FTC 209 | College Education For Free

209: College Education For Free With Grant Aldrich

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For most families, K-12 education is a fairly significant expense of about six figures, and for many, it’s even more. Mitch Russo’s guest, Grant Aldrich, graduated with an overwhelming level of debt, which almost crushed him. Even more stressful for him was the job-hunting process, knowing the amount he had to pay back. It became such a burden after he started his first job that he decided to change the way students embark on their college education and has revolutionized the entire process using technology and some great systems for planning and production. Hear all about his incredible story and his mission to make college education accessible and affordable for everyone.

College Education For Free With Grant Aldrich

Welcome to this moment in time when you get to chill out, tune in, and extract wisdom you can use to grow your business with your first thousand clients. We are here to support you by making sure you know what is working in business and in life. If you’re reading and have a business that is in need of some love, you know some revenue and profits, then I want you to grab my latest new product. It’s called Profit Stacking Secrets. It started out many years ago as a new client assessment, but it became more and more robust and detailed as the years rolled forward. Hundreds of clients later, I’ve refined it to be what you need to grow quickly with little investment using strategy instead of cash. How does that sound? Go to ProfitStackingSecrets.com and get your copy. Now, onto my guest and his incredible story.

In America, we pay for our post-K-12 education, and for most families, it’s a fairly significant expense. My own daughter’s education, I am embarrassed to say because it’s six figures and for many, it’s even more than I paid. My guest graduated with an overwhelming level of debt and it almost crushed him. Job hunting was even more stressful knowing what he had to pay back and the interest became a burden immediately after he started his first job. He made a decision to change the way students embark on their college education and has revolutionized the entire process using technology and some great systems for planning and production. We’re going to hear all about it. Welcome, Grant Aldrich, to the show. 

Mitch, thank you for having me.

It’s my pleasure, Grant. You have developed quite an interesting model, which we’re going to get into, but before we do, let’s start at the beginning. Tell us how this all got started for you. 

This story starts with me almost dying in early 2016 and to fully understand that story and what the effect it had on me, I would say that in 2015, it was the greatest year of my life. I had been working in startups through my whole career in my 20s, early 30s, and that year I exited my company to a publicly-traded company. Finally, receiving that validation after all of those years of work, I got married and my wife became pregnant with our first son. Coming out of 2015, I was on cloud nine and I was on a path that was linear from my prior experience. I thought at that point that, “I’m an entrepreneur. I’m going to go bigger, more employees and more money.” It was a linear growth trajectory. In early 2016, I was swimming or in the water in Northern California during a surf advisory at a time that I should not have been out. My wife was out on the beach watching me and I almost died in the water with her watching and it was a traumatizing event.

I was pulled out of the water and I went to the hospital. It took many days to recover with how beat up I had gotten. Thereafter, I entered an introspective period, which came to the conclusion that I was not happy in my prior life. The reason I wasn’t happy was that I was not doing something I cared about. There’s nothing wrong with working in healthcare and working with helping pharmaceutical companies, which what I was doing in my prior life, but I wasn’t excited to get to work every day to do that. I realized that in my lifestyle, I didn’t have the correct mix of work and balance, especially now with a young child on the way and children. After that, I realized how unhappy I was. At that moment, I completely changed trajectories and decided that I wanted to tackle something big, that I cared about the mission that would bring meaning to what I did every day knowing now how delicate life is.

You were at a point where there was discomfort. There was this feeling of not being content with your work, it sounds like. Everything else seemed to be doing nicely for you. You didn’t address it. You addressed it only after this life-threatening moment when you had the time to take a look and do the introspection that you described. Is that right? 

Sadly, most people never give themselves the opportunity to say, 'Who am I, and what do I really want?' Click To Tweet

That’s correct. It was one of the work sides, not on the personal side and that’s exactly it. I feel lucky in hindsight that I was able to have such a traumatic event, bring a brow to that introspection so that I could ask these questions and question whether or not I was living every day I wanted to live it. Sadly, I feel that most people out there never give themselves this gift. They never give themselves this opportunity to say, “Who am I? What do I want?”

You didn’t give yourself that gift either and that’s why you needed to get into an accident in order to go where you needed to go. At least the way I think that’s the universe’s way of trying to wake us up. It starts with a light whisper in the ear and tap on the shoulder. A bus goes by with a word on it that would be meaningful to us, but we’re blind to that stuff because we’re too busy being in life. In some cases, not happy in life until finally, the universe says, “You’re not listening. I got to wake you up here.” In this case, it woke you up in a dramatic way, unfortunately. 

It did.

You’re not alone. It’s a great story, and not to minimize the impact of what you went through. This is a wonderful pathway that many people have found themselves taking not voluntarily sometimes as well. For me, my pathway was unfortunately narcotics. I got involved in narcotics as a young man and needed to go to rehab but it was only in rehab that I truly saved my life. To this day, when people find out that I was addicted to heroin at the age of sixteen, nobody can imagine that was me, but it turned out to be the greatest gift I had ever had. That’s the attitude that I’ve always had. 

That’s an interesting parallel and I would agree with you that only in those moments where you feel that you’ve been given this gift of life and that there is only a limited amount of time. There are only many important things in your life like family or whatever that is for the individual. It has a dramatic effect on it.

Getting back to your story, you needed to take a little time off, I would assume to process all of what happened to you and you had this moment of realization. What did you do next? How did you proceed? 

I did take about six months to think, and I knew at that point that I wanted a new path and I wanted something big, but I hadn’t decided on what that was yet. I kept coming back to higher education, specifically both of my parents were educators. It was a natural topic to me that I’ve heard all my life at the dinner table. The second piece was what you mentioned in the episode, which was that I had left college with a large amount of debt and I took a traditional path to college. I’d graduated high school. I went to the best state school I could go to in California. I even seemingly made all the right choices to lower the financial burden, AP courses, prior credit, all those things and still left with an incredible amount of debt that took years to pay off.

In a startup environment, in your twenties, you don’t make a big salary. You’re in for the equity. You compound those things and it made me live a meager life through that period of time. I felt passionate about that. It didn’t crystallize. It’s a little bit later when I started thinking about, and I started becoming aware of the fact that there are millions of people out there. It’s estimated to be 40 million adults who want to go back to school, who want to make their lives better and up-skill but are not taking that first step. That was the enigma. That was the problem that I was going to solve. I kept coming to, “It’s not affordable. It’s not accessible,” things that we probably know, but diving in and I was armed with that mission statement, “How can I solve this problem?” That was a slow-moving process to figure out what the solution would be.

FTC 209 | College Education For Free
College Education For Free: An estimated 40 million adults want to go back to school and make their lives better and up-skill but are not taking that first step because of the cost.

 

The way you described it, it sounds like you were clear on the problem that you wanted to solve. Most entrepreneurs aren’t as clear as you are saying that you were at the time. Did you meander that your way there? The story of Federal Express and how Fred Smith submitted a thesis that had nothing to do with shipping packages. Do you know that story? 

I do know that story.

Did you go directly to this as a business model or did you manage to get there from the left field? How would you describe it? 

No, definitely from the left field. The first step was the transition. The second was that it would be in higher education and trying to solve that. The more information I got when I scratched the surface, I realized it was about inaccessibility and cost. I knew that was the mantra to solve, but at the time I didn’t know how we would solve it. That would come later. It was the mission that I knew had to be solved. That even became a little bit more nuanced. That’s a big part of the story of getting the first thousand clients was understanding the problems that were in place to help come up with a solution. It was meandering and I stumbled upon myself and I’m sure there are lots of bad ideas before I settled in on what I would create.

You’re not alone. That’s how I ended up doing what I did. That’s what many of the entrepreneurs that I’ve spoken with have found their way. They’re usually through multiple channels. In fact, through massive failures. That’s from my own company. We built a software product to solve a problem. The day the software was released, the day we quit our jobs, the entire purpose of our software company was completely removed by the IRS. We had a pivot and these pivots are the true gifts because we had to go down that path. We had no other way to get to that moment in time where that pivot would have brought us to where we needed to be. To tell you the truth, I like to think of it as a spiritual journey because it takes more than knowledge and grit. It takes an element of trust where you have to trust the universe to bring you to the place where you need to be. If you don’t trust that process, Grant, do we get there? 

That’s fascinating what you described the pivot because you’re right that you have to go in there with that trust, not only for the universe but also from yourself and that you will be able to see which steps you need to take and to read the tea leaves when those opportunities arise.

You have to deal with all that comes up inside and you were successful. You already sold the company, but for me, I wasn’t. I had never started a company before. I dealt with all of the imposter syndrome, mindset and the, “Am I good enough?” stuff. I had to go through all of that. There were no coaches back then. I had to slog my way through and figure it out. I studied people. I used to follow a guy named Tom Peters. You’re probably too young to know who he is. He spoke from stage to corporate governance and structure. I found him to be fascinating that I followed him from state to state as he has spoken. He was my therapy. I said, “Tom said that I’m going to do it.” Let’s get back to your business. Did you finance this yourself? Did you raise money to do it? How did that happen? 

There's no linear process like a community college. Click To Tweet

What you said I thought was fascinating. Not to cap off what you had mentioned, but honestly, I also feel many of those anxieties that you spoke about in terms of that imposter syndrome and the confidence. I always think of those, stay with people in perpetuity. In this case, I had left the industry that I was working in and went into a completely new industry. Because of that, I felt insecure because who am I? I don’t have years of experience in this field. Why should people listen to me as a luminary in the space? The only thing that gave me comfort in that situation was the fact that I would also think of Uber. You have a group there that completely redefined an industry, which was the taxi industry, and made it so much better. I don’t think anybody can argue about how much better the solution was. It didn’t originate from within the industry. It took someone from the outside with the vision to make that better. Those scenarios helped me build my confidence back. I wanted to make that point because when you said that, you gave me too much credit. I do still feel those insecurities and anxieties.

You also said something that I need to unpack as well. What I feel and what I believe to be a significant factor in entrepreneurship is the understanding like you said, that innovation can come and, in many cases, come from outside of an industry. That is why I was able to have been successful in the industry that I chose. We had planned on competition trouncing us early in our entrepreneurial journey, but because we were completely from the outside of that industry, they discounted completely everything that we were doing. That later turned out to be the key to our success. A powerful observation on your part. 

In general, what we’re doing now and what it is with that mantra, make college more accessible and affordable for everyone. Now, someone can get started on our platform at OnlineDegree.com in 60 seconds without any applications or entrance exams. You can register and begin taking college-level courses online at your own pace and schedule for credit towards your degree, lowering the cost of your college degree and saving time. We do it all for free.

When you say, “We do it all for free,” the part that you do for free is you make these courses available for free? Is that what you meant? 

Correct, everything on our platform. If you think of us as a modern alternative to a community college, the piece of your education that we provide.

We can go on to MIT.edu and we could take entry-level and advanced electrical engineering courses at no cost. Harvard has a similar program. What would be the difference between what you’re doing and what they’re doing? 

The key difference is the structure to get you credit for the courses that you’re taking. Whether it’s MIT, Harvard or YouTube, all of those avenues are all in the same bucket, which is they provide you the ability to learn for free and they’re phenomenal. I love them. I can’t even tell you how often I’m on YouTube learning, whatever it is. It’s phenomenal. MIT and its courseware and what they provide is an extension of that within the context of a course in a classroom and from their professors, but there isn’t the ability to apply that towards your degree for credit.

FTC 209 | College Education For Free
College Education For Free: Innovation, in many cases, comes from outside of an industry.

 

That’s the key, isn’t it? 

That’s the key. That’s the differentiator that we provide and what makes us unique. What we’ve done is we’ve taken these courses and we’ve worked hard to put the systems in place so that they will count for credit. That means the assessments, evaluations and the articulations of how those courses will apply towards their universities and an immense amount of work has to take place for that to happen. That paves the way for someone to be able to come on the platform, take those courses, and apply it to their university.

To me, the missing ingredient for all of this is the fact that you can get accredited through your site, whereas you can go on to Harvard or MIT and you can take those courses and you can’t get accredited. In other words, you cannot get your Electrical Engineering degree by watching those courses or taking those courses online. 

The universities do that on purpose because those schools, which are the most exclusive institutions perhaps in the world, MIT, Harvard, and Berkeley had been doing it up until some liability issues that they encountered. They were doing it as well and UCI, which is my alma mater. Some of the top schools in the country and they’re doing it as a public benefit, but they do not want people to be able to take those courses and preclude them from getting that tuition revenue.

I did not know that. I knew that they didn’t issue degrees by going online for free. I knew that part, but what I did not realize is that first of all, you say that they were shut down for litigation purposes. I wasn’t aware of that, but let’s get back to your business model. You give away this education for free, which is an incredible public service. How does your company make money? This is a business show. You have to tell us. 

We’re transparent about it. The way that we make money is through the support of the universities. This is a dramatic paradigm shift to disrupt higher education. People probably can understand the benefit of the consumer. That’s intuitive if someone comes on and is able to get those 44 units of credit for free. In addition to that, we also organize discounts at our university partners for our students to further lower the burden. Lowering the cost and the time by sometimes 40% degree, the benefit for the consumer is obvious.

How do you lower the time commitment? That’s the part I was shocked by. 

Online education keeps growing every year at a rapid pace because the stigmas are now being shaken. Click To Tweet

In two ways, one is a bit more theoretical in that if someone is not able to go into a full-time schedule at a university where you’re paying tuition, you’re able to complete our courses at your leisure and without a schedule before that happens. Otherwise, it may take someone a long time to get towards their degree because they can’t carve out time. They can begin with us instantly and it’s on their schedule. They can be chipping away at that. Getting to that point much sooner in the more concrete ways that our courses can be taken in parallel with your current degree because there’s no linear process like a community college. That was one of the other ills that we wanted to solve. You don’t stay with us until you get to an associate’s degree and then you have to transfer. You can come up with your degree plan and take general education courses with us, take courses at the university and get there faster.

I have no exposure to this at all, which is why I wanted you on the show because of my curiosity. That’s usually what drives most of my invites to have guests on because I’m curious about how they build a business or in this case, what is the scene in education with Coronavirus and schools being shut down? This big question about what’s going to happen in the fall? Will there be a college? In some ways, you might say that you are part of the potential destruction of the entire college university structure. Would you agree?

No, because I feel that we’re leading, I want to say, the saving of higher education because in reality, those 40 million adults are not taking the step back towards higher education for one main reason. There are many reasons, but one of the main reasons is the ROI or the cost. That’s become out of balance that if you were to survey someone on the street and ask them, “In a perfect world, would you like a college degree?” they would overwhelmingly say yes, but when you provide the costs and all of the things that are involved, those working adults have been passing.

What our solution has been designed to do is to get into removing those impediments for working adults, to take that first step, to dive into the psyche of what is holding that person back and remove those impediments. At the same time, create a system that does chip away at the affordability to bring that ROI back in balance without having to change the tuition for every single school in the country. I look at us as a way to save higher education and to work in conjuncture with it, as opposed to that student choosing a higher education alternative.

I predicted you were going to say that. I knew that was going to be your position. It’s okay. I get it, but truthfully if you are as successful as I am sure you will be, then we both know that college education facilities, campuses are going to be laid waste by a completely online, virtual experience. 

Yes. Before COVID and before OnlineDegree.com, I had already forecast that online was going to be transformative in higher education. To give you a list or some context, higher education is a $700 billion industry. It’s enormous, but yet it’s been shrinking. The only segment of it that’s been growing prior to all these events was the online education when it grew from almost nothing to now $50 billion. It keeps growing every year at a rapid pace. The reason being is because the stigmas are being shaken. If you think about the connection to online dating, there was a point in time where no one did online dating and now it’s become the absolute standard for dating. That shift is going to happen in higher education, whether we exist or COVID exists or not. What we’ve done, both COVID and OnlineDegree.com, is to expedite that process and to serve as a catalyst.

Higher education transformation is a good thing because by going online, that does help bring the cost back into balance. If it’s an online course, you don’t need buildings and you don’t need all these hard assets. The incremental cost to add a student is almost none. It’s a deflationary effect and you can lower the cost of the education. In many cases, online education is far better than the traditional counterpart for learning. It’s more immersive, focused. You’re not distracted on campus. The amount of time you can dedicate, the accessibility. For many of us, that’s a scary thing to think about because it’s different than the traditional college experiences we all had. There are a lot of good things about that, but those things were happening regardless of our participation or not in the industry.

FTC 209 | College Education For Free
College Education For Free: Higher education is a $700-billion industry.

 

The way I would describe what you said is that what we’re doing is we’re not shrinking the market. We’re expanding the market by those who want to work with universities and colleges online, and yet still provide those who want on-campus experience, the opportunity to get it and potentially lower the cost of that because of the tuition that’s coming in from a relatively inexpensive, low overhead system. Let’s shift back to you and your company. Grant, I got people here reading this blog who have businesses and want to make money and want you to teach them the tricks and maybe the deep wisdom that you’ve uncovered by building your own company. Where did you hit real problems in your company? How did you solve them? 

Every entrepreneur knows that you hit problems every single day and every minute of every day. I was talking with my wife and telling her, “All I do is try to solve problems every day. That’s all I do.” If I was going to describe everything, I’ve had about three different startups in my career, I’ve only ever known startups. I’m in tune with the entrepreneurial experience. I would say that the one thing that I’ve learned at this point and what I would have each of your readers ask themselves is a maxim that’s 3,000 years old from ancient Greece. It is, “Know thyself.” This was inscribed on the temple of Apollo in Delphi. Apollo was the God of Wisdom. The logic was, how could you know anything if you don’t know yourself? How could you ever obtain true wisdom if you don’t know that? You are someone that should know yourself better than anyone else.

I’ve found that in business, that has been the most important thing of what I’ve applied to this company than my failures before. I’ll give you some examples of that as entrepreneurs and your readers can relate to this. We love the exercise. We love coming up with ideas and we like talking about the ideas and the merits of each. I would challenge any of them ever to ask themselves when they were coming up with the idea, did they ever ask, “Is this the right business for me?” The answer would be no. They looked at it as a scale. They looked at it as a good business model. Do I know anything about the industry? They never ask themselves, “Is this the appropriate one?” That’s key because if you are not a good manager, you should not have a business that has many employees.

Another example would be if you enjoy being in board shorts every day, you should never create a company where you have to be in a suit. Go to physical locations. The reason I bring all this up is that at the end of the day, I would say is the biggest guarantee of whether it fails or not is the entrepreneur himself or herself and their ability to stay passionate and be happy every day and to enjoy what they’re doing because it keeps them focused. It gives them clarity. If you don’t have that, because you’re unhappy and you didn’t know yourself, you put yourself in a terrible situation. All of that begins to breakdown.

I certainly can’t disagree with that. You and I could spend hours telling each other stories about that moment in time when we made a discovery about ourselves that we wish we would have made earlier, or in my case, about a partner. Let’s get into the systems side of your company. What technology do you employ? We’re all familiar with the “learning management system,” but there’s got to be a lot of other tools that you employ every day to run your business. Let’s talk a little bit about your internal management systems that you deploy. 

Let me overlap two things to describe that. It’ll give a lot better context. One was that by knowing myself, I wanted to create the organization to fit in my lifestyle. I’ll get into that. The second one was that given the realities of trying to provide courses and education to potentially hundreds of thousands of people a year, those two things had to overlap. One of the things that I was adamant to do was to create an organization that was virtual, all self-served. There would be no live sessions, no live courses because I wanted to make it low maintenance. I wanted it to be excellent and high quality, but I didn’t want to stress out about the coordination work of courses. Everything that we see with COVID where all of a sudden there’s a crisis and they have to move all the courses from a traditional classroom online, that was a monumental effort by every university. I could not have forecast an event like that, but those little things come up all the time.

The teacher can’t come in. You have to find a substitute. None of that. I got down to the bones to remove. The first thing was that we structured the courses where they didn’t have to be live. The second was that I wanted to set every student up for success. One of the other dirty secrets in the online world is the learning management system, which you’ve mentioned, but for the readers out there, it is the software that universities use for students to log in, keep track of their courses, take their courses. This is what they call that class of software. Most LMSs are complicated. Even for an A student upon their first time using it, they can get confused and it can be demoralizing and they can even do poorly.

Online education is far better than its traditional counterpart. It's more immersive and focused because you're not distracted on campus. Click To Tweet

I wanted to, as part of that, create a stripped-down LMS that was intuitive for someone to use that they had no prior experience ever learning online, and that’s a tall order. How I’ve structured this whole organization is to make it built virtually truly from the DNA to be built for a distributed system. That was key because, in addition to that, it kept our cost basis low. Your question earlier, which was that we’d raise money only when I realized the full scope of how large this idea could be, did I finally go out and raise money for angel investors? I self-funded with these things intact to keep costs incredibly low, without sacrificing quality by removing the known issues that we all have and that was revolutionary. We created this LMS. We took an open-source one and we stripped it down, made it much better. That’s one of the things we successfully did well because I knew we would never have enough support to help hundreds of thousands of students.

That makes a lot of sense. Your core learning platform, without being too specific, let’s call it your LMS for now. You have your LMS, the traditional accounting software that you need to keep track of payments, etc. What are the types of systems you employ? For example, having project management, what type of projects are you running that you would need these other types of products? Tell us what they are.

We have numerous systems and they all communicate or don’t communicate in different various ways. On one side, we have a content management system on the front of the website. Ultimately, as a digital organization, all of the marketing is digital. I don’t like to focus on offline because I feel that bridging offline to online at this stage is not efficient. We’re an online company. That’s where the focus should be. We have to do a lot of publishing. On the front of our website, we use WordPress. I’m a huge fan of WordPress because with a small team with such a large platform that’s well adapted, it’s easy to bring in functionality from the different plug-ins. It’s easy to find developers if one were to leave or move on.

That’s another key thing is using a platform like that. We use that as a content management system and then for our internal communications, we have Slack. We use a lot of Slack to communicate between developments. We also have one for our academic advisory team and the group that handles on that side. You’re seeing a theme here that we utilize a lot of great tools that are meant for distributed teams. This was long before COVID. All of our meetings happen on web conferencing like Zoom. I’m trying to think if there were any interesting other pieces of software, the LMS that we built, but nothing comes to mind. We’ve got all these distributed systems that all have their own special piece in the chain.

When I started my software company, one of the things I said to myself is, “I’m not planning to be small. I’m planning to be big.” If I were to project into the future, what I would need to run a company twenty times the size that we are, what choices would I make at that size that I have not yet made, or had never even realized I had to make? One of the key things for us back then was the ability to manage order flow. You got to remember when I started my software company, I’m old. When I started my software company, it was a manufacturing organization. We had production equipment where we were making floppy disks and assembling packages and getting everything ready for shipping every day.

One of the things that would have been a terrible bottleneck had we not anticipated was having a professional cataloging system for shipment management. The reason I ask about this is that a lot of people don’t plan on being big. They are saying, “What problem do I have now that I can solve as cheaply and quickly as possible?” I was wondering if there was anything like that in your own organization that you anticipated and then scaled immediately before the volume was there to support that.

Mitch, I love that you brought this up. This is something I feel strongly about and I rarely ever get to talk about and that is, building it the first time for scale because I feel that you’re right. People always try to go with good enough models or a quick fix. Although they may have a place, the reality is no one ever goes back and rebuilds what they initially built. They may add new features, but there’s never time to go back and do it. You’re always stuck with that system, applying band-aids, but a little forethought in the beginning can save you an immense amount of time and create the organization that you want. In our case, I always knew we have to be lean and you have to allow automation to work to both keep your costs down and not to kill yourself.

FTC 209 | College Education For Free
College Education For Free: Online education helps bring the cost back into balance because you don’t need building and all the hard assets.

 

I’ve got a great example of this. Imagine before getting started, there’s a school of thought, which is about the lean startup. You work in iterations. The problem with this one in OnlineDegree was that was almost impossible because much had to be in place to provide this. You have to have the universities in place, the learning management system, transcripts. Imagine everything that needs to be in place. The courses have to be evaluated. Imagine that before you ever see the light of day. You’re trying to project what this is going to be like when you scale to hundreds of thousands of people. Our transcript system, if you ask any university on the planet, “What’s the single biggest customer service headache?” it’s always transcripts. When I was architecting the system, I said, “This has to be automated.” This cannot be a process wherewith many students, because we’re going to have a small team where we’re getting requests or coordinating what’s happening.

We have to automate this as much as possible and we did it. That was something I have not seen. Now, when you’re logged in as a student after you take courses, you can go into a wizard request, which school sends the transcript and everything is automated. It sends you an email letting you know what the process is. All the person on our side needs to do is to verify everything’s correct. They don’t need to do anything. They look at the data on the screen after we’ve been notified and say, “Yes, it looks good. Approve.” Once it’s approved, it immediately goes from our API to a third-party company that does printing and mailing on our certified documents and immediately sends it to the school and notifies everyone throughout the entire process. I designed that when I didn’t have a single student.

The thing is that I don’t know if this term is used anymore, but what I would have called that is needing to have had domain expertise. The domain expertise you would have to have is you would have to have known how to run a college and in advance anticipated that there’d be thousands of transcripts recorded and requested on a regular basis. How did you know that? 

Interestingly, that’s true. If I had been in that role, someone would have known that, but I didn’t. What you were talking about is a philosophical shift. What you’re saying is many people go out there, they’re only looking at the short-term, “I’m solving problems. I’m trying to figure things.” They don’t bring a philosophy of knowing themselves in the organization that they want to have to solve problems. In my case, when I was sitting there looking at all the different things that we were building, I had the philosophy, “This has to be automated and it can’t suck up resources.”

I was actively looking for aspects of the business that would take up resources and would create chokepoints for scale. You have to almost be like hunting. You should be ferociously looking for it. In that case, I said, “This is going to be a big process. We can’t handle all these requests. What if X happens?” It’s something that you have to approach. Maybe you don’t always get it, but at least that philosophy will do you far better than the alternative.

That makes a lot of sense and congratulations for having done it. You were careful about the way you thought about this and your planning paid off clearly. Grant, it’s clear that you and I could probably continue talking for the next 2 or 3 days here, but we do need to transition to my favorite part of the show. That’s the part where we go beyond the business and we go a little bit past the idea of the company and the revenue and this and that. We get to you and we get to find out a little bit more about you. We do that with a couple of simple questions that are a little bit weird. Let’s start with the first one. Who in all of space and time would you like to have one hour to enjoy a walk in the park, a quick lunch, or an intense conversation with?

This is a tough question because I’ve got many people, but the one that first came to mind would be Alexander the Great, but not for the reasons that people would assume. I’m a student of ancient history and Alexander the Great did these phenomena accomplishments and I’m not even an aggressive type person. I’m not thinking about war aspects, but you can’t argue. He made these incredible feats and what I would love to know because many of these things have been lost in history and then we’re not accurately documented at the time. All these moments through his campaign at these certain battles, what was he thinking? I would love to know more about that person because if you look at his life, he’s regarded as the greatest general and commander ever, with Hannibal. Looking at the person like that, who was the master of his craft and where we don’t have the documentation to know what he was feeling, thinking, insecurities, or any of these things, to know more about who that person was. It always fascinates me.

The biggest guarantee of whether a company fails or not is the entrepreneur himself/herself and their ability to stay passionate every day. Click To Tweet

That’s an incredible choice for a person. I’ve conducted over 230 interviews and no one has ever mentioned him. Honestly, someone has mentioned a lot as their person they’d want to spend time with is Jesus Christ. What I like is that everybody has a different reason why. Even when someone says the same name, the fascinating part to me is the reason why. I love the fact that you have a great reason why. You’re right, he would be fascinating. If I can manage to get you two together because it is space and time, would you mind if I hung around like a fly on the wall and listen to the conversation?

We could do that as an altogether. We take them to coffee.

Here is the grand finale, the change the world question and I have a feeling I know what you’re going to say. What is it that you’re doing or would like to do that truly has the potential to change the world? It’s a little predictable.

I do want to put this back into balance. It breaks my heart in seeing that many people don’t get the opportunity to make their lives better despite the desire. Although my college experience was expensive and I dealt with that debt, I’m fortunate that I was still able to get it. I feel for those people who are not and who want a better life. I’m one of those people that love to help people help themselves. I get an immense amount of satisfaction from helping people do that on a daily basis. It was the missing piece. I get to skip to work every single day, thinking about the effects and the ramifications of what I’m doing.

It was a dead giveaway, the wrong question for you. I knew what you were going to say, and for good reason, you are changing the world with what you’re doing. I’m rooting for you because there’s nothing more than I’d like to say than more people given the opportunity to take advantage of what having a college education can do for them and do for all of us as society as well. Grant, you’ve done an amazing job and I want to encourage people to check out what you’ve done. I do understand that you have something special as a free gift for us. Would you give me some more information on that?

One of the things that are connected to or the pivot that you mentioned, which was in our space as well, my story here was the fact that we were focusing on degrees. One of the things that we reached, we went out to try to also get access to were discounts and perks for our students, for certifications. This was before COVID, it was important then it’s more important now because the reality is that not everybody always needs a degree, and sometimes they need the right certification or skill to get into that career that they’re interested in. With all of these options in place, we’ve got together student advisors that can help try to craft that path for you. They’re good at understanding all the different options. These are all people who’ve worked in missions and understanding what the issues are that you might be facing and can hopefully try to prescribe some options for you. I’d love to give that as for the readers is a free fifteen-minute session with our advisors to help come up with that if they are interested in college and or some certification.

What you’re saying is that as an alternative, to getting a college degree, getting certified as a radiologist, or in another, maybe as a watchmaker. Those are the things that you would be willing to help anyone who calls figure out with you and with your staff. Is that right? 

That’s correct. To give you an example, we work with universities who have programs where when you finish the program, and usually they’re much shorter in duration, let’s say 6, 4 months, they’re online. You’ve completed the training for certification. You take the test and a lot of them are in the medical field, which we find popular because that’s a growing field. Things like medical billing and coding or phlebotomy, EKG, or other types of medical device technicians, things that are in demand offer nice salaries and you can get with a certification.

Readers, if you go to YourFirstThousandClients.com and you go to Grant Aldrich’s show page, you will see not the URL to his company, which is available anywhere, but you will also see his free gift. Take a look at the page, read what we wrote, what we said together. Read the blog again if you like, but if no other reason going take advantage of this incredible free gift. If not for you, maybe for a young person in your life or for someone who you know needs a little hand up who may be struggling a bit, go ahead and help them out too. This is a great opportunity to help others with something that frankly would not be available from almost any other place. Grant, thank you for appearing on the show. I look forward to the next time we get a chance to chat again soon. 

I do as well. Thank you for having me, Mitch.

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