Pop Quiz, Monday with Ethan Adshade, Founder and CEO at TEPHE.org

The Pop Quiz, Monday is a fun little exam that we love to give to savvy business owners. The examination is not a surprise after all since the interviewee already knew about the questions in advance. However, we can always pretend and have fun with the scenario of a young entrepreneur sitting in class nervously biting on their pencil. They are ready to take a pop quiz on a chapter that they were supposed to read the night before. Instead, they played Metroid all night on their SNES (Oops, this was me in high school). The real purpose of the pop quiz is that this is a fun way to introduce business tips from real-world experiences that you can not learn in a classroom. We want to thank our entrepreneur for being a good sport and volunteering their time to answer a few questions to help our community grow from their knowledge.

I want to introduce you to our guest today who will be taking our Pop Quiz Monday.

Can you please tell everyone your name?
Ethan Adshade

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Photo credit: Ethan Adshade

What is your job role?
Founder and CEO of TEPHE.org

Tell us about your company?
TEPHE is a free online platform that connects educators with professionals in their community to create and schedule transformational, in-person, learning experiences for students. We make pairing academic curriculums with expert engagement easy for schools, and we provide an excellent way for professionals to give back to their communities by leveraging what they’re great at.

What do you love most about your job?
Talking to students after they’ve met someone new. Even though they aren’t an actual user on the platform the students and their responses are what validates TEPHE’s entire existence. When students tell me that they now have a tangible path of how to navigate from where they are to the person they want to be I know all the work is worth it.

What motivates you to get up every day and go to work?
My experience in the classroom and commitment to at-risk youth were the motivators for my initial work. Since finishing TEPHE’s development and growth has become the main focus, my patience and passion have been thoroughly tested. On one particular day, I received an email saying I had won the 100k grant only to receive an email 2 hours later stating they had made a mistake and I, in fact, did not win. I called my mentor, and after my rant, he merely asked: “Why do you do this?” I said “for the kids,” to which he replied, “when’s the last time you were around those kids?”. The next day I enrolled to be a substitute teacher. 2-3 days a week I go into a different school, diligently follow the teacher’s lesson plan, and always make time to talk to the kids afterward. This week, Jesus and Matías, two juniors, who together couldn’t name ten different career fields, are my motivation. Last month it was Sarah, a sophomore, who was destined to be a singer but had never met a music producer.

How do your co-workers inspire you?
They believe in the potential of TEPHE. They see the longterm vision. They see schools where every student has an opportunity to meet their future self, where students have a chance to find their strengths and see where their brilliance lies. They also do this for free. Every employee asides from our developer are volunteers.

How do you have fun at work (team building, pranks, etc..)?
We mostly work remotely. When we do come together, we like to eat food and drink crazy amounts of coffee. There is no dress code, and everyone has a voice which makes it much more laid-back but productive environment.

What are some of the challenges of your job?
Growing and fundraising. We have a fantastic product, but we’ve realized many schools lack the confidence in their students’ behavior to invite in outside professionals. There is also a learning curve for both teachers and professionals on how to use TEPHE. This needed “explanation” has been our biggest strategic bottleneck. Raising money is tough, and I hate doing it. As a nonprofit, we rely on donors to secure our budgets. Too many “No’s” from grants and foundations has been the biggest challenge and dragged on my confidence.

What are some lessons learned from a past project that you can share with us?
A lesson from all my projects is to get a mentor. No matter what the size if you can talk to someone who’s done it before do it. In one particular meeting, while in the development stages, I was meeting with an owner of an after-school company to learn about his experience and pitch a potential partnership, the meeting quickly shifted to TEPHE’s core mission, and a series of challenging and thought-provoking questions were thrown my way. Through that conversation, I realized I was working too hard on a “hub and spokes” for a “wheel” that wouldn’t get me as much traction as I needed. I had bitten off more than I should of. That one meeting changed the entire course of TEPHE and allowed us to focus on our core driver, getting professionals into classrooms.

What advice would you give to someone who is starting in your industry?
Start it NOW! One of my mentors, who has a hugely successful nonprofit with a brick-and-mortar building located in the heart of Los Angeles, gave me this advice early on. He reminded me that he had started in an old classroom he rented from a private school. A lot of what you want your product to do you can do for free which just more labor. Try your product/service out without any expensive technology, and you’ll save your self, time and energy in the future.
Thank you for taking our pop quiz today. You get an A+ for effort. You can learn more about our interviewee and their business by visiting them on the web:

Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter: TEPHEducation

Author: Ricky Singh, MBA

Editor of The Startup Growth.

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