This week I’ll be running a series of Five Question interviews with small businesses which were facilitated by BondStreet, a SMB lending platform (we’re investors). LocalBiz stories are really fun for me since my first high school job was working in an independent bookstore. These people are true founders and entrepreneurs just like any venture backed company.
Hunter Walk: Can you share the founding story of Tone Academy of Music. How did it all begin?
Jenny Shaw: The question on how something begins is a bit slippery – especially when it comes to education and the field of teaching. Technically, I opened Tone in June of 2011. However, the dream has always been to have my own school – even back when I started playing in Suzuki at 2 years old. My journey through music with my mom was a source of strength and cooperation that I wanted to extend to other families and although I had a performing career throughout my college and 20’s, teaching was always my passion and my calling. After teaching in NYC at SO many different schools, I realized that in 2011 I had enough of a reputation and following that it would make more sense to start a community of parents and teachers who could share in my vision. We started with 40 kids and 3 teachers and now we have over 300 students and 25 teachers. I don’t ever plan on retiring from this community!
HW: All of the social platforms claim to help small businesses and brands amplify their voice, find their customers. Are you active on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Instagram, etc? How do you decide which products to dedicate time and attention? Do “likes” and “shares” turn into sales?
JS: Yes, we have an online presence that we actively (to different levels) participate in using a variety of platforms. Like many businesses, it’s hard to translate “likes” to sales, but especially so in our business which is so very personal and also has to do with childhood education. There is NOTHING more important than a direct referral from an existing client. I’m dubious about how much “personal referrals” happen in social media, but it could quite possibly start the conversation on the playground. When I look at our metrics (to the extent we can gather information) our #1 point of contact is still face to face referrals and our #2 is our sidewalk sign. That floors and frustrates me to think that a very basic sign can drive traffic more than the thousands we spend on online marketing, but I think because we’re in NYC, location is also a huge factor for parents. I can’t discount the fact that all of the tangled web of online algorithms are calculated by having a well-rounded online and social media identity… By that I mean Instagram may not bring a client in, but having that link may up our Google rating which in turn may bring someone in.
HW: At Homebrew we see lots of startups wanting to serve the small/growing business segment with software tools ranging from ecommerce, to point of sale to employees backoffice and so on. What software tools help power your business – besides Microsoft Excel – since everyone secretly just uses Excel 🙂
JS: This question automatically raises my anxiety level. I feel when I’m asked this question, what I’m telling myself is “You are not using enough programs! You should be investigating this more!” However, in the past when I’ve tried to utilize a new program – scheduling software for example – I’ve sunk so much time and cost into training and populating our data only to find out that it really doesn’t work for us or is buggy and more of a hassle! I am pulled in so many directions, I find that I keep wanting to try and automate more things, but can’t invest the time in finding the “best” solutions… so I don’t eventually make time to change. To answer the question though, I use Quickbooks online, Paypal, Google Calendar, Google Docs, Paperless Post, and Survey Monkey with enough ease to get the job done. Oh, and SquareSpace.
HW: What’s a problem you wish a technology startup could solve for you?
JS: See above! I would like for someone to take a look at our business and our needs, and tell ME what is out there that is worth me paying time and money for. Also, I’m always afraid that there is something that I’m leaving myself open to risk… that I just don’t know to cover myself for. I have insurance for example, but I really don’t know what our liability would be if I wanted to take kids off the property for a performance in the community.
HW: You partnered with Bond Street for growth capital. How did you originally connect with Bond Street? What’s the biggest difference for you between a platform like Bond Street and traditional borrowing from a bank or other offline source?
JS: They found ME! I literally said “this is too good to be true.” I was in a panic trying to apply for a loan through a bank (SBA as part of it) but it was so over my head and I had invested so much time just to not even be considered. The main difference is that a PERSON talked to me about what they saw in my financials (which they had me just link to instead of putting together for them) and they said, oh of course we get why you need money… makes sense. On top of that, they really do care about my business and I feel so supported by them. I’m actually excited when they call and email me. Who knew!
Bond Street is transforming small business lending through technology, data and design.