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Start Up San Diego - Steven Cox | San Diego, CA

My Interview on the Brian Britt Show: Part 2 of 2

By At Work, Speaking, Start-Ups, No Comments

I had the opportunity to go on the Brian Britt Show and talk about music and the TakeLessons story. Check it out below:

Listen to the podcast.

The transcription is below if you'd rather read.


Brian Britt: Fantastic. So really what you're saying is you took your ability as a techie and obviously you were involved in a lot of start up companies. you took that ability and you married it together with a need for all these people who probably weren't very techie to be able to come together and find eachother, almost like a for teachers. And I met my wife on, and we have so many friends and even family members who have met their spouses on so, that's a perfect example of people who may have never found eachother who can come into the relationship knowing something about each other, in this case the student or the parent, who's going to be very protective of who they allow to come in their home, they can know a lot about this music instructor and know that you guys stake your reputation on making sure that this person had the proper background check done. I love it. So let's go back to the story, because this is such a fascinating story to me, So you had this epiphany, how did you go from, cuz we all have these kind of great ideas in the shower or the margarita bar, how did you go from that idea to putting it into motion. What were your action steps as the successful CEO you are today. What was your first thing you did to go from, wow, wouldn't that be cool to go to hey, I'm doing it! What did you do?

Steven Cox: I think if I take a look back, our first step, well the biggest thing was, we were driven by this idea. We thought it was a solid idea. We approached it from the viewpoint of hey, this looks like a very good experiment, let's try it out. And one thing that I tell startups when I have the opportunity to talk with them is that for the first couple years, really what you're looking for is proof of concept. Can you develop something that people will pay for, that people enjoy, creates a difference and has some kind of competitive advantage. So we worked on the idea and started fleshing it out. I had personally put my own money in on it to start with and recruited an incredible group of four or five people around me, and they're all still with me today. What was cool about this, and this is the way of life of a start up specifically in technology which we were based and how we were doing this; for instance, my VP of technology Chuck Smith, he went without pay for a year and a half and literally built the system. And so what's great about that is he came in and we found people who were really passionate about the idea of bringing services to the web as well as helping artists make a living doing what they love to do.

We started building it and I'd love to say Brian from day one everything went perfect, we had no issues…

BB: We would know then that you were not telling the truth! You have to make the mistakes!

SC: But the truth of the matter is that we started working out of a local Starbucks, three or four guys, we started understanding a little bit about the value that we provide to the marketplace went through three or four different iterations of what we do as far as the value that we provide and after about a year into it, we started understanding, after listening to the consumer, getting it wrong, listening to the consumer getting it wrong again, listening to the consumer, the value that we provide and honestly, one of our core values inside the company, is called perseverance. Basically, that means certainty in the face of fear and that's really the key to our success is that we just kept going.


My Interview on the Brian Britt Show: Part 1 of 2

By At Work, Start Up San Diego, Start-Ups, No Comments

I had the opportunity to go on the Brian Britt Show and talk about music and the TakeLessons story. Check it out below:

Listen to the podcast.

The transcription is below if you'd rather read.


Brian Britt: I'm here today with Steven Cox, he is the founder and CEO of America's largest music lesson company, TakeLessons, the website is, which is an online service that matches music teachers with students in over 3,000 cities across America. I just think this is one of the neatest ideas I've ever heard! I noticed that your mission is to make a positive lasting impact on millions of people through music. How did you come up with the idea of TakeLessons?

Steven Cox: Sure, so we very specifically picked those particular words, if you look at our mission to make a positive, lasting impact. So, first of all, positive. When we first started off, it's something that I personally believe in as well, if you're going to make some kind of impact, let's make it as positive as you can on as many people as possible. I think that some folks are built to make a good impact on 5 people, on 50 people, but we personally believe we have the option to make that sort of impact on millions and millions of people all throughout the nation. I come from a very musically oriented family. My grandparents cut records, my parents cut records, all my brothers are still session players and they play, they're very very musically oriented.

BB: You had no choice did you!

SC: I'm actually the least musically oriented out of the entire group, to be honest with you. I kinda got the half music gene and the half business gene.

BB: Which means you can actually afford to buy instruments.

SC: Yeah, so what's really cool about it is I played in bands all my life and djed to pay my way through college in clubs and those sorts of thing and just been absolutely involved in music since I was probably four or five years old.

BB: Did I see a pic of you playing guitar on the website?

SC: Probably, yeah, guitar and bass and a little bit of keyboard and all of those things. In between I had done internet startups. That's my true, real business and I had been doing that for about 15 years. After the second one I had done I had taken a little bit of time off and was able to do something I was passionate about as well as internet companies, and while I was doing that, all along this time I had been in bands. I remember this very specific band I was in, we were a two piece band at the time. It was me and my buddy Enrique and we were here in San Diego and he was really, really awesome at music, he had a masters degree in music performance, incredible musician as well as an awesome, awesome person, and here I was, I was kind of okay, pretty good, but not quite as good as him. And after a gig in Encinitas we went to drink margaritas which is what we did after gigs and he said hey, I have to quit the band. And I'm thinking, you're the only one who's any good!

If you quit the band, this is really bad for me! So I got to talking with him and he had just got married. He and his wife were trying to buy a house in Encinitas, which on a musician's salary.. well, on anyone's salary quite honestly is tough to do. He goes, "I just found out I have a little baby on the way and I can't make a living as a musician, so I'm going to go take a job at Chili's as a busboy to pay my bills." And here I am thinking, here's this incredible person who has a passion, 6 years of experience in school trying to make a living doing this and that's horrible!

BB: Kind of an epiphany for you. You saw the lightbulb, like this is not right.

SC: That's exactly the case. I was doing it more for fun, he was doing it for a carreer. I said are you trying teaching? He said, I've got my poster it's hanging up at the local drug store and nobody's calling me. I said, why don't you use the internet for that? He said I don't know how. I said, well, I've done a couple start ups, that's kind of my gig, so why don't I help you. And the more we got into it and this was 2006 at the time, it happens to be a three billion dollar industry completely ignored by technology per say.

BB: So music lessons is a 3 billion dollar industry? I would have never guessed that in a million years and I'm a money guy. I would have been way off on that.

SC: It's giant, there are so many of these, they call them niche markets, that happen to be multi-billion dollar industries. We took a look at this and in essence there was a theorum that we had that I had along the way that we had seen product move to the web in a big way. We had seen Amazon, Zappos was selling shoes; people said no one's gonna buy shoes on line but here it is. And so we had a general thesis that at some point in the future services were going to move to the web in a big way, similar to the way product had moved to the web and we thought, wow what a great idea to test. First of all, it helps Enrique stay out of Chili's and make a living doing what he loves to do

BB: He could actually afford to go eat at Chili's instead of having to be a busboy!

SC: You got it. And the second thing was, that it's very very difficult to try to find a great instructor. And when I was doing some research I had a good friend who had a nine year old daughter and she was a single mom and I said, hey, how would you go about finding an instructor? And she said, well, I guess I would just ask my mom groups, that's about all I could do.

BB: Or maybe from the schools or what have you?

SC: You got it. And i said you could do that online, you could go to maybe, perhaps Craigslist. And she looked at me like my head had popped off. She's like, are you crazy? There's no way I'm going to go to Craigslist and find some long haired dude with tattoos to invite him in to my house to spend time with my kids.

BB: Wow, isn't that true. So there's a safety issue here in people's minds.

SC: Exactly. She goes you know, it's very very creepy.

BB: Because any serial murderer could advertise on Craigslist and say hey, I'm a music teacher!

SC: It's not just with music teachers, it's with all services in general, it's a very… not to knock Craigslist, they don't control necessarily the content, but there's a lot of shady things that happen.

BB: It's just like a community bulletin board online, no background checking, no nothing.

SC: Exactly. So that's really the problem that we look to solve. Number one is how you make it drop dead easy to find a safe certified instructor that is background checked that has references, and that's what we do with all our instructors. The second thing is, how do you help artists make a living doing what they love to do and keep them out of Chili's. The whole premise of the idea was that we want to empower people to make a living doing what they love to do and music has personally affected my life, it's affected your life, it's probably affected the lives of nine out of ten of your listeners in a positive way. That's something that we wanted to do, kind of as a life mission, is to make that positive lasting impact on people.

Steven Cox Interview on The Big Biz TV Show – Transcript

By At Work, Speaking, Start-Ups One Comment

Click here to watch the video

Our next guest is named Steven Cox. This is interesting because when you were gone.


Darren Hardy, the publisher of Success Magazine, who was a fantastic co-host by the way, that was good.

All good.

And he said to me, now look, I've got this guy, this entrepreneur guy that lives in San Diego and I came home that night and flipped on the T.V. and the guy was on channel 6 and here he is with Steven Cox. Steven, how are you brother?

Great, how are you guys doing?

Great to talk to you.

Yeah, awesome.

So you were a serial entrepreneur they say. Right?

That's all I know, start-ups.

Boy in this economy, I talk, I talk about the fact that in this economy, because of the jobless rate, people had to reinvent themselves either by starting new businesses or or by reeducating themselves more than any other time in history. So what a better time if you're gonna reinvent yourself, if you want a business to kind of maybe think outside the box a little bit.

Yeah absolutely. That's what we're seeing. You know a lot of people, when they first start and we interview a ton of people in our company and they go, "Oh, well we're just not sure. Is it risky to join a start-up or start our own venture?" But if you take a look around today, everything's going to hell, right?


It's all of the big Oh, yeah.

Companies are sitting here, and it like, "Oh geez, we can't, we have to lay off people here, and lay off people there," and-


I think the best protection you can have is developing your own self.


And starting your own business or getting involved in a start-up, it's just as safe as a large company.

Tell us about, well.

And they got more power.

Well, I see this all the time. You look at the stocks for National University, you look at the stocks for University of Phoenix. Those stocks are going through the roof because people are reinventing themselves.


But then, the numbers also show that there's been more entrepreneurial activity right now than there ever has been in history. And I believe that's because people have to. Tell us about what you guys do over there.

So, what we do is, the name of our company is Take Lessons.

Take Lessons.

Yeah, so we've created a marketplace. Basically, there's a three billion dollar industry out there, and in essence you have a ton of musicians out there, and I don't know if you've heard, but sometimes artists are not necessarily the best at business.

Sure. Yeah.

Yeah. So, what we've done is we've developed out a marketplace where our artists can make a living doing something that they love to do.

That's unbelievable.

Yeah, so instead of having to collect money and try to market themselves online, which a lot of folks don't understand how to do. We do all of that for them and in essence they can come to our side, if they qualify as one of our certified instructors, and now we have instructors in about 3,000 cities all across the U.S.


They can make money doing what they love to do instead of working at Chili's or working retail or something like that.

Or both.

It's just awesome.

Yeah, or both. Yeah, that's where the whole idea came from, it's to keep my drummer, keep my drummer out of Chili's.

So, so it's keep my drummer

Out of Chili's dot com was taken, so you couldn't have that one.

It's like a political statement. Keep my drummer out of Chili's.

Keep the saxophone player out of a bar.

You know what they call a roomful of drummers?

What? Prison. Oh no!

Thank you.

So this is interesting concept because what you have done, and I'm not comparing you because what you have is so unique, but it's almost like Craigslist meets Angie's List for the local music guy, right?

Yeah, if we really look at it, we take a look at it and say Craigslist was what we call services 1.0 all the way.


And we have a general theory that there's coming a services 2.0 on the web. And what you have, Google has created this opportunity where you can find literally anything you want.


Millions of results all over the place. The issue with that is that there's now millions of results to search for.


So what we believe is that there will be big, big brands that get established that basically do for services, what Amazon has done for product. And basically says, here is the safest

Oh, sure. Because remember Amazon was books when it first started.

Exactly. Yeah, yeah.

Let me ask you this. Couldn't you, couldn't you move this into other ancillary services and I'm not talking about like handyman services like Angie's List, but I mean there's so many under services. Well, one thing you don't talk about is music teachers.


Until you try to find one.


Yeah. 3 billion dollar industry. 54% of all households across America do it. Yet it is very, very typical to find someone.


How do you know what to look for?

I'd be like, it would be It would be the same, it would be in the same category, it would be in the same category as the pet business. You know, the humanization of the pet business is turning into 14 billion-dollar industry.


And it's under services so you can't. I mean, in New York City, you can find somebody to walk your dog.

In San Diego, California, if you're going on vacation for a week?

Try it. No way.

You can't do it, so there's a tough- Steven Cox On part of our entrepreneurial series on the Big Biz show, we kind of show you other businesses out there you may not have thought of. And it's, I love entrepreneurial activity. I love it, especially when a guy comes up with something. When we come back from the break, we're going to hear about how we actually came up with the idea, which I think you'll find is an interesting story.

Steven Cox, Take Lessons,

I think I want to be a music teacher now.

You have to learn how to play, Russ.

Well, you know you got to start somewhere, Mark.

Russ "T" Nailz, Sully, Big Biz show, CBS, ABC, Armed Forces, Biz Television, our website Follow me on Twitter or @bigbizzradio. Don't go anywhere. Alright, back to our guest.


His name is Steven Cox. He is the founder and CEO of

Great idea.

And if you're just joining us, it is a clearing house of music teachers.

A lot of times when you hook up with a music teacher, or not hook up, but, you know.

Who knows?

But if I had a nickel.

I want to learn how to play the flute!

Alright. Come on over.

No, but you hook up with the wrong type of personality because everyone learns at a different, some guys, yadda yadda yadda.

Hey, what were the metrics involved when you put that together, when you decided who you were going to take, who you're not going to take and that type of thing.

Well, we've been in business for about fi
ve years, and so it really took us a couple of years to really decipher down what makes a great music instructor. And for most of our people, most of our customers, they're beginner.


What they have is, they have a general fear, it's like are people going to make fun of me? Do I suck?

Yea, yes, yes and yes. Let's get past that.

And so, the whole idea is, there are a ton of great musicians out there.


And they all play, and they, you know, all passing about it.

It's unbelievable.


But what we really look for is not only, can they play, but can they make that beginning student, which is most of our customers, feel awesome about music?

Sure. Right.

You know because so many people, they try and if they don't get that positive reinforcement back with social approval.

Oh yeah.

They're out, they're done.


Cause some old music teachers are like "NAH!". Oh, man. Sorry. Scary.

Yeah, exactly. Risked a knuckle or duster to get rid of those guys.

Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah.

So, let me ask you this. So how did you start?

This came out of necessity, out of a fellow musician that needed some help, so you did that to bring me to the next step

Sure. So I had done start-ups, and I was kind of taking a little time off. We had finished a start-up and I was down here in San Diego, playing in a band. My whole family is very musical, and I'm kind of the least musically-oriented out of them. So I was a lead singer in a rock band, and my drummer, he was an incredible, incredible musician.

He had a Master's degree in music performance.

Wow. Wow.

I'd just tried to buy a house in Encinitas which is basically impossible on a musician's budget, just found out that his wife was pregnant with her first kid.

And reality hit him, like right between the eyes.

Yeah, he was like, "Dude, I gotta quit the band." I'm like, "Wait a I was like, "You can't quit the band, if it means I'm not gonna get dates, if you quit the band."

Yeah. Yeah, right!

Because you're the only one good in the band.

Yeah. Oh!

Yeah, and so I started talking to him, and I was like, "Yeah, well, I'm not making a living doing this, I'm gonna have to take a job at Chili's."

Yeah, right.

And I said, "Uh-oh, well we can't have this." So I said, "Are you recording? Are you, you know, what's going on?" And he said, "Well, I'm trying all that stuff," and I said, "Are you teaching?" He said "Dad, I've got my poster hanging up at the C VS drug store."


"I can't find enough students." And me, I come from an internet background. I said "Well why don't you just use the internet?"

Oh yeah! Bing! Who? Where?

He's like, "I don't know how to do any of that stuff."


I said, "Well, okay, well I'll help you do that."


And we really started designing the whole methodology for how do you go about finding a really awesome instructor down on a hyper-local level. The localized level to the ZIP code.

Yeah, yeah.

And that's where.

Oh, right. So if you live in New York City versus one of the boroughs, you can find somebody in New York City. Or if you Opelika, Alabama, you can find somebody in Opelika, Alabama.


Or in San Diego, if you know, the.

Yeah, a lot of times.

In walking distance, sometimes.

Yeah, like in San Diego, we try to find someone within about four miles.

I've got two teenage girls that took lessons. I come from a music background. And one of our biggest things was safety for those kids.


How did you guys tackle that part?

We have a seven-step hiring process that we walk every single instructor through.


Last month, we had about 1100 instructors apply to work with us.


We ended up recruiting about 8o of those. So, we're very, very specific. Not only do they have to have the right.

Well Russ, looks like you better stay on the air for a while cause.

Yeah, well thanks for being our guest. We got to go now. Anyway. Try us again next year.

Yeah, well, whatever.

I 'm very, very peculiar about who we take in


And they have to pass not only all of the criteria

Oh good.

But we also do background checks, criminal background checks and big deal when your.

Oh wow


So, it's Craigslist type of a site.

It's Craigslist 2.0. It's the next version.

How did you get, so if you look at the website, ladies and gentlemen in, you didn't do this in your backyard. This took some money to do. Was this out of your own pocket? How did you guys get started?

When we first got started, I funded the company.

Family and friends? Credit card?

Yeah, so it's just basically off, you know, another venture we had done.


So I funded the company. And then we had some friends and family did a couple of rounds of Angel Investors, here with local tech investors. We had raised a total of about 1.7 million that round.


Last year, we signed a big deal with Best Buy and we are now teaching inside of Best Buy stores across the nation. You may not have even known that they have done that, but that is something they have started to do.

Wow. No.

And with that, we had the ability to expand the business.


And so we took our first round of institutional capital last year in May. It was a company called Crosslink Capital. They led the round. Did 6 million dollars. This the same guys who did Pandora.


And then backup investors did, you know, Facebook, Twitter.

Oh, wow. Yeah.

All the big heavy weights in the internet space settings.

So what's the next step for you? Do you go public with this thing? I mean, what's the path of liquidity for you. Do you sell it to a Craigslist type thing? I think what people think about these things, well that guys got a cool little business but the investors isn't getting involved and hanging on for the next 20 years.

Yeah, right and that's true, you know, they're always looking for, "What's the return?"

That's the exit strategy, yeah.

And for us, we have very, very patient investors.

Oh, good.

And so that will allow us to really build out where we are. We're very, very focused on music. That's where we want to be at this point.

Nice. Good stuff man.

Well good for you brother. I really appreciate it. And this is the type of things our listeners, our viewers need to hear is that, even in this economy you got a good idea. Good ideas and talent will get you a long way, right? Steven Cox, ladies and gentlemen. Take lessons, Thank you, man.

I hope you took lessons on that interview, everybody.


Go visit the website. Alright.

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Steven Cox Interview on Fox 5 News – Finding the Right San Diego StartUp Company to Work For

By At Work, Speaking, Start Up San Diego, Start-Ups,, Venture Capital, Videos No Comments Even with the unemployment rate in San Diego hovering around 10%, the city’s startup scene is bustling with activity and creating new jobs for San Diegans. CEO, Steven Cox, talks about the 10x100x100 event where 10 startup companies that have collectively raised over $100 million in venture capital and will be hiring 100 new employees next year.

A lot of technical and web people move to the San Francisco area to find work, but you’re saying there’s work right here and they don’t have to move?
• That’s Right!
• Cheaper to buy and rent housing here than in other hotbeds such as SV, NYC.
• A lot of startups are hiring

What’s it like working for a startup?
• Incredible! Faster pace. Quicker decisions. My startup:

For College Graduates:
o Instead of making coffee, make a difference.
o No cogs in the wheel
o Chance to work on things at a young age — (BEST BUY example)

For Senior people
o A chance to take your knowledge and build something you’re proud of.
o Make a positive, lasting impact.
o Grow leaders underneath you.
o Potential stock upside

Everyday, I wake up thankful that I get to go to work.
o Focused on building the new sort of company.
• A company with a conscious.
• A company that makes more than money, it makes a positive difference.
o Awesome people all focused on building a great company.
o Super laid-back dress code.
o No politics.

A lot of young Internet companies didn’t make it in the dotcom crash. What should a job prospect consider when looking at startups?

Not all startups are created equal.
• Management — is there adult supervision? People who have built and ran companies before.
• Culture — Do they have a strong sense of purpose, yet flexible enough to change on a dime.
• Funding — are they well-funded.
• Product or Service — is it something that truly adds value to people’s lives?

What type of jobs do startups hire for and what tips do you have on landing a job there?
• Big focus on Software engineering, product management and developmet, IT
• Marketing, Sales, Customer Support, Finance, HR

Tell us a little bit about the 10 x 100 x 100 event.
• 6pm Dec 1 at Sweet Labs (
Joe KrausGoogle Ventures focused on mobile, gaming, local services
Michael Robertson — SD Local tech hero.
• Focused on engineering and product talent

More information can be found at these sites:
http://10x100x100 and

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