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Transcript- Episode 86: The Key To Expanding Our Students’ Career Goals, Jack Friedman Founder Of Study Smart Tutors Inc. Episode 86

Jan 31, 2023

00:00:00 Jack

What I've found in my own life and in the students we've worked with, is that students' exposure changes students' expectations. And the more exposures, and the more we can provide that, the more students start seeing, "Oh, that could be me. Oh, I want to now do that. Oh, I'm interested in that."


00:00:20 Jack

The spark generates. And it's the belief spark, it's the knowledge spark, it's the information spark, but it all starts with the exposures. And I think that's done in a lot of different ways, and can be done in a lot of different ways. But that would be my parting wisdom, for lack of a better word.


00:00:39 Christina

The workforce landscape is rapidly changing, and educators and their institutions need to keep up. Preparing students before they enter the workforce to make our communities and businesses stronger is at the core of getting an education.


00:00:52 Christina

But we need to understand how to change and adjust so that we can begin to project where things are headed before we even get there. So, how do we begin to predict the future?


00:01:04 Salvatrice

Hi, I'm Salvatrice Cummo, Vice President of Economic and Workforce Development at Pasadena City College, and host of this podcast.


00:01:13 Christina

And I'm Christina Barsi, producer and co-host of this podcast.


00:01:16 Salvatrice

And we are starting the conversation about the future of work. We'll explore topics like how education can partner with industry, how to be more equitable, and how to attain one of our highest goals; more internships and PCC students in the workforce.


00:01:31 Salvatrice

We at Pasadena City College want to lead the charge in closing the gap between what our students are learning and what the demands of the workforce will be once they enter. This is a conversation that impacts all of us. You, the employers, the policymakers, the educational institutions, and the community as a whole.


00:01:50 Christina

We believe change happens when we work together, and it all starts with having a conversation. I'm Christina Barsi.


00:01:58 Salvatrice

And I'm Salvatrice Cummo, and this is the Future of Work.


00:02:04 Salvatrice

Hi everyone, and welcome back to the Future of Work Podcast. I am your host, Salvatrice Cummo. Today, we'll be learning about Study Smart Tutors and what types of programming they have available for students, families, and programs alike.


00:02:17 Salvatrice

We will talk about what gaps there are in programming for students and families to learn more about career readiness, exploration, and what we can do as an institution to help fill in those gaps to make programming accessible to all.


00:02:31 Salvatrice

With that said, we would like to welcome Jack Friedman, Founder of Study Smart Tutors. Jack founded Study Smart Tutors out of his dorm at USC because he wanted to provide college-access programming to students who wouldn't otherwise receive it. In addition to his work at Study Smart Tutors, Jack is a co-founder of Educational Gaming Services and Advanced Employment Group.


00:02:54 Salvatrice

Jack, it's so wonderful to have you here. Thank you so much.


00:02:58 Jack

Thanks, Salvatrice for having me.


00:03:00 Salvatrice

You're welcome fellow Trojan, I'm a little biased.


00:03:03 Jack



00:03:04 Salvatrice

Very good. So, let's get right into business here. Jack, you started the company in your dorm room. Tell us why, how, how did you get there? What idea did you possess and how did you get it kind of up and running?


00:03:16 Jack

So, I'll give you the very short version, but I was a college student trying to make extra money. So, I started doing some tutoring, teaching SAT prep, working with families locally in Los Angeles. Anyone who would hire me and was working with primarily wealthy students because that's who could afford to pay for a private SAT tutor. So, that's where I started.


00:03:36 Jack

Realized that that was a really challenging space from a business opportunity because there were 700 other companies also doing SAT prep for that population as well as, it wasn't something I was super passionate about. I wasn't passionate about the test, I wasn't passionate about - this group of students wasn't something that was anything more than ... we had to make extra money in college.


00:03:57 Jack

But I enjoyed working with the students. And I discovered right next to my college apartment, was a college access program that USC funded for high school students. And the students received free tutoring. They received free summer programs, they received free enrichment field trips, college prep, all these different things.


00:04:16 Jack

And if the students got into USC at the end of the program, they got to go for free. They didn't receive any special admission, but they did get free tuition if they were to get in. And I thought, well, this would be really interesting ... maybe they need SAT prep. That's what I was doing.


00:04:30 Jack

And selfishly, instead of driving around the city, this was a hundred feet from my apartment. So, I was like, maybe I can do SAT prep here and save the gas money while I'm at it. So, I went into the director of the program's office and I said a couple of questions that really changed my life in business. And I said "What is the biggest pain point that you have in your program?"


00:04:50 Jack

She said, "Well, I wish more of my students got the scholarship to go to USC." I said, "Of course, well, what's one of the biggest reasons why they're not getting in?" She said, "Well, their SAT scores are really low." And she said, "These are students USC wants, but if they're applying for engineering and their math scores are in the 20th percentiles, it doesn't matter how good all these other factors are. They're not getting looked at because of their standard test scores."


00:05:13 Jack

I said, "Okay, yeah, totally understand." And I said to her, "Well, what would you want in your ideal world?" And she said, "Well, I would love to have a motivational SAT bootcamp that focused on foundation skill building and SAT strategies." And I was like, "Oh, that's so weird." I just happened to have a motivational bootcamp that focuses on foundation skill building and strategies.


00:05:33 Jack

And obviously, I didn't have that exactly, but I figured I could come up with something that was similar. And she said, "Oh, okay, great. Well, how about Saturday March 8th" or whatever the date was; "I'll bring 50 students, you bring all the stuff, and we'll go from there." And I said, "Okay, great."


00:05:48 Jack

And so, we did the class, it went well. And this was eye-opening for me in a couple of ways. One is I realized these students were getting no SAT prep. If they weren't a part of this program, and I wasn't here today, they would've gotten nothing. That was number one from a mission standpoint of realizing, "Oh, there's a big need here."


00:06:06 Jack

And two was, oh, this was great from a business standpoint as well, because I'm doing something different than all the other SAT prep companies are doing. They're going after the wealthy market. I've got the other side of the market, and I have a customer who as a one-man college student business, she did all the hard work. She got the kids there, she had the classroom space, she had the pencils, and she called all the parents. She did the registrations. All I had to do was show up and teach. And that was really great.


00:06:32 Jack

So, the third piece from a business standpoint that got me excited to pursue was this group of students would graduate, but this program would exist next year and they would have similar needs, and I could build a long-term relationship with a customer. Because that was the challenge with tutoring, is, in any business, you got to find repeat customers. The best businesses are the ones we go to every day. The Starbucks that people can't live without.


00:06:58 Jack

Well, you do a great job tutoring SAT, the kid gets a great score and he never needs your services again. Or he gets a bad score, he blames you and he never needs your services again. So, that was the motivation to get started, was kind of the need of the student population combined with kind of the business case that I realized was a bit unique in that space.


00:07:15 Jack

So, that's how we got started. As you can guess, SAT prep led to all the things we ended up doing. But for me and the business, it was really a pretty narrow focus at the very beginning, which was doing SAT prep for nonprofits, was our very original business idea. So, that was a long answer to your question.


00:07:31 Salvatrice

No, it's okay. But now fast forward, and taking a look at your model, your business model - maybe let me ask this question; at what point did you feel the need to tweak or evolve the model to fit who you're serving and what you're doing now? When did that evolution process happen?


00:07:47 Jack

A lot of the models are actually pretty similar, ironically. The biggest thing we realized pretty quickly, is if you did a great job with SAT prep, people didn't ask for more SAT prep. They asked, "What else can you help our students with?"


00:08:02 Jack

And what I realized really fast was, there's only so much I can help these students with, in a three-hour SAT prep. Like that's not going to solve any of the bigger challenges in the college and career journey for these students. So, that was "aha" number one. And so, we realized very quickly we didn't want to be an SAT prep business, we wanted to be a college and career readiness business that supported this population of students and families and staff who provide these services.


00:08:28 Jack

So, that was the key, is realizing the product isn't the niche. It's not SAT prep, the niche is the customer base. And to this day, all of our customers are institutions. They're schools, they're libraries, they're community colleges, they're nonprofit programs, they're community-based organizations, et cetera, that are providing services to students and families.


00:08:52 Jack

And those are our customers to this day, those same institutions and those same organizations. Obviously, we were able to go from small nonprofits to large school districts and things like that over time. But that ethos has pretty much stayed pretty constant.


00:09:05 Salvatrice

Fantastic. And with career readiness for community college students, that component, share with us what that looks like. What does that entail? I'm an institution, what does that look like for us and what does that look like for the student?


00:09:17 Jack

That's a really big question. Probably bigger than I can probably answer in a short burst. But what we are finding in the work that we do, and the more work we do with students, is how do we provide really, really specific training combined with really, really broad skills. And doing both of those is really difficult.


00:09:42 Jack

Is how do we give these students the most broadly applicable skills they're going to need for the next 60 or 70 years? Most of our students, that's how long they're going to likely work. And much of the jobs they're going to be doing in those next 60 or 70 years may not even exist yet. So, we have to think about skills for them.


00:09:59 Jack

That being said, in the short-term, the students need specific skills that will on-ramp them into a specific industry and a specific pathway. And that's one of the things that we've been focused on, is developing partnerships with industry to create these opportunities, pathways, especially in careers that are maybe the most fun, engaging for students.


00:10:24 Jack

I'll not bore you with the details, but one of the courses that we've developed in partnership with industry has been a course all about the sneaker industry. Students love sneakers, but the course hits some different on-ramps and off-ramps and careers in that industry, whether that's design, whether that's manufacturing, whether that's retail, whether that's media.


00:10:45 Jack

And we're trying to use things that students are interested in to get them thinking about career pathways that maybe they haven't been exposed to. Because that's the other big challenge we find is, students' career goals are often tied really closely to the careers they've been exposed to. And they may have interests that don't at all align with what they've been exposed to, and they often disengage when that's the case.


00:11:06 Salvatrice

In doing that, have you come across any gaps with programming or information as it relates to career readiness for those families and those students? I mean, you're in the trenches of this work as well as I am, leading one of our departments within our division called the Freeman Center for Career and Completion, which is basically an elevated amplified career center for our community college.


00:11:31 Salvatrice

And we still see a lot of gaps within information that is available and accessible to our students. What are you seeing or do you entertain the idea of bridging those gaps? Or is it just too broad, too big?


00:11:45 Jack

Totally. I mean, we think about information gap, belief gap, and knowledge gap. And this is coming out from a bit more of a deficit mindset than probably I'd like to, so it's coming across that way. So, I just want to acknowledge that as I say that.


00:11:58 Jack

But I think successful career development programming or college, or any post-secondary, whatever it is, addresses information, belief, and knowledge. And I think ideally, the activities that we do, hopefully, give some components of all of them. Some days more successfully than others. In a nutshell, it's those three things


00:12:21 Salvatrice

That said, in your work with these community colleges, knowing the landscape of the work that we do, are you finding yourself saying, "Gosh, I really wish that community colleges can better support their entrepreneurial students?"


00:12:35 Salvatrice

You know, entrepreneurship is tricky. Obviously, there's a massive debate about is it teachable, is it not? Are you born with it? Are you not? And all that good stuff. But what we do know is entrepreneurship is threaded across many, many disciplines, and many, many different careers. So, I'm just kind of curious, based on your experience, how you think we can be better in supporting entrepreneurs.


00:12:56 Jack

I think entrepreneurship is a skillset that almost every young worker is going to need at some point in their career. I think there is very likely going to be the need to create your own job, to create your own business, to, at some point, again, if I'm 20-years-old and I'm going to work until I'm 80, that skillset's going to come in handy at some point.


00:13:17 Jack

And I think a lot of entrepreneurship that I've seen, and again, I haven't canvased the landscape about this fully, but what I see is often in entrepreneurship at colleges or things, is they have business challenges and things like that that are focused on you do a project and the winning team makes the most money with their little product in three weeks. Which is awesome, and I don't think that's bad.


00:13:40 Jack

But entrepreneurship and starting a successful business isn't about how much money can you make in the short-term. It's about how, one, what type of foundation can you build? And two is, how do you extend the runway as long as possible for you to figure it out?


00:13:56 Jack

Because I think that's the biggest challenge that I've faced in starting businesses with friends, businesses who've either succeeded or failed. Most of them may have succeeded, but they just ran out of runway. They ran out of time, they ran out of money before they figured it out. And so, I think that that's the question that I would ask any school or class or program teaching entrepreneurship, is how do we help extend these runways for our students? What can we provide?


00:14:23 Jack

Whether that's funding, whether that's mentorship, whether that's - whatever it is that help these students to see that entrepreneurship is possible because they have a runway. Because many students, they don't take that route because they know the runway's too short. Given they have loans, they've got bills, they've got all these things - it's like, "I believe I have a successful idea, but I can't pursue it because I'm going to run out of money before I get there.


00:14:47 Jack

So, that would be the question I would pose to anybody trying to teach that or promote that or have more of their students pursue that.


00:14:55 Salvatrice

Are there any institutions or customers that you see - and maybe not necessarily doing it well just yet, but are addressing that runway?


00:15:02 Jack

I mean, I'll shout out - they're not a community college, but I'll shout out my alma mater, USC. I don't think any entrepreneurship program or what have you, is going to necessarily make someone an entrepreneur who wasn't. I think it's going to create an environment where someone can believe that they can try, and that they can believe that they can fail.


00:15:25 Jack

They taught us a lot about ready, fire, aim; not ready and fire. It's ready, fire, aim - fire, aim, fire, aim, fire, aim. And giving folks that opportunity, I think, it's challenging because many of our students, they may want to pursue that down the road, but getting a job is a bigger priority in the short-term.


00:15:48 Jack

Again, going back to what we talked about before, about skills that are broad, but knowledge that is narrow or something like that. It's a challenge for sure. And I think it's a good question of why do we, as America, produce so many entrepreneurs is a really interesting question. Does it happen by accident? Does it happen by the flaws in our educational system create these entrepreneurs? Is it the strengths of our educational system that create these entrepreneurs?


00:16:09 Jack

It's a really interesting question because you look at countries that technically, have a much stronger education system than we do, but yet, they don't produce nearly the entrepreneurs that we do. So, the question is why.


00:16:22 Salvatrice

That would be a whole another unpacking session - a panel of discussion of sorts.


00:16:28 Jack

Yes. Someone smarter than me probably is going to have to answer that one.


00:16:32 Salvatrice

Well, I wonder then as well, so previously, I had a previous interview with Barney Santos, who is the CEO, and Founder-


00:16:40 Jack

Who I know. Yep, I know Barney.


00:16:41 Salvatrice

You know, right, Gentefy?


00:16:42 Jack

I do, I do. Yep.


00:16:44 Salvatrice

And he talked about just that. He talked about entrepreneurship and the age-old question of whether it can be taught or not, et cetera. I mean, we brushed upon it very lightly, but ultimately, it boiled down to the question of how do institutions like ours and companies like yours work together to support the entrepreneur, knowing that it's more about developing the environment to allow them to do all those things that you just shared about failing, succeeding, networking, just having the environment of support.


00:17:15 Salvatrice

And that can include so many different things. But basically, what we came up with is how do we do better with partnering with entrepreneurs like yourself and companies like yourself to support the entrepreneurial spirit on campuses, knowing that it's really more about the environment that we're creating versus the skills that we're teaching.


00:17:33 Jack

Yeah, yeah. Definitely.


00:17:35 Salvatrice

Is there examples that you think we could do? Like what could we do with you, Jack, that would support the entrepreneurs here on campus?


00:17:41 Jack

I think, to me, the most helpful in the entrepreneurship space, and I want to talk about mentorship and kind of that exposure piece, is to see entrepreneurs that are ahead of you on the journey and to work with them, but that aren't so far ahead of you that it's hard to see yourself and relate. That's, I think, the challenge.


00:18:00 Jack

Sometimes you get a guest speaker, and I remember having these in classes - and you hear about the guy is in his sixties and he started 12 companies and took them public and all these different things. And you're here trying to go from zero customers to five. And that person is so far removed. And not that that person's not valuable, and it's great to meet that person and ask them questions - but that part is hard to realize, okay, what can I learn from this person from where I'm at now?


00:18:26 Jack

And I think for students and for myself even now, is I want to be in a room with people who are ahead of me on the journey, but they're not 20 steps ahead of me. And so, I think that's the most helpful for students and that's where we would love to support as well, is like we're not a massive, massive company. I don't have multinational with thousands of employees and those things.


00:18:50 Jack

So, I think it's getting folks to see, I think that there's a lot of successful entrepreneurs who are not Elon Musk. And a lot of those folks are everywhere in our society, but they're hidden. We don't see them everywhere. The person who owns ... they may own three Starbucks in our neighborhood, we never notice them. They might have started a successful car lot, whatever. But we don't see those people because they're not in businesses that are "sexy," they're not in tech, they're not flashy.


00:19:23 Jack

And so, those are the people that I think are the most valuable for student entrepreneurs to meet, is people who have worked in their business, run their business, learned about their customers, pivoted along the way, faced these real ... like that's who I want my students to get exposed to.


00:19:42 Jack

I still value being exposed to those folks, and that's where I think the mentorship - those are the people you want coming in to judge business plan competitions, to work with students in small groups, to sponsor a lunch and learn to do those types of things because I think those are the folks that are likely going to be the most helpful for students that they've, otherwise ... those people don't write business books. They're not on that level. But those are the people that I think are so helpful and have been so helpful to me.


00:20:11 Salvatrice

And speaking of journey, where do you see Study Smart Tutors in the next 10 years? Where do you want to be Jack, in 10 years?


00:20:17 Jack

I think for us, I'm really passionate about the population of students that we serve, low-income, first gen, and the communities that we work in. And so, for me, I love creating additional products in those spaces, whether that's for the adults who are serving those students, for the institutions that are serving those students, for the students themselves, for their families - that's the fun part to me.


00:20:41 Jack

It was never really about any one product. It's about the communities that we serve and what we can do to deliver in them. And that's why we branched into grant assistance. We help institutions secure federal funding to do this work. And that's really fun because we get to see, hey, we wrote this grant, we worked with this institution to write this grant, and now, they're doing X, Y, and Z with this population of students. I love that type of stuff.


00:21:04 Jack

And also, we have developed a number of industry partnerships to develop courses, certificate-bearing courses in a number of industries. We want to make that better, bigger, deeper. We've not done what I really want to do, which is have all of our courses have direct pathways into internships, into jobs.


00:21:25 Jack

We have industry partners giving us certificates, but I want ask them for more. I want real pathways, real pathways into career for our students. We have so far focused mostly in arts and media pathway careers. That's just where we've been able to meet folks and engage. But I would love to do this across every industry pathway. Eventually, we're never going to run out of those. Doing those things are fun and creating things that are unique is fun.


00:21:50 Salvatrice

All of what you said, I'm thinking, gosh, like how do we, PCC, and our brother and sister community colleges work with you in all these other products, and I really appreciate you sharing all of these other areas - not only areas of interest, but areas of need that you've discovered along the way.


00:22:07 Salvatrice

So, I look forward to offline conversations from this podcast. There's good synergies here and I feel it. So, I look forward to unpacking that with you.


00:22:15 Salvatrice

This is the Future of Work Podcast. If there's one thing that you want our listeners to understand about how, what we've shared today, what we've spoken about today impacts their future, what would that be?


00:22:32 Jack

What I've found in my own life and in the students we've worked with, is that students' exposure changes students' expectations. And the more exposures and the more we can provide that, the more students start seeing, "Oh, that could be me. Oh, I want to now do that. Oh, I'm interested in that."


00:22:52 Jack

The spark generates. And it's the belief spark, it's the knowledge spark, it's the information spark, but it all starts with the exposures. And I think that's done in a lot of different ways and can be done in a lot of different ways. But that would be my parting wisdom, for lack of a better word.


00:23:07 Salvatrice

That's a really, really great one. Thank you so much. I wrote that down, by the way. I wish I could show you, but I can't. But I have this little wall in my office where I put little nuggets of information, nuggets of wisdom that I get from the podcast. And I wrote down student exposure changes student expectations. I love it.


00:23:24 Salvatrice

This has been super wonderful, Jack, and I know that you're incredibly busy as an entrepreneur.


00:23:30 Jack

No, this was fun.


00:23:31 Salvatrice

Yeah, it's so much fun. I look forward to talking with you further on some synergies with our community colleges and Study Smart Tutors. If there's a listener who is looking to connect with you, what's the best way that they can connect with you? And we'll enter those in the show notes.


00:23:46 Jack

Yeah, they can find us on Instagram. They can always message us on Instagram @StudySmartTutors. They can always email us as well. I'm happy to give anybody who's listening my email, it's just jackf@studysmartutors. I always answer my email, anybody who reaches out - that student or faculty who's interested in anything we're doing, or we can help in any way, we'd be more than happy to.


00:24:05 Salvatrice

Fantastic. Thank you so much, Jack.


00:24:07 Jack

Thank you.


00:24:12 Salvatrice

Thank you for listening to the Future of Work Podcast. Make sure you're subscribed on your favorite listening platform so you can easily get new episodes every Tuesday.


00:24:20 Salvatrice

You can reach out to us by clicking on the website link below in the show notes to collaborate, partner, or just chat about all things future of work. We'd love to connect with you. All of us here at the Future of Work and Pasadena City College wish you safety and wellness.