, right?
Chris: If not, ask somebody else — they can help you with it. So one of the things I wanted to ask you was, you went through a pretty big growth spurt from 2011 to now — is there certain things you guys see on the horizon for things you maybe have to overcome, or opportunities, or expansions for what you’re going to do moving forward?
Steven: Sure, Chris. So one of the ideas of the business when we were very young was: how do we develop out a platform and get to where we can launch with music and then start stacking other sorts of personal verticals on top of the same platform? So you can build once and then multiply your market expansion. We’ve been working on that for several years, and in January — or February, rather, we just launched tutoring. So now, instead of just music, we’ve also now allowed for tutoring where you can come in and find a math teacher, for instance, for your kid who’s struggling in algebra. And we have plans to launch other sorts of verticals on top of that.
In addition to the types of lessons, so just for music and tutoring for example, we’ve also launched an online product to where the majority of our lessons happen one-to-one. An instructor will show up at your house to teach you or your kid in about 3,000 cities, but there’s a lot of cities throughout the US. In fact, 12,000 [cities], so we still don’t cover the majority of the cities, believe it or not. We have all the large ones covered, but for all of those other cities we just launched an online product where you can literally, through the platform, pop in and schedule your lessons and do lessons over the Internet.
What’s really cool about that is first of all, it serves a much broader market; we have found that busy professionals such as, maybe Chris, like yourself, where you’re like, “Well I can’t go to a place once a week for lessons,” but at 8:30 at night, perhaps, you can hop on your computer and take a half-hour lesson and that’s much more convenient for professionals.
Chris: I’d rather spend my lunch break doing an hour webcam session.
Steven: You got it. So we just launched that product — it’s taking off like wildfire; it’s super, super cool — and with that we just got our very first international students — so Switzerland loves TakeLessons. They just told me about that last week, and I thought that was really cool. And it was a 53-year-old gentleman in Lucerne, Switzerland, who wanted to take lessons from an American and never had a shot before.
Chris: You went from 3,000 cities to every city in the world by doing that platform, right?
Steven: You got it. That’s the whole idea — is how do you continue to expand out the platform in such a way to where it provides a great service for people.
Chris: So what you’re saying is you’re going to become the next Amazon of the service industry on the web, right?
Steven: You know, we have big dreams, and we do things in a very methodical manner, which is something that folks ask me — they’re like, “Wow, you guys are expanding so quick!” But one thing that I’d like to point is out is that we were very lean and methodical and focused on one thing for six years, and just did one thing and tried to get the absolute best at that one, very particular thing.
I see a lot of companies out there when I advise younger startups, and what I say is they try to boil the ocean. They have this great idea and they’re going to do these 50 different things — they get zero traction at any of them because they’re not he best at anything. What I always advise is: find one thing that you’re super-passionate about and that you know you can do better and get a competitive advantage over someone else on it, because there are — if you’re in any other business, Internet or anything else — there’s probably fifty people working on your exact idea right this second. So the question is: how do you get really, really good at that? I believe in that as a focus and really diving down, focusing on one thing, because if you don’t focus down on one thing — you will never have the opportunity to focus on many.
Chris: That makes a lot of sense. That’s great advice. Did you have mentors along the way at all, or any advice you received? Or probably similar to what you’re saying now?
Steven: Yeah, you know what? I’ve leaned on a lot of smart people. That’s what I try to do. In essence, I can’t claim that I’m smart; but I can claim that I get a lot of smart people around me. That’s been the key. I use our advising group on the company, I use our board of directors quite frequently, and I’ve always tried to lean on people smarter than I — some of the very early product design came from just very good, deep conversations with other people in the Internet space trying to figure it out.
Chris: Right — that’s an awesome story. Steven Cox in studio, Founder and CEO of TakeLesson.com. Obviously — name of the company — go right to the website, TakeLessons.com. Located here in San Diego. And you can find just about every and any instructor at this point, whether it’s music medium or other medium as well–
Steven: Or tutoring.
Chris: Or tutoring. Perfect. We want to thank you again for coming on. Is there anything else you’d like to add before taking off for today?
Steven: I think that’s about it, Chris. I really enjoyed it. We love being here in San Diego. We’re hometown guys and it’s great building an Internet business here in the sunshine.
Chris: Any favorite bands you have? I know you’re in a band and a lot of people at your company are in bands, but anybody that you listen to or anybody that inspires you?
Steven: I’m kind of in the Foo Fighters, U2 realm — I listen to a lot of The Cure, just depending on my mood. 5:30 in the morning in the gym, I’m certainly listening to the heavy Foo Fighters or even Deadmau5 or something like that. I’m kind of all over the board so as long as it pumps me up.
Chris: I think that’s good. Eclectic taste. There’s a lot of good music out there. Perfect — Steven, thanks for coming on. We appreciate it. Steven Cox, Founder and CEO of TakeLessons.com.
As one of my trusted business associates, I wanted to reach out to you to see if you might know of someone interested in an unbelievable opportunity to make a significant impact on a hot, growing company – and I’ll pay you $7,500 for an intro.
Here’s an email you can cut and paste to send to your contacts:
A great opportunity for a VP of Software Engineering just came across my desk and I wanted to share it with you in case you, or someone you know, might be looking to make a career move.
TakeLessons.com is America’s leading music lessons company, providing in-person lessons in over 3,000 cities across the USA. They drive their sales online, and the service is delivered by certified teachers in person at the customers’ residence or teachers studio.
The company has 74 employees, located in downtown San Diego, building interesting technology, and is backed by the same venture capital firms that backed Pandora, Facebook, Twitter, and other internet powerhouses.
They are looking for a rockstar VP Software Engineering to help take them to the next level of growth and I thought about you. Here’s what they are looking for:
Someone that has: – Experience leading a consumer internet software division. – Expertise in software development, architecture, coding, QA. – Ability to lead and grow a team using JQuery, Symfony, PHP, PostgresSQL, and Linux. – Reports to the CEO and can interact favorably with investors.
Happy to see TakeLessons mentioned in Michael Wolf’s article on how new companies are disrupting Craigslist (which, in turn, have disrupted newspapers). In the article, Wolf discusses how the new breed of vertical marketplaces are able to gain traction by providing value greater than a listing.
Our general thesis is that the next generation of marketplaces will provide a deeper product offering to both sides of the marketplace – providing safety and ease of use for a consumer, while helping independent professionals and businesses find customers and manage their lives better through an integrated toolset.
Yelp has taken great strides to provide local reviews, and we think the next turn for services will include Yelp + Open Table + Square +a scheduling system all in one easy package.
Consumer services make up over half of the US economy, so it will be a big deal when more consumers start and complete their service purchase through technology. I think the wave is just beginning.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the past couple years, it’s how critical it is to get the right team in place. The right team is more costly, takes longer to attract, but it pays for itself in spades by a quicker velocity and overall growth.
As we shift into a faster growth mode inside of TakeLessons, I wanted to paint a picture for my team on what it takes to be hired and, more importantly, what it takes to be an all-star. The company is growing fast, and we need people that have already been at the spot we’re going to be, and/or quickly assimilate into new roles, objectives, and way of doing business.
The lessons I’m teaching my team are not just applicable to those that work for TakeLessons, but they’re relevant to everyone in the workplace that aspires to grow into new roles and expand their work horizons.
Earn your spot on the team. It’s not given to you.
Get shit done.
Do more than what you’re paid for.
Be responsible for your own growth.
So, I hope you take something valuable from this video and apply it into your own work. A transcript follows the video.
I want to again bring to the forefront of what we’re looking to do and how we’re looking to make changes.
In essence we’re looking at a change of mindset. This is where we were – down here – and this is where we want to be – up here.
What does that mean?
I’m glad we’re a venture-backed company – less than 5% of the people that can even apply to be a venture-backed company have what it takes to get there. We’re about to be backed again – we can’t yet make a formal announcement – but we have a very good possibility that again our venture capitalists believe in us and our vision and what we’re trying to do, to where we’re going to be able to extend out what we’re looking to accomplish this year.
But with that comes responsibility. This again is what is expected of you.
First of all: very clear strategic thinking. You have to – everyone, including myself – and everyone in here – we have to raise our game as far as how we think. We have to be able to solve customer problems and work in an efficient and in a better manner.
Second of all, we’ve talked about this: Bold ideas. No longer can we just be satisfied doing the same thing and building our company. We have built an incredible platform that can be used and we’re going to utilize it to the best of our capacity.
Third, and the most critical – this is a requirement for flawless execution. What that means is we’re going to put our best foot forward, and this means making mistakes. We will quickly learn from those mistakes and fix them – absolutely as quickly as possible.
As I pointed out before, we are not a family. In a family, you can’t choose who you get. With family, you basically have to love them no matter what.
Instead, we are a team – and what that means is every single day, every month, every year, we earn our spots to stay on this team. All of us do, including myself. We do that by making sure that we are rock stars at what we do.
Sometime’s it’s not even enough just to make the team. Everyone can make the team in this room, because you are all very, very smart, intelligent, capable, awesome people – thank you very much and take a pat on the back – but what we want is All-Stars. Think of yourself as an All-Star. It’s not even enough to play pro ball. What we want is to be able to take that to the next level.
How to be an All-Star at Work
The big question is: How can you become an All-Star? I want to just go through a few quick tips for you on how to be an All-Star here at TakeLessons.
Get Shit Done.
The top thing that you can do no matter what is: get shit done. We’re not paid to show up. We’re not paid to look busy. We’re not paid to fill out a cubicle. We are paid to get shit done.
That is in essence what drives this business. We’re not here just to goof off. We’re here to take the most important task and make sure that we’re completing them.
How do we do that? First and foremost, make sure up front that you have very clear, specific goals in what you’re trying to do.
If you don’t know your outcome, if you don’t know where you’re shooting, you’re going to have a hard time getting there.
How many of you have written goals for 2013?
It’s very, very critical to do that. Again, you’re going to have a direct path. You know what you’re supposed to be focusing on. If you don’t have written goals, I highly encourage you to do so, both personally – and it’s required – professionally.
If you do not know what your goals are here inside the company, talk to your manager today before you go home. Make sure that you have a very specific plan about what you need to accomplish.
Once you have those goals, always focus on first things first. What does that mean? If you’re like me, I have a list a mile long of stuff that I need to do. There’s always more things to do than there is time to do it.
How do you know what to do?
Make sure you’re prioritizing your list every single day. Never do a “B” or a “C” priority when there is an “A” priority to do. That’s the simple key. If you know that you can do an “A,” do it first thing in the morning.
I was talking to one of you last week, who said, “Yeah, I’m trying to get more time efficient. How do I get more done?” One thing that this person was doing was coming in, reading emails, and catching up on the news the very first thing in the morning. It is related to the company? Yes, it’s important to do, but it’s not absolute top priority.
What we did is switch that around: what they’re doing is they’re taking the biggest thing that would make the highest impact on the company and making sure that they do it first.
Brian Tracy calls it eating that frog. It’s a metaphor: no one wants to eat a frog anytime, but you specifically don’t want to eat it in the morning when you get up. It’s the toughest thing to do.
If you can take that highest task, the ugliest thing to do (like a frog), that makes the biggest impact on the company, do it when you’re the freshest: first in the morning. That’s how you accomplish things.
Put up the Numbers.
If you do those things, you are going to put up incredible numbers. I don’t necessarily just mean sales numbers, but whatever you’re measured up against: you’re going to put up incredible, incredible numbers.
You guys know who this is?
Anybody know what he did?
[“Triple Crown.” “He lost the world Series.”]
The Triple Crown. He got on base, basically with the highest batting average, the most home runs, throughout the most people of anyone in his league.
Does this guy ever have to worry about a job?
Why? Because he’s an All-Star.
This is what I’m talking about. This is not the rules of TakeLessons. These are rules of life.
I was at a conference and someone said, “I’m afraid to work for a startup because I need job security.”
It doesn’t matter if you work for a big company or a small company. Job security is not in the job, it is in being an All-Star. It is putting up incredible numbers. That is what gets you to where you need to go. What’s great about that is you are the one in control of it. By deciding that that’s what you want to do, you’re going to knock it out of the park.
Master Your Role
Next, take a look at your role – focus on mastering and becoming awesome at that one role. Muhammad Ali was great at one thing: dancing, too,but he was an incredible boxer. He worked his ass off to make sure that he was the absolute best at his role.
Take your role and master it. Be the absolute best that you can possibly be and be an all-star in that particular role.
Help Your Teammates Win
It’s very important that you help your teammates win. Dwyane Wade could’ve taken the shot, but instead he passed the ball to LeBron.
This is a very important key. It’s not enough if one department wins. It’s not enough if you win and your department loses. We are all in this together. This company only works by all of us pulling together in the same direction.
Make sure that you’re an All-Star and then help someone else be an All-Star. if you know something that can help them, teach them. Share knowledge. Make sure that we’re collaborating back and forth.
Next, There’s a good possibility that whatever you’re doing today – by the end of the year – you’re not going to be doing that. It’s important to always stay flexible and know that things are going to change.
Did we have a year of 2012 that things change? Those of you who have been here a couple years, did things change?
Hey, I can guarantee you one thing: if you look at today and where we’re going to be at the end of the year, things will fundamentally change in our business. Don’t get too hung up on exactly whow things are going to change. Roll with it, because I can guarantee you that no matter what, we’re going to look fundamentally different at the end of the year.
You are Responsible for Your Growth
Also, it is up to you to grow. The company can only do so much – we have restricted budgets, we don’t have systems in place yet for productive growth in a methodical manner for every single employee. We’re just not mature enough to get there. That is no excuse not to grow.
I’m reading 2-3 times a week at home. Why? Because I’m afraid that the company will pass me by. That’s something that I encourage each and every one of you to do. It’s up to you to have your own personal development program.
Like I pointed out in the last meeting: when things grow, you leave your comfort zone – and when you leave your comfort zone, that’s when the magic happens. That’s when you can continue to grow past where you are today and be able to take on – and it’s not just about production but it’s about how your capacity to produce increases. And this is how you become that All-Star.
Do More Than You’re Paid For
Finally, I was studying Napoleon Hill’s 17 Laws of Success and he said the number one way that you can make sure that you stay with the company that you want, or that you are always promotable is to do more than what you’re paid for.
What does that mean?
That means that if you are worth “X” – down here – and you are doing work at a level up here, it is impossible for you not to get noticed. Think about our customers – if we give them more value than what they’re paying for, they love us.
That’s the thing: if you want to continue to grow, if you want to be an all-star, do more than what you think you’re capable of. That’s how you grow into this role.
They said Cabrera is the last guy standing when it comes to batting practice. Over and over again. He’s the All-Star. He’s the king of the team, yet he’s the guy who’s in there first taking batting practice and he’s the last guy standing. He knows the rules. He knows that this is what it takes.
When you do that, what happens is your work naturally stands out. You can’t help but to get noticed.
These are very simple rules of life. These are not TakeLessons rules. You can apply them to anything that you do.
By doing that, what happens – that comfort zone of what you’re capable of doing continues to grow. While you used to be a hot Corvette – now, you’re a burning, flaming fire! This is where you want to go. This is where we need to drive the company.
I know we have what it takes in here to build a world-class company. It is going to be up to each and every one of us to make sure that happens.
We’re off to a really good start, it’s 10 days into the first month, we are going to have an incredible year.