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Small Biz Buzz—131—Big Grit: Nate Shaw

Nate Shaw, who is the CEO of Brooklyn Music Factory, joins Small Biz Buzz in our Big Grit docuseries to talk about his company’s vision to create a community online that provides the same kind of opportunities and deep connections as teaching music in person.

“The whole world can be a community,” said Nate. “At Brooklyn Music Factory, one of our real opportunities in 2021 is figuring out how to grow a meaningful, communal connection online that matches the version we have in person.”

Nate expressed how pivoting your business during the pandemic is about perspective, reorganizing your team and finding a mindset that can work. He understood his business can be of a benefit, even in the most dire times.

“The fact that we were hiring online teachers from any English-speaking country was amazing. What quality of talent that you could recruit,” said Nate. “Our vision in 2021 is twofold. To expand that online community, and build on it and scale it, to expand our teacher network, just start supporting other studios and teachers that need curriculum that works online and in-person. And then actually to shrink our local community slightly.”

Click play for more.

Transcript:

Speaker 1 (00:05):

What is Big Grit? Starting October 19th, Keap will begin a new documentary series devoted to the struggles, adaptation and triumph of business owners like you, and how they've been able to thrive, amid absolute chaos. Join us for a raw and unflinching look at what Big Grit means, if you have it, and how to find it when you need it most. Visit keap.com/B-I-G - G-R-I-T. That's keap.com/big-grit. Subscribe to get updates on new episodes as they're released. As a business owner, you know it takes something extra to succeed. See the stories of entrepreneurs that exemplified Big Grit. Visit keap.com/big-grit. See how people like you have found growth by filtering out the chaos. Once again, that's keap.com/big-grit. See for yourself how gritty entrepreneurs always make a way.

Laura (01:15):

Welcome everyone to another episode of Small Biz Buzz, I'm Laura Dolan.

Crystal (01:19):

And I'm Crystal Heuft.

Laura (01:20):

And we have a very special guest with us on today. He's another one of our Big Grit docuseries guests, we are joined by Nate Shaw, who is the CEO of Brooklyn Music Factory. Nate, thank you so much for joining us today. How are you?

Nate (01:36):

On a week like this week, I'm doing as well as I could possibly be doing, so I'm glad to be here. Thanks so much for having me.

Laura (01:43):

Absolutely. It's an honor to speak with you.

Crystal (01:45):

It has been quite the week. I'm tired, I'm shell-shocked, I'm surviving, but I'm really thrilled to have you here. Your docuseries, and actually when I first started your customer story from Keap was one of my favorite that I watched as a new Keaper myself, and I was very excited to hear your story and see all the progress you made. Also, I love the take of this idea of artists and entrepreneur. I went to school for media arts, and I always thought it's going to be critical for me to figure out how to make money off of doing what I love. Because if you can't, it's going to be a hard road.

Crystal (02:29):

So I always tried to pair the two. So I think I identified with you right away. Can you tell everyone a little bit more about Brooklyn Music Factory and the journey you've had to get to where you're at?

Nate (02:41):

Yeah, totally. So the easiest way to imagine Brooklyn Music Factory, is to just think, where did I take music lessons as a kid? And if it was a teacher coming to your house, that's not who we are, but if you went to a music school or a music studio where there was some version of a community, that's how we started. We started literally in... where I'm sitting right now, this was our one space, it was the basement of my house. We saw about 40 or 50 students each week, that all came from local schools within walking distance. We're in Brooklyn, it's a walking... everybody's on foot here. So, that's what we started as, and really over the first year of the school's evolution, we discovered that, "Wait a minute. There's something amazing happening right now, which is twofold. One, we don't have to teach music the way we were taught as kids."

Nate (03:42):

We actually have license to redesign what a kid's experience could be. And then number two, it's just an awesome way to stay deeply connected to the community, and build new and rich relationships, which is what we're all trying to do all the time in our lives, however we can do it. So for me, it started very much as a need to, like I had been scoring for film and television, and I can't even tell you how many reality TV shows I'd written music for about like looking for a wedding dress, I don't even remember the names of them all, but it was all like on TLC and Discovery and-

Laura (04:23):

Wow.

Nate (04:25):

... I left that world because it wasn't the right fit for me. I have tons of friends that are just amazing in that world as musicians and composers and producers and all that, but for it wasn't the right fit. So I all of a sudden was out of work and out of money and my wife was supporting us. So I went to teaching at first, and this is really the seed of BMF, of Brooklyn Music Factory, because I was in need like so many of us. I needed a gig.

Crystal (04:56):

Yeah.

Laura (04:56):

Absolutely.

Nate (04:57):

I'd been hustling for my entire, as a musician, as a composer. I always told that the life of an artist is a patch, is basically like a quilt. You're just patching these things together, and trying to cobble together some kind of average monthly income over the course of a year. Of course, we don't really think about it that way when we're in it, but that's what I was doing. So BMF started basically as an opportunity for me to work, and then it grew into something so much more than that. It's mind bending to look back. That's how we started. That was the seed of it, just to be totally open.

Crystal (05:39):

I love that.

Laura (05:40):

I want to backtrack a little bit, Nate, on your music experience. I wrote your blog for the docuseries, and you hit really close to home for me. My father is a professional musician, I'm married to a professional musician. I just want to talk about your experience as a jazz musician, and those years leading up to when you became an entrepreneur, if you want to speak on that a little bit, because I'd love to hear more.

Nate (06:06):

Yeah, yeah. Totally. Yeah, you know it well. You have a deep level of empathy.

Laura (06:11):

Absolutely.

Nate (06:11):

As you're married into it. Congratulations, that's a risky move.

Laura (06:15):

Yes. My husband plays trombone and he's a professional singer. He actually tours with a '50s doo-wop group called The Diamonds-

Nate (06:29):

Love it, Love it.

Laura (06:29):

... And it's awesome.

Nate (06:29):

So you know it well.

Crystal (06:29):

Right?

Nate (06:29):

And also just having a parent, of course. We get so many of our initial perspective on life and core values from our family, of course. Right?

Laura (06:37):

Absolutely.

Nate (06:38):

So for me, earlier on, I had a dad, if he was still alive today he'd probably have the clarity to share this, but he was unhappy doing international finance on Wall Street. He spent a chunk of his career, I think not that happy. And then I had parents that separated when I was young and my mom was a fine artist her whole life, and literally died with pennies when she passed, she had no money. And at first of course as adults, our parents can do no right, but I'm judging like, "But mom, how come you never really got your career to this point, and dah, dah, dah?" And in actuality, in hindsight I look back and I'm like, "Wow, actually she had answered so many essential questions that we have as humans around, what does it mean to live a fulfilling life, a meaningful life every hour of every day?"

Nate (07:41):

She just had this amazing creative spark and flame, that we talk about all the time with our students at Brooklyn Music Factory just like, "What's that flame that you have?" We're all born with it, of course. And then throughout the course of our life, especially in the case of kids, when they get through to puberty, it's really difficult when they get into high school, then all of a sudden adults are asking you what you want to be when you grow up, which is a ridiculous question to ask [crosstalk 00:08:10].

Crystal (08:10):

You have to say the least.

Laura (08:11):

Absolutely.

Crystal (08:12):

I'm still wondering what I want to be when I grow up. Who knows?

Nate (08:18):

Yes. So the story there for me, just to pull it back to your initial question, Laura, is that we have this creative flame, we have this instinctual part of us, that it's very difficult to continue to nurture as we get into the practicalities of life.

Laura (08:39):

A hundred percent.

Nate (08:41):

And I think that, I'm not saying that by any means my flame, it's just cooking with gas every day, because it's not. It's like something we daily have to make a commitment to, but in terms of what it meant to be a musician, from a very early point, I had people around me, all kinds of relatives, my mom, and my dad in his own unique way, who were saying, "Nate, that pursuit is a totally valid one. It'd be awesome if you didn't have to move back home." Which by the way, I never did. It's like a little pride factor, which coupled with, as your husband will talk about, Laura, the hustle factor, right?

Laura (09:27):

Oh, yeah.

Nate (09:27):

You're hustling, you really work that muscle, which is directly linked to being an entrepreneur or a small business owner.

Laura (09:35):

Absolutely. A lot of parallels.

Nate (09:37):

Tons of parallels. But I think the most important part of being a jazz pianist, moving to New York, aspiring to develop my craft as a musician and as an artist, build a network of musicians that I knew and trusted and really wanted to be creative with, the most important part of that whole chapter of my life, was around the fact that you're not alone.

Laura (10:03):

Right.

Crystal (10:04):

Right.

Nate (10:04):

As you start finding your footing around what really makes you feel good, and then what makes others feel good, you will always find a community that will support that endeavor.

Crystal (10:19):

Definitely.

Nate (10:20):

And truthfully as a jazz pianist, and I was into modern jazz, not the most marketable kind, etc. I came to Brooklyn, New York and guess what? There was a half dozen people that would hang out with me and not make fun of me, because of my pursuit. And to this day that holds true, I'm going to go play with some of my closest musician friends tonight, for not much money, but some great barbecue, and amazing musicians that are all just world-class. And nobody's going to judge one another.

Laura (10:55):

Right.

Nate (10:56):

It's a Friday night, it's a street jam, we're going to have a good time.

Laura (10:59):

[crosstalk 00:10:59].

Crystal (11:01):

I might sing for good barbecue, and I'm not that great at it, but I might. I might sing for some good barbecue. I don't know why it's only 9:17, but somehow that sounds really good right now.

Laura (11:13):

Oh, I could eat some barbecue right now. Absolutely. That's awesome.

Crystal (11:16):

Okay, Nate, one of the things I'm curious about is you were talking at the beginning about how you wanted to change the way music lessons were done. Tell us what you wanted to change and how you wanted to leave your mark.

Nate (11:28):

So I think the first most important thing to clarify is that, we are all unique learners, right?

Crystal (11:37):

Yes.

Nate (11:37):

There are some universal truths around, first of all how we consume information, and then what will work for me versus what might work for you, right?

Crystal (11:50):

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Nate (11:50):

So we have to understand that being an educator, first of all it's not quite understood by the general public, which is why we devalue our teachers and our school system and that kind of thing, where we should be in fact investing enormous quantities of our resources into educating our youth and adults, by the way, continuing education. So it's a specific, unique perspective on music education. So I'm starting there. So for me, I have always been someone who found a lot of joy in playing with instruments, like the tactile element, just getting my hands on things, discovering what could a drum do. I always sat at a piano, but I wasn't someone who really wanted to create a discipline practice routine, and move through books in a methodical way.

Nate (12:50):

So, when we started working with students at Brooklyn Music Factory, we said, "Okay, well, we all understand that there's a commitment to..." Not that kids think this way, "But we understand as educators that we need to get these kids to want to show up week-in and week-out, and not just for a couple years." The musician's journey really, in order to get that seed planted and for it to sprout and turn into a sapling and then eventually a tree, as defined by, "You're going to sing for barbecue for the rest of your life, because... " You know what I mean? You're not going to allow music not to be part of your life. So, we needed to create a really inspiring version of the lesson first. So the experience in the studio itself, has to feel like something you're just dying to come back to every week, right?

Nate (13:45):

So number two, that's where we began with the idea of, if you create a game-based curriculum, i.e., Imagine a seven-year old boy coming in, who's got mad energy. They just came out of school where they were asked to sit for six or seven hours, with maybe a recess or two, and if they're lucky some gym. So they're coming in and they're freaking out because they're like, "You're not going to ask me to sit at that piano for 45 minutes, are you?" "No, I'm not. We're going to start by trying to understand rhythm through a whole lot of movement. We're going to move around the studio. We're going to play jam tracks that are going to get us to move, and to consume the music education in a different way."

Nate (14:29):

And I used to have this great... I don't teach as much any more, I have a handful of students, but we still have these great exercises we do all the time. Where I'd have a kid, first of all I'd get rid of the chair immediately, no piano bench. [inaudible 00:14:42] would come in, they'd run up to the instrument, and I'd be just trying to work on technique, trying to get their hands in position so that they could play something basic. Just be-

Laura (14:53):

He did that without looking.

Crystal (14:54):

I know.

Nate (14:57):

Build a relationship with the instrument, which is really important, but no chairs. They come up, I'd have a timer going, and then we'd run to the other side of the room, where we'd do like 20 jumping jacks. It's like the hand position challenge, I think we called the game. So the kid was in constant motion for 15 minutes, which was his technique portion of the lesson.

Laura (15:20):

That's fantastic, it's like music meets cardio.

Nate (15:22):

Totally. Music meets cardio. And by the way, there's a lot of nuances to what we've developed over the last 11 years. A game-based curriculum, a songwriting first-focused curriculum. What you call an ear before eye approach. So we're not sitting the kid down and saying, "Just because sight reading is super hard for you out of the gate, doesn't mean you're not valid and supposed to be here."

Crystal (15:46):

Right, right. That's what always got hard for me when I was doing piano was, it was just, I'm great reading comprehension, but when I came to music, it was like I always heard it before I saw it, and they always wanted me to see it before I heard it. And it was always challenging. So I love that you said that, because people do learn differently. For me, I could know the note in my head, and I could know where it was on the keyboard, but I can't necessarily string them all together and understand what I'm reading. So that's really cool.

Nate (16:16):

Yeah, totally. And when you tie it into this community, and we're talking about like, "Well, okay. How is a small business owner? How has an entrepreneur? Are you actually going to learn the craft of business?" Everybody listening has to build some empathy into that and say, "Wait a minute, I've always learned this way." For me, I loved this version of learning, us talking. I put myself in constant contact with other business owners, and have made tons of friends-

Crystal (16:49):

So important.

Nate (16:50):

... Yeah, because at Keap, I've made so many friends, and we literally signed up for Infusionsoft years ago, and that was the catalyst for all of these relationships. So the way I learn is through constant interaction with others that have successes and challenges, and I love to read books. So I balance that version of learning, and then eventually come up with a solution. Some of them work, some of them don't, but that's how I stayed on the journey.

Crystal (17:22):

It's so funny. We have IKON next week and Clate is talking a lot about community.

Nate (17:28):

Love it.

Crystal (17:29):

He's talking a lot about how it's so important for entrepreneurs, because it's so lonely out there. And this year more than any, I feel like entrepreneurs are feeling that loneliness. Some of them aren't meeting clients face-to-face anymore, as we'll get into here talking with you, and some are struggling just because they're business's facing hardships and they're feeling alone in that. So Clate's going to really talk a lot about community, and making sure that you find a community that you can feel like you're heard and talk with each other, so it's really cool to hear you say that because I think it is so important and for people that aren't entrepreneurs, that are scared like me to ever do it, it is lonely, and the more small business owners and entrepreneurs I talk to, the more evident it is that it becomes so lonely in these moments. So I think it's so great you have a community you can talk with and share ideas with, and not feel quite as alone.

Nate (18:26):

Yeah. And I would just say that you can flip that perspective and say, pre-pandemic, I like every other entrepreneur, was running around, busy, busy, busy. And then where we were in Brooklyn, we were one of those early places where there was a lockdown. Me and my family were in our home, I went on a morning walk with my wife, I went on an evening walk with my dog, that was literally the entire day. But if you flip it and say, "Ah, well now I have the opportunity to redefine my time, and how I'm going to allocate it, and the entire world is my community. All I have to figure out is a couple of simple things like time changes and some microtech." Which by the way, has all been sorted out for us years ago, we're just all catching up to it now. You know? I have found in fact, that you can open up all kinds of new relationships, that you wouldn't have otherwise had, because you may not have had the bandwidth to even consider it.

Laura (19:38):

Right. All of a sudden the whole world's a community.

Nate (19:41):

The whole world can be a community. Now, I would say at Brooklyn Music Factory, one of our real opportunities in 2021, is figuring out how to grow a meaningful, communal connection online, that matches the version we have in person. So I would say that we have tested all kinds of things. We have a speed songwriting party coming up with 40, 50 kids, where they all go into breakout rooms and have to write a song together in 45 minutes.

Crystal (20:14):

That's so cool.

Nate (20:16):

Obviously we have online open mics, we have live stream parties, we have big music game workshops where anyone can log in for free and play games with me, and just geek out and be a music nerd. The point is though that everything is pretty good, but it's not as good as it could be yet. And that's really one of the huge opportunities. So I love what Clate's saying. I think Clate is great at saying, "Hey, we all need a community, and by the way, I'm going to show up, to be part of the community." For as long as I've known him, for as long as I've known your whole community there, I've been like, "Wow, people don't just say we should connect, they keep reaching out to me to connect."

Crystal (21:00):

I don't want to talk about the depths of despair that might've hit in March, but let's talk about how you transitioned from how you were conducting business before the pandemic hit, to what you've done now to really make sure that you're able to serve that worldwide audience, because I think it's an impressive story, and I think you are right when you stay in the Big Grit that it's about the perspective. And it seems like you took a positive perspective, in a proactive stance very early on. So share that with other entrepreneurs that might be struggling out there to kind of find that spot.

Nate (21:35):

And first of all, it's totally okay if we're struggling with perspective. Right?

Crystal (21:40):

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Agreed.

Nate (21:41):

All of the time. So, when I share a story of our pivot, and how we've been able to maintain and grow an online school, it's not to say it wasn't without daily intentions by myself. I literally listened to this audio course called, "All In, Stay Committed" every day in April and May. I just kept listening to 12 minutes of it, over and over. Sorry I don't have the author, but a friend of mine sent it to me and he's like, "Nate, I think you need to just listen to this to make sure you stay on point and focused with your choices."

Nate (22:23):

So what did Brooklyn Music Factory do? Well, the very first thing we did was say, "Wait a minute. We are a curriculum company that has created music games, We've created a whole methodology that we use all the time, every day to serve hundreds of students in Brooklyn. Let's just put that on a screen, and benefit as many families as we can." So in March, what we did is, we basically took our team of 25 employees and said, "Guys, nobody's getting laid off, we're going to pivot the whole team, recreating as much free content as possible."

Nate (22:57):

And we launched, not a great name, but it was called BMF TV, and we just basically started sharing it with our 10,000, 12,000 email listing, "Parents, we know you guys are struggling right now. So here's a bunch of free content, music games, go play. You need to figure out how to have that one half an hour meeting for work, press play on this, and we'll walk you through a song writing game. Your eight-year old daughter..."

Crystal (23:23):

So smart.

Laura (23:24):

That's fantastic.

Nate (23:25):

And so dig this though, because this is about perspective and about reorganizing your team and about finding a mindset that can work. Number one, we stayed as has been essential in any great business, I think, but in service to our families or our customers. So understanding that we can be of a benefit, even in the most dire times.

Crystal (23:53):

Sometimes more in those times. I can only imagine having that half hour from, whether it's for a meeting or just a half hour break from the kids, just to give them something to do, and for the kids to have something other than staring at the walls inside the house. It's in those moments, you might've been more help than you've been in the past.

Nate (24:17):

And to that end Crystal, what we started doing was super simple, like I think it was a Google Form, like a survey to our families. We literally just started asking them, "Day in, day out, what do you guys need? What can our community provide you?" We started doing these Facebook Live streams, where we would just do speed songs for an hour, or where we would write songs and people would comment in and give us the lyric content, and we would live what we do every day in our community in our room and in our classrooms, but we coupled it with saying, "We're giving you what we think you need, but how about now just telling us what you need." And we're about to launch another one, because when we finally pivoted to all online, so we closed our location, we closed the doors of our location, and then we said, "We're going to be fully online in April." Of course that's not what the 638 students had signed up for, right?

Crystal (25:12):

Right.

Nate (25:13):

So we had to say, "We understand that you didn't sign up for this, but this is what we're committed to, for the safety of our employees, for the safety of you, frankly, this is our strategic intent right now, we believe that this is going to last a lot longer than two weeks." Which was the language back then.

Crystal (25:32):

Mm-hmm (affirmative). So crazy we're here.

Nate (25:36):

And so-

Crystal (25:36):

Months later.

Nate (25:37):

... Yeah. And we ended up retaining, through both listening to what they needed, we sent a survey every single lesson, after they completed an online lesson, we pinged them and said, "Mom, how did it sound? Could your child get on? Was your child engaged? Yes, no, maybe. What worked? What didn't?" Every single-

Crystal (26:01):

So smart to ask. So smart to ask.

Nate (26:03):

And not a one-and-done either Crystal. Literally every week we ask. And of course, a bunch of parents didn't answer because they're like, "It's fine. It's working great."

Crystal (26:10):

Sure.

Nate (26:11):

But we have like 178 answers in there from April into early May. And now after just reviewing them the other day, I'm like, "Oh, it's time to ask again." Because every parent is in a different position now, than they were four months ago, right?

Crystal (26:25):

Right.

Nate (26:25):

So what do they need now that's new? So that's been our strategy, and it's resulted in a couple of really, really important things. The most basic is, we're still in business. We're still in service.

Crystal (26:44):

So true.

Laura (26:46):

Yeah.

Nate (26:46):

That's the most basic thing. Because I don't even know what the percentage is, but in around, here it's 30% to 40%.

Crystal (26:52):

I can't even imagine in New York area, you guys were hit the hardest, and right out the gate, before we knew even what we know now, which isn't much more, but definitely more than what you guys are facing. So I think that's amazing in itself. And I think also though, for me, it's really the touching part about how amazing it must have been for people going through that at that time, and as strict as you guys had to be in that, I think that is a gift you're giving those families. I think it's amazing.

Nate (27:28):

When we do this, we're small business owners. Whatever the service or the product we provide it happens to be, hopefully it's coming from a space of real benefit to others, right?

Crystal (27:39):

Yeah.

Nate (27:39):

Hopefully we have a calling, which is like, "How can I benefit?" So on the one hand, honestly Crystal, I don't really know what else to do. What I can do is bring joy to a family around music. That's what our community does. You know?

Crystal (27:54):

Yeah.

Nate (27:55):

We play music games, we get kids to stay creative, we get kids, sometimes in the case of the pandemic to be totally distracted from the anxiety around them. And for them to find something that feels engaging, even if for like 42 minutes. That's what we know how to do, so it can get quite confusing as a business owner to think you're all of a sudden supposed to do something radically different.

Crystal (28:24):

Mm-hmm (affirmative). I think that's the same even for adults. I have to say one of the things that I like that this pandemic has brought out of me, is it's brought some of my creativity back that I hadn't even realized I lost. I have an activity table out in my family room, and when we were really on lockdown, I wasn't going anywhere, I started painting, I started doing my puzzles again, I started finding anything I could do, but those are things I've done throughout my life, that I don't do anymore. That crafting and all this stuff. And I'm telling you it's been great. And the thing that's helped me really hang on has been, I'm a serious hip hop dancer, and we've luckily been able to have my dance class most of the time during this pandemic minus a month and a half. So I think you're right, people need that outlet now more than ever. Laura, have you been doing anything?

Laura (29:18):

Yeah, I was just going to jump in here and say, puzzles for us as well, I've been journaling every single day. In fact, one of my new year's resolutions was to journal every day of 2020, and believe me, I have a lot of content, so I have a lot to say, and I'm still doing it. But one of the things I wanted to tell Nate was one of our COVID projects, because my husband's a musician, a lot of his shows have been getting canceled or postponed, so he's been doing a lot of voiceover projects and recording projects. So one of our COVID projects was, I don't know if you can see in the wall behind me back here, but we built a studio wall. So we put foam on our entire wall back here.

Nate (29:51):

Yeah. I see you got it all going.

Laura (29:54):

Yeah. And I'm using his recording mic right now, but that was a really cool thing that we got to do. And much like you, he had to pivot and be like, "Okay, now I got to take this stuff online." And they've been recording some of their music videos in their individual houses and-

Nate (30:11):

Yeah. Acapella style or whatever.

Laura (30:11):

... then splicing them together, but it's been cool. And one of the questions I wanted to ask Nate, was since you started taking everything online and pivoting, what has the engagement been like? Have you noticed a difference in how the students have interacted with their lessons, their music? Do you find it's easier for them? Do you find some of them have been struggling with it? Anything you've noticed?

Nate (30:42):

That's a great question, and it's probably the most important question. In terms of delivery of what we do. Because music lessons, on the surface we're learning an instrument, but of course it's so much deeper than that. It's really a relational mentoring opportunity, and when you're joining a community like Brooklyn Music Factory, you're joining multiple mentors that will carry your family through a seven to 10-year journey. So the engagement question, Laura, that's like ground floor. If you're losing engagement with the child, and with the parents, which can be pretty simply measured. Are they communicating with you? Are we communicating consistently with them? Can they hear us? I don't mean literally here us i.e., in a tech sense. I mean, their weekly music goal, is that something that's resonating and are they achieving it each week?

Nate (31:42):

So what we've discovered, and it's probably not news to all the parents out there with different age kids, but what age range hurt the most? It's four to eight.

Laura (31:57):

... Oh, sure. There's no accountability online, it's just hard.

Crystal (32:03):

And they're used to getting out, and being around, I can't even imagine.

Nate (32:10):

Parents of four and five-year-olds know exactly what I'm talking about, which is that they don't build relationships through the screen, right? First of all they've been co-playing for the first handful of years, they've just discovered that there are other humans that they can actually interact with, and now they're four and they're in a group music class, and we found it to be quite difficult to keep them engaged. Now, on the flip of that, so what we did is we ended up creating... We actually peeled a lot of those students off into one-on-one micro lessons, like 10 minutes private lessons, which is great for a five-year-old. Online, they can do 10 minutes of being a little engaged, and walk away and be like, "Oh Jason." Or, "My teacher and I got connected with one another." And that's really what they want more than anything. To be clear, a five-year-old does not care if they're getting better at the piano.

Laura (33:11):

Exactly. Exactly. And I love that you take that in consideration. That's so smart rather than just forcing it down their throat, so to speak. You realize like, "Okay, they have a 10-minute attention span. I'm just going to try to grab them while they're listening, and then they can go about their day."

Nate (33:29):

Yeah, yeah. And what's most important about that is understanding that that adult that is not their parent, because that's a radically different relationship. Like you know, Laura, talking about trying to learn from your dad or whatever, no. I don't give music lessons to my daughters, I just play with my kids. But to be clear on that, that five-year-old, that six-year-old, what they need to know is that that teacher's going to show up, week in and week out, and listen to their story, and share a story and share a musical adventure together. That's what they're banking on right now. So that's how we adjusted engagement. Now, what we found in other age brackets... first of all the nine to 12 had no problem tech-transitioning. I'm 51 they're light years ahead of me anyways, with tech.

Crystal (34:28):

So true.

Nate (34:28):

You guys are light years ahead of me with tech. So the bottom line is that they didn't have an issue transitioning, and then when you get to that 13 and up, through adults, we actually found that in many ways, the online platform was more effective.

Laura (34:45):

Interesting.

Nate (34:46):

Because with multiple camera angles, and multiple ways to share content, and also really easily recording content, and then pinging it right back at them, what you could do is you could take an otherwise distracted 15-year-old, and refocus their attention in 10, 15-minute increments online, and get them to really dive in to different areas of content. Whereas in the studio, one-on-one in-person, not that that isn't an amazing platform because it is, but it didn't offer the same efficiency around recording, sharing, running tracks, sharing music, sharing charts. There's just all these different opportunities that happen right now, that we didn't quite have together before, and now really have together.

Crystal (35:39):

So based on some of your learnings, and based on your goals in general, what is your vision for 2021? Because you've done a lot already this year, but I'm sure you're always going, what do you see happening next year for your business?

Nate (35:54):

Yeah, totally. Great question. So, there's two things. The first thing we realized right out of the gate, was that this opportunity for an online music community, is never going away.

Crystal (36:09):

Never.

Nate (36:10):

Yeah, we're going to build on it, we're going to get a bunch of things, we're going to continue to build on what we're already doing right, and then we're going to find solutions for the areas that we don't think are effective yet, and just continue to expand that. So right now we have 400 and I don't know, 30, something like that online students, we expect a bunch of them to want to transition to in-person that are local, but I expect by, let's say opening day of the fall, which is how we measure in school calendar, I expect us to have 200 to 300 online students. And then we are actually opening a new location locally, and that new location, our goal is to be at about 75% where our enrollment was in 2020 fall, sorry, now we're in 2020. 2019, thank you.

Nate (37:10):

Which we were at 640 or 650 students in 2019, and I think it's a much smarter move in the future, is to work at about 75% locally of where we were before, and continue to use our local community as a laboratory for creating really effective music curriculum for kids, and for other teachers and studios worldwide that can benefit from our approach, but build and scale that online community. So where we focused a lot of our attention recently, has been in things like our operations, our hiring funnel. We just went through an intense hiring funnel where we had 250 applicants worldwide, applying for some online teaching positions, and also a social media position.

Nate (38:01):

The fact that we were hiring online teachers from anywhere, any English-speaking country, was amazing. What quality of talent that you could recruit, because a community like Brooklyn Music Factory, a school like ours, with a vision like ours and a mission like ours, there's a lot of music teachers that were like, "Man, I'm alone in my studio in Iowa, but I sure would love to be showing up to an all-staff meeting in Brooklyn, in a piano department meeting, and I sure would love to have colleagues that wanted to develop new music games and new songwriting exercises and new ways of nurturing kids." So our vision in 2021 is twofold. To expand that online community, and build on it and scale it, to expand our teacher network, just start supporting other studios and teachers that need curriculum that works online and in-person. And then actually to shrink our local community slightly.

Crystal (39:05):

It's so well thought out, the strategy that you're looking at it for. Because I think the one part of that market can continue to grow, whereas the local will eventually always... you get to a point where you're tapping out or having to expand physically and that's harder to do frankly, than to be able to expand this online market. And it's not that you're shrinking it so much that you're not still going to have your local community and be supporting them. So it's very intelligent. That's exciting. You've got a lot of great things coming up.

Nate (39:37):

And I mean, it was a bumpy road. We forfeited our last lease. [crosstalk 00:39:43]

Laura (39:43):

I was going to ask about that, if you don't mind really quick, Nate. I was going to ask, what does it look like right now? With partial openings, there's a lot of inconsistencies since the whole quarantine back in March and April looks very different now. What's the situation over there?

Nate (39:57):

That's a great question, Laura, and I'm discovering it. I've been going to meet with developers. I have a broker that we're looking at a number of spaces in New York. And right now, it appears to be the case, is that there's plenty of inventory on the market, there's a lot... It's heartbreaking, and I know small businesses that have closed. Many, many retail shops have closed. However, everybody is still trying to figure out where this market's going to settle around, frankly real estate. So with our budget at Brooklyn Music Factory, where's our biggest line? Our biggest line of course is humans, it's investing in our teachers, so that's where we spend most of our revenue. And then the second biggest line, not surprisingly in New York City is rent.

Nate (40:57):

So it's really inspiring though, because I think everybody's in the same boat, whether you're a developer, a landlord, a small business owner, which is, everybody's trying to figure out how they can sustain and get to the other side of whatever this thing, whenever that is.

Laura (41:16):

Right. That's the thing we. We don't see an end in sight, and that's the most frustrating part about it. It's like, "How are we supposed to keep planning our strategies?" There's not like, "This is going to be over in Q1 of 2021." It's just, it's open-ended. It's just mind-boggling.

Crystal (41:34):

Well, I know I said I wasn't going to talk about the election, but at least knowing where this election lands eventually will take some of that off, because you can see a little bit into the future of the path we might take, but it doesn't mean the coronavirus is going to go away or somewhat stop, but at least we might know the direction we might take at how we try to combat this.

Laura (41:57):

Right. Any policies that'll be in place.

Nate (42:02):

Well, let me actually circle back on that and just share one real story from BMF around policies. But then let me push back on that a little bit and say, look, when I'm talking to landlords or developers, here's the thing you're looking for. You're looking for people that want to build the same type of community that you're going to bring into their space. I went with one broker to see a space, and the landlord was like, "Yeah, well, he wants to do this and this, that he might take this, but yeah." And I was like, "I'm not working with this guy." We're at a point in the world right now where you don't do business relationships with people that do not match your values and purpose.

Crystal (42:44):

Agreed.

Nate (42:44):

And then I went to another developer, and they own multiple... I mean, 20, 30 buildings in Queens and Brooklyn and they've got this great new building that got totally halted that is going to be open in five months, and he's saying to me, "Look, this has been crushingly hard for us. We were supposed to have this building open and rented like a year ago." But he works with a lot of local businesses like ours. Arts, businesses, nonprofits, things like that, and he's like, "You guys would be a great anchor tenant in here."

Nate (43:15):

And I'm having conversations with this developer, and you're realizing, that's who I might do business with. We actually are in a space right now, again, maybe it's just a perspective thing, but I don't think so, I think it's a clarity thing. It's a clarity issue. As a business owner, this pandemic has forced you to get very clear on who it is that you want to keep employed and why, who are you serving and why, and then who are you going to partner with and why, around something like a landlord.

Crystal (43:52):

Totally.

Nate (43:52):

I believe that's one of the massive opportunities, is that it forces clarity on all of us.

Crystal (43:58):

I think that's why you're the entrepreneur, because for me the lack of clarity scares the heck out of me, but that's exactly what Big Grit is about. Entrepreneurs make a way. You're over here and you're like, "I'm going to make the clarity for myself." And I think that is exactly what gritty entrepreneurs need right now. You're forging a path, and I think you're going to see actual growth next year at an alarming rate. So I'm excited to see and hear more about what happens to you in 2021. I think it's going to be huge for you, to be honest.

Nate (44:32):

I love that version of optimism as someone like [inaudible 00:44:36] for Scott, the disciplined optimism is what's key. I agree, I think that I haven't spreadsheet the whole thing out yet through 2023, 24, though I'm working on it hard right now, I'm going to put in another hour today and then a lot more hours next week. But I do believe that if we make the best possible choices as business owners, and that comes from listening deeply to the community, to your customers, to your employees and asking like, "Okay, what is the best possible solution moving forward, for our specific business?" And then here's the part that's hard, like ass kicking hard, which is saying, I'm committed to that. Right?

Nate (45:26):

And Laura [crosstalk 00:45:28] to your point. Laura, your comment before is like, you don't know how the... Actually Crystal, you were saying, we don't know how the election is going to turn out. Okay? Fine. We don't know when the end of this pandemic is going to be. That's so hard for so many people. However, in terms of our world of being small business owners or entrepreneurs, we must listen, make decisions, and then get committed. That is the hardest lesson I've learned over the 11 years of being a founder and CEO at BMF, is that last committed part of being like, "Dude, do not pivot every quarter, based on a reactive assumption."

Crystal (46:14):

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Laura (46:14):

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Crystal (46:15):

You've got to be able to adapt, but pivoting in every emergency is not also beneficial. You have to find the happy medium, and you have to be able as an entrepreneur to see the key signs of when to pivot for your own business and when to stay the course and forge through. So I think that's really cool, and I love hearing your perspective on that.

Laura (46:38):

Nate, I'm sure a lot of our listeners, they're all over the country, all over the world. If they're just in music and interested in learning from you, where can they find you?

Nate (46:49):

Well, you can always start at brooklynmusicfactory.com, that's a great place to go. We also have an app called Big Music Games, an iOS app. So you can start playing one of our four games, a melody game, a harmony game, a rhythm game-

Laura (47:03):

Ooh, I'm going to download that.

Nate (47:04):

It's totally free. Maybe it costs like $4.99 to unlock all 15 levels of each game.

Laura (47:12):

I'm going to tell my husband about that too.

Nate (47:14):

Yeah, yeah. Totally. It's the focuses ages, four to nine, but truthfully there's that sucker's leveled all the way up through a college level.

Crystal (47:24):

Wow.

Laura (47:24):

There you go.

Nate (47:26):

Yeah. That's the place to go and I would just encourage anybody who's listening, I love what you said Crystal and Laura, about how you've unlocked this part of you that maybe frankly, you put in the closet for a hot minute, which was, Crystal, you were talking about crafting, you're talking about puzzles, Laura you're talking about making a new record with your husband that's the family jam, I'm a huge proponent of, I would just strongly encourage anybody who's listening now to just meditate on that part of themselves for a moment and say, "Is there an opportunity for me right now? Do I have to be rereading the results of the election right now, or could I actually sit down with my hot glue gun and some fabric and see what I make?"

Crystal (48:14):

Totally.

Nate (48:16):

So music, I love it. Of course, we would love to benefit thousands of families right now at Brooklyn Music Factory. But if now's not the right time to sign up for an online lesson, okay, but now is absolutely the right time for you to tap into your creative self, and find 15 minutes in a day to do something awesome.

Crystal (48:39):

Yeah. Whether you're using it to problem-solve like you've done, or whether you're using it to escape, I think creativity is the unseen advantage of 2020. If you're using it or have it, you might be handling things a little better, if you're missing out on it, you might be struggling and there's still time to turn it around. Take that meditation moment, do something fun and creative, but I definitely think, one thing I know for sure is they should check out your docuseries with the Big Grit, it's amazing, and I think it's inspiring and also will help people really help other entrepreneurs keep pushing ahead, and if they're in that moment of challenging perspective, they can watch these docuseries and find ways to keep pushing through.

Crystal (49:25):

So thank you for helping our audience and sharing your story, I think it's a great story, and I think it's powerful. So you can find that at bit.ly/big-grit. I will say this again, because even though it's a Bitly, it's very long that's bit.ly/B-I-G - G-R-I-T.

Nate (49:48):

I've been sharing it just simply, guys check this out, Big Keap Big Grit, and I've been getting amazing responses from friends and family all over the world that have been watching it, so you guys did an amazing job.

Crystal (50:03):

You did, it's your story.

Laura (50:04):

Yeah. That's all you!

Nate (50:04):

You all shot like five to six hours of footage and edited my entire life down to eight minutes, which is an incredible feat, that's whole next level. I also want to just say Crystal in closing, if people want to reach out directly to me, just [email protected], you should absolutely feel comfortable doing that.

Crystal (50:22):

Perfect.

Nate (50:23):

Because that gets back to this idea of communal support, especially amongst entrepreneurs. Will I ping you back in 24 hours? I'm not sure, but I'm absolutely comfortable with sharing, in any way I can, to help you get through whatever bumpy road you have, paths you happen to be in right now.

Crystal (50:48):

Man.

Nate (50:49):

Because we definitely need one another. We need one another.

Laura (50:53):

Yes, more so than ever right now. Absolutely. Especially with all this, working from home, we're just isolated and this is the most interaction I have every day with my co-workers, so, it's nice.

Crystal (51:04):

You're so great, Nate. I really appreciate you being here and taking the time. Your story is an amazing one, and I actually think we're just in the middle of it. I cannot wait to hear about next year, so maybe as you get kicking off, you'll have to maybe reach out to us and we can do a follow-up this time next year and see how your fall went and how your goals are going, because I'm really interested in and I like that. Edge of my seat.

Laura (51:27):

We'll have to have you back for sure.

Nate (51:29):

I love that, we'll see you in 12 months. Thanks you guys so much.

Laura (51:33):

Thank you, Nate. Thanks, [crosstalk 00:51:34] it was great to talk to you.

Crystal (51:36):

And that's a wrap for Small Biz Buzz.

Laura (51:38):

Bye.

Speaker 1 (51:43):

Thanks for listening to Small Biz Buzz. Please take a second to subscribe to the show and leave a five-star rating. It helps keep the show going. And, if you need a hand with growing your small business, head over to keap.com. That's K-E-A-P.com and get started. More business. Less work. That's Keap.