Million Dollar Monday

Accelerate Your Success With EJ Carrion

August 30, 2021 Greg Muzzillo / EJ Carrion
Million Dollar Monday
Accelerate Your Success With EJ Carrion
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

EJ Carrion is a transformational social entrepreneur, speaker and thought leader who builds technology and innovations to create equitable people-powered solutions. As Co-Founder of his company, Student Success Agency, he offers a knowledgeable perspective on taking action to change the norm. He was recognized by Forbes Magazine as a Top 30 Entrepreneur Under 30. Tune in to this episode to hear how Carrion empowers others to accelerate their success. 

Chapter Summaries

Key Takeaways

  • I created student success agency with the idea that we should support students anywhere. Districts spend millions of dollars to support kids during the day when they're in class. That would be like the store only open when you and I are at work. Students need these services, but they're only available when they're actually in their busiest time. And so we create an equitable approach where kids can receive that anywhere, anytime from their phones. 
  • To get out of your comfort zone, it comes to identifying what is something that you have a hunch on that you're authentic on - and believe in that gut, because your story and your experience, especially when your experience is so different, allows you to play the game.
  • The internet is only 30 years old. I think we're just living at a time where we need to realize like a lot of things that were normal were questioned just a hundred years ago. We’re talking 1918, we just finished world war one, to go back a hundred years ago to world war one and explain what Tik Tok is…and we're talking just a hundred years.
  • So people won't remember our legacy, but they will live in the systems that we have built. No one knows who invented the stoplight. No one knows who invented the toilet, but every single day, me and you use their legacy design, we live within their legacy. And so when we're able to think in decades, we then realize we're legacy designers and then your work is very important. 

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EJ Carrion:

Legacy design is building systems that future people are going to live off of. Right? No one knows who invented the stoplight. No one knows who invented the toilet, but every single day, me and you use their legacy design. We live within their legacy. And so when we're able to think in decades, we then realize we're legacy designers and then your work becomes very important.

Greg Muzzillo:

Hello, and welcome to Million Dollar Monday. I'm your host, Greg Muzzillo bringing you real successful people with real useful advice for people with big dreams. I understand big dreams. I turned an investment of $200 and a lot of great advice from some really successful people into my big dream Proforma. That today is a half billion dollar company. Hello and welcome. I am excited to introduce my guest today. EJ Carrion, a fascinating guy who likes to say he prepares students, but also I know he prepares all people, including himself for success in life. He is a transformational social entrepreneur, a speaker, a thought leader who builds technology and innovations to create equitable people, powered solutions. He is the co-founder and CEO of a company called Student Success Agency. He was a special guest to the white house during the Obama administration, and it was recognized by the department of education for his innovative work and student engagement and supporting the whole child. He was recognized by Forbes magazine as a top 30 entrepreneur under 30, during the recent pandemic. He was called on by NBC, ABC, Fox news affiliates, and more to talk about supporting students through virtual learning he is a first generation college student who received the prestigious Bill and Melinda gates scholarship. And he is a social media star with 30 million views of a video on Facebook. Welcome EJ. Thanks for joining me.

EJ Carrion:

Thank you, Greg, for having me .

Greg Muzzillo:

Yeah. All right . Well, let's start at the beginning. Tell us a little bit about your growing up years, your educational background and those experiences that drove you to be passionate about those things you're passionate about and to start your company Student Success Agency.

EJ Carrion:

For me, it was the concept of being a first-generation college student. Mom's passion was for me to go to college. None of my family went to college. No one has done that and so that was kind of the goal. I was kind of an average student .I went to summer school , in middle school when I took the act my junior year, my eighth grade brother got a higher score than me was kind of a very average student in school but always had , big ambitions. I grew up in a small town in Texas. My family was military but no, I created student success agency with the idea of, we should support students anywhere Anytime. Today, district spends millions of dollars to support kids during the day when they're in class. That would be like the grocery store only open when you and I are at work. Students need these services, but they're only available when they're actually in their busiest time. And so we create an equitable approach where kids can receive that anywhere, anytime from their phones , and it was something I experienced trying to apply to college. Right.

Greg Muzzillo:

So tell us a little bit more about how you started it, where it's at today and what is your vision for the future of students success agency?

Speaker 1:

Yeah. So I started this when I was 22 years old. I was just out of college , teach for America. I did a little internship with teach for America and the south side of Chicago. And that's where I learned about the overbook counselor overlook student problem. You know, there's one counselor, every 500 students back then the average student only got 38 minutes with their counselor a year and so it was an uphill battle. And so for us, I saw an opportunity to do something here and now the kicker here was I got accepted to teach for America to be a teacher , teaching English , making $32,000 a year. And I was passionate about this idea. And so honestly my goal wasn't to be extremely successful. My goal was to bet on myself enough to make $32,000 a year. That was the look in the mirror was , I think I'm good enough to make $32,000 with this idea. And so I moved back home with mom and , you know, slept on the futon and try to make this happen. And , had my business partner as well, who did the same , he got a waiter job and we hustled, we bootstrapped this, ourselves now we're serving servicing hundreds of, schools across the country, tens of thousands of students, doing millions of requests every single day , f rom students to our, to our mentors.

Speaker 3:

So is it , tutoring kind of, organization that you tutor kids in certain subjects? Or are there other ways you provide help to students?

Speaker 1:

Yeah, so we , we provide , full kind of wrap around services. So that includes academic tutoring , career advising, college application support, different things like that as well, at, f or, for students, basic level kind of mentoring as well, traditional mentoring where kids get assigned virtual mentors who play as their agents. O ur kicker is w e, are really student f ocused and so it's called student success agency b ecause our approach is LeBron James has an agent. Drake has an agent, why can't every teenager have their own agent as well. So now you have kids across high schools talking to their agent on their phone, texting their agent, feeling empowered, right when you're first, when you're a l ow-income kid, first-generation kid, everyone provides service to you as if you need help or something is wrong rather than creating an experience to show you that there's nothing wrong. You're just valuable. And so when we can create, s upport that way, that is why students use our platform and, and it, and it becomes one of the most, effective and successful things at school.

Greg Muzzillo:

What's the economic model?

EJ Carrion:

Yeah. So schools bring us in school districts bring us in to provide expanded support to their students they're looking for unique ways to help their students,

Greg Muzzillo:

What an opportune time. I don't want to use that word in the wrong way, but how fortunate for students how fortunate for school systems that you were around when the pandemic came along? I would think that those were some good growth years for you.

EJ Carrion:

Yeah, no, we we started 20, I'm turning 32 this month, but we started, so we started a decade ago and , yeah, I mean, so I like to say we've been doing this pre Snapchat pre apple watch pre Alexa, and , we've really hit this moment. And what we saw is that our schools that had our platform implemented before school closures in March, were able to keep their kids equally engaged with the platform. And so we were able to keep attendance, find students, track students when you saw a big dip in engagement and participation with schools that didn't have Student Success Agencies. So that data alone allowed them to see, wow , we really need to think differently on how we support today, digital native students. And , I truly think we're going through that blockbuster Netflix moment for schools on what it means to support kids not just in a brick and mortar place.

Greg Muzzillo:

I know your mission is to modernize high school , so teenagers can own the future. What does that look like? Modernizing high school and school in general?

EJ Carrion:

Yeah. I think if you look at the three parts of life , you have your personal life, you have your business life and you have your, your, your education life, right? And so your personal life, what is your like digital stack look like? Right? You have Facebook where you can track your photos and your memories. You have Snapchat and discord where you can communicate and connect. And then, with your business life, you have Salesforce where you can track your clients. And then you have slack where you can communicate with your communities. The entire education industry does not have a stack. They have not successfully build a digital world for their environment. And so I think the opportunity there is to help schools understand that yes, kids are in class eight hours in a school day, and that's the same amount of time they're on their phones . And both of those are realities and worlds that play together today. And I think what you're going to see is the next big unicorn in education are the people who are going to be able to create the stack of which school operates and create digital hallways, digital, extra extracurriculars, and be able to engage kids to bring their digital space into their school day.

Greg Muzzillo:

Do you see eventually having a lot more school done at the convenience or the location of the student as they might choose it, whether it's at home or in the school environment?

EJ Carrion:

Yeah, no, I definitely, I definitely do. I mean, if you're looking at already, one of every five school district is creating virtual, a complete virtual school, I think as work from home people as well, we all get more like the millennials start having kids in high school and the freedom. There's a lot of my friends, we're a fully, we've been fully virtual since we started. And we have people who they stay in Airbnb every month and they hops what happens when they go from a two year old kid to that kid is now 13 and they still want to live that life. I think you're going to see that growth of people want that freedom. And I also think you're going to see that potentially with teachers where teachers want that freedom as well, and a sense of, you know , I can do some of my classes via zoom. Wow. Some classes in person. So there's this freedom to , to be a little bit more available, especially as this is difficult to recruit teachers, but I'm talking decades, not days I'm talking , you know, it's , it's the hard part is going to be the system. But the system, unfortunately, is being a lot of Ed tech where we play differently is we embrace and want to help public schools. All of our schools are title one schools the majority of our kids are first gen free, reduced lunch. Most ed tech , is, is how do you beat the system? How do you, how do you , you know , take out the system? And so I think the system is being pressed by charter schools, homeschooling , politics, you know, you see what's going on now. I think a lot of that is pushing. You're seeing enrollment, not the same coming out of COVID schools are gonna need to think creatively and become more flex on their ideas of what it means to do it. And I hope that SSA could be there to help them get across that path. I know some

Greg Muzzillo:

Of the things you like talking about is how do we get people to move out of their comfort zone? What are some of your thoughts about getting folks in general, moving outside of their comfort zone?

EJ Carrion:

Yeah, I think, where I will kind of, I will take it to , since we're talking to entrepreneurs and people who are a little bit more intermediate is I'll take you to, how do you challenge the status quo? That would be to me that the comfort that we needed , the friction, we need to create as entrepreneurs . And so what I mean, there is like, I think the opportunity of growing up and the older that I get. And then also now that I'm receiving some sort of success in starting on a path and a runway , I'm learning , like things that I just, I just didn't know how to do. Like, the reason why I didn't raise venture capital is because the idea of asking someone for money, I didn't grow . I couldn't ask my parents for money. Why on the concept? Just wasn't something that makes sense. So I think as I get older, I see the systems at play. And I think the opportunity for entrepreneurs is, to realize like not everyone's story or everyone's success, track is the same. And the reason why you need to get uncomfortable is because you need to get authentic. And by getting authentic, that means you need to create , a place where only you are playing. When I go to, when I do go to venture capital, or when I do go to investors and I say, we have humans who texts, kids, not AI. We have, and we serve the poorest schools and the government is our client , they run away and they're like, that is too slow. That's too , whatever. And we're competing and outgrowing and competing with some of the best education startups with none of that funding , because we originally saw an opportunity that we're kind of the only ones playing in. And so to get out of your comfort zone, it comes to identify what is something that you have a hunch on that you're authentic on and believe in that gut, because your story and your experience, especially when your experience is so different, you just, I think that allows you to rather than try to be, to play the game. I live in Fort worth, Texas. None of my client , none of my employees live near me. Everyone lives in different states. I never really I've been to San Francisco twice. I know, but I think because of the, I went to a state school it's because of these unique things, kids who went to Stanford, who raised $10 million, can't under understand average rule American kids. I've been to a thousand schools, looked at these kids in the eye. And I live in a world where it's uncomfortable to the game of entrepreneurship, but I think that's how you, how you win . One of my favorite characters in any movie is the dark night in Joker. And one of my favorite experiences is the joker helps the bankers still all the money. And he goes, 50% of it was mine. So he burns his half of the money and they go and they , and they freak out the bankers freak out. And what made Joker so good. He made people uncomfortable because he challenged the systems. Now he used it for bad, but I think the mission economy and the companies of the future are ones who are going to be able to do , to stay agnostic, to current systems and challenge them and create a oxygen and runway to , use that as a competitive advantage of wind in different markets that have been ultimately hard in the past FinTech medical education.

Greg Muzzillo:

You talk about innovating on strategies that worked in the past, but aren't going to work onto the future. Build on that a little bit. Tell us a little bit more about that.

EJ Carrion:

Yeah. I guess where I would go with that is I think the possible, like the principle , the philosophies still work but I guess w here I also think i s just like, it's almost like just the evolution of b eing in the sense of like, what is important right. The internet is only 30 years old and I think we're just living at a time where we need to realize like a lot of things that were normal were questioned just a hundred years ago. I mean, we're talking 1918, We just finished world war I. Like try to go back a hundred years ago to world war one and explain what Tik Tok is, what we're talking just a hundred years. We're not talking that far. So, so today's entrepreneurs are building 21, 21. You live in 2021, but you're building 2121. So how do you build a world that sounds foreign to you today? And I think when you can get us to think that way, I think it allows us to get out of our comfort zone. And I was like, well, this is how it works today. This is what we need to do today. No, but you're , you're just, you're writing, you're writing the rules and the designs that people are going to live in and that's called, I call that legacy design. And so what I mean, there is today's entrepreneurs appeal the legacy designs, and that is when you die. People say, people are going to remember your legacy. Actually, no, one's going to really remember you, people are going to forget you like right when prince passed away, we got cared for like two weeks, but like two months gone, one of my biggest role models, Kobe Bryant love him to death. And these are some of our greatest people. So people won't remember our legacy, but they will live in the systems that we have built. No one knows who invented the stoplight. No one knows who invented the toilet, but every single day me, and you use their legacy design , we live within their legacy. And so when we're able to think in decades, we then realize we're legacy designers and then your work becomes very important

Greg Muzzillo:

To a degree. I think what you relates to what Jeff Bezos says , um, about how so much infrastructure existed for him to make Amazon work. That's a part of why he now is building blue origin and investing so much money in it to create a new level and layer of infrastructure that may enable future businesses , down the road to be able to benefit the way he benefited from so much infrastructure that had already existed , that helped make Amazon successful. I think that's part of what you're talking about. I think another part of what you're talking about, and I know you have a passion for this is building a more compassionate world. And , when you talk about legacy, I think that's part of what you're talking about. Talk to us a little bit more about the concept of making our world, your world, my world, all of our listeners world. A more compassionate world.

EJ Carrion:

Yeah so one of our core values is you can't fake care. And ultimately what we're trying to do at student success agency is scale human care. I think that is, and that's why I think humans are a part of the long- term play that one thing, humans, even if robots get good at it , connecting to real humans is going to be the most important job. This is why teachers is a job that are made for humans. And , and so for me, I just, see where the world is, where the world is turning is we didn't have a lot of knowledge or exposure that the companies that made a lot of money in the 20th century, you're looking at oil and gas, fast food, credit cards, fast fashion , all these things, but now we're living in more of a mission , sustainable economy to have that compassion. And so I actually believe like the next Forever 21 is going to be an organization that knows how to scale sustainable thrift stores and like , and know how to do that at scale and how to create more sustainable fashion. I think that's the next Forever 21. It's not someone who , who goes to third worlds and create a shirt , is going to be able to be a great curator. And I think you look at Airbnb, you look at Beyond burger, Impossible burger, all these next kind of things are about like, how do you, how do we create a more authentic worlds? and then the t ransparency i s going to be really important as leaders as well a nd s o b eing a ble t o hide and t hey'll be able to hide how you do what you do is it's going to become more difficult, so authenticity a nd actually building a sustainable business. That's why I also believe t oday, social entrepreneurs are the 1990s tech entrepreneurs. Tech entrepreneurs w ere in the nineties. I think social entrepreneurs toda it sounds weird. It sounds c ute. U m, but when we start beating you, I think you're g oing t o really start feeling it.

Greg Muzzillo:

Well it's clear to me, you know, the other day I was sitting on an airplane, this might sound silly, but it's true. I'm sitting on an airplane and I happened to get upgraded to first class and they brought me , they said, do you want a snack? And they brought me some sort of a snack. And, and , there was a little salad a nd a plastic thing with a , u a plastic cover. And then there was plastic spoon, knife, and fork. There was, plastic, t hat had a little bit of fruit in it. Then there was another thing of p lastic with th e t op on it. And I thought to myself, as I looked at all of t his plastic, on my tr ay t hat they came around and took hi m. An d j ust the small wages, we can't keep living the way we're living. We can't keep doing the things that we're doing this life Isn't sustainable.

EJ Carrion:

Yeah. Yeah. I mean, yeah, there's just little, I mean, American airlines is a great example of someone who doesn't have any true core values and ads , but as someone, I am a American airlines flyer , out of have to , I live in Fort worth, Texas, this is their headquarters DFW. Um, but like, you know, golf clubs fly free, but a single mom with three pays a bag fee, you get the like, there's you see, these are natural things that it's not on purpose. I wouldn't see, but it shows you when you're subconsciously lack these systems. And that is the question I think social entrepreneurs are having is wait, wait, wait, you may have not, did American airlines may not have did that on purpose or , did that. But those are the subconscious. When people call i t talk about systemic issues, these are the things we're not saying p eople a re, are purposefully bad, but these are things like, wow, that doesn't make a lot of sense. And t here's an opportunity to change that narrative and be an airline that people w ant to want to fly.

Greg Muzzillo:

And I think there's an education, a whole education, what you just said , purposeful versus systemic. Like a lot of things exist in life that just aren't maybe necessarily fair, but it's not like the company or the person or whatever the organization is doing. It is being purposefully unfair. It's just system systematically or systemically unfair. And we all need to wake up and realize what are those things that we can do better to make the world a more fair, a more equitable place for everybody thats standing at the table and , and, and ready to , enjoy and prosper in this new world.

EJ Carrion:

Yeah , absolutely. And I think there's the, I think there's the opportunity for social entrepreneurs, mission-based economy , companies , to really live with their purpose and the reason why we take no venture, at least up to, you know, like we, we have not done so is because it sacrifices to the mission, you know? And that's, and that's important. 1, 1, 1 venture capitalist I said was, you know, I was like, we asked teachers to sacrifice. We asked principals to sacrifice for the kids. Are you able to sacrifice, if you raise it , come into my, are you able to sacrifice some margin? Are you able to sacrifice some speed to do the right thing? And I think, you know, that's, what's really hard being a social entrepreneur is you're constantly , tempted to just get into the chamber and just win really fast, but potentially then become vaporware. And then you get sold at a feature. And you're just a feature in an org rather than like this thing, you start as a pirate chip , and then you ended kind of like as this, like, man, we lost it, but you are now wealthy and you are rich. And I think , those are the battles that , I think fighting for change is hard. I was not a natural capitalist. I did journalism as a degree. I didn't do entrepreneurship. I , education. And so, I'm passionate about this because I just believe I'm an exponential e ducator w ho, who sees like, Hey, I w ould h ave loved to been a counselor, but the world works in a, the operating system is capitalism. And so I have to play to participate. And I think capitalism is awesome, but I think it needs more teachers and social workers in the ecosystem w here we can get more of t he smartest, the most, the people with the biggest h earts, y ou g otta realize teachers and social workers when they were 18 years old, people were asking them what they wanted to do. And they said I wanted to be a teacher or a social worker. That means, they said, I want to make $50,000 for the rest of my life to do and make impact in the world. That's the kind of heart you need running businesses. And so we have a lot of teachers and social workers who work in our company. We actually hire more teachers and social workers than MBAs because that heart and that authenticity to care and then my goal is to, hopefully we can change their life along the way and allow them to realize they're doing what they're doing at scale and our organization and I think there's opportunities to value heart , that so many of our kids, our best kids go become doctors, Teachers join the military, and they never get into the game that actually runs the world. And , and so they have a negative impression of capitalism, but if you can get good kids who chose not to go into the business college to actually go to the business college and at least get a minor, you didn't realize you can take that heart to scale. And I think that's a big opportunity for our students.

Greg Muzzillo:

Yeah. I think, I think in a big way, people need to be able to put their heart and their wallet where their mouth is. And a lot of people talk about more quality. A lot of people talk about more opportunity. A lot of people talk about more sustainability, but many times that means also investing. And none of that stuff comes free and people need to be willing to make the investments and pay the prices that are involved in making our world a better place. And I really appreciate your passion for wanting to make our world a better place. I appreciate your passion. That's driven you to create the company you have, which I think is one student at a time making the world a better place , as we wrap up our time together. And I really want to show you my appreciation here, EJ, and thank you very much. What last pieces of advice might you have for our listeners about building a company and building a better w orld?

EJ Carrion:

I will go back to the concept legacy, going back to the legacy design what are you working on that is going to make the world a better place? We, live at a time and this might sound silly . It's silly, but I believe it is where we can evolve our civilization. Right? Like you went from, you know , Neanderthals homo, erectus to homo sapiens. The next, the next thing, whenever it comes, we are influencing that with the investment of science ,technology, innovation. And so you are pushing the evolution of us. And if you can't wake up with purpose and realize how much that matters, w e, we got it probably isn't the right business. And t hen really think about the legacy design. Going back to the definition of legacy design, legacy design is building systems that future people are going to live off of, right? The person who invented the stoplight, we live off of their legacy, the person who invented the toilet, we live off their legacy, we don't know their names, but we live off their design. How do you become a legacy design entrepreneur? And at the end of the day, those businesses also might take decades because it's this systemic and hard, but it's going to be very purposeful. And I think, a lot of people live without that purpose and that's the way to do so. Y eah.

Greg Muzzillo:

I think a lot of entrepreneurs live without that purpose. I mean, I'll be perfectly candid with you. I started my business selfishly, solely to make my life a better life, right. Because I thought I could make more money working for myself than I could for somebody else. And so I was singularly and solely focused on making my life a better life. However, As I grow older and more a citizen of this world that cares passionately. I also want to ask myself, how can I also make this world a better place? And I think we all, all of us entrepreneurs and all of us, people in general, just need to ask ourselves, how can we make this world a better place? EJ thank you for your time. And thank you for your contributions to making our world a better place.

:

Thank you, Greg.

Introducing EJ Carrion
Student Success Agency
Modernizing High School
Challenge the Status Quo
Reinventing the System
Purposeful VS Systematic
Build a Legacy Design