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The Digm Spot (Features)

Tapping Into Your Source with Cobaine Ivory

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For today’s Digm Spot feature we are talking about a different way to view success, why you should purposely make things difficult, and why seeing the end before you start will help you achieve your dreams.

Cobaine Ivory is a classical composer, producer, multi-instrumentalist, and DJ. He is responsible for producing and developing over a hundred artists, including some of the industry’s brightest. Over his career, many of the artists Cobaine has produced have performed alongside many A-list and Grammy award winning artists. In addition to being a music producer, Cobaine Ivory is an artist himself, writing and composing music for his rock band, Live From Paris, blues hip-hop group, CharlieRED, and his classical hip hop piece, Tri-State of Mind. Works that Cobaine Ivory produced have been featured in media publications like MTV, VH-1, BET, Pitchfork, Complex, Esquire, Okayplayer, Centric, GiantSteps, 2 Dope Boys, as well as many other publications around the world. Cobaine and his group, CharlieRED, have also collaborated with brands like Armani, Victoria Secret, Bath and Body Works, Redbull, Heineken, Comedy Central, Pepsi, Target, MTV, VH-1, and many more.

Paradigm.Money: We want to start with the word passion because it’s thrown around all the time when people say, “Well, if you’re passionate about what you do, you won’t work a day in your life.” Where does your passion for music come from and how has music helped shaped who you are as a person?

Cobaine Ivory: I grew up in a musical family and around the time where there was money in music programs, so I was able to take two different music courses. I had the normal classical stuff, you know, hitting on the xylophone and stuff. But then, I also had one on one sessions where I could bring in any music I wanted too. At the time, it was like Nice and Smooth or GangStar or something like that. And I was taught each part of the beat with various instruments. So, if there’s piano, if there’s guitar, if there’s a drum, so I was basically becoming multi-instrumentalist when I was seven or eight years old. That’s what kind of propelled me to be passionate about it. When something is always around you, you’re just kind of following whoever’s motivating your footsteps. I did a lot of others things like athletics, but, music kind of stuck around.

PM: What is your philosophy on life? How has this philosophy helped you in your success?

CI: My philosophy on life is stay curious. I travel often. I’ve been to at least 25 countries and every time I go to a new country I realize that every single step is brand new. If you remain curious and you embrace the new, you’re essentially constantly putting yourself in a challenging place. That’s where most people fail. And a new lesson I really learned, I would say literally a day ago. A quick story, I had an opportunity with some major label artists. They asked me to do a little bit more work, and it’s something I’ve never done, what they asked me to do. I knew I would be approached with a question at some point. I started writing a text, like “hey, listen, I don’t think I’m going to be able to do this. You guys find another way to be able to do it, whatever.” I’m not going to get into details of what they asked me, but before I sent it, I was like dude; can you possibly really do this? How long is it really going to take? I do some research. I figured out some shortcuts, and it ended up taking an hour. What I realized, it’s stacked. I would say a 99 percentile when you just need to push a little bit more. That little bit more; it constitutes a very small percentage of successful people who pushed a little bit more, that’s it.

PM: In one way or another, your music influence has reached millions of people. When you put that into perspective, how does that make you feel, and are you surprised at all by any of your accomplishments?

CI: It feels great, I mean, getting employees and people hearing your music and stuff like that. But really, I guess I’m connected more to the satisfaction of creation. I have actually boiled it down to the moment that I’m really satisfied and what I live for. It’s the moment when I’m just banging around the keys or drums or guitar, and I’m trying to figure out something and nothing’s happening. Then at that moment for all creatives, there’s a thought comes into play. Like, oh, I made something like this before. I’ve created something like this before. People are not going to like this. What I realized is you have to become dumb at that point, completely stupid. For your mind, to leave room for the spirit source energy, God, whatever you want to call it. Like Jay-Z says leave the door cracked, so God can walk in the room. That’s that moment that transition from thinking with your physical body to being a vessel and being open. There’s are woman named Elizabeth Gilbert who does a great Ted Talk. It’s like number two. It talks about, what the Greeks and the Romans thought a genius was. They said a genius lived in the walls. Essentially, you called upon a genius as a human being to help you with your ideas. That’s what I kind of do, right. So, often I don’t really take credit for what I do, you know. It’s like co-produced by God sometimes. I just become a vessel by becoming as empty as I possibly can to the point where people have played my music in front of me. I’m like oh, snap, this is kind of dope. Then I realize it’s our music. I’m literally so detached from it. To be detached allows you to, kind of, not have the burden of being “a genius.” Because once you have this major success as a “genius”, human nature wants you to out do that last success. It’s impossible and that’s why a lot of creatives are drawn to drugs and alcohol. If you realize you’re not a part of it, you’re just a vessel and you’re a tool. I’m used as a tool, as far as my abilities, you know. I’m prideful of my abilities of learning instruments and stuff like that, like I did that. I did that work. But, the ideas or melodies are not mine.

PM: That’s interesting insight and definitely a different perspective on how to view success and view accomplishments. In my mind, if I understand what you’re saying, that also helps you stay balanced, right. I remember a story where Michael Jackson never put any of his awards up anywhere because he didn’t want to feel like he made it. Is that similar to how you view yourself as a vessel and not necessarily consumed by your accomplishments?

CI: I absolutely love that story. I believe Michael told it to Dark Child. He said, never keep your awards where you create because then you’re, you know, looking at your accomplishments. You’re not present in the moment of challenging yourself and it’s hard to take the responsibility of being a creator. But, every decision is a creation. Every, you know… the fact that we both decide on making this happen and now it’s a creation. Now, people are going to be inspired and hear these words, and hopefully it’d push them toward their goals. But, getting back to the point, I like to remain an empty vessel.

PM: So, let’s pivot a little bit and talk about technology. So, technology has really changed many genres including music. What’s your take on technology? Is it a gift, a curse, or both? How can one use it in their pursuit of their dreams?

CI: I think it’s a gift and a curse. I think it’s how you utilize it. When I grew up, my stepdad gave me this really crappy drum machine. All I remember is it was all gray. I would essentially multi-track with two different tape players, and that’s how I made beats. I made beats with what I had. I feel like people coming into the music game at this point, you basically have a whole orchestra in your computer. In some cases, you don’t even need musicians. So, it loses that feel, that natural feel. When Quincy Jones was introduced to all these new age synthesizers, he still played well. He had musicians that played well. It just was a new sound. But, I think you have to purposely make it hard for yourself. You have to learn the roots of all things. So, if you’re using ProTools. You’re using all this technology. You’re using a digital mixer. You have to actually learn how to utilize the same tools on a real mixer. Something analog, something you can touch. I think if you start there and then embrace the technology from that knowledge, that kind of hard work, you’ll find nuances that people won’t be able to find.

PM: What would you say the biggest challenge you’ve had so far, and how have you overcome it?

CI: I’m reaching towards greatness. Greatness to me is like if you put a Picasso piece and an unknown street artist in New York City, let’s say, and put them together. If you get the same feeling, that unknown street artist has touched upon greatness. Greatness to me is the absence of self, being unaware of your physical body, being unaware of your thoughts. Once you do that, you’re closer to greatness. I feel like my challenge is finding other ways to challenge myself. I mean, I did a unique piece with a German opera singer mixing classical and hip hop, and performed it with a 13-piece orchestra 5-6 years ago. So, I don’t know what else to do to make myself feel anxious. It’s important for me to create anxiety and put myself in new places. Eventually you come out of that anxiety with knowledge, and now you have all these tools and techniques that you’ve learned around, you know, going through that process. When I worked with the orchestra, I had to hire a conductor, and I learned so much. I learned how hip hop and classical have common roots and how they differed tremendously. Like I wanted everything on a swing, he wanted everything right on note, right on key, and whatever. I think that’s my biggest challenge is finding new challenges.

PM: How do you stay focused?

CI: There’s so many people that I listen to, audiobooks. One of my favorites is Jack Canfield’s 99 Principles of Success. I listen to that every morning. That keeps me motivated. My schedule starts at 9 am and ends at, basically, 8:30 or 9 pm. And I do 2 three-hour blocks of creativity and 1 two hour blockish. Then I’m doing, you know, little things here and there, taking lunch breaks. Like, I set it up just like I’m a corporation, but it’s just I’m one guy. That’s what keeps me focused. I think early in my career I used to just like kind of wait around for inspiration to come and it doesn’t work very well. So, what I do, you know, from nine to twelve, I lock myself in and I sit at my computer and I make mistakes and I delete them. I make a mistake, that’s warming up for me. Then eventually I’m in flow, which is essentially not thinking and then, you know, the music is coming on its own. So, that’s how I stay focused is, like, setting up a rigorous schedule and really sticking with it, you know. You think about all these moguls. I’m sure P. Diddy is not walking around just like man, I’m just going to do whatever feels right, you know. He has a schedule and that keeps him motivated, that keeps him driven, that keeps him inspired, that keeps him working, and well lubricated, you know. Stay ready so you don’t have to get ready. You know what I mean? So, that’s what keeps me focused.

PM: We’re going to go to our lightning round. So, I’m going to ask you these questions and then, you know, you’ll just fill in the blank for me with a phrase. And we’re going to go from there, all right. You ready?

PM: So, my favorite book of all time is? CI: 48 Laws of Power.

PM: If I wasn’t pursuing my passion, I would be? CI: Probably a life coach or psychologist.

PM: If my life was a movie, it would be titled? CI: Greatness: Circumvention of Self. That’s actually my book title.

PM: If I could rewind time, I would take it back to the year blank, and then tell us why? CI: Okay, two things come to mind. I would say 1950s-40s, just what was happening musically then. I would say early 2000s. That’s when the Neptunes kind of appeared, and I just love what they brought back to music, the feeling of their music.

PM: What advice would you give to anyone who is pursuing their dreams? CI: There’s a great thing that Jack Canfield said, “You can drive across the country with headlights that only go about 20 feet. You don’t know what’s in your distance, but as long as you know where you’re going.” So, setting up an end game for yourself, setting up an unattainable end game, visualizing that and responding to the feedback, both from yourself and from others is critical. Then also within that realm, remaining what your self is and what defines what you are is the thing that gives you chills and goosebumps that sign from the universe that you’re on the right path. Doing what other people do and you don’t feel those feelings is not worth pursuing. You got to find what is unique to you.

PM: All right, brother. I appreciate you. Thank you so much for this, for the words of wisdom, for the positivity, for the enlightenment, you know. I might have to play background Zen music behind this interview. CI: Thank you, Ash. It’s always a pleasure for real.

PM: So, there you have it, Cobaine Ivory, music producer, classical composer, and instrumentalist dropping some words of wisdom.

Here are some key takeaways:

• It is important to stay curious and embrace every new opportunity and experience. By doing so, you put yourself in a challenging place which helps you learn how to overcome adversities. So, in essence, you should always push yourself to the limit and get out of your comfort zone.

• As a creative, it is important that you are in love with your process and not get caught up too much in trying to outdo your previous success. This allows you to stay grounded and gives you the ability to continue to create at a high level.

• Don’t allow technology to make you lazy. Even though technology makes things easier, the process of learning your craft fully is what’s going to make you stand out from the crowd.

• Don’t wait for inspiration to come to you. You have to go to it. Create a schedule that’s going to allow you to stay disciplined and focused on being the best that you could possibly be.

• Make sure you know where you’re going. Visualize the destination. Feel it, as if you already accomplished it and get to work trying to get there. As Jack Canfield said, “You can drive across the country with headlights that only see 20 feet at a time. Because as long as you know where you’re going, you will always get to your destination.”

 

If you’d like to get in touch with Cobaine, you can contact him on his website at www.CobaineIvory.com. He’s also on Twitter at @CobaineIvory and Instagram at @CobaineIvory.

Interested in being interviewed to be featured on the Digm Spot? Email Ash at ash@paradigmmoney.com.

 

 

Ash Exantus aka Ash Cash is one of the nation’s top personal finance experts. Dubbed as the Financial Motivator, he uses a culturally responsive approach in teaching financial literacy. He is the Head of Financial Education at BankMobile and Editor-in-Chief at Paradigm Money. The views and opinions expressed are those of Ash Cash and not the views of BankMobile and/or its affiliates.

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The Digm Spot (Features)

Snacking on Financial Freedom w/ Grant Kleiman

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The BankMobile Foundation serves as a platform to financially empower individuals by promoting financial literacy through scholarships and grants, sweepstakes, funding social entrepreneurs and building strategic partnerships with organizations dedicated to promoting financial education. BankMobile’s Annual Financial Empowerment Scholarship has grown in popularity since its inaugural year in 2015.  This year BankMobile, has selected Southwest Minnesota State University student Grant Kleiman as the recipient of its fourth annual Financial Empowerment Scholarship out of 1,723 applicants.

After taking a personal finance course at his university, Kleiman became determined to help children become financially literate and works with Scout troops, 4-H groups and elementary school classes. To make the concepts easier to understand, he utilizes potato chips as metaphors for money and educates children about the important of saving, making every little ‘crumb’ count and not overindulging. We caught up with Grant to discuss his concept in detail

Paradigm Money: Why is Financial literacy important?

Grant Kleiman: Too many people feel powerless over their finances. They live in the moment, rather than invest in the future. After taking a class in Personal Finance, I was determined to help children become financially literate. I’ve worked with Scout troops, 4-H groups and elementary school classes. I simply introduce basic financial concepts, yet it’s an important first step in helping kids be money smart.

PM: How was this received? How did you make it relevant to the students?

GK: The night before my first class, I struggled with how to make money management fun for students more interested in Pokémon and Call of Duty than in purchasing power and interest rates. I snacked on potato chips as I scoured the web for ideas, carefully keeping the crumbs away from my laptop.

I love potato chips! Barbeque, sour cream and onion, or salt and vinegar, I can devour a bag of chips in one sitting. Halfway through the bag, I considered saving some for later. Naaah!!! They were just too good! The YOLO mindset of my generation doesn’t foster great health habits. YOLO also chips away at our financial health.

Suddenly, I dipped into a great idea.

PM: Haaa!! I see where you are going! Please expound more on this snackable way to look at your finances

GK: Here are the lessons I learned about financial empowerment while noshing on potato chips.

Put Your Chips in a Bowl

Using a bag of potato chips and a bowl, I demonstrate the power of budgeting. Eat some chips now; keep some in the bag for later. Divvying money into different “buckets” disciplines us to save for tomorrow. Actual buckets, spreadsheets or budget apps like Vibe make it easy to visualize how much money comes in and where our spending dollar goes.

It’s simple yet powerful. Pour chips in a bowl to curb mindless snacking. Put money in buckets to limit mindless spending.

Make Every Crumb Count

When I teach youth groups about money management, I give each child a small bag of potato chips. When they finish snacking, I ask who has crumbs left in their bag. Every student usually has tilted the bag, so all the crumbs slide to one corner. They make every crumb count.

Why are we so careful not to waste a single potato chip crumb yet are often laissez-faire about our finances? Financial empowerment involves developing the financial discipline to distinguish between “wants” and “needs.” It’s easy to go overboard with spending, especially online. BankMobile offers great suggestions on how to refrain from giving in to impulse purchases that are just one click away.

Learning how to create wealth, rather than just spend it, is essential. Consider saving and investing your hard-earned dollars. The results are powerful, especially if start early. At age eleven, Warren Buffett purchased stock with money he earned from odd jobs. By high school graduation, Buffett had earned today’s equivalent of $47,000. By age 30, he was worth $1 million. Today a billionaire (and Potato Stix lover), Buffet knows the importance of making every crumb count.

Don’t Pig Out

My generation knows a lot about pigging out. We can’t eat just one. We overindulge. Pigging out is bad enough when it’s potato chips. Pigging out on debt can threaten our financial future.

Last spring my friend Kylie graduated from college with $120,000 in debt. What’s Kylie up to now? She works all day for a retail company and waitresses nights and weekends to cover her $858 monthly student loan payment. Kylie feels like an indentured servant, working 12-hour days to repay her debt.

Whether you’re talking about debt or junk food, pigging out feels good in the moment. However, when it’s over, we often feel nauseous.

Be Empowered

Want to empower yourself? Be intentional with your finances! Being financially savvy is not something that only experts can do. Financial empowerment is simply about making better decisions with your money to stay ahead in your life and career.

PM:  Any last words?

GK:  You only live once. Making smart and ethical choices with money will help you build a brighter financial future.

To learn more about the Annual BankMobile Financial Empowerment Scholarship and how to apply for the 2019 scholarship offered by the BankMobile Foundation, visit: https://www.bankmobile.com/scholarship/.

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Identifying Your Brand Message w/ Tashima Jones

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For today’s Digm Spot feature we are talking about the importance of your brand identity, how authenticity is the key to abundance and success, and why having faith in your abilities is important to achieving your dreams.

ASH: For today’s Digm Spot feature. We have Tashima Jones, who is a brand consultant with Extra Curricular Activities. She is an author, co-host producer, curator of creative events, and she hails from Harlem, New York City, and holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration, Marketing and graduated with honors from the university of Albany studying from other the likes of William D. Danko, New York Times best selling author of The Millionaire Next Door. She penned a book called Being Broke Made Me Rich, a memoir of her financial enlightenment and life journey thus far. Tashima believes that living authentically is the key to abundance and success. In 2006, she started Tashima Jones Media, a media and branding company, and has worked and collaborated with brands such as VH-1, Fader, Black Enterprise, Metro PCS, Ameriprise Financial Services, as well as many successful entrepreneurs.

ASH: It is exciting because I love to hear about marketing professionals, especially because this podcast is about inspiring and motivating people. With marketing, it’s about how do you present yourself to the world. So, I want to start there. What attracted you to marketing?

TASHIMA: Well, part of what you just said, how you present yourself to the world. I’ve arrived to that point in my life where I was like this is what I want to do. It’s in me, whether I’m in a classroom or at home. I pursued it, and I pursued it with all of my heart. I realized it after studying business that everything after creating a product or service had to do with marketing. Everything is about how you are preparing your audience to receive this product or service. So again, marketing is a fantastic world where you can express yourself in so many different realms.

ASH: Absolutely. One of your specialties is helping brands find their identity. Why is that important?

TASHIMA: Finding your identity, I think on a personal level and on a business level, is really, really important. When you think about marketing, you have to first have a message? You have to know what message you want to give off before actually putting that message out there. Knowing yourself, knowing your product, knowing your service, knowing your company, all start with your identity. Who are you? What is your purpose? What is your vision? What is your mission? You cannot communicate an idea if you have no idea what that idea is. So, when it comes to branding, you have to really think about how do I want to connect with my audience. It all starts with knowing who you are, and your intention of what it is that you are doing. So, it’s important because you have to convey a message. You have to convey a purpose. You have to create this vision that connects with someone.

ASH: Imentioned earlier in your bio that you believe that living authentically is the key to abundance and success. Can you talk about that a little further?

TASHIMA: I love the way this is flowing. Because when you are authentic, you know who you are. You know your brand identity, whether it’s a personal brand, professional brand, whatever it maybe. I always say personal and professional because all have brands. Every social media post that you create is telling people who you are as a person, who you are as a company. So, whether you like it or not, you are a brand. So. when you are living authentically, meaning you have a true sense of who you are, and you have a true sense of the energy that you’re putting out into the universe, and you have a true sense of your mission and your vision. That is living life authentically and unapologetically. I believe that that is the key to abundance and success because nobody can beat you at being you. When you are who you are, again, unapologetic about it and truthful with it, there’s certain things that are lined up specifically just for you. At one point in my life, I’ve truly believed I was walking in the footsteps of someone else. So, everything that that person was supposed to receive, I received it. But because it wasn’t my true self, it didn’t feel right. The shoes really didn’t fit. When I finally woke up and decided to say, “Hey, who am I, and where am I going?” Once I started doing that, everything literally fell into place. Not only did I become a happier and more fulfilled person, I started to really discover what I wanted out of life and things became clearer to me. I was able to make moves that felt right, even when I didn’t see them working out at that moment. I knew inside of myself that this was for me and I’m not going to stop until I get it. Being authentic not only gives you clarity in where you should go in life, it also opens up this world of abundance. Because everything that is created for you, you will receive when you are living in that space of authenticity.

ASH: You also mentioned you had an encounter with William D. Danko, New York Times best selling author of The Millionaire Next Door, which in fact actually changed my life and made me focus more on how I managed my finances. How did that encounter change you?

TASHIMA: I have to mention that prior to even making the connection between him being an author and also being my professor, I had no idea who I was speaking to. I had no idea about it. So, there was one moment in time where I had to go into this office, have this conversation about an exam or some project that I missed. I was trying to come up with this reasonable excuse for missing it. When I sat down in front of him, he started to talk to me about faith. He started to talk to me about who am I and my identity and where is it that I wanted my life to go, which direction I wanted my life to go into. For him to be a male and not look anything like me, he really spoke to where I was at that place in my life, even when I didn’t realize it. So, experiencing him as a professor and then having that private conversation, it impacted me because a man who wrote a book about The Millionaire Next Door, a New York Times best seller by the way. For him to talk to me about faith and link that to my finances and to success in life, I never heard that. Being in the school of business, you kind of learn these tips and tools and principles that are specific to business. So, for him to relate success to faith and your identity, it really, really changed my mind. Because not only did it confirm some of the things that I already believed, I also think it opened my world up to this thing potentially being real and let me give it a try. Let me discover who I am. Let me live in my truth and see what happens. So, finding out that he wrote this book that has changed so many people’s lives and it was related to finances, it encouraged me. It gave me clarity, as to where I was going. It let me know that I was on the right path of believing in the things that I did not see, and also being able to manifest the abundance that I desired to have in my heart.

ASH: What excites you about the work that you do?

TASHIMA: The exciting thing about my work is not only seeing something go from just an idea to an actual product or service or marketing campaign or event, the amazing thing is actually in the future when I work with amazing people, people who are starting up and those who are well-known. I always reference Spike Lee’s movies. Like, when he came out with the movie way back when, you saw so… like, the people that we see today started with him. Just being able to be a part of a movement, being able to be a part of other people’s dreams coming true and seeing the progress of when we first started to work together until a year later, or five years later, ten years. From that moment, being able to kind of see into the future, I get so excited about it because I love being a part of other people’s journeys. I love assisting people in building their brand and building their companies. So, seeing that idea come from nothing to something and then imagine what it will be in the future is one of the most exhilarating moments that I experience in what I do.

ASH: What advice would you give to anyone who wanted to get into your line of business?

TASHIMA: The greatest piece of advice that I would give is to not be afraid to think for yourself. I was always textbook smart, and I could memorize the principles and marketing terms and business ideas. But, I was afraid to do it my way. I think that’s very important is to really look inside yourself and say, okay, I’ve seen it done this way. I’ve researched how it has happened in the past, but what do I want to do? How do I want to brand this person or this company? How do I want to market and promote this product or service? Not being afraid to think out of the box, and at the same time educating yourself on your industry, being aware of common principles, being aware of common trend, but always adding a little or a lot a bit of who you are. Maybe, because I think that is what sets us apart, you know. People say how are you unique? You’re unique simply by being you and you don’t have to go very far to find that out. But, I think so many people are afraid to be their true selves because of how it’s been done and how successful it’s been the way somebody else has done it. But, it can be just as successful the way you choose to do it. So, definitely educating yourself on current trends and principles, but also putting your twist on it and not being afraid to do it how you would like to see it done.

ASH: What advice would you give to anyone who is pursing their dreams?

TASHIMA: I think so often we wait for this “perfect” moment, or perfect timing, when in actuality the perfect time is now. So, I would definitely say live in that moment and live in that space of now, and just doing it starting where you are. You don’t have to wait to have a certain amount of money. You don’t have to wait to know the “right” people. You just have to start with what you have and where you are. Being faithful in that space and allowing yourself to learn what it is that you have to learn in that season of your life, and build from there. So, literally, taking everything that you have and all that you know and really focusing on what it is that you want, starting there and then taking it day by day moving forward. Everything else will come once you start.

ASH: Tashima Jones, marketing and brand specialist giving us some words of wisdom.

Here are the key takeaways:
• Know your brand identity. Knowing who you are and what message you are trying to convey to your audience is a key component to marketing.
• Live authentically. Living authentically is the key to abundance and success because you are a unique being and no one can ever do what you can do. Being authentic allows you to walk in your purpose.
• Don’t be afraid to think for yourself. Even though things have been done successfully in the past, doesn’t mean you have to do them the exact way. Add your uniqueness to the mix and think outside of the box.
• Live in the moment of now. You do not have to wait for circumstances. You do not have to wait for the perfect moment. The perfect moment is now. In order to fulfill your dreams and to reach your goals, you have to be able to start where you are and be unapologetically you and do what you can do at the moment to maximize your full potential.

 

If you’d like to get in touch with Tashima, you can contact her on her website at www.TashimaJones.com. He’s also on Twitter at twitter.com/TashimaJones and Instagram at www.instagram.com/tashimajonesmedia/.

Interested in being interviewed to be featured on the Digm Spot? Email Ash at ashcash@paradigmmoney.com.

 

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The Digm Spot (Features)

The Ivy-League Give Back w/ Karim Abouelnaga

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Photo credit Forbes.com

For today’s Digm Spot feature we are talking about how liabilities can be assets, why it’s important to be connected to your work, and how having thick skin can help you on your road to success.

ASH: I am excited about this guest that we have today. You know, if you’re a fan of this show, you know that every guest that I have on I’m excited about. That’s because we want to bring you the best of the best. But, I am extra excited about this guy because he is a mover and shaker. He’s making great things happen at such a young age. So, we have Karim Abouelnaga on the line with us. He is an Ivy League educated inner city public school graduate. He received over 300 thousand dollars in scholarships to make his education possible. He found that practice makes perfect at 18 years young. Practice makes perfect, or PMP, is an evidence based full service summer school operator for K thru 8 schools that uses a unique near peer learning model to drive students’ outcomes. PMP was founded in 2010, and has served more than 2 thousand inner city children across New York City. Karim also writes for Entrepreneur Magazine as an echoing green fellow, global shaper. At age 23, he was named on the Forbes 30 under 30 list in education, and at 24 was named to Magic Johnson’s 32 under 32 list. In 2016, he was ranked in the top five most powerful entrepreneurs under 25 in the world by Rich Topia. Ladies and gentlemen, round of applause for Mr. Karim Abouelnaga.

ASH: You started your company six years ago when you were only 18 years old while attending Cornell University. You managed to graduate in the top 10 percent of your class, and turned down Wall Street job offers to continue building your company. What was the inspiration behind this decision?

KARIM: So, I mean, I didn’t grow up with a lot honestly. I found myself in places of privilege, and realized that in the process of attending my own education that there were disparities in the opportunities that were given to kids I was growing up with. I was raised in a lower income neighborhood. Most of my friends didn’t see college as an opportunity to do something bigger. It was almost too late when they got to an age and they realized college is their only way out of the hood where we were growing up. So, I didn’t necessarily think I was building a large company at the time. I wanted to do something to pay it forward and give back. Though I didn’t have much, I knew I had a lot more than the kids I was growing up with back home just because of the university I was at. When I found myself on Wall Street, I still remember this. I did my first year at Goldman Sachs, my sophomore and junior year in college doing investment banking, and then my junior year at Black Rock. In that year, they told us there were a hundred students in our intern class. There were ten thousand who applied, and I was the only African American male in the class. That one of the biggest frustrations, or eye-opening moments, in my development where I realized that some of my peers aren’t going up and getting the education that they need to be in these environments. So, how can we start to change things if we can’t even access the capital or the wealth that exists? The emphasis for starting my company was really to create a pipeline. More kids just like me, giving them the opportunity to be able to go back and really improve our communities and the financial resources that we need to create long lasting change.

ASH: Absolutely. What was the most difficult part of starting a business at such a young age?

KARIM: I mean, starting a business at a young age is hard. I think there were other barriers for me just because I was raised by a single mother on government aid. One big hurdle to any business that you’re starting is having access to capital. When you’re poor that doesn’t exactly set you up for success either. So, I realized that, you know, those liabilities in so many ways could also be seen as assets. Because we didn’t have a lot of money, or I didn’t have a lot of money when I was starting out, I started to think about well what are ways that we can do this a lot cheaper. How can we bootstrap? How can we learn what is famously called today a lean startup, where you’re iterating and testing your projects without actually having to bring it to life right away at full scale? And then, with being a young person, I mean, people just, when you start talking to them, assume you don’t have what it takes, or you’re impatient. All the stereotypes of being young, and then add the stereotypes in there of being in college, where most college kids aren’t responsible or there just seems like a solo cup. That’s the image you get of a college student. So, I was overcoming a bunch of hurdles on that end. But at the same time, the bar was low, right. So, whenever the bar is low, all you have to do is meet expectations or achieve them by a little bit and it seems like you’re doing something incredible. So, in my case, because I had been working at such a young age, I had a little professionalism that I approached this work with. It kind of set me apart from so many kids who were my age when I was starting the business.

ASH: Wow. That’s great insight. I could imagine, you know, being young, or even just anybody running a business, that there are days that you have some ups and downs. How do you keep yourself motivated on those days where you feel down?

KARIM: So, when you’re starting a business, one of the things you realize really early on is that the success of your business drives how well you feel. When your business is struggling, it takes an emotional toll on you. If your business is doing poorly, you feel like you’re not doing great. You’re not in a good mood. If your business is doing really well, you feel like you’re doing great, even though those two things shouldn’t be interrelated. One of the things I realized really early on was that the entrepreneurship like lifecycle sort of looked like a Sin curve. So, sin curves are just like oscillating waves that go up and down continuously. If you take that image and you squeeze it and then you tilt it to the left a little bit, so that way the line is pointing up. I was like that was the entrepreneurship curve or journey. 98 percent of the time you’re either on your way up or on your way down. Then 1 percent of the time, you’re all the way at the top. One percent of the time, you’re going to feel like you’re all the way at the bottom. You need to be humble and have that humility when you’re at the top, so you can muster through the bottom and have what it takes to actually get through it. I mean, the other piece is that you start to realize that this is a cycle, and this is the process. Knowing what they journey looks like makes it a lot easier to bear through the down moment. If you stop, you’re never going to get back to that moment where you’re starting to go back up. So, having that perspective and having that in hindsight is [indiscernible] just to drive me. The other piece, for me, is the work I’m doing is just so personal. So, I run an educational company that focuses on providing opportunities for low income kids who grew up just like me. I know that without those interventions that we’re providing that their life prospects aren’t going to be what they could potentially be. Ultimately, kids aren’t living up to their fullest potential. It’s because they aren’t given the opportunities that they deserve in so many communities that need it most. So, knowing what I have, knowing the privilege and the blessings that I’ve been able to achieve at such a young age continues to drive me to provide those opportunities. There’s just so many kids who are growing up just like me.

ASH: Wow. Powerful stuff. I’ll be honest, Karim, right. Most 24-year-olds I know, they’re just starting out on their careers. But, you are already running a million-dollar business. By many accords, you are super successful. But with you being so young, how do you balance out staying focused on your business, but not missing out on your youth?

KARIM: I’ve never actually thought about, like, the youth I’m missing out on. I know when I was coming out of college I was taking on a lot of responsibility by starting a company, but I was already taking on that responsibility growing up in a low-income household. I’ve been, like, working off the books since I was 12 or 13, and then have consistently had jobs since then helping pay for the rent or whatever it may have been at home. So, I’ve always had responsibilities that kids my age didn’t have. I think those things never stopped me from being a teenager. They never stopped me from being a college student. I made sure that the things that were important to me I was still doing. I mean, it’s crazy and it’s surreal, like, today my company process close to a quarter million-dollar payroll. It’s one of those things that you see in your life, wow. Every two weeks, you’re profiting quarter million dollars. Now, like, you’re adding value. That means that in and of itself, like, inspires progress for me. So, I make sure that I’m carving off the time for the things and the people that are important to me. Make sure that I’m taking two and sometimes three vacations a year. I’m hanging out with my friends. I love to play ball, so I play basketball on the weekends. I prioritize my health. I make sure I’m in the gym and I’m working out. I’m doing the fun things, and I have the resources to do them that I ultimately didn’t have when I was a kid. So, the other piece of all of this that I think is really cool and sometimes underrated is that you get to build a company that has a culture that you sort of want in it. I can tell you right now the oldest employee in my company is, like, 29. So, I’m building a cool work environment where people just naturally are younger, and we do things that younger people do. So, I don’t feel like I’m missing out by any stretch of the imagination.

ASH: Now I want to kind of dig into your reading habits. What is the last book you read, and what important takeaways can you give us?

KARIM: So, I actually stopped reading books. I listen to everything on Audible, as funny as that sounds. I feel like listening to them, you can up the speed a little bit, and you can listen while you’re moving. I listen to all my books in the morning on my way to work and on my way back. The last book that I read was Bringing Out the Best in People. It’s by Aubrey Daniels. I think one of the… like, the most important takeaway from that book is that management should be done through positive reinforcement. I think too many times you try to manage people out of fear. We try to use and share what the negative consequences can be or scare tactics and what the outcome could look like if we don’t achieve this certain goal, or whatever it may be. A lot of management is actually rooted in psychology. How do we use human psychology to shape positive behavior? How do you avoid negative reinforcement in a way, or in a light, that ultimately like doesn’t drive success or drive outcomes for you? It seems like a very simple concept, but mind blowing how many people actually don’t use it.

ASH: All right, you’ve given us a lot of great insight. I’m sad to say this is the last question, right. What advice would you give to anyone who’s pursuing their dream?

KARIM: Yeah, I mean, get thick skin. I feel like it’s hard to say that and to understand it, but not everyone does take the leap of faith that they need to be able to live out their dreams. In the process of doing that, you’re going to find a level of, like, inner peace that doesn’t exist if you’re not doing it. People who want to do it but are empty or don’t have what it takes internally, may or may not like you for that. There’s going to be a lot of setbacks on your road to success and living out the ideal dream or life that you want. There’s going to be a lot of naysayers, a lot of doubters. But, believe me, it’s possible. It’s doable, you know. I’m 24 running a multi-million-dollar business now, and started with almost nothing. But, in the heat of everything that we were doing, having thick skin was one of the most important things. Because from day one, people have said that what we are doing and what we’ve achieved so far just wasn’t possible. That I wasn’t the right person, and that I didn’t have what it takes, and my team wasn’t good enough. They were too young. All of those people who just should’ve, they want to be in your shoes. They want to be in your place but don’t have what it takes to make the leap of faith to actually live off their dreams and pursue their aspirations, so have thick skin.

ASH: So, there you have it, Karim Abouelnaga, founder and CEO of Practice makes Perfect.

Here are some key takeaways:
• In order to run a successful business, you will need access to capital. Sometimes not having that access can be a liability but it can also be an asset because knowing that will allow you to run a lean business and focus on the things that you need to focus on in order to make your business thrive.
• Be humble when you’re at the top, and confident when you’re at the bottom. This is important to realize because the cycle of being an entrepreneur has its ups and downs. So, if you are conscious of which cycle you’re currently at, it will allow you to continue to keep going and get done what you need to get done.
• Do work you love and be connected to your work. Doing this gives you the motivation to keep going when those times you feel unmotivated or those times when you aren’t at the bottom. So, make sure you’re loving work.
• If you design your own life, you don’t have to compromise on the things that are important to you.
• Have thick skin. There are many people who are going to resent the fact that you are living out your dreams. They are going to resent the fact that you are taking that leap of faith, so have thick skin. They may tell you that you can’t do it. They may try to stand in your way. But, ultimately, only you can stop you. It’s how you view what they say and that power and energy you give to it that will allow it to affect you. So, have thick skin. Know what you were put here to do. Do it the best that you can do it. Never let anyone stop you.

 

If you’d like to get in touch with Karim, you can contact him on his website at www.KarimAbouelnaga.com. He’s also on Twitter at twitter.com/KarimAbouelnaga and Instagram at www.instagram.com/karim_abouelnaga/.

Interested in being interviewed to be featured on the Digm Spot? Email Ash at ashcash@paradigmmoney.com.

 

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