MF 085 : The Power of Networking and Pivoting as a Tech Innovator, with Sophia Parsa
Sophia Parsa is the CEO and Co-Founder of Toot, an innovative service that connects students to tutoring services, on demand. You’ll learn how Sophia has mastered the art of the pivot in her career and her company. Sophia will also share how to do networking on a massive scale so you can move forward.
Successes at a glance:
Helped monetize and scale her dad’s tech project of TV-sized digital picture frames while still in college:
Incorporated the element of paid advertisements.
Project scaled into a full-time endeavor and a company!
Founder and CEO of Toot:
Started out of college.
Inspired by her experiences as a student and by the rise of Uber to create a solution that connects students to tutors, on demand.
Started as a mobile app solution, now transitioning into a SMS-based subscription service.
How Sophia get inspired to conquer the day:
Sophia is inspired by her dad, himself a brilliant innovator and a mentor to her. Sophia’s dad had the foresight to see in his daughter, a future tech entrepreneur. Although Sophia had her sights on becoming an event planner, his vision came to fruition as Sophia inherited his drive and innate curiosity to create solutions. When her father passed away last year, Sophia was encouraged and supported by her business partner and cohort to continue on, driven by Toot’s mission. In doing so, she honors what her father instilled in her. Moving Forward listeners do you have a mentor who sees in you, your potential? Someone who recognizes in you great things and accomplishments that you can achieve, even if you don’t necessarily see them yourself today? Sophia was very fortunate to have that in her dad and you can hear in her voice how she lives each day towards fulfilling a purpose that is as much a tribute to him as it is an embodiment of her passion. Today, Sophia continues to be inspired by the tutors, the students and even the parents of those students, who are impacted by the solution that Toot provides. As Sophia points out, growing a company will draw additional people into your life who will keep you motivated and moving forward.
Sophia shares how and why she decided to pivot the direction of her company:
Initially, Toot started as a mobile app company. As the company grew, Sophia realized that scaling Toot beyond Los Angeles would require extensive capital and resources to create the infrastructure to understand the demographics (and hence the market) of each city as well as vet the quality of tutors from each location. However, Sophia also recognized that students everywhere all share a common factor: when they need a tutor, they need one right now! Given that Toot already had a network of 1500 qualified and quality assured tutors in Los Angeles, Sophia had already laid the foundation to take this nationwide. Moreover, Toot had conducted focus groups w/ students, revealing that many were hesitant to download an app to find a tutor; preferring a greater level of discretion and anonymity among their peers. Given these considerations, Sophia realized that all of the barriers to scale would drop if Toot pivoted from a mobile app company to a SMS subscription platform. Text messaging would allow Toot to use it’s already vetted network of tutors to connect with any student in any part of the country, while alleviating any perceived stigmas from downloading a mobile app. Finally, converting to a SMS-based service provides a more just-in-time solution for everyday questions that students come across everyday. Moving Forward listeners, we talk a lot about pivoting on this show but this is truly a wonderful illustration or case study of how it can be done masterfully when taking a company to the next level. Extract these four principles from Sophia’s story: 1) identify your challenges to growth or scale, 2) look at your treasure chest of resources (talent, currency, etc.) that you have already built up, 3) listen to your market for pain points, paying particular attention to the ones that may not have been obvious to you, 4) pivot by leveraging your strength and resources to deliver a better solution. And remember, sometimes finding a better solution means simplifying or as Dana Oliver says, “getting to simple.”
Resource or cultural experience that inspired Sophia to move forward:
Sophia is still an event planner at heart and candidly shares that her success always comes back to her network. To facilitate quality time with her network (and get her event planning fix), Sophia started an event called “Mountaingate,” a monthly dinner party for 90 fellow entrepreneurs and creatives. This is a chance for individuals from different backgrounds, walks of life and skill sets to come together and discuss, collaborate and inspire one another over good food and company. When Sophia started this it was 20 people. Today, it has ballooned into a network of over 300 people and continues to grow. As Sophia shares, not only has this helped her but Mountaingate has allows her to help others who are starting ventures or growing their companies. Additionally, a portion of the cover charge goes to support a worthy public interest cause. Moving Forward listeners, I had a chance to attend a Mountaingate event as Sophia’s guest shortly after we conducted our interview and during a visit to Los Angeles. And seeing the energy and creative spirit among these individuals, it’s clear why Sophia is so successful at creating scale, both in her business and in her network. Moving Forward listeners, you don’t have to have 90 people to create a support group. Start with 10 or even 4 people and put your minds together; take your idea to the next level and start growing your network. As Sophia’s story illustrates, this is an accessible and highly effective way to move forward!
How Sophia stays organized and manages her time:
Favorite app/website/resource or productivity hack (best practice for Google calendar):
Sophia shares this best practice: share your Google calendar with the most important people in your life; including your work team but also your family and friends. This is especially helpful if you’re an entrepreneur or busy professional with a very packed schedule as it lets your close circle know where you are at any given time.
Sophia also shares that reminders (15 min, 1 hour) on Google calendar are key for managing a busy schedule.
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Sophia’s Advice for you to Move Forward:
Sophia has this advice if you’re thinking about becoming an entrepreneur. Don’t even start unless you’re super excited by the idea. Being an entrepreneur is going to be an uphill battle, no matter how brilliant the idea is. Therefore, if you are going to make that leap make sure it’s for something that day-in and day-out inspires you. This is important as you need to be 100% driven by an idea that will carry you thru the setbacks and tough times. Second, and here’s the good news, if you decide to make that leap, there are a ton of free resources available to get you started. One of Sophia’s biggest resources is her network, as she explains on today’s episode. Everyone from her co-founder to the 300+ people who are members of the Mountaingate community. This is something you can find thru your existing network as well as meetup groups and other resources, which won’t cost you a dime. Finally, if you satisfy condition 1, just start. You’re going to make many mistakes, that’s inevitable. You’ve heard it from many people, including, Academy Award™ winner Doug Drexler, serial entrepreneur, Jeffrey Hayzlett and today, you’re hearing it from Sophia Parsa, CEO and Founder of Toot. Success takes time, experimentation and learning from your mistakes. So if you have decided to move forward, take that first step today!
Connect with Sophia: