First Friday's Group Business Development Lead, Founder
The Johns Hopkins University Bachelor's, Economics, International/Global Studies
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How did you get to where you are today? What incidents and experiences shaped your career path? What inspires you to work on this nonprofit idea?

Summarized By: Jeff Musk on Wed Jul 29 2020
Yeah, absolutely. I think it's a great question. And I think at the core, first Fridays Group was born on the belief that everyone deserves a place to belong and everyone deserves equal opportunity to explore their creative passions. And so, from a high level, you know what the business does. We teach people specifically college students and youth from underprivileged backgrounds in creative art forms like deejaying, videography, music production and the like. And then we give them the platform to perform in front of thousands as well as gain economic opportunities through job opportunities in their area of passion. And so you know me. I come from an experience of since 11 years old. I've actually been a songwriter. I come from a family that's very musical. Um, my older cousin was a prolific music producer himself, and so I think I was looking for an opportunity to advance people and empower people through something they're passionate about. And, you know, a lot of people love music, but not everybody has the economic opportunity to get into what is a very capital intensive. You know, talent instruments are expensive. The technology to produce digital music is expensive and so we wanted to lower those barriers to entry. And the one thing that I'd like to specify is that I also had prior experience running. Another non profit organization called Water, is the answer that provides clean water in developing communities. And I came across a unique idea, which was kind of on the border of profit and nonprofit, which is profit for impact. So first Fridays group is set up as an LLC, while water is. The answer was set up as a five, a one C three, and I found that there were just two different experiences there, Um, as running a five a one c three. A lot of my fund raising was dependant on donations or maybe applying for grants, and a lot of the participation was on, Let's say, Ah, volunteerism. And so when I was starting First Fridays Group, I wanted to find a way to generate sustainable capital and profit that could then be reinvested to create job opportunities for the community. So that's kind of a bit of what got me interested in this experience, how it differs a little bit from the conventional 501 c three nonprofit and you know just what it's all about.

Can you walk us through your first few weeks when you started working on this project? How did things change over the next few months?

Summarized By: Jeff Musk on Wed Jul 29 2020
Yeah, it was a funny story, so I came up with the idea. It was actually in response to a certain pitch competition or, ah, Grant request grant. Like there was a certain organization, an association that was looking for ideas that would create a bridge between my university and the community around it. And so I came up with this idea that would empower people through their creativity and connect them socially in the form of live performances and job opportunities. And I wrote up a business plan. Maybe around late 2018 got super excited, scented in and boot rejected. So it was interesting. You know, I think one of the biggest keys and entrepreneurship or whether that's entrepreneurship, nonprofit management, anything that's related to innovation is being able to see your vision clearly. No. When you know it's nonsense. No one toe. Listen, if an idea isn't good and ideas and good, but when an idea is good, know when to not listen and to trust yourself in your own ability to make it happen. So after getting rejected from that grand that would have provided the capital expenditure and needed to get started, I decided to work myself. I worked a full time job for about three months and saved every single penny that I made. Reinvested it to start the Company Inc. These initial legal fees to make sure that everything was great and so fast board, you know, maybe a year later leading a team of 60 people profitable business, you know, collaborating with global companies like Red Bull, for example. And I actually was able to then retain my university as a client of the company. So in terms of how things changed, I think it was learning how to, you know, I think more important than knowing how to capitalize on success is knowing how to rebound from failure and rejection. And I think that's the biggest thing that I learned and how things change was just, you know, that journey turning what was a no into what became a resounding yes, which was the overall journey of the company

What were the challenges in building the initial team and how did you overcome them? How did the team's composition, dynamics, time, and resource commitment evolve?

Summarized By: Jeff Musk on Wed Jul 29 2020
That's a great question. I think it was. Building a team like that was the first time that I had to build such a dynamic and complex team, because when you think about the business right, we're teaching people creative things. I am not a jack of all trades. I don't really know how to teach someone else how to do videography. I don't really know how to teach someone else how to do deejaying. And so when you have a business, it's technical in nature, educational in nature. Naturally, that meant that I had to recruit people that had those skill sets, however, still had passions that were in line with the core identity of the business. And so I think that the challenges in building the initial team were really knowing how to navigate skill sets. Especially when I knew I wanted to recruit college students. What skills did I need? To what extent did I need those skills? And what was the trade off? You know, how far can I go into somebody that has, you know, the highest level of a certain skill set without trading off their interpersonal skills, sociability at the level that we are where professional experience is limited. And so, in terms of how I overcame them, a lot of research and analytical thinking, I have, uh, it's funny. When I started the company, I literally had an Excel spreadsheet of almost every single person at my university that I thought could be a good fit for the company with detailed notes on why I think they would be a good fit, what I think they could bring to the table and what I could also at what the company could also give to them in terms of their future professional goals. And so it's seeing everything on paper objectively like that helped me to put together a well balanced team filled with, you know, multiple races, multiple cultures, multiple, you know, even nations were represented international students, national students, multiple majors and videographers, photographers, DJs, software engineers and the like, and even like just hard finance people to keep the budget balanced. And so all they know. I say that to say that when building a team, I think the two most important things to keep an eye on are making sure its diverse not everybody should bring the same skill set or the same cultural lens or the same background, and also making sure that the lens through which you analyze people is objective. Far too often, hiring decisions are made based off like gut feelings, air predispositions or biases. And I think that just putting things down on paper analyzing is objectively as possible. With the goal of diversity and well balanced team building in mind, I think that's the best way to do it.

Who are the target beneficiaries of your nonprofit? Can you share a few stories about how your nonprofit has made a difference for them?

Summarized By: Jeff Musk on Wed Jul 29 2020
Really? Yeah. So we worked primarily with college students and youth from under resourced backgrounds under resource neighborhoods, primarily in Baltimore City. And so the issue here is that college students suffer across the board from issues with mental health, substance abuse, depression. I think there's data from the data from the American Psychological Association. Or maybe there's a mental health organization. The exact name of the organization is slipping my mind. But what has been traced is that more than 60% of college students suffer from these issues. And so beyond that, you know, in Baltimore City, an alarming rate of people live below the poverty line. I think the metric is somewhere between one and three and one and four people and do to, you know, a status quo where there are a lot of people living in high pressure environments without sufficient outwork for their, you know, creativity, passion, talent. There can be, you know, pressures toward certainly, you know, illicit behaviors like maybe crime or substance abuse in outside of the college environment. And so what I'm trying to paint a picture of is the fact that both in the college environment and in Baltimore city, there was a lack of an outlet for creativity, which can then, you know, just lead to better mental help. And so what I wanted to do was to provide that outlet through free education, breaking down the barriers to access that are very high for these technical art forms, but not only breaking down those barriers but providing a transferrable job opportunity that could then be translated into economic opportunity for these individuals so that later on they could, you know, be independent to continue this passion if they so choose, rather than just giving someone a fish, teaching them how to fish. So they'll never be hungry again. Eso to speak, of course, and so I think, to share a specific story. There was one young man from Baltimore City who was an aspiring recording artist, and let's call him Daniel. His real name is in Daniel, but for privacy concerns will call him Daniel. And so his issue was that coming from a background where resource is were not always in the plenty, it was difficult. Figure out how toe balance his aspirations educationally on, and also his aspirations of being a recording artist, right and This young man was a senior in high school, so definitely a very pivotal moment. And so the company worked with him, brought him into the are creative recording studio, helped him record a brand new song and then later on put him on stage is where he performed those songs in front of thousands of people over the course of I believe, about five months and so beyond that, we also brought him into professional business environments, where he joined our company in pitching for further funding and capital infusions and investments. And so with that set, the last thing that we did was paired him with mentors who could, you know better just expose him to the college ecosystem and just thinking about these things in this way and so fast forward to the present day. We're excited to learn that he's gonna be enrolling in full time University this upcoming fall. What that will look like under Corona virus conditions is to be disclosed, but we were able to kind of empower him to take his music to the next level, but also keep his education and you know his. How would you say, um, his conventional duties in line as well. And so I think it's there's countless stories like that from different people that we've worked with. But I'm just excited to know that this is an initiative that has empowered people to get better connected with their passions, their economic advancement, their mental health and also helping youth keep in line with their education.

What are the profiles of people who volunteer for your organization? How do you recruit, engage, and retain them?

Summarized By: Jeff Musk on Wed Jul 29 2020
Yes. So I wouldn't say that there is a profile because you know the passion, the belief. You know, I always start with the why we believe that everyone deserves a place to belong. We believe that everyone deserves equal access to their creative passions. There's no profile for that. If you're a human being with a heart than those air two statements that you can agree with and I think that that's probably the most important thing about business or nonprofit or anything that you want people to get behind. Make sure whatever your core values are, whatever your core beliefs are or something universal that everybody can get behind. You know not I'm not. Everybody is gonna buy an iPhone. Not everybody is gonna buy an android. People will choose one of the other some people both but what everybody can get behind and the values that should be held by both of, you know, manufacturing companies, air technological development companies is that everybody deserves access to better technology at their fingertips. And so with that set for us, you know, I said, what are beliefs are and we then attractive, very diverse set of people from different backgrounds in terms of recruiting and engaging. I think it was. The business lends itself very nicely to that, because before Corona virus, we held a lot of in person events, live events with live music that would attract up to 500 people in a single night. And building that platform is partly what allowed us to capture the attention of a company like Red Bull, who we built a great relationship with and so retaining and attracting talent. A lot of people just like to have a good time, and if they know that there are part of something that not only is, you know, revenue generating, not only is economic opportunity creating job creating, but it's fun, like it's not going to be difficult to get people to get behind that. So I think that the the biggest take away here is whatever you're doing. If it's something you want people to get behind, the underlying principles have to be universal. That's A and B. I mean, if you can make what you're doing fun, then you know people get behind that. So those were the two things that I would say on that

What type of donors, foundations, and grant-making agencies do you target? What approaches have been successful in raising funds from them?

Summarized By: Jeff Musk on Wed Jul 29 2020
absolutely. I think that it's difficult because we are outside of medical technology. What I found, especially my university, specializes a lot in healthcare and just navigating the entrepreneurial ecosystem from my university. I've seen an abundance of opportunities for medical devices and, you know, technical solutions in the healthcare space. But it can be limited when you have a company that is niche such as, you know, technical education services and what are for all intents and purposes like live events. And so with that being said, I think in terms of targeting, I'll just figure out what is our core belief, as I mentioned the belief that everyone deserves a place to belong and to explore their creative passions. So then I'll identify companies, um, firms, associations that hold those beliefs. Are there any local nonprofits or agencies that are specifically for youth empowerment in the form of music? When I looked at Red Bull, there was a lot of synergy between us and like Red Bull records, Red Bull empowers people through their wings which are there, you know, inner potentials, which is something similar that we do, and so I think I will get a bit more specific about our company, but I want the big take away here. Target sources of funding that are in line with the core beliefs and functions of your business. And so for us, that was, like, you know, music education. So we targeted sources of funding that historically investment, music and education solutions. And one of our biggest donors was actually biggest donors. Funders. Investors was actually Johns Hopkins University itself. We won several grants and participated in non dilutive accelerators funded by the university. So I think it's important to keep your eyes open for whatever synergies synergies I believe are the most important thing in business. So keep your eyes open for Senator.

How do you hire and manage your marketing team including agencies and part-time workers to increase awareness about your efforts? What marketing tools do you use?

Summarized By: Jeff Musk on Wed Jul 29 2020
Yeah, I think the biggest thing is looking for people that both have experience. If not, you know, I'd say there are three things and I won't rank them in order of importance. But there are three things that I look at. Um, I look at experience. I look at desire, you can come in having no desire, but it I mean, you can come in having no experience. But if you have the desire to learn, that's awesome, like you're you're a good fit. Ah, and then another thing that I will look at is again value alignment. Some people can have awesome desire and awesome experience in marketing paper and packaging, which then does not necessarily that's not as relevant to my business, which revolves around music and education and job services. So the type of people that I've really enjoyed working with have the desire. Experience is a plus, but not necessary. And you know, the passion in this area of business that I think translates well cause marketing is all about piercing a target demographic, and you're not going to convince anybody to get behind something that you don't even like. Believe in yourself on DSO in terms of the tools, I believe that, you know, social Media is an excellent, excellent tool. If you know how to use it, right, figure out who it is, who you want to target. Get them like figure out how you will. So, for example, one thing that will use is sourcing customers from targeted follower basis. So if we know that we are in music and therefore we want to pursue people that love music, they're 18 to 22 year olds and they like a specific genre of music. Then we'll target people that followed that follow Hashtags that are related to that genre will follow people that you know up and buy follow. I mean, like, target and source our marketing material toward people that you know, consume anything that's related to our business. So I think knowing how to use social media is very, very, very important. We had staggeringly low costs of customer acquisition just because of how efficiently we were acquiring customers. We had up to a 93% conversion rate from Instagram alone. And so I think that social media cannot be, How would you say the importance of social media and the digital age cannot be overstated

How do you quantify the impact made by your programs? What kind of key performance indicators do you use to track your progress?

Summarized By: Jeff Musk on Wed Jul 29 2020
when you are a business or any entity that deals with money, that money is going to be close to the top in terms of specifically quantifiable impact. So we would track our, uh, operating margins. We track our total top line. How much money is coming into the business? We track our expenses, How much money is going out? We track where exactly those expenses are going, maybe to cut costs and to make sure that whatever money is coming in and out of the company is primarily for the purpose of advancing the community and the people that are a part of it. So then, in terms of quantifying impact, then we would say, How many jobs did we create for people that came through our talent development pipeline? How much money did those people then make? You know how much how many people are coming out to our events to see the talent that we have trained and put on stage? What are the trends looking like? How is that growing month over month, you know, event over event. And so I'd say that those air some good KP eyes that we look at just growth, not just nominal values, but trends, because we want to know that we're having impact that is trending upward

What are the most pressing needs or issues faced by your organization? What are your organization's short-term and long-term plans?

Summarized By: Jeff Musk on Wed Jul 29 2020
the most pressing challenge right now is, of course, Cove in 19. Our business is based in part on live performances in person events. And so in the short term, the short way are in a unique economic, business and market environment where the short term and long term are now non existent because we don't even know what tomorrow will look like. So from a financial planning and analysis business strategy, perspective a lot, it's up in the air. And I think what will determine sink or swim is what the world looks like going forward, but also how well we can adapt. Because a lot of entertainment leaders politicians are saying that we might not expect to see any life gatherings until 2022. But in that same breath, many states are hosting open air live events every day. Um and so I think it's difficult because my biggest concern is not to focus myself on the politics of any decision that I make, but rather what the impact is. If operating this business would mean, you know, jeopardizing the health of our community, then it's definitely not something Then that means that those specific operations need to be put on pots. And so right now, in terms of the short term, mid term long term, I'm having consistent meeting with meetings with my team to figure out what the best way forward is to avoid markets that are becoming oversaturated, such as like digital events, but also to avoid, you know, any decisions that would jeopardize the best interests of the community.

What were the major exciting and memorable moments? Were there also any moments that almost got you to quit? How did you get past them?

Summarized By: Jeff Musk on Wed Jul 29 2020
exciting moment was partnering with Red Bull, flying out to their headquarters in Santa Monica, having meetings with some members of their marketing team and just I think that was such a excellent How would you say validation of the idea that I had just a year before and was told that it would never work, was rejected from the grant that it needed to get off the ground. I think that was so exciting and then partnering again with Red Bull to fly to Toronto, Canada, and pitched the business to members of Cisco's innovation left alongside other entrepreneurs from 28 other countries. I think that that was very empowering and eye opening to see what entrepreneurship also looks like in different environments, but also to develop a camaraderie with people I was competing against in terms of moments that made me wanna quit. Yeah, we had early in the company's career, we had a big marketing blunder where we put out some promotional content that included the the names of certain athletes that were participating in our event as DJs and what was unbeknownst to the marketing team that put out that promotional content was the rules regarding the use of name and likeness when those athletes are involved. So we got embroiled in what was definitely a unique and challenging situation and it was tough. I think it seemed at some point, like we have gotten ourselves into a situation that because that was literally at the very, very beginning of the company, that was in promoting our very first live event. And so it seemed at one point that that first event might have been the last event. But I think that the most important thing is taking accountability like don't make an excuse. I messed up boom like say it. I messed up. We messed up. I It was my responsibility to be better informed of the ecosystem. I'm navigating now. What are the steps that we can take to make it better? You know, and I think that just navigating that I won't go into the specifics of the situation. But I think that accountability was extremely important. Transparency was extremely important and interestingly, we developed, I would say, even friendship, relationship with those same regulating entities that were displeased with our efforts at first and with those relationships helped us stay on the right side of the regulations going forward, so transparency is super important in terms of bouncing back from mistakes, accountability.

What responsibilities and decisions does one handle in a job like yours? What are the challenges? What strategies are effective in dealing with these challenges?

Based on experience at: Finance Lead, Founder, Travis Karter Clothing
Summarized By: Jeff Musk on Wed Jul 29 2020
absolutely eso Travis Carter clothing was a bit more independent. I mentioned that I was a recording artist, a musician, and part of my journey was, you know, writing songs that ended up being streamed in more than 100 countries more than 500,000 times on DSO. That's something that I'm very proud of. And I think that all in all with Travis Carter clothing, my job was to design clothing on DSI. How those designs should change based on cultural context, cause I was operating a business. It was selling units in more than 10 countries around the world. And so, you know, managing also what the pricing model should look like because, I mean, they're different currencies. And so I think that in terms of challenges, just knowing that the idea that a business is a business, it's false Businesses are like people. They have to change based on their environment or they won't get very far. So the strategies that are effective, it are again building a diverse team. I had a lot of people that were a part of that initiative that were able to guide me on how selling ah hoody in Spain might be different than selling a hoody in Canada where we had customers in both nations. So I am excited. You know, I'm excited to continue taking those, uh, taking those lessons on with me cause they're very transferrable, regardless of industry or business.

How does the school prepare you for your career? Think about faculty, resources, alumni, exposure & networking. What are the best parts?

Based on experience at: Bachelor's, Economics, International/Global Studies, The Johns Hopkins University
Summarized By: Jeff Musk on Wed Jul 29 2020
I really enjoy going to a school like the school that I attend, because I like. I enjoy the at the exposure to the other people that are pursuing their dreams. You know, I am around people who want to be doctors, lawyers, engineers, economists, bankers. Every day that I wake up, you know the person even, you know, the people that I live with are working extremely hard. And so I think that the biggest resource of any organization is its people and universities are collection of some of the most hardworking individuals, you know, and I recognize that access to education is a privilege. So it's definitely, you know, hard work is not limited to members of universities. But what I have experienced is that being at a university is a privilege. I'm grateful for to be exposed to many aspiring, successful people. And so I think the best part is the, you know, effect that that gives in iron sharpens iron. Just being around people makes me better as well

What three life lessons have you learned over your career? Please discuss the stories behind these lessons, if possible. Stories could be yours or observed.

Summarized By: Jeff Musk on Wed Jul 29 2020
sure. I'm going to take a moment to just think on this one. Yeah, I think that one lesson some let. I'm not sure if it will be three at the end, but I'll keep them all concise. Cem, core guiding principles that I live by one is being my most authentic self. You know, I believe that you're not always gonna be the same person in every environment. You are different at a wedding than you are at a funeral. Um, and you're different at work. Then you are, you know, the nightclub. And so I think the most important thing is to not enter environments that make you change the things that are core to who you are. And so that's one guiding principle. Another is preserving Optionality. I think there's a big push toward always knowing what you want to do it every second. I don't necessarily agree with that. I think the best thing to do is if you don't know what you want to do with, you know, resolute accuracy, clarity and confidence. The best thing to do is toe. Always take the next step that will keep his many steps open to you going forward. So, you know, going to college is a great example of a move that preserves Optionality. Um, you know, and if you, you know, like secondary education as well as a great example, I'm doing a masters degree, but I'd say those are leave it there just for the purpose of, you know, brevity. But I'd say maintaining your authentic self and maintaining optionality or two very important things.

What starting job (after internship) would you recommend to students who hope to grow professionally like you? What other parting advice, dos, and don'ts would you give?

Summarized By: Jeff Musk on Wed Jul 29 2020
terms of starting job. No, there isn't. Um, I think that it's not about the job that you have. It's about how much you're aspiring to reach the top. If you want to be a videographer, then you better be the best videographer there is on the planet. You that better be your goal. You know, if you want to be a lawyer, a doctor, a sanitary engineer, it doesn't matter. There's no total pole in terms of what jobs air more valid than others. I think it's all about picking what your passion is finding the job that aligns with that and aspiring to be the best that you can be and the best that there is in that drop. And to me, if you're not doing that, if that's not in keeping like if aspiring to be better than you were yesterday, every single day you wake up isn't what you're doing that in my opinion, you're not doing it right. Um, And so in terms of growing professionally like me, I don't think necessarily that I am the exemplar of what a career looks like. I'm just starting out online, but what I do know is that When I walk from point A to point B, I put one foot in front of the other, or else I won't reach that goal. And so every day that I wake up, that's my goal. To put one foot in front of the other every day, I have to be moving forward in terms of compared to who I was yesterday on. And so, in terms of parting advice, do keep your goals in mind and anything that you're going to do. Ask yourself, How does this next step put me toward what I want to do in the future? You know, it's like a staircase, right? If they're two staircases and at the top of one is gold and at the top of the other is like I don't know Cole. Then why would you take a step on the cold staircase? If you want gold? You know every step that you take can lead you somewhere. So think about how the staircase that you're on, where it ends up in in terms of Don't Slyke, don't take any moment for granted, because when you are stopping and chilling on one step, there's somebody that you can't see in another part of the world that is taking a step good past you. So just always remember that you know you can stop. You can rest, you can take breaks. That's totally fine. But time doesn't so never take time for granted.