Before entering the field of educational technology and co-founding Propagate, I had spent half a decade pursuing a career as an electric bass player. Playing in numerous bands, such as Templeton’s Zeal and The Strange Familiar, I experienced first-hand the miracle of starting with nothing but a vision, and creating something that reaches hundreds of thousands of people. This line of work taught me that it’s grit and resilience that make all of the difference in a do-it-yourself world in which you create something from nothing, trusting that you have a vision of making a difference in the world.
My Entrepreneurial Roots in Music
In college and the years that followed, I was a member of various bands, such as Templeton’s Zeal and The Strange Familiar, projects that I helped start from scratch. No songs, no cash, and no plan — but we had a vision. By writing songs, creating an image, and defining a brand, we created something that didn’t previously exist. This required becoming accustomed to working tirelessly without getting paid, something my close friends and family struggled to understand at the time, for obvious reasons. It was natural for band mates to have our “day jobs,” while completing degree programs, and investing every free moment into what we were creating. From building a web site to selling merchandise on tour, we learned to do it all ourselves, because no one else was going to do it for us.
The Strange Familiar
In March of 2008, I moved from my hometown of Akron, Ohio to Los Angeles, California, where I began writing, recording, and performing with The Strange Familiar. At the time of the move, I had one thousand dollars, backed only by a million dollar vision. My first month there, I paid $250 to sleep on the floor of a friend of a friend. I drove my father’s hand-me-down Subaru Outback, in which I kept all of my clothes and music equipment. I worked as a brand ambassador, designed web sites, and began working as a tutor to pay the bills and get my own apartment, not knowing that my years of sacrifice was about to pay off in a big way.
In May of that year, the band’s song, Courage Is…, was selected as a promo track for the soon-to-be-released, The Secret Life of the American Teenager. Within a week’s time, the exposure skyrocketed the song to #9 in the Rock category of iTunes. Over the next several years, we would go on to get signed to an indie record label, release numerous singles and albums, license our music to shows such as The Vampire Diaries, Pretty Little Liars, and The Biggest Loser, and perform at South by Southwest and in the Top 48 on America’s Got Talent.
Just as I moved to LA in 2008 with the dream of playing on the big stage, I went to Harvard in 2012 to gain the necessary skills and credentials to carve out my niche in ed tech. Several years later, we have released a beta version of Propagate, an initial product offering that will lay the groundwork for our company to grow into a learning analytics engine that will power individualized learning for generations to come.
For the second time in my life, I am once again deferring the promises of a steady job and predictable lifestyle in favor of the high risk, high reward pathway that I prefer. Once again, my fingernails are black with grit from the daily sacrifices I make to be able to say that I don’t work for anyone but myself and those who believe in me.
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