by Tim Jahn on October 12, 2010
When he was 8, Mark Babbitt used to sell a weekly newspaper. When he discovered he could earn four times as much from tips by providing stellar customer service, he put all his energy into that.
Today, with his new mentor brokership company YouTern, Mark is applying the same principle to fill a much needed gap in the market. Watch my interview with Mark to discover what he learned from his newspaper selling days!
I’m Mark Babbitt, I’m CEO of eJobbz the company that is producing Youtern. Youtern is an online community that connects emerging talent, students and graduates, with change oriented nonprofits, startup organizations, and action entrepreneurs whether their actually connected with an organization or not. Basically we’re kind of mentor brokers.
What keeps you going every day? What makes you get up in the morning and work on Youtern?
Well, Youtern’s easy because it’s not like we’re building a little widget that may, or may not change lives, or change the moments in life. We’re actually with Youtern by being mentor brokers, by facilitating the entrepreneurial spirit of emerging talent; that’s a pretty easy thing to get up in the morning and do as opposed to maybe building a car or painting sidewalks or something.
It’s pretty invigorating just to be involved. But the honest truth, I’ve been a workaholic since I was about eight and I don’t know anything different, and it drives the people around me crazy, but it’s just the way that it is.
What were you doing at eight that you were a workaholic?
I was afraid you’d ask that. I actually sold a newspaper, a newspaper called, Brit Magazine. It was a weekly publication. Its still around today although I think their demographic probably averages about 85 years old now. But it’s been around forever and they built their business model on finding young, aggressive kids to go door to door and sell this thing.
And I quickly found out that if I provided really good service while I did this, the tips I got were four times what I earned actually selling the newspapers. So at eight years old, I was out building a service model of around finding out when somebody’s anniversary was, or when they’re birthday was and give them a little handwritten card, and doing all this little stuff. And I’ve been doing it ever since.
You were doing this at eight years old? You were that concentrated on customer service?
Well, I didn’t call it that. I didn’t even know it was — it was a means to increase revenue. I didn’t know it was customer service. I just knew that if I could make $0.05 or $0.08 selling a newspaper door to door but I’d get a dollar or two tip if I was really good at what we’d now call customer service.
Where did you come up with the idea for Youtern?
Well, I’ll try and make this answer short. We — eJobbz was actually put into — we actually started the business to build local job boards in a tough economy. The idea was that a lot of the job boards that are out there now including the big guys like Monster and Career Builder are full of jobs but a lot of them are work from home opportunities, or you have to enlist in the navy, or its paid training and then maybe once you pass their training, they’re placement service will find you a job. And in this economy, people didn’t need that kind of help. They needed real jobs.
Unfortunately, because of that differentiator, we couldn’t list internships, and freelance work, and project-based projects. So we actually were asked who do we go to if we can’t use you guys for that, who do we go to? So we began doing some research and honestly found a whole in the marketplace especially for startups and nonprofits.
If you really, if you wanted to be an intern at General Motors for instance, it was pretty simple, you could go to their career center, or to NACElink, or internships.com; something like that and you’d be taken care of pretty well. But if you were entrepreneurial minded if you wanted to do more than just work for a big corporation, there was really no place to go.
When you found the hole in the market that you ended up filling with Youtern, how did you actually go about turning the idea into reality? Like what mad you execute?
That’s a good — the first part of due diligence was to really make sure there was nothing out there filling this niche. We couldn’t, we wanted to be very rare in today’s market, we wanted to be a first market concept with Youtern. But we really had to do a lot of scrubbing to make sure that we really were. So that was step one. It took a couple months just to map that out, and to make sure that we were really not someone new.
Step two, was we started talking to people within the startup community to make sure that an internship is something they would actually consider. Internship are big at big corporations, they have a whole program surrounding it. But for startups, it’s a little bit differently. Would a CEO take the time to mentor a young entrepreneurial-minded student to help him with his delagatable tasks? And the answer was overwhelmingly yes. So that was an easy one.
Next step was we did focus groups with career center professions, and with students. And we did that, all the way from Columbia University down to community colleges just to make sure that we had a sweet spot somewhere. And again, the overwhelming response was positive.
What’s been the biggest challenge in launching this, in getting this to actually happen?
That’s another good question. The biggest challenge, we’re actually in the midst of it right now. We actually assumed based on the response we got from the focus groups, that Youtern might go a little bit viral, we might hit the ground running when students got back into session. And it actually turned out that we didn’t do enough homework to learn how best to communicate to the candidates, to the GenY students specifically.
So our biggest challenge, and again we’re right in the middle of it right now, is learning how to communicate the value proposition of Youtern to the student who may still be realizing how important internships are to their career development, and are still hoping there’s a pot of gold at the end of rainbow, and when I graduate there’s going to be a job waiting for me. And the sad reality, there’s not a whole lot of jobs out there right now and they really need to go get an internship, or two, or three, or five to make themselves more employable. So that’s the challenge.
If you were to come across someone who was in the same situation as you who had a need they thought would be good to fill and they had an idea to fill it, what one piece of advice would you give them?
Build the right team without a doubt. I migrated toward — I mean, we had an existing team already with eJobbz. We had the marketing guy, we had the customer service guys, we had a web development team. We had everything we needed we thought to create and push Youtern. And then when the time came, it turned out we weren’t cross-generational enough. We weren’t diverse enough.
And I think your team has to reflect at some point your customer base. There has to be somebody in the room to say, “If I read copy like this, that would annihilate me or that would — the process for filling out a profile online for instance, too long, I wouldn’t do that.”
And we didn’t take that into consideration when actually building the Youtern team. And we’ve learned from that, and we’ve already changed that dramatically actually. It took us just a couple months to realize that we needed a more diverse team that could help us deal with challenges.
So that’s the big thing, is build you team from the ground up and consistently upgrade it. I mean, I’ve coached baseball for years and I always said if my third baseman’s having troubles, my job is to put the best team on the field and if that third baseman isn’t getting the job done, I need to go find another one. And I think as a startup CEO, I got a little comfortable with our existing team and I didn’t seek to upgrade fast enough.
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