Frankie Coletto – Founder of PassTheNotes

Stay focused on your “why”, under promise and over deliver, and always pay it forward. As crazy as it may sound to some, it’s efficient execution of those three simple things that make you successful.

Frankie Coletto is the founder of PassTheNotes. Fusing his passion for technology with his educational background in Finance, Management, and International Business, he created Leveraging his personal experience in the education system, he felt that a platform which increases student and teacher engagement around content was necessary as well as a need in the market. His passions for creativity and his strong analytical background provide a unique balance for leading the platform development of PassTheNotes. The platform has since evolved since 2010, leading into its Private Alpha Release in January 2011. He leads the technical development of PassTheNotes and is the visionary behind the platform’s current and next stages of development. After its public release during 2012, the platform has continued to scale beyond twenty thousand contracted users.

Frankie was one of five FIU graduates featured in the Pino Global Entrepreneurship Center’s 2012 Entrepreneurship Awareness Campaign, which made its debut in November. He has been recognized by South Florida as one of the top 3 business challenge winner out of over 222 other companies. Frankie has been mentioned in numerous publications related to and the mission the company is focused on achieving. His past experience is entrepreneurial in nature, having started and grown a media production company securing fortune 500 organizations with multiple published works. His first company was also a challenge winner and listed in the top four business plans while at Florida International University. Prior to creating his first company, Frankie was a licensed broker for Citigroup. He likes spending time with family and enjoys working on creative projects in his spare time.

Where did the idea for PassTheNotes come from?

A bit of a backstory so here we go! Originally entrepreneurship was not something that I had planned on as my career path. With a chemist mom and techie dad, I was on the fast track to biomedical engineering with a scholarship from my mother’s company and the Florida Bright Futures scholarship. Basically a full ride to Florida International University for the BA and then Masters at University of Miami. One day as I was listening to a guest speaker about his career as a biomedical engineer I started to realize the things being created were not because you came up with them, but rather because the company had its own plans. I couldn’t deal with that at all. I had all these ideas and it came down to getting funding or the right team, not the right job. So I proceeded to explore my options, just turns out that my options caused me to lose my scholarship. There I was, walking into FIU early in the morning before any really got there wondering if and when I would find m y way. As I walked through the humid 6am air, there was a business card on the ground which read,”Business Plan Challenge, win $10,000.” I immediately went to the entrepreneurship center expressing my interest. I didn’t have the prerequisites for the required course as I hadn’t taken any business classes but the assistant director at the time took a chance on me. I told her I’d win for her taking the risk. After all was said and done I had come in 3rd out of 56. It was for a production business, not PassTheNotes though. I did that to pay the rest of my college degree and while doing so that’s when I realized production was not big enough, not enough impact. As I sat in the classrooms I realized that every person was learning their own way, groups typically had the accepted dysfunctional setup of the person that does everything while another did nothing at all, and the application used in the classroom didn’t really assist any of thos e issues. Spark PassTheNotes, an application that tears down the walls of the classroom bringing people together around the one thing they have in common, the content. The rest of of the features like communication and chat are a given, but the content delivery and distribution is what is primed for a revolution in the classroom. Education has a top down organizational structure when companies like Apple have a flat collaborative structure which works. Why not bring that structure to content distribution and delivery? Why not open up the communication from the district down to the classroom allowing 360 content sharing and communication. To be a part of the solution for that is larger than anything else in my mind. The idea of someone using our application to learn something and then log off and teach someone else, that action is impact. That action is paying it forward with out even being there. That is the goal, my “why”.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

My typical day starts usually waking up at 4am. I exercise and pre-plan my day out. I work on the most difficult items first in order to make room for any unscheduled meetings or calls with any of the other people on our team. Time is separated into blocks to make sure I don’t get stuck on one item and cause a delay with other tasks. The block schedule creates a sense of urgency to get the task completed knowing it’s a specific amount of time.

In general, my day goes like this:

  • 4am check in with any QA testing that has gone on during the evening hours.
  • Review the plans, tasks, and schedules of our team.
  • Meet with each vertical, if needed, to review our development and pipeline.
  • Meet with our Dev and Design people to work on new ideas, review user feedback, and make sure it’s in alignment with our future roadmap.

How do you bring ideas to life?

Bringing ideas to life is a tricky question to answer. Sometimes it’s as simple as seeing a problem and building a solution. Other times it’s predicting what the trends will require to be built in order for things to be done easily by the end user like a teacher or student. If I had to give a process for it the closest thing I can associate it with is like a science fair project when we were younger. You do your background research and begin to connect the dots of where a problem can intersect with a solution. The goal is to get as much information as possible to then make paths of where a solution can go and which will make the most sense given all the rest of the typical things like market fit, user needs, etc. The challenging part is breaking out of the tunnel vision “improvements” list and finding the next game changer, that is what keeps things interesting.

Actual steps:

  1. Come up with an idea
  2. Mock it up and start to get feedback from anyone, especially people that hate it. Those will be the best people to get feedback from.
  3. If your prototype has legs, keep building and get some small wins. Small wins are sales or users depending your business model.
  4. Always be recruiting your team.
  5. Repeat steps 1-4.

What’s one trend that really excites you?

One trend that is very exciting is the change happening in education. We recently had a session internally as a team where we reviewed each of our “whys” as to the reason for working on PassTheNotes. It was interesting to hear each person’s response and what excited them about the trend happening in education. In the last 50 years, the way content has been delivered has not really changed. Communication has changed and we feel that PassTheNotes is on the front lines of the trend bringing together open communication and content delivery in one platform.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

An obsession with pushing my own limits and skill sets. In order to lead, you must lead by example; therefore, I’m constantly pushing myself to improve from both a personal and teamwork standpoint. In addition, making sure that each person on the team is provided the tools they need to be successful has become more important as we’ve continued to scale up.

What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?

The worst job I ever had was working retail. What a waste of time! However, it was a high school gig and it allowed me to make the money I needed to start my first company. I left that job the minute I had saved enough to start my business.

If you were to start again, what would you do differently?

Nothing! We have had one of the most difficult and challenging starts. In hindsight, learning by trial and error has been the best thing self improvement and team building. Some people say the most important part of a early stage company is speed of error recovery and I think by experiencing the challenging times, it has allowed us to excel more than if things just always ran perfectly.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Stay focused on your “why”, under promise and over deliver, and always pay it forward. As crazy as it may sound to some, it’s efficient execution of those three simple things that make you successful.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.

Building up our team has by far been the one strategy that has helped grow our business. Times and trends will change, but a team stays together. Our team is a perfect blend between young techies and older veterans in the education space. The range of experience and openness of communication has allowed us to build our business. Each person on the team has a unique story on how they got started too which makes it special.

I met IB because he had walked into the entrepreneurship center at FIU one day looking to get started on a business. I happened to be there taking over their conference room working on the PassTheNotes. He’s been working with us since then. Sean and I met at a charity event because of a mutual friend. Manny and I met on a Saturday morning because a mutual friend woke me up to ask if i could make it to the Biscayne Yacht Club to meet one of the founders of Alienware or Manny. Manny showed up, we spoke about PassTheNotes, we’ve been working ever since. The point is, some things can be planned for and some things you just have to feel lucky about and that’s how I feel about our team.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

One failure I had as an entrepreneur was not learning how to code when I had first gotten started. I had hired a local firm which was unable to complete the project. I blew time, money, and effort. I remember going home and sitting down with my mom back then talking about it. It’s like air was sucked out of the room. You kind of just sit there and realize you don’t know what you’re made of until something fails. It was a moment where we were like,”Is this it…is this where it ends?”

We borrowed against the house to restart and haven’t looked back since. We went all in! I remember I had sold my car, pawned my watch, took pictures of Ferraris with my camera for a few hundred bucks to pay for hosting. From that decision years ago, everything has grown the right way. From one year to the next, we went from 0 income, 0 employees, no office… to employees on payroll, an office, and fortune 500 companies as partners. I learned how to code, not perfect, but can hold my own and our team is gradually learning the technical side which is surprising. According to some VCs, it’s usually easier to teach the business side to the techies vs the other way around. Somehow our team is pulling that off which is intriguing to me when it comes to how we hire, train, and what we release to end users. Through failure, you learn the biggest lessons and you also learn who is there for a paycheck or for the passion.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

I’ll give a business idea that I’m very interested in. Given my bells palsy and it affecting the nerves in my face, I’ve realized there’s no device that can accept the facial nerve but then have an opposite end where the nerves can be distributed and connected to the corresponding locations on the face. Think of it like this, you have a car radio which has a wire running from it to connect to a port in an amplifier. From the amplifier, you have ports for each speaker in the car. For those with bells palsy, the surgical option is training your face to move again, taking a graft from another part of the body, or dealing with it. This doesn’t account for those with synkinesis, which is the nerves growing back to the wrong places, like trying to smile and your eye closes. I think if a device like that existed, it would allow a surgeon to leverage the existing nerve, and then run the rest as needed from the “amplifier” and its available po rts. Anyway, I’ve done research on it since I deal with it. The worse that can happen is to find out it’s not possible…yet.

Tell us something about you that very few people know?

In an effort to share more about dealing with Bell’s palsy I’m sharing my random thought journal entry for today.

October 22, 2014, day 325: I can finally whistle again. Eye still closes when I yawn and tears when I eat. I remember when I couldn’t close my eye…no more pirate patch thank goodness. Bell’s palsy has taught me to become incredibly patient, focusing on small wins. Some of the biggest challenges have been overcoming not wanting to be around anyone. Not because of how I felt but rather their first reaction. So I’d just avoid it. Not recognizing my smile and bad habits I’ve developed over the last year like breaking eye contact or fixing my glasses in an effort to camouflage it. Constantly working on breaking those habits. Just want my smile back. I know friends and family support and give their best effort to make me feel better. I’d do the same for them without hesitation. It’s just that this is more of an internal battle. Like when you were in school and the English teacher explained the different types of conflict. In this case, it’s man vs himself more than anything else. I’ve never cared much about what other people think or society. I suppose if I did I wouldn’t be an entrepreneur. But as weird as it sounds, it’s people’s reactions that remind me of the battle I’m having within myself. I’ve gotten used to this ritual every morning where I stand in the bathroom with my face about three inches away from the mirror. I stay there for about 10-15 minutes in an effort to search for the slightest improvement, the slightest movement of the left side of my face. Most of the time nothing has changed. I think about not recognizing my face in the mirror when I smile. I think about what I think I’m doing as an expression is actually confusing someone I’m talking to. I think about how something as familiar as a kiss is completely foreign. Or a moment sharing a “cry” of happiness or sadness with someone else is one of the most difficult expressions. Only one eye tears an d the other doesn’t. When I frown one side does and the other involuntarily inches it’s way upward in a effort to smile. Except I’m not trying to. That’s synkinesis, learned about that on my own. Went to another doctor for a second opinion on my status and his fellow came in to watch which was like show and tell except it was showing and telling my face without any hint of things to do or try to improve. At least not anything that I don’t already know. “Go to the mirror and frown, smile, pucker your lips etc.” That’s depressing but I tell myself nobody successful has time for that feel sorry stuff. “Regroup. Focus. Get it together and take over the world like you know you can. Challenges only make the book better. It will only help someone else dealing with a challenge to overcome or get inspired. Not masses but just one person. Just never thought it would be me. Find your why and stay locked in on it. It’s just another chall enge and life is too short to be anything but positive. Each day brings progress. Each day brings you hours, minutes, seconds closer to the next twitch of an expression that was there before. Each milestone is a reason to smile and the more reasons you have, the sooner your smile will come back. Time will heal all.” It’s a roller coaster and it has it’s ups and downs…that’s life. The downs build character and prepare you to be grateful for the ups. I’m grateful for the people that stare in curiosity and those that don’t out of understanding. Both are necessary to self improve from the inside out. At the end of the day, my family, friends that have become family, and the potential to inspire people I’ll never meet because of PassTheNotes drive my why. Bell’s palsy may bring down your facial nerves, but after all is said and done, it rebuilds you into a person with a story worth sharing.

What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?

I use PassTheNotes! Aside from that we use Trello for task management, Rackspace for hosting, and New Relic for monitoring our application. I love trello because it gives a fast and simple way to manage projects with our team without requiring meetings to happen all the time. Rackspace is great because of the support, Magda Esparza is a life saver at Rackspace! New relic is an obsession from which there is no return. It gives me all the insight into how our application is performing and how users are using it. It’s great for understanding how our roadmap is aligned with the users of our application.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz. I recommend his book and his blog because it’s the hard truth about what it means getting into entrepreneurship. From the exciting times of starting up to the difficult times of growth. It’s a great read and worth getting even if you only pull a few messages out of it.

What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?

My father – Always told me to do good in school if ever I wanted the Ferrari in the street.
My Mom – Allowed this to happen by giving me a seed round investment to get started with PTN.
Our team – Their experience to date has been an unlimited resource to learn from.
Outside sources like blogs and people: Blogs and Books by Tony Hsieh, Simon Sinek, Warren Buffet, Ben Horowitz, Brad Feld, Fred Wilson, Reid Hoffman.


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