Jim Beach, from School for StartUps Radio, interviews Matt Bowman.
Radio Interview Transcription (audio starts at 32:20)
And welcome back to School for Startups Radio again. Thank you so much for being with us today. If you know me at all you know there’s some things I really just absolutely am passionate about and one of those is teaching technology and computer stuff to teach kids, and so because of that I am incredibly excited and honored to introduce you to my first guest today. His name is Matt Bowman. He is the founder and CEO of something called My Tech High (and you can find that at mytechhigh.com) which is an incredible organization that helps kids learn. He has also done a lot of others things in the educational space, including having sold a company to some guy named Donald Trump. I’ve never heard of him before, maybe you can teach us who that is Matt. He is also doing something brand new now called Tech Trep, and trep is short for entrepreneur and so we want to talk about that as well today. Matt welcome to the show. How are you doing today?
I’m doing great Jim thanks for the intro. Great to be with you.
I’m excited to learn your story and everything. Let’s sort of … do you want to start beginning or at the end?
I’ll start at the beginning. I think it’s a fun story to kind of see how all of this plays out. And it sounds similar to some of your background as well.
It is. So how did you get involved in children’s education?
Well I started being a sixth grade school teacher back in the mid-90s up in Washington State. I just fell in love with teaching middle school kids, it’s just an amazing experience. They are just so full of excitement, but yet they are starting to think they’re moving into high school. It is just an exciting time. So I was a 6th grade teacher for 5 years and as part of that during that time I actually got a Washington State grant to bring this new thing in the mid-90s called the internet into the classroom. I just fell in love with what the power of online education can do for kids as they would build tech projects and post it for others around the world to see. So I just got really excited about online learning and online education and focused on that for several years. Which then actually led to a job offer from a tech company in Utah. So I moved to Utah and ran online training programs for a corporation, training their software engineers online. And then several years later I decided to start an online program teaching kids tech and entrepreneurship, and that’s how My Tech High was born.
Fantastic. I love it. All right give us the lowdown, the 30,000 foot view on My Tech High.
So My Tech High operates as a public school program, just in Utah. It’s for kids who learn best at home. So we give them all the core curriculum around Math, English, History and Science, etc. But then we focus and have everyone take a tech and/or an entrepreneurship class. We have classes that teach kids Java Programming through Minecraft. Or 3D Printing and Design, or 3D Animation, Game Design, Digital Artist, Sound and Audio Mixing. And then also add what we are excited about is our entrepreneurship curriculum. And since kids and adults have a hard time saying or spelling entrepreneur, we’ve shortened that to trep. And so we have a Become a Trep course. And we are excited about teaching kids skills around technology, programming, robotics, animation, art, as well as entrepreneurship. Because those are just a couple of skills that schools typically have a hard time providing to their students, so online education is a nice fit for those types of courses.
All right, well that sounds awesome. So Tech Trep Academy that’s the new initiative. You are going to be teaching kids entrepreneurship. And I agree with you entrepreneurship is a really hard word to say and impossible to spell. It’s got some weird “eu” type thing going on in the middle of it there. Real money involved? Is it going to be lectures for kids because that sounds pretty boring? What you’re doing at My Tech High sounds really hands-on and really interactive. How are you going to make this fun and interactive for the kids cause a lecture to an 11-year-old sounds like a snooze fest?
I totally agree. So when we first started we tried to find good curriculum for kids around these subjects and we just found dry, boring, adult lectures. And so we’ve really put a lot of resources into developing the courses from scratch with an 11-year-old in mind. So they’re project based, they’re fun, interactive content, fun activities for them to do and build. Our main focus is to let’s get the kids a little bit of information and then let them build stuff. The creation of concepts, of code, of games, of design, that’s where real learning comes in is when they are building and doing something, not just consuming content. So our courses are built around the concept of have the kids do stuff, that’s how they learn.
Ok I love it! Will there be things like money raising issues and some of the stuff adult entrepreneurship education must include, will that be included in it?
We reference how additional funding through venture funding can come, but most of our focus is helping a young entrepreneur become a bootstrap trep. So they are really using technology and their network and their innovation. Kids can become entrepreneurs early without having to go get money from venture funds.
Ok I love it. I so agree with you. I bootstrapped my first business in. I didn’t know you could even go raise money because I was so young and naive and stupid. But it was the greatest thing that ever happened to me. I am so glad that it turned out that way. All right what about other traditional things? Will you even discuss company creation and legal junk like that? That would also be something I think you would take off the table? What about that kind of thing?
That’s a great question. It is just at a very high level. Again, it can be intimidating and a bit scary for kids to think like an entrepreneur. So we want to try to make it so they can just go start. Whether that’s a lemonade stand, or a dog walking business, or lawn mowing, or with the technology we actually have a lot doing You Tube channel hosts, designing logos, creating websites for local businesses, those types of things. They can start relatively safe and easy without being overwhelmed with all of the legal and finance issues.
All right very cool! But you just said something that really scared me and I hadn’t thought of this when we started, it just came up to me when you said “lemonade stand”. Every month I read about somewhere in the world or somewhere in the United States where two kids go start a lemonade stand and a policeman drives by and says “Do you have a permit to do this?” and the kids go “A what?” And then the policeman makes them shut the lemonade stand down because it’s not permitted. Have you heard this nightmare story?
It makes me so mad at America that this is happening. It’s the dumbest thing ever!
It is, I agree. My one observation is I do agree. But we teach that failure is not a bad thing. Most school systems, the scariest thing they tell kids is the word failure. In business failure is one of the most sought after moments so you can pivot and do something better. And I don’t mind if someone understands at a true level what it means to have regulation and being shut down by the cops on a corner. It may just teach those kids exactly how to pivot for the next opportunity.
Well that’s a good way to look at it. What about sales? The businesses you talked about, logo design or building websites for people in the community, those are going to require some sort of sales. What kind of sales related activities will the kids be doing?
One of the things we find is many different marketplaces are out there for digital assets — 99Design, etsy, those types of things where kids can post things they’ve built or created and sell through channels that are already existing in marketplaces. It’s pretty remarkable what kind of traffic kids can get.
Ok so that’s a really good idea instead of sending them out into the world to sell on the street corner like the Girl Scouts and their cookies, all of the Upwork and eLance and ODesk type things will be their sales model. That’s a really good idea, I like that. It teaches them how to go out there and do that. And 99Designs is another great idea. That’s a really good way I like that.
In fact, I was talking to a parent of one of our treps in our program right now and he’s found a marketplace for selling digitized music. So he cranks out music every week and sells it for $18.00 in a marketplace of digital music buying of songs. His mom said he is making a couple of thousand dollars a month. So it’s pretty exciting to see what kids can do.
That is amazing, that is really cool. What about presentation skills? Are they going to have to give any presentations, stand up in front of the class that kind of thing?
Absolutely. We have kind of a template that they need to do if they want to pitch for, sometimes in or Utah program we’ll do $150.00 seed money. To get that they need to put together a little competitive pitch on what’s the market like, what are some competitors doing, how they’d be different and then pitch that. We sometimes have showcase events where they come together, face-to-face and we’ll do like a crowd pitch. We give everyone in the crowd monopoly money, the kids all pitch, and the crowd goes up and votes with their money on who they thought should get the monopoly investment and they with the prize for the night. Kind of fun.
I love it. I love it. Let me tell you one of the ideas we did 20 years ago when we were teaching computer programming. This sort of relates to what you are doing. You could use this now to teach methodologically, sequences and what comes first and stuff like that. We would take the kids out onto the lawn and throw a loaf of bread, a jar of peanut butter, and jar of jelly and a knife down, and challenge them to write down all of the steps that it takes to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. And they would learn things like you can’t take the lid off if you have the knife in your hand. And you have to put the knife down before you touch the lid, otherwise the program would crash, right? And we had an amazing moment Matt. We had been doing it 2 or 3 years, and we had 53 steps I think it was in the creation in peanut butter jelly sandwich. And a kid goes, “Wait stop, wait! We forgot to wash our hands.” I was pretty embarrassed it took us 3 years to remember “wash hands” step. I guess that’s a bunch of boys there for you, we didn’t care how dirty our hands were. But it was an amazing thing. The thing that excites me about your program is your doing some of the same things and the same cool innovative educational tricks that will excite the kids. So you’re gonna take …
Let me just add to that Jim. Maybe we need to give you credit because our Programming Foundations for our 6-year-olds class starts with the peanut butter and jelly activity.
Really! We did that in 1994. I did that for 7 years after 1994 and there was a paper at Stanford Education Department written on that exercise.
Well your legacy lives on then. We use that same principle in our Programmings Foundation course.
That’s what it’s perfect for. That’s where it came from and I don’t know if we stole it from someone else. I don’t believe Matt there are any new ideas. I think we are all stealing from someone who came before us. You ask the Beatles where they invited their music from and they’ll give you Muddy Waters, and you ask Muddy Waters and he’ll go back to Gospel Music or something. I don’t think there was an original idea after the pyramids in architecture. I’m a big believer in ideas passing down. Tell me about the business side of Tech Trep. Is this grant funded? How are you funding it? What are your expansion goals? Can I send my 4-year-old to one in Atlanta soon? What are those sort of things?
Great questions. The reason we are creating Tech Trep Academy is because as I said My Tech High runs in Utah as a public school program, and over these past 7 years have just gotten so much demand from other places around the country, around the world asking to let us have access to tech courses and entrepreneurship courses that you’ve developed for kids. And I’ve been so focused on running the public school program in Utah that we haven’t really been able to expand elsewhere. So that’s what Tech Trep Academy did. It’s taking all of the best and field tested courses we’ve done for 7 years with My Tech High Utah, and it’s taking them to the world. It’s a virtual course experience. So kids can access it 24-7, any place, any where. It’s all self-paced. What we are excited about is too is we have learned how important it is to have a live online tech mentor, so when kids run into challenges and have problems and questions we have a 24-7 chat support, to support the kids when they have questions going through the courses. Because we know for sure most parents can’t help them the troubleshoot the Java programming, Minecraft Mod they are building.
I can’t even do new math Matt. Math has changed much less Minecraft Java programming.
Exactly. That’s why we really have found it important to have 24-7 chat support for the student so that they can run into that barrier, get it solved, and move on.
I like it! Awesome. How much will this cost for a student to participate?
Each course, and it’s a school year long course, is $350.00. So that’s it for full access to the curriculum, to the activities, to the software, to the mentor support. And it’s just awesome for kids to do. They feel motivated by the projects they’re building. They just want to keep creating new things, which is what we want to see.
And how do you plan for kids in Alabama or Alaska to find out about this? Are you going to do a normal a marketing campaign with ads on Disney Channel. I just roll my eyes as I think about advertising on Disney Channel. That’s gross. How are you going to let the kids know?
So we have a pretty significant marketing plan around just getting the word out through parents and media outlets, and we’ve partnered with some pretty significant partners that we are going to be announcing over the next few months as we expand, that will really help reach the local parent of the 12-year-old who is interested in tech and entrepreneurship. We’ll do everything we can to find them and make them aware of this great program for them.
Well let me just say this we will Matt give you free air time to run an ad every day on this show, because the listeners of this show are entrepreneurs and want to be entrepreneurs. And their kids will certainly be in your demographic. So when you are ready next week, in a month, we’ll start running free ads for you to help you promote. Is that ok?
That would be awesome. Absolutely. Just as you mentioned one of the great opportunities we see as we talk with many businesses is technologists and entrepreneurs who have children, want them to have those same skills but really don’t know how to teach it to them. So we have a corporate partner program where corporations can sponsor these tech and entrepreneurship classes for the children of employees. And that’s a pretty exciting partnership program we are building with various corporate partners.
We only have a couple of minutes left, tell me about selling a business to someone named Donald Trump. Is he famous? Someone we should have heard of by the way?
I think so. I think he is out there somewhere talking a lot.
Does he have a job or anything? He is someone from Utah this Donald Trump of which you speak?
I don’t really know where he was born.
I’m pretty sure he was born in a Manhattan hospital. Let’s be serious. Did you get to meet him? What did you to sell him? Was he a good negotiator? Did you get to meet him?
I did not get to meet him. I got to meet his people.
His team. What did you sell to him Matt?
Trump University. I had started a little website that was around business education to learn how to “trump” your competition. That was before Donald Trump decided to launch and make Trump University. So they acquired our little business education start-up.
Wow! So you are the mind behind Trump University?
And then funny thing a few years ago the New York Department of Education decided the word University was inappropriate in the Donald’s repertoire and so they shut it down.
I remember all that. He got sued quite a bit for that.
I’m glad I sold it out.
If he’s elected President maybe you’ll be his Secretary of Education Matt.
I think so. I think so.
I would definitely have some ideas for our nation’s schools. That’s what I live and breathe everyday. I’m a certified teacher still. I love teaching, love kids, love technology, love entrepreneurship, and I think that’s how we help kids create their future is through those skills.
I so agree. I so agree. How can we find more about you Matt, follow you on that social media thing and learn more about My Tech High and Tech Trep?
Matt (52:34) I think I would just point people to techtrep.com. And I’m on LinkedIn. That is pretty much the main social network I use. You’ll find me there.
Fantastic! Matt, I love what you are doing and I do hope you’ll take me up on the offer for free ads when it’s appropriate and I’d love for you to come back in 6-months or a year and give us an update. And more importantly I want to have a whole week where we do nothing but interview your kids, the 12-year-olds, the 15-year-olds, and do an entire week on kid entrepreneurship to encourage other kids to go out there and do it too. And I hope you’ll help us arrange that. I think it would be really fun.
Done. That’s what I want to do. Spotlight these kid treps. That would be the best. Thank you Jim.
Fantastic. I hear the background music playing which means we are out of time. I want to thank Matthew Jonas and Matt Bowman for being with me today. Hope you enjoyed the show. Join us tomorrow for more great School of Startups Radio. Bye now.