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takelessons - Steven Cox | San Diego, CA

Startup San Diego: Channel 6 TV News Segment

By Start Up San Diego, Videos No Comments

Marc Bailey: Earlier this month, Forbes magazine ranked San Diego #1 as the best place in the nation to start a small business this year. The publication surveyed 50 big cities and surveyed small businesses. Among the criteria used, those in high growth areas, those with Facebook pages, those with websites, and those that accepted credit cards. The magazine says that the categories demonstrate the community’s engagement and use of relevant resources.

If you’re trying to start a business, that’s why we asked Steven Cox to come in because he knows what he’s talking about. You started You started it here in San Diego?

Steven Cox: Sure did!

M: And it teaches music? Music lessons online?

S: Not only music lessons, but tutoring, sports, fitness, wellness, arts and crafts, and more. if you think of eBay and how they have created a marketplace for both buyers and sellers. What we have is created a marketplace for parents or consumers who are looking for a great instructor. On the other side are instructors who are looking to earn more money and are looking for new students.

M: So, you match these people up? You just combine the two. Most of these ideas, when we break them down, the beauty of them and the commonality is we all look and say, “I should’ve thought of that.”

S: Or, “Man, I did think about that.” Yes, I get that a lot.

M: When did you decide to follow up on that and why? What was the motivation?

S: I’ve been doing tech startups since 1999. I moved down here to San Diego to take a little bit of time off and started wondering what I wanted to do next. I was living downtown in San Diego, and we came up with this idea. I happened to also be in a rock band as a bad lead singer. My drummer was looking for new students and was going to quit music and take an office job in order to pay in his bills. So, we put together this idea of helping him make a living do what he loved to do by helping him find students over the Internet, and that just happened to be my background. It kind of fell along this whole movement of being able to establish a business in a marketplace and then watch it grow here in San Diego, which is where we started, and then immediately start taking on new cities. Now, we’re in about 4,000 cities all across the U.S.

M: So, I’m going to say that’s successful, but it started right here in San Diego.

S: Yep, it started in a downtown office right here.

M: Why San Diego? Now, again, we heard Forbes’ reasons why businesses are successful starting up here in San Diego, but what’s the deal? Why San Diego?

S: Well, first of all, I can say that being in the industry for the past several years, the tech industry and the San Diego startup community is worlds different from where it used to be five and six years ago. One of the factors that Forbes had mentioned was the clustering, which is the ability for a large number of startups to all be in the same area, and we’re starting to see that downtown. There are thirty or forty startups right off the top of my head just within this little radius of where the TakeLessons headquarters is down there, which is a super cool thing to see.

M: That’s good energy, and you can share information.

S: They share information. They collaborate. You kind of feel like you’re not alone.

M: Is that one of the keys? Collaboration?

S: Absolutely. You get that and also just the number of industries that are in kind of a high growth aspect. So, anything from consumer Internet to clean tech to bioinformatics, San Diego has all of those. In addition to a great environment to start a business, there are a ton of smart people, and if you compare it to some of the other cities out there, San Diego has better air quality than L.A. I’m sure that you would know that. It has better traffic. The cost of living is 40% cheaper than it is in Silicon Valley. Finally, San Diego, I don’t know if you’ve heard, but we have better weather than Boston and New York.

M: We’ve got to go, but give me the one misstep that people make. You’ve told people all of the positives. What’s the one thing that makes you say, “Don’t do that.”?

S: I’ve got to say that it is don’t believe that is super, super easy just to start an Internet business, and then the next day you’re going to be a success. It takes the exact same amount of work in order to grow a successful business.

M: That meaning you have to be totally committed to it.

S: That’s right.

M: Alright, Steven, thank you so much. Steven Cox, CEO of So, check that website out, especially if you’re trying to match up your learning with a teacher. Great idea!





TakeLessons Secures $7mm in Venture Capital

By Start Up San Diego, Start-Ups,, Venture Capital No Comments

I’m happy to announce latest round of venture funding today. This round increases the total amount raised to $20mm and will allow us to accelerate our expansion into more categories outside of music, including tutoring, performing arts, and languages. We’ve even started to see new matches in categories such as welding, crocheting, robotics, and basic HTML.

We’ve tripled the number of instructors on the TakeLessons platform over the past year and continue to be excited about building a marketplace that helps consumers easily find the right instructor, while helping instructors make a better living doing what they love.

Congrats to the team and thanks to the San Diego Startup community for its support.

TakeLessons Team March 2014
Read about it here:

TakeLessons Raises Another $4 Million and Launches Local Tutoring

By, Venture Capital No Comments

TakeLessons ScreenshotToday, we announced a round of funding to further our advancement into music and to launch our second vertical – tutoring – starting with San Diego tutors and Austin tutors.

I’ve been asked why we chose tutoring. We see it as a complimentary market to music.

  • Fragmented, yet large market
  • Tutors would rather do what they love vs. do administration and paperwork
  • Market is underserved by technology
  • We can now offer a new service to an existing student customer
  • Fits within our expertise of what we do
  • Allows us to leverage our online platform, so we can deliver a great experience either in person or online
  • Recurring revenue

So, I’m happy to announce a new chapter in the TakeLessons’ history book. We look forward to helping more and more instructors make a living doing what they love.

Press release below:


TakeLessons Closes $4 Million Venture Capital Financing. Announces Launch of New Tutoring Vertical.

SAN DIEGO, CALIF, January 29, 2013 – TakeLessons (,  the largest online service marketplace for music lessons in the U.S., today announced that it has completed a $4 million round of venture capital financing, bringing the total investment into the company to over $12 million. Triangle Peak Partners of Palo Alto led the round with participation from Siemer Ventures and existing investors Crosslink Capital and SoftTech VC.

Steven Cox, TakeLessons’ Founder and CEO said, “this new investment will aid our continued growth and leadership in the music space and will fuel our platform expansion into new marketplaces, including tutoring and the other performing arts.”

TakeLessons has paid out over $10,000,000 to music teachers who are serving students in over 3,000 cities. The rapid growth has recently been driven by TakeLessons’ Online Lesson platform, which enables more flexible scheduling and eliminates geographic constraints.

In addition to music education expansion, TakeLessons announced the launch of its new tutoring marketplace in San Diego this month and will serve Austin, Las Vegas, Sacramento and Denver by the end of Q1.

The funds from this round will be invested in product development to deliver an improved lesson experience for teachers and students and to pave the way for horizontal expansion into new markets. Karen Baumbach, VP of Finance and Alan Cole, Chief Revenue Officer, recently joined TakeLessons to support the company’s aggressive growth targets.

“We’re committed to helping teachers make a living doing what they love to do,” remarked Cole. “This funding will support investment in our tools that allow private instructors to acquire and retain the best students.”

About TakeLessons
TakeLessons, the largest online service marketplace for music lessons in the U.S., has been connecting music students with the best local music teachers since 2006. The company provides convenient, safe, affordable and fun music lessons to students of all ages. A pioneer in the online services space, TakeLessons also equips teachers with web-based scheduling, billing and communication tools. For more information and to find the best local teachers, interested parties should visit

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Creating Corporate Culture – John Assaraf Interview Part 6

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

Part 6 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

Creating Corporate Culture – Part 4

Creating Corporate Culture – Part 5

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: And your BHAG is?

Cox: We want to be a billion dollar company within six years.

A: With a “B”. Six years, a billion dollar company, and I’d bet my money on him achieving it, trust me.

C: And the second part of that, we want to be a billion dollar company but we also want to be one of America’s top one hundred companies to work for. So for our value system, both of these things have to produce well; the ecosystem of the way we’re making money and the way we develop people. So let’s talk a little bit about our core values and how they came about. So, we had been in business for a couple years, and core values aren’t the kind of thing that you sit down one day and say, “Steven said we need core values so let me write some things down because I think they’ll help me make money.” These are things that you actually just discover as you start working with people, again even if you’re a one man or woman operation, you’ll know these about yourself. Over time, we came up with five core values and I’ll show you how we got to those core values here in a minute. So we have five core values that we developed over time as well as a core purpose and a reason for being. We exist to make a positive lasting impact on millions of people. We specifically picked every single word of that reason for being. We exist not to make a lasting impact, but it has to be positive. We exist not just to make an impact, but it has to be lasting. So we want to be involved in business that is good, holistic by nature, that has the ability to make something that people remember long term, that has the long term impact. It’s not enough for us to make an impact on hundreds of people. That’s a good start but it doesn’t excite me. Knowing my value system, I need huge impact, millions of people.

A: So let me ask you a question. When you started six years ago, did you start off with here are my five core values and here is my core purpose and reason for being?

C: No.

A: I want everyone to understand that. This is an evolution. You’re seeing six years experience that could help you get there a lot faster, these great ideas.

C: Yes. Again, this is something that’s discovered over time and it’s things that you look at and say, how do I know that that’s my core value? It’s things you look at and say, if other people or the marketplace were to turn on me because I had these values, I would still have them. And that’s the true litmus test.

A: So if the marketplace or others would turn on you, you’d still keep those values.

C: That’s right. Even if it’s detrimental to the company; to us and our ability to make money, would we still do this?

A: That’s your core essence. That’s your nucleus, what we’re talking about. You are your nucleus no matter how many divisions there are or what happens. You are the nucleus.

C: And if you can find that, what you have is a True North. You have the ability to understand why you’re in business, as Simon Sinek says, the power of understanding why you want to do things instead of just how or when. There’s an interesting thing that happened throughout the company that I’ll share with you. The core people, we had a core group of about five or six people that were there when we started and those people again are all still with us, and these core values really resonated with us. But as we started hiring people and we started bringing them on and we started training them in core values, we would say, these are our core values and they would kind of shake their head. We found out that when we started describing them, they had different views of what they meant than we did. It really helped us understand that when you build a culture it’s not enough to say, here are my values. We have to get descriptive of what that value means. So I’d like to walk through a couple of our values and explain. My value may be different from yours. And as a company, this allows us to look at someone and say does this person coming in resonate with the value system as we have described it?

Part 6 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

Creating Corporate Culture – Part 4

Creating Corporate Culture – Part 5

Creating Corporate Culture – John Assaraf Interview – Part 5

By At Work, Business Philosophy, Company Culture, Entrepreneur Insights, Speaking, Start-Ups,, Videos No Comments

Part 5 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

Creating Corporate Culture – Part 4

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: So let’s get into how you designed culture, because you’ve taken the time in your old offices, in your spectacular new office and I’ve seen your growth over the last year and a half two years. You did this by design. You didn’t do this by luck. You said this is who I am, this is what I stand for. You had your initial core employees who you brought on board and most of them are still with you.

Cox: That’s correct.

A: You’ve built a 300 person company now and growing at lightening speed. How did you design this?

C: First of all, I’d like to show you another chart here. This is our revenue growth. Without any numbers attached to it, you can see that that’s exactly the kind of growth that companies like to see. When I say what I am about to tell you, I do attribute our growth to culture. Good strategy, smart people, it’s a must, but how we got those people on the bus is absolutely key to what we do.

First of all, just a little background on what we do. In essence, we’re America’s largest music lesson company. We give music lessons, and these are personal one on one lessons, in a customer’s home or at a studio in 3,000 cities across the US. When we first started, we started with the idea, how do we revolutionize services on the web? We wanted to do something that was powerful. We wanted to do something that truly made a difference from a technical perspective and use technology to drive services on to the web. I wasn’t 22 anymore; I was now in my 30’s and being a student of yours and Brian Tracey and those sorts of people it was very important to me that not only do I build a company but that I make a difference along the way.

So when we first started off, it was from design, like you mentioned. We said, we are going to make sure and focus on as Jim Collins says, getting the right people on the bus. We looked and we looked and I brought a second person on board. His name is Chuck and he shared the same sort of values. That was six or seven years ago and Chuck is still with me today. I found Drew and Chris and they’re both still with me today. We talked to so many people and said, do you share the same value and core system that we have? We purposely designed a company in such a way that longterm you could take me out, you could take Chuck out, any of the cofounders, and the company would keep humming along, growing like crazy based on the value system, not necessarily based on a single individual.

A: And he will share the value system with you today so you understand this.

C: Yes.

A: Just so you know, we’re learning a ton from Steven and his team to bring these types of designs to Praxis Now also. So as Steven says he may have learned some stuff from me and Bryan and other individuals, we’re learning from him and we’re sharing back and forth all the time. One of the things that Steven does phenomenally well is personal and professional growth on a constant basis, CANI, constant and never ending improvement. He’s always willing to give and always willing to learn. So, I’ll let you keep going.

C: I’d like to show you a couple more slides to build credibility to show what the company is doing and to show our growth. These are our active paying customers that are growing. We have service providers, these are teachers, that actually give the lessons and you can see that this chart mimics the growth, which is what we want to see, even in the recession. So what I’d like to do is talk a little bit about what culture meant to us and how we went about defining our core values. Culture is a combination of the language we use within the company and the symbols, stories that we have, how we work amongst each other, how we work amongst our suppliers and our service providers as well, as well as how we make decisions as to what’s right and what’s wrong for the company.

About 5 to 6 years ago I was reading a book by Jim Collins, Good to Great, and if you haven’t read the book I highly recommend it. It’s an incredible book written by an exceptional author. Basically, he says the way that you get to a vision is you have to be very, very clear on what things you value and what is your key reason for being in business, the core purpose. And that is something that does not change. That is something that is core to what you do. Then you marry that with what we call the envisioned future and that is, you look long term. He calls it BHAG’s, if you’re familiar with that.

A: Big Hairy Audacious Goals

C: Right. These are things that if you were actually to tell them to people in the general public, this is where I want to go as a company, they’d kinda look at you like you’re crazy, like your head’s popped off. The typical response is, “you’ll never do that.” And that means you’ve got a perfect BHAG.

Part 5 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

Creating Corporate Culture – Part 4



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.