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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.

 

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

By At Work, Start Up San Diego, 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: I'm here today with Steven Cox, he is the founder and CEO of America's largest music lesson company, TakeLessons, the website is TakeLessons.com, 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.

Join us for the The Nuts and Bolts of Building a Peer to Peer Internet Marketplace

By At Work, Speaking, Start-Ups One Comment

Next week, I'll be speaking on a panel in San Francisco on building an Internet Marketplace.

Register here: http://marketplaces.eventbrite.com/

This is the second event in a series of marketplace panels co-sponsored by Scripted.com and Crosslink Capital. The event will be hosted at Rocket Space – one of the premiere technology incubators/work spaces in the San Francisco Bay Area.  The focus of this panel will be on the "best practices" behind building a peer-to-peer Internet marketplace. The main questions that will be addressed are: 1. Is it better to focus on building one side of a marketplace, rather than both sides at once? 2. How do you earn trust and credibility/prevent fraud in Internet marketplaces? 3. How can entrepreneurs use Internet marketplaces effectively for their own businesses?

  • ·      Gary Swart, CEO of oDesk
  • ·      Matt Mickiewicz, Co-founder of 99designs
  • ·      Bo Fishback, Co-founder and CEO of Zaarly
  • ·      Doug Feirstein, Co-founder of Liveops, Founder/Co-founder, CEO of Usell.com
  • ·      Steven Cox, Co-founder and CEO of TakeLessons.com
  • ·      Sunil Rajaraman, Co-founder and CEO of Scripted.com (Moderator)

Gary Swart

Gary is the CEO of oDesk is the world’s largest online workplace, enabling businesses to instantly hire, manage and pay a flexible online workforce.  He has a passion for helping small businesses succeed with more than 18 years of experience in the enterprise software market. Before oDesk, as the VP of Worldwide Sales for Intellibank, he was responsible for building the sales organization, but Gary's enthusiasm for small businesses was born during his tenure as a Business Unit Executive for IBM's Rational Software Product Group, where he led Small and Medium Business sales for the Americas. Gary came to Rational through its merger with Pure Software, where he held sales, management and leadership positions.

Gary holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration from the University of Maryland.

Matt Mickiewicz 

Matt started his first company, SitePoint, while still in high school, and has leveraged his early success into two additional companies, 99designs and Flippa. 99designs, which has hosted more than 130,000 design contests and paid designers more than $30 million since its founding in 2008, won a 2010 Webby Award and secured $35M in VC funding in 2011. Flippa has helped entrepreneurs sell more than $60 million in websites and domain names. Matt was named to each of the 2011 “30 Under 30” lists published by Forbes, INC. and Business Insider.

Steven Cox

Steven is CEO of TakeLessons, America's largest music lessons marketplace. The company offers in-person physical music lessons in 46 music categories and covers over 3,000 cities across the USA. The company has grown rapidly over the past six years by building a proprietary software services platform that curates only the best service providers, handles all of the billing, scheduling, marketing, sales, and customer support.

Before TakeLessons, Steven was Managing Director of Reddito Partners, a marketplaces and ecommerce strategy consulting firm, and was also VP of Strategic Development for CollegeClub.com. Steven first discovered internet marketplaces when he was an early employee in PurchasePro, one of the first B2B marketplaces that grew from 8 to 800 employees and went IPO in 1999. 

Steven's excitement for marketplaces stems from the belief that, in the near future, more and more people will turn to the Internet when looking for services, and buying services over the Internet will be as common as buying products. 

 

Bo Fishback

Bo Fishback is the Founder and CEO of Zaarly. Bo was previously the vice president of entrepreneurship for the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation and the president of Kauffman Labs for Enterprise Creation.

He is a founder of Orbis Biosciences, a drug delivery and particle fabrication company whose core intellectual property was developed from research conducted at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Fishback also was a co-founder of Lightspeed Genomics, a next-generation genome sequencing company that was spun out of a research program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and acquired by Macrogen. Beyond these ventures, he has worked with a variety of life sciences and high-tech startup companies as an advisor, board member, and angel investor. Currently, he is on the board of directors for Orbis Biosciences and is an advisor for Plotwatt, Inc.

Doug Feirstein

Doug is the Co-Founder and CEO of Usell.com. is the marketplace for selling used smart phones and electronics to established, trusted companies. The site helps customers find out what their smart phones and electronics are worth, find a buyer, and sell them quickly and safely. uSell is a subsidiary of Upstream Worldwide, Inc., a publicly traded company headquartered in Ft. Lauderdale, FL.

Starting from his garage, Doug launched LiveOps and pioneered the movement towards home-shoring. Fast-forward 10 years years later, LiveOps.com is now a thriving company, with over $150mm in revenue and 20,000+ agents working from home all over the country. LiveOps.com has since been backed by Menlo Ventures, Benchmark Capital, CMEA Ventures and August Capital.

Doug has had the opportunity to invest and be involved with over 20 early stage companies which include:

  • Mojiva – A mobile ad platform that is quickly becoming a leader in the space.
  • Nutrabella – A retail food company in the natural food space that provides pre-natal nutrition to pregnant women around the world.
  • Ignighter – An innovative dating site that allows groups of people to connect and set up dates in a safe, group environment.

Sunil Rajaraman

Sunil Rajaraman is the founder and CEO of Scripted.com, a marketplace for businesses to hire freelance writers. Scripted.com has a pool of 80,000 freelance writers, and ranks as one of the top five largest writer communities on the Internet. Scripted.com currently provides hundreds of businesses with thousands of blog posts, tweets, press releases and articles each month.  

Sunil was the 2008 recipient of the Young President's Organization Scholarship at the UCLA Anderson School of Management and holds a BA in Economics from Claremont McKenna College. Prior to Scripted, Sunil held positions in management consulting and finance. Sunil has guest written blog posts and articles for Gigaom, Paste Magazine, Screencrave and other publications. 

Crosslink Capital

Crosslink Capital is a leading stage-independent venture capital and growth equity firm with over $2 billion in assets.  Crosslink, which traces its roots back to 1989,  was among the first and largest investment firms in the U.S. to integrate public and private growth/technology investing in three families of funds: venture capital funds, long/short hedge funds and a unique hybrid crossover fund. This strategy allows Crosslink to partner with its portfolio companies on a long-term basis. With more than 20 years behind it, Crosslink Capital has invested in over 100 private equity portfolio companies, at the early, mid, and late stages including Pandora (NYSE: P), Ancestry.com (NASDAQ: ACOM), Omniture (acquired by Adobe Systems), Equinix(NASDAQ:EQIX),  Carbonite (NASDAQ: CARB), Intematix, SeaMicro, Synapsense, Bleacher Report, Marin Software and DataStax.  For more information on Crosslink, visit http://www.crosslinkcapital.com

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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.

Yeah.

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 takelessons.com. 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?

Yeah.

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-

Sure.

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

Sure.

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.

Right.

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.

Wow.

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.

Yeah.

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.

Right.

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

Sure.

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

Sure.
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.

Exactly.

Until you try to find one.

Right.

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

Yeah.

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.

Right.

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, takelessons.com.

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, bigbizshow.com. CBS, ABC, Armed Forces, Biz Television, our website bigbizshow.com. Follow me on Twitter or @bigbizzradio. Don't go anywhere. Alright, back to our guest.

Yes.

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

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.

Hey,
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.

Yeah.

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.

Sure.

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

It's unbelievable.

Sure.

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.

Yeah.

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."

Yeah!

"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."

Right.

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

Right.

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.

Right.

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.

Right.

How did you guys tackle that part?

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

Nice.

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

Wow.

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

Sure.

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

Yeeah.

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 takelessons.com, 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.

Sure.

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.

Wow.

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.

Sure.

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.

Sure.

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, takelessons.com. Thank you, man.

I hope you took lessons on that interview, everybody.

Yeah!

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, TakeLessons.com, Venture Capital, Videos No Comments

 

http://StevenCox.com. 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. TakeLessons.com 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: http://TakeLessons.com

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. http://CrossLinkCapital.com
• 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.
• StartupsAreBetter.com
• 6pm Dec 1 at Sweet Labs (http://sweetlabs.com)
Joe KrausGoogle Ventures focused on mobile, gaming, local services
Michael Robertson — SD Local tech hero. MP3.com
• Focused on engineering and product talent

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

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