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business - Steven Cox | San Diego, CA

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.

Creating Corporate Culture – John Assaraf Interview – Part IV

By Business Philosophy, Company Culture, Entrepreneur Insights, Speaking, Videos No Comments


Part 4 in the video series. Subscribe for email alerts when more videos are posted.

More from this series:

Creating Corporate Culture – Part 1

Creating Corporate Culture – Part 2

Creating Corporate Culture – Part 3

John Assaraf sat down with Steven Cox, CEO of, to discuss what it means to create and maintain a thriving corporate culture. In this interview, Cox defines corporate culture, outlines steps entrepreneurs can take to define their company’s culture and shows how a strong culture can translate into other great gains for any organization.

Assaraf: As Steven was talking, I was thinking of Barbra Streisand’s song, “People who need people are the luckiest people in the world.”

Cox: John’s been taking voice lessons with us.

A: No I  have not! I’m just trying to make you laugh a little bit. So let me ask you all a question so we can get a little feedback loop going. Do you all agree that it’s all about people, it’s all about making a difference? Making a profit is good, but the number one focus is creating a culture and company with people who love and value what you value as well.
Kristen, what’s some feedback from our group here?

Kristen: They’re all agreeing with what you said. Business should be more about the people. We don’t have any questions as of yet. I assume we’ll get some.
Great, let’s keep going.

C: Sometimes I’m asked, this seems like a lot of soft, feel-good stuff, how do you balance the necessity to produce profit with focusing on people and producing a culture that people want to be a part of. I’m a finance guy by trade and that’s what I studied in school so I want to give you some data, not from me, it’s actually from people a lot smarter than me, that backs up what we’re talking about and what we’re saying here.

Two professors from a little university called Harvard, which you’ve probably heard of, have completed an 11 year study on the effects of how people are using culture within public companies. These aren’t private companies; you can actually get results and know what the financials and what the revenue growth of these corporations are. They divided companies into a weak culture group, where the value of culture has not been emphasized whatsoever, it’s kind of just roughshod, do whatever you want. Then there’s a strong culture, and there’s four main divisions along the way. So they took a look at the bottom percentage with a weak culture and then they looked at companies with a strong emphasis on culture. They were completely blown away by the differences between those types of corporations. The companies with a strong emphasis on culture had expanded their workforce by fivefold of the people with weak culture. More important, or just as important, the revenue growth was exponential and the stock price was 900%. It’s unbelievable. And yes, there are other factors probably associated with this, but this is a data point that without a doubt makes a huge, huge difference.

The bottom line is that if you can get the alignment of your people with your mission and your vision and your values, you create a force, a force that’s unstoppable because you’re all marching in the same direction. Whether that is two people, four people, 400, 4,000, the rules are still consistent. Culture helps everyone get on the same page and march in the same direction.

Another study, there’s a group called Dennison Consulting, they’re based out of Canada as well as in Switzerland, and they’ve also completed many many studies on this and they look at financial data. Companies that have focused more on their culture and developing out with clear indicators of what we stand for versus companies that have no indications of these, and this isn’t just something they hang on a wall and say “these are our corporate values”. Enron had those. This is something where they went in and studied and queried the employees and said, does this corporation live the value system that they say? For those that do, the return on assets is unbelievable compared to the bottom group. The sales growth, again, is unbelievable. These are absolute key factors in what drives a company. It’s undeniable. We’ve experienced that just in our own business as well.

More from this series:

Creating Corporate Culture – Praxis Now Interview Part 1

Creating Corporate Culture – Praxis Now Interview Part 2

Creating Corporate Culture – Praxis Now Interview Part 3

Creating Corporate Culture – John Assaraf Interview – Part 3

By Business Philosophy, Company Culture, Entrepreneur Insights, Speaking, Videos 2 Comments


Part III in the series: Subscribe for email updates when more videos are posted.

More from this series:

Creating Corporate Culture – Praxis Now Interview Part 1

Creating Corporate Culture – Praxis Now Interview Part 2

John Assaraf sat down with Steven Cox, CEO of, to discuss what it means to create and maintain a thriving corporate culture. In this interview, Cox defines corporate culture, outlines steps entrepreneurs can take to define their company’s culture and shows how a strong culture can translate into other great gains for any organization.

Cox: A lot of times what we hear is talk about, how do we go about designing culture? I want to walk you through it a little bit. This is an interesting concept that came over me about two or three months ago when I was looking at it. Today, a lot of culture has been created by actually caring about people. If you take a look at what’s happened in corporate America… Where I come from, we have about 300, 350 employees within the organization, about 100 here based in San Diego. Our big focus is on the people. That is the core of what we do. There is a fundamental change that I think is happening today in corporate America and I want to walk you through to how we got here.

Assaraf: Absolutely. Probably 75% of the people watching have a small business and the rest want to be entrepreneurs so this is critical stuff for you to know, because not knowing this is detrimental to your growth and to having people who are champions of your cause and your values. This is brilliant, brilliant stuff. Trust me on that one.

C: Back in the ‘80’s, we all are familiar with the movie Wall Street, and the line, “Greed is good”. That’s a certain type of culture, but basically what happened is no matter if you have a giant company or you are a five man or two man operation, the idea was just get as greedy as you can. We saw it happen in the stock market with irrational exuberance but what comes up must come down. Then everyone started feeding into the internet craze. Things were going nuts. People thought they could make money by doing nothing and raise funding like crazy. And you were in that phase as well.

A: But we have a real business!

C: And that’s the key. Folks focused not necessarily on building a real business. What they focused on was developing sock puppets, like What happened at that point, is people became emotionally bankrupt. Corporations, businesses in general became bankrupt. You had everything from MCI Worldcom to Enron that not only stole from investors, but they stole from their own people. These sorts of things left companies emotionally bankrupt and people got a really nasty taste of business; if you’re in “business”, you’re a bad dude. That was a horrible thing that happened. Tack along with that the perils of 9/11 and now you have corporations that starting waking up, saying wait a second, this is not the type of company that we want to run. And  you had folks who were 16, 18, 20, 25 years old then, who looked at this and said, I don’t want to run a company like that. I want to build a company that’s focused on people, that’s focused on making a difference, that is focused on making a lot of money as well as making a difference. You can do both. At first this seemed antithetical, but the idea that corporations make a difference that’s focused on not just you making money, but it’s also, what can you contribute. Very simply, even what you’re doing right here, right now. We were talking a little bit earlier, it’s not only do I want to run a business, but you want to contribute to people’s lives.

A: That’s one of my highest values.

C: We see that sea change happening. What will happen, and why it’s important for your business, as your business continues to grow, I believe over the next ten, fifteen years this new generation of people who are currently in high school and college, they’re going to get out of high school and college and they’re going to look for a great company to work for. The greed, the old way of doing business is going to go out of style. They are going to be looking for people who run companies that focus on people and that actually add value to people’s lives. That’s why it’s directly applicable to every single person in the audience today. Understand as you grow your business, the next generation of people coming up will be looking at you as leaders and saying, do I want to work for this person or not? Do I want to build a business with this person? Do they share the same values as me?

More from this series:

Creating Corporate Culture – Praxis Now Interview Part 1

Creating Corporate Culture – Praxis Now Interview Part 2

Steve Jobs: Magnificence and Mortality

By Goals, Leadership, Motivational, Quotes No Comments

Today, I woke up to the death of Steve Jobs.

At the age of 56, he did what most entrepreneurs dream of doing – changing the world for the better.

Even though I didn't know him, I could help but feel saddened and tearful. Part out of respect – and part out of feeling that I'm so far from realizing my own change in the world and making the impact that I want to.

He's was 16 years older than me.

16 years.

When I think about that, and let it sink in, my head spins with the idea that every day must be important – it must matter. I can't spend my time getting caught in the thickness of thin things. One day, my life will be done here on earth, and what will matter are the gifts I've left behind, and the positive, lasting impact I've made on the world.

"Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life,"

"Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure — these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important."

"Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart."

– Steve Jobs, 2005

Today, I woke up to the death of Steve Jobs.

Today, I woke up with a deeper realization of my own mortality.

Screen shot 2011-10-06 at 5.50.06 AM

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Current Obstacles Will Pass. Focus on the Big Picture.

By At Work, Entrepreneur Insights, Leadership, Motivational, Start-Ups One Comment

I was checking my email this morning and a new start-up founder asked me the following:

"P.s.  how did you stay focused and motivated with so many obstacles and uncertainties when you were first starting takelessons?"

Great question and something all entrepreneurs will face. Here's my answer:


Thanks for the note.

The obstacles are like the first down marker on a football field. You have to get to them and run past them in order to stay in the game. But the first down marker – and the challenge necessary to get there – is only temporary. What counts is the end zone – the big WHY behind what you're trying to accomplish.

Never lose sight of the end zone. It is much further away than today's challenges and more fulfilling than any smaller obstacle that is present now.

The uncertainties are as much a part of the business as rhythm is part of any good song. Learn to get very comfortable with it and thrive on it. The perils are half of what makes the game fun.

That's the way I look at it. I know I'm in for a long hike, so I put out of my mind any sort of short-term gratification. It seems to help keep me on the right path.

Just my two cents worth…




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Business Rules of Richard Branson

By At Work, Entrepreneur Insights No Comments


Virgin founder Sir Richard Branson during the ...I

I'm a big fan of Richard Branson. Half because he's a brilliant mind. Half because he's always held up a big fat middle finger to the status quo.

He does things his own way, takes calculated risks, sometimes loses, sometimes wins, but always learns.

That's a recipe for long-term growth… and i dig it.

I just finished a couple books he has written and here are my takeaways I've called "Richard's Rules of Business". These aren't officially his rules, just ideas and concepts that I've internalized.

  1. Break the Rules. Start from the attitude of "Yes I can – OF COURSE I CAN" – Unstoppable self-confidence.
  2. Have fun. Fun should be a prime business criteria. Fun is at the core of how he likes to do business.
  3. It is only by being bold that you get anywhere.
  4. If you are a risk taker, then the art of a good risk is to protect your downside while not limiting your upside.
  5. The bgest way to cope with a cash crisis is not to contract, but to expand your way out of it.
  6. Make up your mind on whether you can trust someone in the first 60 seconds. Then, go with your gut.
  7. As Oscar Wilde said, "The only thinkg worse than being talked about is NOT being talked about."
  8. Separate your companies. This way ione fails, it will not threaten the rest of them. You will most certainly have disasters, so your job is to contain them.
  9. Numbers can be manipulated to prove anything. Don't just go by the numbers – go with gut instinct when looking at business.
  10. "My interest in life is giving myself huge, apparently unachievable challenges and trying to rise above them."
  11. When starting a business, survival is the key. Expenses are the wolves. Protect your young with cash.
  12. Always be reinventing yourself. The world moves and you have to stay ahead.


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Interview with the Northwest Young Entrepreneurs Association

By At Work, Entrepreneur Insights, Speaking, Start-Ups One Comment

I had the opportunity to be interviewed by Nick Hampshire with the Northwest Young Entrepreneurs Association about building companies and what I've learned as we continue to grow TakeLessons.

Here is the Q&A:

Audio MP3 download of Steven Cox interview is located here:

 Nick Hampshire: What is your philosophy on life and business?

I live my life in a way that makes a positive lasting difference on people and my environment. I support my friends and family with my time and finances. I live with the full expectation of succeeding and excelling in all I do. I understand that the value of life is not in what I own, but who I love, and what I experience. I make my life count by being a man of integrity that accomplishes greatness by reaching out to help others, being passionate about what I do, and fully developing my mind.  I don't have the right to be ordinary. Therefore, I lead, I lift the human spirit, and I will create a legacy and an empire: an empire of both inner and outer wealth, and a legacy of love.

How did you get your start in entrepreneurship?

  • College: Apartment locator service, bought seven houses on land contract/options, tried to buy a pizza business
  • After school: Fisher scientific, but tried to open a gym
  • Left my job to work for a startup ecommerce company

Do you remember your first "big" deal as a young entrepreneur and do you mind sharing a little about it (details, thoughts, feelings)?

  • College – thought I could do everything. It wasn’t until things went bad that I started realizing that there was science and methodology behind operating a business. It’s harder than it looks.
  • First Startup– landed University of Nevada. Wasn’t even in our wheelhouse. Changed the business.

What made you decide to start your own business?

  • I grew up poor. Wasn’t happy washing dishes and working for other people.  I liked the creativity and struggle. I liked the uncertainty.

As you have started different businesses over the years, have the lessons you learned while starting each business changed? If so, how have they changed?

  • Balanced optimism: I now focus not just on the upside, but immediately how to mitigate risk.
  • Long term: entrepreneurship is not a quick fix to wealth. Some people get luck, but there is a very big chance that you or me will not be lucky. Thus, we have to understand there is a large price to pay, and we have to be willing to pay the price.  Else, just go get a job.

What do you see as the biggest challenges that entrepreneurs face?


  • Blind towards risk
  • Trying to do too many things for too many people– no focus
  • Not clearly identifying a problem


  • Arrogance
  • Understanding your own weaknesses
  • Stay up: “Certainty in the face of fear”

If you had to do it all over again, how would you start?

  1. Find a problem
  2. See if it’s a big enough problem that, if you can solve it, it will make a difference.
  3. Focus on solving that problem. Find people that will support it through money and/or time.
  4. Don’t think about the exit.

To all of the young entrepreneurs getting started in business now, what advice can you give?

  • Plan on a long journey. The ‘quick hit’ is the exception.
  • The 4-hour workweek? Complete horseshit.
  • Want to build something that lasts? Work ½ day. (12 hours!)
  • Because it’s a long journey, pick something where you’re passionate about solving a problem for others.

Have confidence in yourself and your ideas, but don’t believe your own hype.

  • Don’t let optimism overpower realism.
  • Admit when something isn’t working.
  • Measure everything.
  • Fail fast.

Build a team. Your job is to:

  • Share the vision
  • Hire smart
  • Build a culture where others can strive

Capital: Raise enough to allow you to make mistakes with respect to your plan, but not so much that it makes you cocky  which leads to laziness.

  • Your forecasts will be off.
  • Stuff you though would work, won’t.
  • Competitors will not sit idle.
  • Perfection is the enemy of good enough.

Know what your shooting for

  • Have written goals – Quarterly, monthly, weekly.
  • Hold each other accountable

I often get asked questions about "quick cash" techniques while someone is getting started with a venture; if you had to make $1,000 in one week with no list, minimal cash, and no contacts, what would be your strategy?

  • Honestly, I would say that you need to go get a job. Entrepreneurship is not a one-week thing.

What systems have you created or borrowed to manage & grow your companies?

  • I have a personal goals system that allows me to manage different areas of my life (spiritual, career, relationships, social) and see results year after year. I’ve applied that to business as well.
  • SEED – SELECT – AMPLIFY: Don’t ever put out perfection. Just get it out and iterate.
  • Culture matters – create a culture of owners where they focus on constant improvement.

How have you used Strategic Partnerships with other companies & individuals to grow your business?

  • Life is about people, and business is about providing value for those people.
  • When you cut deals, you have to focus on the value you can provide.
  • Deals take forever
  • Never count on them to go through.
  • After they go through, most of them won’t work out
  • So, don’t rely on them to make your business. Don’t ever be reliant.

If you could go back and do something differently, what would it be and why (business or life in general)?

I would’ve been less arrogant in my 20’s. Looking back, I now know to stay humble and learn from everyone I can.

What closing thoughts/suggestions/advice do you have for young entrepreneurs?

  • Some people are built for companies, some are built for entrepreneurship. Find your flow. There is no one answer, only a right answer for you.
  • Don’t worry about someone stealing your idea. It’s already been thought of and tried. Focus on building a team that can help you execute.
  • Your first two companies or your first 3-5 years will probably not be a big success. That’s ok. It’s part of the journey. Breathe and be ok with it.