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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.

Cool Travel Apps for your iPhone or Android

By Start-Ups, Travel, Videos, Web and Tech No Comments

Here is my TV segment on San Diego 6 TV on cool travel apps. Below is the video and my write-up on the coolest travel apps I’ve found.


  • Both Android and iPhone – FREE
  • Crowdsourcing – which means gathering information from communities and giving more people access to the information. So, this crowdsourced app instantly connects you with other drivers in real time who are reporting back on accidents, police traps, and other hazards along your route.
  • Story: Spring is in the air, and you decide to hop on a plane to meet up with some friends in Miami. You live near SDSU, so using WAZE, you can immediately see – using feedback from other drivers – if you should use the 8, the 15 or an alternative route. It tells you where traffic is slowing and keeps you on time to make your flight!


  • Both Android and iPhone – FREE
  • Tell CityBot the types of activities that interest you and in a matter of seconds, you’ll receive a personalized trip.
  • Story: Let’s say you just flew into Miami to meet your friends, except your friends are lame and didn’t plan anything. You can whip out Citybot and – based on your prior interests and events – it can tailor an awesome day for you. You can start off getting afternoon drinks at a Southbeach bar, roll into the best shopping along the strip, and end up at an authentic European restaurant where you meet some cool people from Spain!
  • …AND the startup is located right in Downtown San Diego!


  • Both Android and iPhone – FREE
  • Last-minute hotel deals. Tonight!
  • Story: So, you finish up the night in Miami and realize, “Uh oh, no one booked a hotel room!” Don’t worry – HotelTonight has you covered! All you have to do is open HotelTonight, it automatically knows where you are and serves up the best discounted hotel rooms open right now. You can pick from economy, chic, or luxury. Just pick your hotel, swipe once, and walk in to get your keys. Pretty nifty!


  •  Both Android and iPhone
  • Instantly translates printed words into your native language using your built-in phone camera.
  • Story: So, your friends in Miami are still kind of lame, so you decide to jump on a plane and head to Madrid with your new buddies you met at the European restaurant. Wow! What a great time – except that you don’t speak ANY Spanish! No problem! With Wordlens, all you do is hover your camera over printed signs or books, and it instantly translates it back into English for you. Check it out!
  • FREE to download and under $5.00 for one translation type (such as English to German and vice versa).

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!





Video: How to be an All-Star at Work. A Peek Inside

By Business Philosophy, Company Culture, Start-Ups,, Videos 2 Comments

If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the past couple years, it’s how critical it is to get the right team in place. The right team is more costly, takes longer to attract, but it pays for itself in spades by a quicker velocity and overall growth.

As we shift into a faster growth mode inside of TakeLessons, I wanted to paint a picture for my team on what it takes to be hired and, more importantly, what it takes to be an all-star. The company is growing fast, and we need people that have already been at the spot we’re going to be, and/or quickly assimilate into new roles, objectives, and way of doing business.

The lessons I’m teaching my team are not just applicable to those that work for TakeLessons, but they’re relevant to everyone in the workplace that aspires to grow into new roles and expand their work horizons.

  • Earn your spot on the team. It’s not given to you.
  • Get shit done.
  • Over-perform.
  • Do more than what you’re paid for.
  • Be responsible for your own growth.

So, I hope you take something valuable from this video and apply it into your own work. A transcript follows the video.




I want to again bring to the forefront of what we’re looking to do and how we’re looking to make changes.

In essence we’re looking at a change of mindset. This is where we were – down here – and this is where we want to be – up here.

What does that mean?

I’m glad we’re a venture-backed company – less than 5% of the people that can even apply to be a venture-backed company have what it takes to get there. We’re about to be backed again – we can’t yet make a formal announcement – but we have a very good possibility that again our venture capitalists believe in us and our vision and what we’re trying to do, to where we’re going to be able to extend out what we’re looking to accomplish this year.

But with that comes responsibility. This again is what is expected of you.

First of all: very clear strategic thinking. You have to – everyone, including myself – and everyone in here – we have to raise our game as far as how we think. We have to be able to solve customer problems and work in an efficient and in a better manner.

Second of all, we’ve talked about this: Bold ideas. No longer can we just be satisfied doing the same thing and building our company. We have built an incredible platform that can be used and we’re going to utilize it to the best of our capacity.

Third, and the most critical – this is a requirement for flawless execution. What that means is we’re going to put our best foot forward, and this means making mistakes. We will quickly learn from those mistakes and fix them – absolutely as quickly as possible.

As I pointed out before, we are not a family. In a family, you can’t choose who you get. With family, you basically have to love them no matter what.

Instead, we are a team – and what that means is every single day, every month, every year, we earn our spots to stay on this team. All of us do, including myself. We do that by making sure that we are rock stars at what we do.

Sometime’s it’s not even enough just to make the team. Everyone can make the team in this room, because you are all very, very smart, intelligent, capable, awesome people – thank you very much and take a pat on the back – but what we want is All-Stars. Think of yourself as an All-Star. It’s not even enough to play pro ball. What we want is to be able to take that to the next level.

How to be an All-Star at Work

The big question is: How can you become an All-Star? I want to just go through a few quick tips for you on how to be an All-Star here at TakeLessons.

Get Shit Done.

The top thing that you can do no matter what is: get shit done. We’re not paid to show up. We’re not paid to look busy. We’re not paid to fill out a cubicle. We are paid to get shit done.

That is in essence what drives this business. We’re not here just to goof off. We’re here to take the most important task and make sure that we’re completing them.

How do we do that? First and foremost, make sure up front that you have very clear, specific goals in what you’re trying to do.

If you don’t know your outcome, if you don’t know where you’re shooting, you’re going to have a hard time getting there.

How many of you have written goals for 2013?

It’s very, very critical to do that. Again, you’re going to have a direct path. You know what you’re supposed to be focusing on. If you don’t have written goals, I highly encourage you to do so, both personally – and it’s required – professionally.

If you do not know what your goals are here inside the company, talk to your manager today before you go home. Make sure that you have a very specific plan about what you need to accomplish.

Once you have those goals, always focus on first things first. What does that mean? If you’re like me, I have a list a mile long of stuff that I need to do. There’s always more things to do than there is time to do it.

How do you know what to do?

Make sure you’re prioritizing your list every single day. Never do a “B” or a “C” priority when there is an “A” priority to do. That’s the simple key. If you know that you can do an “A,” do it first thing in the morning.

I was talking to one of you last week, who said, “Yeah, I’m trying to get more time efficient. How do I get more done?” One thing that this person was doing was coming in, reading emails, and catching up on the news the very first thing in the morning. It is related to the company? Yes, it’s important to do, but it’s not absolute top priority.

What we did is switch that around: what they’re doing is they’re taking the biggest thing that would make the highest impact on the company and making sure that they do it first.

Brian Tracy calls it eating that frog. It’s a metaphor: no one wants to eat a frog anytime, but you specifically don’t want to eat it in the morning when you get up. It’s the toughest thing to do.

If you can take that highest task, the ugliest thing to do (like a frog), that makes the biggest impact on the company, do it when you’re the freshest: first in the morning. That’s how you accomplish things.

Put up the Numbers.

If you do those things, you are going to put up incredible numbers. I don’t necessarily just mean sales numbers, but whatever you’re measured up against: you’re going to put up incredible, incredible numbers.

You guys know who this is?

[“Miguel Cabrera.”]

Anybody know what he did?

[“Triple Crown.” “He lost the world Series.”]

The Triple Crown. He got on base, basically with the highest batting average, the most home runs, throughout the most people of anyone in his league.

Does this guy ever have to worry about a job?


Why? Because he’s an All-Star.

This is what I’m talking about. This is not the rules of TakeLessons. These are rules of life.

I was at a conference and someone said, “I’m afraid to work for a startup because I need job security.”

It doesn’t matter if you work for a big company or a small company. Job security is not in the job, it is in being an All-Star. It is putting up incredible numbers. That is what gets you to where you need to go. What’s great about that is you are the one in control of it. By deciding that that’s what you want to do, you’re going to knock it out of the park.

Master Your Role

Next, take a look at your role – focus on mastering and becoming awesome at that one role. Muhammad Ali was great at one thing: dancing, too,but he was an incredible boxer. He worked his ass off to make sure that he was the absolute best at his role.

Take your role and master it. Be the absolute best that you can possibly be and be an all-star in that particular role.

Help Your Teammates Win

It’s very important that you help your teammates win. Dwyane Wade could’ve taken the shot, but instead he passed the ball to LeBron.

This is a very important key. It’s not enough if one department wins. It’s not enough if you win and your department loses. We are all in this together. This company only works by all of us pulling together in the same direction.

Make sure that you’re an All-Star and then help someone else be an All-Star. if you know something that can help them, teach them. Share knowledge. Make sure that we’re collaborating back and forth.

Stay Flexible

Next, There’s a good possibility that whatever you’re doing today – by the end of the year – you’re not going to be doing that. It’s important to always stay flexible and know that things are going to change.

Did we have a year of 2012 that things change? Those of you who have been here a couple years, did things change?


Hey, I can guarantee you one thing: if you look at today and where we’re going to be at the end of the year, things will fundamentally change in our business. Don’t get too hung up on exactly whow things are going to change. Roll with it, because I can guarantee you that no matter what, we’re going to look fundamentally different at the end of the year.

You are Responsible for Your Growth

Also, it is up to you to grow. The company can only do so much – we have restricted budgets, we don’t have systems in place yet for productive growth in a methodical manner for every single employee. We’re just not mature enough to get there. That is no excuse not to grow.

I’m reading 2-3 times a week at home. Why? Because I’m afraid that the company will pass me by. That’s something that I encourage each and every one of you to do. It’s up to you to have your own personal development program.

Like I pointed out in the last meeting: when things grow, you leave your comfort zone – and when you leave your comfort zone, that’s when the magic happens. That’s when you can continue to grow past where you are today and be able to take on – and it’s not just about production but it’s about how your capacity to produce increases. And this is how you become that All-Star.

Do More Than You’re Paid For

Finally, I was studying Napoleon Hill’s 17 Laws of Success and he said the number one way that you can make sure that you stay with the company that you want, or that you are always promotable is to do more than what you’re paid for.

What does that mean?

That means that if you are worth “X” – down here – and you are doing work at a level up here, it is impossible for you not to get noticed. Think about our customers – if we give them more value than what they’re paying for, they love us.

That’s the thing: if you want to continue to grow, if you want to be an all-star, do more than what you think you’re capable of. That’s how you grow into this role.

They said Cabrera is the last guy standing when it comes to batting practice. Over and over again. He’s the All-Star. He’s the king of the team, yet he’s the guy who’s in there first taking batting practice and he’s the last guy standing. He knows the rules. He knows that this is what it takes.

When you do that, what happens is your work naturally stands out. You can’t help but to get noticed.

These are very simple rules of life. These are not TakeLessons rules. You can apply them to anything that you do.

By doing that, what happens – that comfort zone of what you’re capable of doing continues to grow. While you used to be a hot Corvette – now, you’re a burning, flaming fire! This is where you want to go. This is where we need to drive the company.

I know we have what it takes in here to build a world-class company. It is going to be up to each and every one of us to make sure that happens.

We’re off to a really good start, it’s 10 days into the first month, we are going to have an incredible year.

Support Zach Sobiech as He Battles Cancer Through Music

By Life Lessons, Music, Videos No Comments


Zach Sobiech is a 17yr old musician from Lakeland, MN that was diagnosed with a rare form of bone cancer. Through surgeries, therapies, and biopsies, and months of chemo, Zach has used music to stay strong. He wrote and performed this song as a way to say goodbye to his friends and family. — You can download a free version of the song and learn more about buying his album: