Teaming up with the International Women’s Hackathon

By Start Up San Diego,, Web and Tech No Comments

International Women's HackathonTakeLessons is proud to be a part of the video, and a supporter of this years International Women’s Hackathon, held at Cal State, San Marcos.

The International Women’s Hackathon is sponsored by Microsoft Research to empower young women leaders (ages 16 and older) in computer science. Teams of 4-6 girls will make a website, game, cloud based service, application, or mobile app to address one of these two world challenges: Disaster Response or Climate Data.

To encourage participation, especially girls from low socioeconomic families, registration will be free for students, including snacks, lunch, dinner, parking, access to state-of-the-art computing facilities at CSUSM, and collaboration with peers and volunteering mentors from the software industry. In addition, bus services are provided for selected local high schools to bring their students on the day of the event.

Why We Support It

Alan Cole, COO TakeLessonsAlan Cole, our COO drove the initiative.

“At, we come to work each way driven by the idea that we can make a positive difference in the lives of everyone we come in contact with. We choose to do that through technology and software engineering. We want to encourage young people in the San Diego area, and around the world, to see the possibilities of using Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math as tools to make positive change in their world as well.” says, Cole.

The International Women’s Hackathon at Cal State San Marcos helps inspire students to follow their passions and make a difference in careers that have historically been underrepresented by women. We know that women who choose these fields not only change the world, they also earn an average of 33% more than women in other fields. As a big fan of San Diego, I believe that giving young women the technological tools to earn more – while changing the world – is an incredible gift to the San Diego Innovation Economy.

Steven interviewed for the IWH video on empowering young women.

Steven interviewed for the IWH video on empowering young women to think about careers in science, technology, engineering, and math.

Change Your Point of View – A Poem About Success

By Entrepreneur Insights, Life Lessons, Motivational, My Writings, Speaking One Comment

My good friend, Adam Hudson, just finished putting on an incredible event called Radius, for entrepreneurs. The whole concept is that by elevating your thinking, your radius widens and you can see things from a different point of view. Pretty cool, right?

I attended last year and he asked me to say a few words at the event this year for the group. So, I gave an update of what our business was able to accomplish, and shared how I feel I’ve just become a better human being – more grounded, and able to work through my own shit.

Radius conference


I also wrote a poem called Point of View for them to take away and think about. I presented it to them as a gift.

I’ll also present it to you as my gift. Hope you enjoy…


Success… we give our best.

Move to the right, then to the left,

Chasing, racing, facing our dest-iny.

We seek, to see our dreams, more clearly,

So ready, for what could be.

We want the dollar, the cash, the money.

We want to feel love from our family.

We want these blinded eyes to see,

And be, who we were meant to be.

To believe, for once, without internal doubt.

We vow, to live, to grow, and discover how.

But it’s not about, the doubt, that comes our way.

It’s not about, what we face each day,

But rather, if we make life fun, and play.

Is it a black night, or just a little gray?

It’s in what we do, and what we say, every day.

So, don’t dismay, because it’s up to you, to,

Turn the gray, into blue, to turn the old, into new,

To change your point of view.

You can change your point of view.



Success… No time to rest, we pound our chest.

We put our mind and body, to the test,

But if we’re real, we’d confess, sometimes

It feels like life is just a guess,

Of which way’s right, tonight, and which way’s wrong,

Which road do we walk, and which road’s already gone,

Which words fit into our song, of life.

It cuts like a knife. We try and try, to fly so high

Only to be shot out of the sky. Bye-bye.

And inside, it messes with our mind, we find

No release. Our doubting demons never cease.

We need, and need, before we let ourselves be at peace.

We tell ourselves, that when we reach that elusive place,

When we become more than just a face, in the crowd,

Somehow, when we feel we can keep up this frantic pace,

Then we’ll let ourselves be in a happy place.

Challenge that thought.

Make an about face.

Now is the time to be content, free from resentment.

Free to float more, and steer less. Free to love more and fear less.

Free to be the brightest star.

Free to love ourselves just as we are.

When we get real, and truth be told,

We don’t, have tomorrow, we don’t know, if we’ll grow old.

We’ve told, ourselves that we have to wait

Before we’re enough, before we let ourselves be great.

It’s today! Today is our date, there’s no debate.

Our truth is, we don’t have to wait.

That’s not how it has to be.

Right now, we can live simply, beautifully, perfectly.

You see, when we change how we decide to steer,

We can be fulfilled, right now, right here.

We can choose love instead of fear.

It’s always up to you, to,

Change the gray into blue.

To turn the old into new.

To Change… to change your point of view.


Success… we are blessed,

with the chance to give our best,

With our ability, to see, more than what is,

But what can be.

We have, within our power, in this hour

A new way to see.

From when we were born, until we turn back to dust

Til all our materialism turns back to rust,

When the rains of life fall, and the wind’s gust,

Trust, because you are on a cusp…

Of something new, of turning gray into blue; don’t dismay

You were made, made to lead, made to build, made for love,

Made to fill,

up your cup, and others, too,

So that they might see, from another point of view.

It’s made

Made in you, it’s made in me,

and made in us.

We make the world a better place, when we raise,

When we elevate, our own, Radius.


* The line, “float more, and steer less. Free to love more and fear less.” was borrowed from my friend, John Styn. Thank you for the inspiration John!


The Journey of Success: 5 Guidelines on Life, Love, and Business

By Business Philosophy, Entrepreneur Insights, Life Lessons, Motivational, Speaking No Comments

The Delta Sigma Pi chapter at San Diego State University asked me to speak to them about what I’ve learned about success, personal growth, and business.

Here are five things I’ve learned about life, love, and business. What’s great about these guidelines is that they can apply in every area of your life. They are timeless, and just as relevant for relationships as they are for startups.

  1. Take responsibility
  2. Know your outcome
  3. Prioritize
  4. Give yourself time to become awesome
  5. Commit to constant and never ending improvement


Give Yourself Time to Become Awesome

Tools to Help You Start a Business in San Diego

By Start Up San Diego, Videos No Comments

Here’s a quick video segment we did on KUSI-TV on a few helpful steps on starting your own business here in San Diego. There are a lot of tools and resources out there that can help you.


David Davis: San Diego has a lot of opportunity when it comes to starting your own business. It’s one of the leading cities in the country for that, and joining us this morning are several people that are going to help us kind of put together a toolkit for us to start your own company and get an interest in entrepreneurship. Steven Cox, Stacey Pennington, and John Belmonte.

Steven, you’re with TakeLessons. Tell me what that’s all about, and tell me what your expertise is in helping people.

Steven: Sure. TakeLessons is a marketplace where you can go to find any instructor that you’re looking for in literally about 7,000 different subjects – everything from music to Spanish to voice to parkour to dance. You name it, we’re the place to go to for that. The reason we started our business here in San Diego about six years ago is because we found that San Diego is an extremely collaborative place. One thing that’s important for our viewers to remember is there’s so many of that have ideas. We’re sitting on the couch wondering, “How do I get the business started?” and “Where do I go to get started?” What you’ll find in San Diego, first and foremost, is that there’s a huge, huge community of really collaborative people. So, you can take your idea from simply an idea in your head, all the way out to fruition. Groups such as has graduated over 3,000 companies and helped them get started. Groups like EvoNexus — they’ve had 68 companies that walked through their mentorship program, and they’ve raised over $573 million all through that program. So, there are a ton of programs out there that are available for the young entrepreneur, at universities whether they’re trying to get started there, or for folks who might be retiring and looking for a second income.

David Davis: Stacey’s with Makers Quarters. A lot of these companies are tech companies too that are coming out in San Diego, aren’t they?

Stacey Pennington: Absolutely. At Makers Quarter, we’re doing a bring-your-own work day, every single Wednesday from 1-5, and it’s a free, open collaborative space with free Wi-Fi. We’re about a month into it, and it’s just been amazing how many young entrepreneurs are really from this downtown startup tech community as well as all over the county who are coming out and meeting one another, holding pop-up job fairs, hosting interviews, and just really connecting.

David Davis: Because it can be really intimidating if you’ve got these ideas and never done something like this before. John, you’re with Cedar Ridge Ventures. I guess you see that all of the time—people that have got these ideas, but they just don’t know where to take the next step. (2:22)

John Belmonte: Yeah, one of the key milestones with building a company is raising money and getting the capital to grow your idea out. So, there’s tons of resources here in town to help you figure out how to do that if you’ve never done it before. I’ve got startup leadership programs. You’ve got the founder institute — they’ll train you on honing your pitch and making sure you have a great story on what you need the capital for. Really, in the end, the best thing to do is just get out there and network. Use Angel List. Use LinkedIn. Find folks in town who have done investments or have raised money and offer to take them to coffee. Pick their brain and find out. Whether it’s seed funds like Crescent Ridge Partners here in town; they’re always reaching out. Social Leverage. You know, we’ve got some of the best investors around—very active, and they’re happy to help.

David Davis: Don’t be shy about it. Just get out there and give it a shot if you’ve got something to go on. Thank you so much for being on. We’ll put your companies on our website as well, so people can get more information and go from there. Thank you very much.

The Downtown San Diego Startup Tech Scene

By Start Up San Diego,, Videos No Comments

Here’s a video I’m a part of that talks about what’s going on in the downtown San Diego tech and innovation scene. Happy to be a contributor to helping grow San Diego’s economy.



Craig Sewing: We’re gonna be bringing on a guest here, Steven Cox with TakeLessons, CEO. Tell us about him.

Seth O’Byrne: Well, you know, when you ask the question what is going on downtown, I say “Steven Cox is happening downtown, and TakeLessons is really shaping downtown. As you know, I’m a cheerleader of all entrepreneurs in San Diego. I think the future of our city lies in the hands of the entrepreneurs, and TakeLessons is a company you would normally see in Silicon Valley or downtown San Francisco, so it’s a real asset to have them in San Diego. I think when we talk about what is happening downtown, we always have to frame that conversation in what’s going on in employment, entrepreneurship, and new business, so I think it would be great to have him on and to talk about what is going on downtown.

Craig: Let’s take a look here at TakeLessons with CEO Steven Cox.

[Video Production]

Seth: When I say tech start-up, what’s the first city you think of? Odds are, it’s not San Diego, so that’s why when Steven Cox founded TakeLessons in 2007 in the heart of downtown San Diego, it took everybody by surprise.

TakeLessons is a tech company that puts students together with teachers. You can learn things from film acting to singing, from guitar lessons to Spanish, and it’s all on the same exact website. What’s great for students is they know if they go through TakeLessons, the teachers have been vetted and are fully-qualified. For teachers, they know if they sign up with TakeLessons, they always have business waiting for them.

Over the last seven years, they’ve built so much interest over what they’ve been doing, they raised over $20 million in venture capital. All of those dollars come to San Diego, and specifically, downtown. That trickles down through the local real estate market, and in fact, it impacts the entire Southern California economy. This means real estate sells faster and values climb. So, as the characteristics of the San Diego economy change, TakeLessons is at the heart of that, and what they’re doing is making San Diego home for tech. So, while most people are hoping San Diego has a bright future, Take Lessons is actually making it a reality.

[Back to Show]

Craig: Love it. Steven Cox, welcome to the show!

Steven: Thanks for having me. I really appreciate it.

Craig: Very big name downtown. Great reputation. Seth’s been talking about you for a long time, but everybody does really. Let’s talk about TakeLessons, and I’d love to get your opinion on what you’re seeing with the activity, businesses, and job growth. So, tell us about TakeLessons.

Steven: We’ll frame it around the downtown area, which is where we’re located. We started TakeLessons in a spare bedroom on the corner of 5th and K downtown in the trellis building that I believe Seth actually sold me the unit many many years ago. So, he sold me my first property and then I bought that from him. So, I had this idea of how we could democratize earnings and allow people to make a living doing what they love to do. We started the business right there on 5th and K, then kind of got our first office on 6th, then moved to Broadway, then to 4th, then the Diamond View, and kept moving offices as we continued to grow. Right now, we’re in the building on 225 Broadway downtown. We have about 55 employees. Growing like a little weed and being really excited about being part of the downtown community there. In fact, I think the San Diego Business Journal just listed the top 20 business companies downtown in respect to the number of employees down there, and what was amazing was five out of the top fifteen are involved in digital and tech right now. It’s certainly something that if you take a look at what’s happened over the last five years, the explosion of what we call the innovation economy has certainly taken over downtown, and to where we have continued to grow, not just our business but businesses around. I look around and even just right there within our area, I can throw a stone and hit fifteen to twenty different tech start-ups right around there, which is super, super cool to see.

Craig: Innovation economy. It really is interesting now. You have twenty-one-year-olds that are better on Excel, PowerPoint, internet, and social media. It’s like they’re born with a mouse in their hand. That’s the gist of what you guys are doing. Exactly what do you do with TakeLessons.

Steven: If you take a look around, it’s very to find an instructor for whatever that you might do. If you’re a parent looking for your child for tutoring lessons, or you want to learn Spanish or take crochet. I went horseback riding and took horseback riding lessons last weekend. You can find all of these instructors on TakeLessons. You can take lessons in person, such as horseback riding, or you can take lessons online if it’s something better suited for you. As far as the company, we have instructors that are located in over 4,000 cities all across the U.S. Tens of thousands of people are now able to make a better living doing what they love to do on the TakeLessons platform.

Craig: Can you teach an old dog new tricks? Because I have a client for you named Mr. Buster.

Steven: We actually have some dog trainers, if you’re into that. Our oldest student right now is an 85-year-old gentleman. He joined, and he’s learning drums in La Costa actually, and that’s pretty phenomenal.

Craig: So, what do you see as the future of TakeLessons, the downtown economy, and the innovative economy for our market?

Steven: Again, with TakeLessons, we’ve raised about $20 million in venture capital funding. We’re certainly looking to continue our growth spurt forward, expanding out into more cities, opening up more categories, hiring more people, which that obviously helps the overall San Diego economy as well. With respect to what we’re seeing in technology, especially downtown, it’s super cool: there will be 1,500 to 2,000 tech jobs created here in San Diego. The average tech job pays about $103,000. So, when you take a look at how technology and innovation fuels the economy, it’s really interesting to see how that’s growing, specifically in downtown. The San Diego Downtown Partnership recently completed a study in which every tech job that was moved downtown created an additional 1.6 jobs, whether it be restaurants or hotels or these sorts of jobs. So, we’re spurring the overall economy; it’s really super exciting to see. San Diego as a city, we’re really proud of it: it’s number one for telecommunications, it’s the largest in respect to bioinformatics and biotechnology, the second largest clean-tech city in the world. A lot of people don’t realize how big of a hub San Diego is becoming for innovation. What we like to say is that there are the first two big legs of the San Diego economy. The first one being military, the second one then being tourism, and there’s a third one coming. It is here. It’s the innovation economy, and it’s producing a lot of jobs and a lot of folks buying houses.

Craig: It’s really good that we’re growing. In the past, I’ve actually kind of joked a bit about how Governor Rick Perry of Texas is actually running commercials on the radio actually trying to pull jobs from San Diego and that he actually just pulled Toyota and several thousand jobs. It’s good to know we’re being innovative and that we’re growing in the downtown marketplace. There’s certainly a lot big reports we talk about on this show and the radio show, but nothing is more important than getting a real pulse of the market from the people that are in the market. Seth O’Byrne is a top producing realtor in the downtown marketplace, if you’re looking to buy or sell. He’s the guy. Of course, Steven Cox is an entrepreneur growing TakeLessons. I love that people can visit you online; what’s the best website for you?


Craig: Easy enough. Buster and I will be reaching out soon. Thanks for coming in.

A Goal Template for the Month: How to Get More Things Done

By Entrepreneur Insights, Goals, Motivational, Personal Development, Uncategorized No Comments

Last week, one of my employees stopped by my desk and asked me if I had any recommendations on how she could better accomplish her goals during the upcoming month. She had been struggling figuring out what to work on and then taking action on the right things.

Since it was the beginning of the month, I wrote out a simple goal template for her to follow that would (a) get her working on the right things and (b) give her a higher probability of getting her goals accomplished. Below, I’ve shared it with you.

Goal Template

Check out the goal template on Google Docs that will allow you to follow along. NOTE: After pulling it up, go to File > Download As > Microsoft Word. This will allow you to save it to your computer where you can edit it to your heart’s content and use it month after month.

5 Categories: The 5 “F’s”

First, divide your life into five categories:

  • Friends and Family
  • Finance and Work
  • Fun
  • Fitness
  • Faith

Notice how all of them start with “F”? That’s a little trick to help you remember the different life areas. I learned from Phil Richards, Founder of DreamFunda, a site designed to help athletes crowdsouce funds so they can follow their dreams.

Career, Family, Personal Goals

Pick Meaningful Personal and Professional Goals

Second, pick one thing in each category that, if you accomplished it well, would make the most significant and positive impact on your life. Don’t pick two – just one. The goal should be something you really want – something that moves the needle and stretches you.  Each one of these should be specific, measurable, and you should have the ability to accomplish it within 30 days.

As an example, for my Fitness category, I want to lose weight. But instead of listing my goal as “I want to lose weight”, my goal is listed as, “By August 31, I weigh 186 lbs., which is a 5 lb. drop.”  The key is that I’ve written this goal “as if” I’ve already accomplished it. Instead of saying, “I want to”, I state that I already am that which I want. This is a big key to start training your mind to act as if you’re already there. It’s subtle, but important.

Also, the best goals are very specific and measurable. Notice how I gave a specific amount that I wanted to weigh, and by what date. The goal is measurable, meaning I’ll know on August 31 whether I accomplished this goal or whether I didn’t.

Image via

Image via

Feel the Future

Third, after you’ve picked a goal in each category that really moves you, write down how you’ll feel at the end of the month when you accomplish it. Close your eyes and envision what it will feel like. Really put yourself there! Here’s an example: “I weigh 185 and I feel incredible! I have more energy, people are noticing, and my favorite jeans fit me again!”

Post It Up

Fourth, print multiple copies of the sheet. Put one on your fridge, one in the car, one in your briefcase or purse, one on the bathroom mirror. Give yourself the luxury of reminding yourself daily what you’ve set out to do and how you’re going to feel afterwards.

Goals and Accountability

After you type out your goals, post them where you constantly see them.


Track Your Goal Progress

Fifth, each week, keep track of where you are vs. where you need to be in order to accomplish the goal. I do mine on Sundays, but you can do it another day that best suits you. For instance, since I know my goal is to lose 5 lbs. this month, I need to be at about 1.5 lbs. lost per week. This habit of keeping tabs on yourself help you see where you are during the month relative to where you should be. Then you know when to turn on the gas in case you fall behind.


Finally, at the end of the month, celebrate! Give yourself high-fives and kudos for first, setting goals and, second, accomplishing them. After you’re done partying, go back and do the process over for the next month.

Follow these steps and you’ll find yourself further along than you can imagine.


AirBnB’s “Overnight” Success?

By Business Philosophy, Entrepreneur Insights, Start-Ups, Web and Tech No Comments

In the Internet space, it’s so easy to get caught up in the big success story that comes piped in from Pando or TechCrunch that shows how a company went from zero to hero in an obscenely short amount of time. While it’s true that, on occasion, the ‘up and to the right’ explosive growth happens for some companies, it’s not the norm and most companies – even the success stories – struggle to find a model and fit that their customers will pay for.

Case in point, AirBnB, the house renting site for regular people. I’ve heard so many times about how they ‘came from nowhere overnight’ to take on the likes of Hilton and Hyatt. I’ve heard them being used as the prime example of why we’re in another 1999-2000 Internet bubble. But the truth of the matter is that their road to building a billion dollar company (or $10B in their case) was fraught with struggles, mistakes, starts and stops, frustrations, and a few wins sprinkled between the failures.

Here’s an infographic, courtesy of Funders and Founders (they do great work!) on the 7 year, overnight success (haha) of AirBnB:

AirBnB's Path to Success

The Entrepreneur Lesson

One thing Joe and Brian continued to do well is iterate and believe. The takeaway lesson for entrepreneurs is that there is a good chance that the original idea being worked on will need to be modified as you get more information from the customer and as you see how the world changes around you. Stay nimble, don’t believe your own hype, continue to iterate, stay true to your values, but question everything else.

Sometimes, the race is won by those who decide to just keep running.