Episode 49: Innovating The College Advisory System with Advyzr Co-Founder Mike Gusman

Who is Michael Gusman and the key takeaways in this episode?

There are still a gazillion of things to discover, enhance, and innovate. And in today’s episode, Mike Gusman, Co-founder of Advyzr will share with us how he and his team are planning to disrupt and enhance the school system with their software.

In this interview you’ll learn:

  • How Mike and his other co-founders came up with the idea of Advyzr
  • How this new innovation can help college students graduate on time and avoid taking extra semesters
  • His vision for the company and the system for the next 12 months
  • His advice for other startup companies on how to succeed
  • The companies he admires the most and why

The Questions

[] Okay Mike, so, help some of my listeners because they’re young entrepreneurs and they’re starting out, and they’ve got their funding, they’re going to hire, they’re going to build, and they want to create great teams and great cultures, can you give them one tip from your experiences that you’d say, “Hey guys, if you do nothing else, do this.”
Answer: I think the first step and one of the most important beliefs you need to have in starting your own business, becoming an entrepreneur is really believing in yourself and making sure you’re doing something that you’re passionate about, that you’re going to be tenacious about. I have notebooks filled with ideas on things I can sell, ways to make money, ways to improve certain things, all these business ideas and then I”m on this team of adviser because I really believe in it. I believe in the team. I believe they can do it. So I think the most important thing is believing yourself, be tenacious, don’t get discouraged. If you happen to fall a little bit, don’t be hesitant to just get right back up and prove on anything you can improve on. Identify why you’re having setbacks so you can fix them early on and just learn from it and keep going. I think that builds success.

[] What’s one common mistake you see guys and ladies make over and over again as you’re beginning your entrepreneurial journey?
Answer: Oh man, now that I’m kind of in this environment, I talked to a bunch of people who are trying to get in on the ground floor which is amazing, people who have great ideas and it is such a great time for my generation to kind of foster those ideas, but one of the things I come across sometimes is this, a little bit of this entitlement sense that having a bright idea is going to get you everything. I think that’s a mistake that you can make in starting a business. I think what we try to do is stay humble and meet everyone we can, take every ounce of advise, network, network, network. And that kind of attitude, a little bit of vulnerability, I think, will transcend beyond boundaries. It’s not only your customers but your team members, future investors. I think that’s one of the most important things. It just working hard and knowing it’s much more than a great idea.

[] What companies do you admire the most as it relates to culture and why?
Answer: Airbnb, Twitter, Uber, Facebook, Google, I think all of them, in terms of culture and office culture provide a great space and environment where people want to go work there. They want to be challanged there, they want to grow there. Everyday is different. They are challenged intellectually and the company as a whole is always looking for ways to innovate and change the way things are done for the better.

Culture According to Michael Gusman:

I’d like to define company culture as the company’s vision, its values, its beliefs, and its habits. But I don’t think that it’s something that can be fabricated. I think it’s something that just naturally happens over time.

Go To Quote for Inspiration

Book Recommendations:

  • The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell

What Michael Gusman Wants His Company to BE:

  • BE Inquisitive
  • BE Ambitious
  • BE Passionate
  • Be Bold
  • Be Brave
  • Be YOU

Links and Resources Mentioned in this Interview:

Where to Find Michael Gusman:

Connect with John on

Episode Full Transcript

John: Welcome to Be Culture Radio and my guest today is Mike Gusman. Mike, how are you?

Mike: Good, John, how are you? I’m excited to be on this podcast.

John: I’m stoked you’re with us today. We’re going to have a little fun here. We’re going to talk about Advyzr. We’re going to talk about you. We’re going to talk about people and we’re not going to get into any trouble for any of it, okay? [Laughs]

Mike: Sounds good.

John: Hey Mike, before we start, I ask all my guests this question so we’re going to ask you too because I don’t you to feel left out. Tell us about you, where you came from, what shaped you – I call it, the tribe. We had a little pre show talk, you and I. I have a tribe. My seven siblings and 50 some nieces and nephews and of course my mom and dad, so I have a tribe that I pull from. Tell us about your tribe, Mike.

Mike: Well, growing up, my dad has been a small business owner since I was born. I’ve watched, as I’ve grown up, I’ve watched him succeed greatly. I’ve watched him fail at the same time, never miserably, but kind of bringing me in the picture, “Here’s why this worked. Here’s why this didn’t work.” So growing up, my whole life kind of had this informal business education of sorts and he was always involving me. I think that’s been probably one of the greatest things that has shaped where I am now in terms of Advyzr and going to school for business and really having my head directed towards more of the – just the business world in general. Also, I’m a musician. I write music and that’s kind of sparked my creativity to think a little bit more introspectively and I think there’s a really distinct balance that has to be created between the business mindset and the creative mindset and becoming an entrepreneur and in starting any kind of business.

I think in terms of my tribe, per se, that’s my family and my dad’s business is really what has guided me to where I am now and my vision for the future.

John: You know, I like to tell a lot of our listeners and share this with people, after being in business for over 35 years and having a lot of different experiences, I couldn’t have gotten to where I am today without all the experiences that I’ve had – good, bad and indifferent. I’m sure your father will feel the same way about it. And I like to say, I’m not sure I’ve ever failed, I just had some very expensive experiences.

Mike: Right, yeah, I didn’t mean fail, like completely fail.

John: I think you only fail when you give up.

Mike: Right, exactly! [crosstalk]

John: Sounds like your dad never gave up.

Mike: No.

John: And look at you. So you know what, you’re a product of his environment. He’s done pretty well as far as I’m concerned.

Mike: He’s done very well and I think that tenacity has really carried over to me. And that’s one of the main things too.

John: Well, I think that he’s extremely proud of you and you’ve done some really great things. I got to tell you because, how many guys your age are killing it like you are? Seriously. And I want you tell us about Advyzr. How did you come with the idea and what is it?

Mike: Hmm… Where do I start? I guess, this might be a little backwards but I’ll start with how we came up with the idea. We, being me and my team or my co-founders, Brian Gonzales and Marcus Cooper, we all go to school at Baruch College. We’ve all been to other schools as well. This isn’t our first school. We’ve transferred and lost credits and taken time off, whatever it may be. So being in that environment, we were very much exposed to all the kinds of problems associated with the education system, the higher education system.

John: You mean there’s something wrong with our higher education system? I’m shocked to hear that because I have two kids in college and one transferred and now he gets the distinct pleasure of going another whole semester, not because he doesn’t have the hours, because they wanted him to have some more classes on their campus.

Mike: Well, there you go. That’s actually a great segue way into the problem I’m talking about. We did some research into why, for instance, our founder, Marcus, will be graduating this spring, I’ll be graduating next fall and both of us, when we graduate, it will be our sixth year in college for a four year degree. So immediately there, it’s like, why? Why is there this problem where we’re not the only ones, it’s not like we’re alone. There are plenty of kids in my school who are just taking way too long and we did some research and rooted the cause as the advisory systems at these institutions. Not the advisers themselves but the systems in place to really guide these students along. And you mentioned your son, it’s not that he doesn’t have enough credits but they wanted him to take more classes and maybe there’s a class he didn’t realize he had to take. So we integrated Advyzr as a tech company that designs innovative solutions to student-related issues, which sounds very broad. But at our core, that’s really what we – we don’t want to limit ourselves to these mobile apps that we’re developing now but really we’re just a company that’s aimed at solving student-related issues.

We’re developing two products. Our first launch is actually going to be called Class with Friends and we like to think of it as a mobile social schedule sharing app. It’s kind of a combination of the app Schedulizer and Facebook. So users search and select the courses they need and they set their schedules and preferences when they want to be at school, when they can be at school. Many kids have internships, jobs, some are involved in clubs and based on that information, we are able to strategically schedule them, schedule their classes around all of those preferences based on their school’s class meeting times.

And then another huge thing that we think is going to be greatly beneficial is we use cognitive computing capabilities, such as IBM Watson to embed genius course recommendations to each user. So by connecting their social media profiles we’re able to generate a personality profile and recommend elective courses that they’d be interested in internships, clubs around school and all that to really make their educational experience streamlined, social and as connected as possible.

And then, moving on to the App Advyzr, it employs most of the same goals as Class with Friends except it integrates with the school’s backend. So Advyzr is Class with Friends but then with this added degree of an audit system so we know what courses you need to take, based on the major and minor that you input and we’re able to build out your schedule and really design your college experience around you.

 

John: Now, Mike, is this for each school? So you’re telling me, if someone goes to Baruch or someone goes to NYU, or someone goes to TCNJ or Ryder University, their school, this app will work at each person’s school as it reflects upon their campus requirements?

Mike: Advyzr is licensed by the entirety of the educational institutions. It’s more of a white labeled product. So Advyzr would be something you download through your school. Your school would have to be licensing the product for you to get it.

John: So the school is buying into this, so you don’t get any pushback from – because I’ve got to believe it, when this works, they’re going to lose hundreds of thousands of dollars because people will actually graduate in four years. [Laughs] That’s a shocking moment. Wait a minute, you mean, you guys don’t have to go to school for six years to get a four year degree?

Mike: No, that’s the goal.

John: I can’t believe they’ve bought into it.

Mike: We haven’t had anyone saying that directly. We haven’t had the, “Hey, it’s actually a scam to keep you in here because we lose a ton of money”.

John: You don’t think they’d really say that.

Mike: No, they’ve never said that.

John: But you’ve seen it. I mean, we’ve all seen that moment when you look the person in the eye and you’re saying, “I really know what you’re thinking. You just don’t have the nerve to say it.”

Mike: Well, I mean, there is that it’s selling anything to the education sector that is a little difficult. There are budgets and we understand that. And the goal of this isn’t by any means to take away jobs from the advisers in place.

John: But wait a minute. I think being a parent of a student, having been through the whole process, it’s the only time – one of the few times in your life that someone’s going to be involved in life-altering decisions for you and have no accountability. Because you go to the adviser, like, “Oh, really, they said that? Okay. Sorry, go another semester, too bad.” You’re like, really?

Mike: Yeah.

John: “You were supposed to help me.”

Mike: Right, well, involving the advisers in the schools has been one of our goals in this as well because you talk to them and at Baruch alone, we have, I think it’s 17,000 undergraduates and 10 advisers so the ratio there is huge. And speaking to these advisers, the job they signed up to do is really to sit down and get to know these students and give that one on one advice, that kind of life advice that you’re looking for, rather than “What courses should I be taking?” “I don’t know, take this,” and then you’re out of there.

John: And it’s not their fault by the way because the rules change. I’m not here to tell my listeners it’s the advisers’ fault because the rules change for them at a heartbeat.

Mike: Right.

John: And by the way, nobody tells them either.

Mike: Exactly. So the goal of this is really to provide something supplemental to empower both the students and take a load off the advisers a little bit and let them do the job they really want to do.

John: This sounds like a game changer, Mike.

Mike: Hopefully. I mean, we’re in the age of disruption. I really think that we’re seeing all these innovative solutions to problems and when you look at Uber, Lift, Airbnb, they’re all disrupting various industries and I think we’re looking to kind of bring a little bit of that behavioral change to the education sector.

John: I talked to Ian Lucey today, he was one of our guests and Ian is a huge software CEO in Ireland and he had a tremendous thought that I wanted to share with you which is, people say we’re in the age of disruption, right?

Mike: Right.

John: But the reality is, if you disrupt something, it goes in a different direction. And what we’re really trying to do is enhance and make the direction we’re going in easier and more profitable and more fulfilling.

Mike: Exactly.

John: And so, are we enhancing what we’re doing and just finding a better way to do it or are we truly disrupting it? So it made me pause for a moment because I always – you and I talked a little pre-show about what we do in our business here at Be Furniture and how we’ve always thought of us as someone that hacks the marketplace and we disrupt it but I really thought about from his perspective, he might have something there, right?

Mike: Right, definitely!

John: I want to ask you something, what is your definition of culture as it relates to a company? What is that company culture?

Mike: I was thinking about this, actually, and I was having a hard time creating a definition. But I’d like to define company culture as the company’s vision, its values, its beliefs, and its habits. But I don’t think that it’s something that can be fabricated. I think it’s something that just naturally happens over time and I was thinking, it’s a strange analogy but do you remember the cereal, “Lucky Charms”?

John: Yes.

Mike: I grew up eating Lucky Charms and you get this box of Lucky Charms and you have all those normal grainy pieces of cereal, but then you have the marshmallows, those sugary marshmallow pieces in there. And that’s like why you buy the box, why you eat the bowls of cereal, because you want to find those marshmallows. And I think the goal of providing an awesome company culture is how you take your entire team and make them those special reasons to buy, why you’re buying this company.

 

John: Well, you and your co-founders had to have an alignment together to create a company, right?

Mike: Right.

John: So, in doing that, you guys basically started your own culture.

Mike: Exactly. And we’re all from such varied backgrounds. We’re all a very dynamic team. I think that definitely has a huge role in how productive we are. We’re constantly iterating on everything we’re doing. We’re very good at being devil’s advocate with each other. We really find ourselves being that diverse and collaborative. Most of the time, just about everyone from venture capitalists to even professors at our school to our peers, people really buy into you whether it’s as an investor, customer, employee.

John: Now, Mike, has the culture helped you guys accelerate the growth of your business?

Mike: I think it definitely has. Creating a diverse team, I think, is one of the most important parts in realizing really what you are as a company and what your product is. Getting an idea from all angles, I think, really helps accelerate you and really identifies possible flaws early on.

John: Mike, in the pre-show chat, you and I were having a few good laughs and we’re talking about how you see people with killer websites and their people are just so articulate and their product is great and then you go to the physical side of the business and you go visit them, right?

Mike: Right.

John: And it’s like a disaster. And you’re like, “There’s a complete brand disconnect here,” so Mike, from your opinion, how does the design and layout of a facility, how does that affect culture and in regards to having full buy-in and the engagement of the staff in bringing in new people in your organization, how does that work? Can you share with us your thoughts on that?

Mike: Yes. Well, you look at companies like Facebook for instance and you see pictures of their office space, open floor plan, you have Mark Zuckerberg right in the middle of everything. Very collaborative, high level of connectivity. I think something like that really works. I think even the customers appreciate something like that. I think the – we haven’t really had that hard office experience being a startup with minimal funding at this point. I think the cool thing about being on this podcast and talking to you about company culture in the office is that our office is kind of our university. So, we always think of the fact that we are exposed to so many resources, so many networking opportunities and so many different types of people. It’s like being a toy manufacturer set up in a preschool, almost. I think that would be one of the most important things to carry over to our office space in the future, building an environment that is nurturing to all of your employees, that’s inspiring. And I think that creating a sort of transparency there with your customers is a big one.

John: It’s got to be. You got to have that continuity.

Mike: Right

John: And if not, you’re not going to be authentic.

Mike: Right. I think everything needs to be inviting, open, nurturing to ideas.

John: There has – I mean, we have a 15,000 square foot showroom at Be Furniture and it’s pretty much a laboratory for people to come and see desking, benching, low cubicles, high cubicles, and everybody sits everywhere and we have collaborative areas, a kitchen area, it looks kind of a Starbucks kind of routine. I routinely – my office is huge as a studio. Other than that, people laugh because they’ll come in and open the drawers of my office and there’s nothing in the drawer. And I’m like, because I don’t keep anything here. I go out on the floor and hang out and sit, and talk and they’re like, “Go back to the studio, John. Leave us.”

And I’m like, “No I just want to be out with you guys.” “But we don’t want you out here. You have to go back away from us,” and I start laughing because it’s fun for us and in that perspective, it is an open environment and we have all the different looks. Mike, I can tell you, if you can imagine every type of look from a tech desk to a 120 degree benching environment to a real high tech bench into the tall panels where there’s a cluster of four, everybody gravitates to where they’re comfortable. People that are in Accounting go to the higher cubicle because they want that privacy. The sales people they’re all out in the fifty inch high bullpen kind of environment and they’re off on their own. And as they like to say, nobody wants to come over here but us. And I’m like, “I’ll come hang out with you guys.” And they’re like, “Because you’re one of us.”

So I started laughing from that perspective. It makes organizations authentic when they build their environments to meet their brand. And it’s one of the things I’ve heard over and over again when I’ve talked to so many CEOs and emerging founders that authenticity and transparency are the keys to success. And if you have that brand disconnect, Mike, I’m not sure if you’ll ever get there.

Mike: I absolutely agree.

John: Now, I want to ask you a question about Advyzr. You’re going to go out and raise funds because that’s what required as a startup. I’m quite certain you’re going to get them.

Mike: Hopefully [Laughs] I’m confident, I think so.

John: There’s a few people we’ve interviewed in the last week. You should connect with them right there in New York. John Frankel, you should talk to. John Frankel from ff Venture Capital. Great guy, they do great things, you should check him out.

Mike: Absolutely.

John: But, what will Advyzr look like, 12 months from now? Do you have a vision for that you can share with us?

Mike: Yes. Twelve months from now, we hope to have a beta version of Class with Friends completed and tested. That’s something we’re really looking to go to market with in the near future. We’re looking to raise some funds, capital investments and the reason for doing so is just to make sure we have enough funding for research and development. That’s really where all of our money is going right now, to research and development so we can stay fresh, iterate our products, refine them, really dig into and express the true nature of who are and why we’re doing this. We really want to pay out to beta the end user specially for offering a new experience for education. We need to make sure that it’s out there and it’s working and we’re able to meet everyone’s needs. So 12 months from now, I see us having Class with Friends launched, being used by thousands of students, whether it’s all over New York or all over the East Coast, or over the country. But, yes, I mean, in the upcoming months we’re going to be seriously looking for a solid round of funding. Hopefully, we’ll be able to get that out there.

John: Okay Mike, so, help some of my listeners because they’re young entrepreneurs and they’re starting out, and they’ve got their funding, they’re going to hire, they’re going to build, and they want to create great teams and great cultures, can you give them one tip from your experiences that you’d say, “Hey guys, if you do nothing else, do this”?

Mike: I think the first step and one of the most important beliefs you need to have in starting your own business, becoming an entrepreneur is really believing in yourself and making sure you’re doing something that you’re passionate about, that you’re going to be tenacious about. I have notebooks filled with ideas on things I can sell, ways to make money, ways to improve certain things, all these business ideas and then I’m on this team of advisers because I really believe in it. I believe in the team. I believe they can do it. So I think the most important thing is believing in yourself, be tenacious, don’t get discouraged. If you happen to fall a little bit, don’t be hesitant to just get right back up and improve on anything you can improve on. Identify why you’re having setbacks so you can fix them early on and just learn from it and keep going. I think that builds success.

John: Hey, what’s one common mistake you see guys and ladies make over and over again as you’re beginning your entrepreneurial journey? There’s got to be something you see over and over again that you just rub your foreheads, “Oh man, don’t do that, stop, it hurts.”

Mike: Oh man, now that I’m kind of in this environment, I talked to a bunch of people who are trying to get in on the ground floor – which is amazing – people who have great ideas and it is such a great time for my generation to kind of foster those ideas, but one of the things I come across sometimes is this, a little bit of this entitlement sense that having a bright idea is going to get you everything. I think that’s a mistake that you can make in starting a business. I think what we try to do is stay humble and meet everyone we can, take every ounce of advice, network, network, network. And that kind of attitude, a little bit of vulnerability, I think, will transcend beyond boundaries. It’s not only your customers but your team members, future investors. I think that’s one of the most important things. It just working hard and knowing it’s much more than a great idea.

John: You’re absolutely right. Mike, I want to take you into the lightning round. Are you ready to go? It won’t be bad, trust me it will be easy. [Laughs]

Mike: I think so, yeah.

John: All right, buckle in, here we go, bud. Is there a book that changed your life or do you have just a favorite book that you like to refer to?

Mike: Yes, when I was about 16, I read “The Tipping Point” by Malcolm Gladwell. I love that book. That was my first real insight into what drives society and economy. That’s what made me want to go to school for marketing and branding. I just found it fascinating. I definitely recommend that book and “Outliers”, which is another Malcolm Gladwell book that I really like.

John: Now, do you have a quote you go to for inspiration?

Mike: I’m trying to think. Oh, okay. I think there’s this – sometimes in my generation there’s a sense of urgency and immediate gratification and that discourages a lot of people. I think there’s a quote by Confucius that says, “It doesn’t matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop.”

John: Haha, I like that. There’s a sense of urgency, you’ve got to answer that text man [laughs]

Mike: I think some people get discouraged on how long it takes for an idea to take off or for the money to come in. Don’t worry about the money. Just don’t stop and believe in what you’re doing. I think that seems to be the theme.

John: Hey, as it was told to me many times over by my tribe, “If it was easy, everybody would do it.”

Mike: Exactly.

John: So you know, the good things take some time every once in a while and you’ve got to be patient enough to wait for those results. What companies do you admire the most as it relates to culture and why?

Mike: Airbnb, Twitter, Uber, Facebook, Google, I think all of them, in terms of culture and office culture, provide a great space and environment where people want to go work there. They want to be challenged there, they want to grow there. Every day is different. They are challenged intellectually and the company as a whole is always looking for ways to innovate and change the way things are done for the better.

John: Now Mike, why would people want to come work for Advyzr given all the options that are out there today?

Mike: I mean, at this point, we could always guarantee a challenge. We’re always looking for people who want to be better. We always want you to be better, to think differently, to help us think differently. We believe in celebrating not only your work and accomplishments but your effort and progress and I think most importantly about our dynamic as you mentioned in our discussion before the interview how you pride your company at being very linear and not – there’s no real hierarchy there. I think that is a very important belief for us as well. We never want to be the smartest guys in the room. We always want to fill the room with someone smarter and we believe that’s extremely important. Everyone should be better in each other.

John: I like that. All right, Mike, here we go for the big finish. Are you ready?

Mike: Yes.

John: Okay, if you had to describe the culture of Advyzr in three words, what would they be?

Mike: I don’t know if I could stick to three but…

John: Whatever makes you comfortable.

Mike: Okay. I’m going to say, be inquisitive, be ambitious, be passionate, be bold, be brave and I think most importantly, in any team you are a part of, any company you are starting, just be you. Be yourself.

 

John: I like that. You know, Mike, that’s why we say only three because I can only remember three at my age. [Laughs] crosstalk.

Mike: ‘Cause I had a lot.

John: No, that’s cool. Hey, I just want to thank you so much. You have such a cool, cool product that really resonates with the baby boomers, the X generation and the millennials and it doesn’t have a timepiece on it, so to speak, because everybody gets what you’re trying to do and I think that’s so cool about what you’re doing. How do my listeners connect with you?

Mike: You could email us at founders@advyzr.com Advyzr is spelled A-D-V-Y-Z-R or you can just go to www.advyzr.com. You can learn all about the app there. There’s a video on there that walks you through it. And you can even request your school on there as well.

John: We interviewed the vice chancellor for Student Success from University of Arkansas, Little Rock, Dr Robertson, a few weeks ago and she was talking about things just like this how she want to bring these kinds of things into the university. So, you’re going to resonate with a lot of people. Any rollouts you want to tell our listeners about, Mike, before we go?

Mike: Just look for Class of Friends at your school, in the app marketplace. I’m sure if it’s there we will be promoting it and you will see it all over the place. That’s going to be our first rollout. It will be accessible to everyone because the nature of that is built out for multitude of schools at once and hopefully it really starts improving the education experience.

John: Cool. Mike, I’ve had a blast today and I never end an interview without sharing with my guest my favorite quote from Maya Angelou which is, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Mike: That’s a great quote.

John: And Mike, I hope we made you feel like you’re part of our tribe.

Mike: You made me feel great. This is so exciting for us.

John: And I hope you felt welcome and I hope you feel good enough that you’ll come back and visit us in six months and tell us about the amazing things you and your partners are doing.

Mike: I look forward to it, John. Thank you.

John: Super. I wish you the best of luck. Stay in touch and be well, my friend.

Mike: I will. Thank you so much.

John: Bye-bye.

Mike: Bye.