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start ups - Steven Cox | San Diego, CA

Creating Corporate Culture – John Assaraf Interview – Part 2

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

 

Part II in the video series:

More from this series: Creating Corporate Culture – Praxis Now Interview Part 1

John Assaraf sat down with Steven Cox, CEO of TakeLessons.com, 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: So let me ask you a question. When you talk about values that “I” have or values that “we” have, as the CEO of a one person company or five or ten, and I know you started off small, bootstrapping your business and I want to talk about that as well today, this is a great entrepreneur to listen to, when you talk about your values, you’re really not talking about what you think your client’s values are or what kind of values you should have in order to appeal to people. You’re really talking about what do you believe at the core of your being. Is that accurate?

Cox: Absolutely. So many people, I’ve talked to other entrepreneurs and they think, well, I’ve got to design my company based on what values my customer has. We actually take the opposite approach to that. The values that you have as a person, they’re you. That’s who you are; they’re the core. Those values should be authentic, absolutely authentic to who you are and they should be what drives the company. What’s right in my company may not be what’s right in your company. What’s most important is that there is no one right culture. We’ll get into that a little bit more. But the whole idea is that culture is about authenticity. Some people value “the customer is always right”, and if you honestly believe that, you have got to live that day in and day out. One of our values is Constant and Never-ending Improvement and we’ll walk through examples of some of these from our own corporate culture and how we came up with these. That simply means for us, in all situations, where we are today cannot be where we are tomorrow. It’s a personal belief that I’ve held since listening to Brian Tracey when I was 18 growing up, driving in my little Mazda, but those sorts of things are what really carry us. It’s the things that do not change. There are so many things that happen in business, so many ups, so many downs, so many pitfalls, and you have to have a belief system and a value system so no matter what happens, even if it’s to the detriment of the company, you will not change. One of the questions that we ask in an interview, for anyone in the company, is what are values within the company that if the company does not exemplify them, you would not want to be a part of it? That gives a really good insight. We were interviewing a candidate yesterday for a VP position and he said they have to have absolute respect, up and down, for all people within the organization. That was critical to him. Knowing those values for yourself allows you to see if that person is vibing with you and would vibe within the organization, and if you’re seeking a job it allows you to know if that company would vibe with you as well.

A: So this is the core. Who are you? What do you stand for? What don’t you stand for or won’t stand for? That’s really how you develop the nucleus of what you stand for in yourself and that’s how you build from you to the next employee to the next employee to the next employee.

C: Something that I say, and this goes back to being authentic, I’m sure we’ve all heard of Lady Gaga and Adele. They have two very different types of modes of communication. Which one is right? The answer is both. And they’re right because they’re being authentic to who they are. It’s the same thing in culture. As long as you’re authentic, you will go farther than anything made up based on what the customer wants to hear or based on what you think is hot in the industry. So many people, especially back in the internet days, they made those mistakes and they tried to build companies based on a fleeting level of success. They tried to base companies on what could be done to gain funding, kind of massage these sites, with no true basis for why they want to be in business. I think that was to the detriment of a lot of companies back then.

A: I would agree with you. And you know what’s interesting? Adele just won a whole slew of awards recently at the Grammys. Her career is taking off and she stayed true to her culture and if  you don’t know Lady Gaga, she’s making $30 million a year just off of her Twitter account. I think last year she made upwards of $80 million in revenue. That’s a perfect example of individuals who are true to their values that are making a ton of impact and making a ton of money as well.

More from this series:

Creating Corporate Culture – Praxis Now Interview Part 1

Creating Corporate Culture – John Assaraf Interview – Part 1

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

 

Part I of the series. Subscribe now for updates when the other videos are posted.

John Assaraf sat down with Steven Cox, CEO of TakeLessons.com, 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: Hi everyone, this is John Assaraf, CEO of Praxis Now and with me is a very dear friend of mine Steven Cox and Steven is part of my mastermind group and I’m part of his mastermind group. He’s the CEO of TakeLessons.com which is a company that is serving tens of thousands of idividuals who want to take guitar lessons and really want to find the right teacher online. Prior to this venture, he worked with CollegeClub.com which was a 1990’s company, a very very early social network, before social networks even existed, so if you want to know where social networks may have started, College Club is one of the companys. Steven has got an amazing company that’s venture capital funded. He has got an amazing culture with the people that he has hired, with the people that he works with as far as vendors and the way that they do things. He’s an amazing entrepreneur that’s had some great successes and he’s masterful at creating cultures and teams that drive insane revenues and amazing, fanatical client experiences. What I’d like to do today is really get into Steven’s head on your behalf. It doesn’t matter if  you have an idea or if you have ten or twenty or fifty employees, what you’re about to learn is why it is imperative for you to understand the vital importance of creating a culture that starts with you and continues with every single employee you’ve got. I’m also going to ask Steven a whole bunch of questions about raising money and his entreprenuer skills, but we’re going to focus specifically on building a culture and then we’ll take it from there. We’ve got 90 minutes together. We’re also going to give you a chance about every 15 to 20 minutes to ask questions and Steven might even ask you questions as well, like, do you play a musical instrument? Do your kids play? Steven, thank you so much.

Cox: Thanks for having me. I appreciate it.

Assaraf: So let’s get right into it. Is there anything I missed about your bio or the things that our friends all over the world need to know about that I may have missed?

Cox: No, I think you pretty much hit it dead on. I’ve just been an internet geek so that’s pretty much what I’ve been doing since 1996. It’s all I know. A lot of people are good at many things; I’m good at one thing.

A: The other thing that I failed to mention is that Steven just did an amazing deal with Best Buy so now Best Buy is offering not only to sell people guitars, but when they do, they offer Steven’s company’s lessons to the person who buys a guitar. It’s a major, major, major deal. So Steven, let’s talk about, what is culture and let’s get into why it’s so important. What I ask each one of you to do by the way is don’t write all of this stuff down because you’re going to have access to these slides. Listen to Steven and write your own notes down and then come back to these slides later on if you want to have the actual slides themselves. That’s one of the benefits of being a client of mine. So what is culture?

C: A lot of folks when we first start talking about culture, it seems like this feel-good type thing that’s permeated over the last couple of years, and a lot of folks don’t understand what it is or how it engenders across the whole organization. So I liken it to a very simple concept. The culture of your company is really the personality traits of your company. It’s really based on the values that you have as an individual and as a collective group of people, the beliefs that they have and the behaviors that we do. All of those beliefs we have and behaviors we do end up driving the actions within the company and that really makes up the company, how decisions are made based on the beliefs that we form. All that comes back to the values that we have; that’s the key to this whole thing: setting up the values and making sure they permeate the whole organization.

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

By At Work, Speaking, Start-Ups, TakeLessons.com 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.

Brianbrittshow

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 Match.com for teachers. And I met my wife on Match.com, and we have so many friends and even family members who have met their spouses on Match.com 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.