Sarah Young – Co-Founder and CEO of Rock Your Block

[quote style=”boxed”]Ask for help and feedback. I realize this may be a cliché piece of advice, but I don’t think it can be emphasized enough. As much as I seek guidance from others on building my business, I still often need to be reminded that I’m not in this alone when I run into a roadblock.[/quote]

Sarah Young is the Co-founder and CEO of Rock Your Block. She is originally from Wisconsin and moved to Minnesota for college, graduating from the Carlson School of Management in 2010. In September 2010, she launched Rock Your Block at Startup Weekend Twin Cities.

Sarah Young is extremely involved in the entrepreneurial, technology, and non-profit communities of the Twin Cities, and she serves on several different networking group boards, collaboratives, and initiative committees. Her experience in the technology industry includes specialization in SaaS applications, M2M solutions, project management, and marketing and channel management for technology products.

What are you working on right now?

Our biggest focus in terms of application development has lately been the four layers of security features within our application. The major one stems from our partnership with an organization that conducts state-of-the-art criminal background checks, which we are working to integrate to offer to our users the highest degree of safety and confidence while utilizing Rock Your Block.

Where did the idea for Rock Your Block come from?

The inspiration for Rock Your Block largely came from my experiences when I was a teen. I did every odd job and part-time job imaginable: dog walking, babysitting, lawn care, paper routes, donut shop, restaurants, you name it! I would do everything I could to pick up gigs for some extra cash: from going door-to-door to hanging up flyers around town to handing out business cards.

As I grew up through the evolution of the Internet, I noticed that methods for job seeking have progressed for just about everyone—except teenagers. Monster, LinkedIn, Job Dig and a whole slew of online tools and applications for professionals seeking new jobs have popped up in the industry. But nothing for teens. How is it that the social network generation doesn’t have a networking tool of their own for finding jobs? Why is it teens still need to go door-to-door or depend on their parents’ network or word-of-mouth to find work in their neighborhoods?

The idea for Rock Your Block to be built as the first Facebook-integrated web and mobile application that helps teens find jobs in their neighborhoods seemed like the perfect solution. Social networks create an opportunity to find safety in relationships. You know people, who know people, who need help in their neighborhoods. Plus, employers can undergo background checks for additional security.

But finding safe jobs isn’t the only thing Rock Your Block offers. Teens using Rock Your Block will build an online resume, and earn achievements for jobs well done. It will teach them core business skills of marketing, customer service, referrals and reputation management. Teens will have access to money management skills, and more. We are going to help teens gain the skills they need to be successful in their future careers.

What does your typical day look like?

That’s a pretty difficult question to answer, as every day looks different for me. I work part-time as a yoga instructor, and I teach anywhere from one to five classes a day. In between carting my sweaty self to and from the studio, I’m on my laptop or phone answering emails, taking calls, or scheduling coffee dates. Some days may include a lunch meeting with a potential community partner; some evenings might have me mingling with fellow tech entrepreneurs at the networking events I frequent; most evenings consist of moonlight Rock Your Block team Skype meetings or work parties. If I wanted the same routine from day-to-day, I’d sign up for a 9 to 5.

How do you bring ideas to life?

Everyone has ideas. It’s about prioritizing: hone in on a few vital ones and table the others. Our team constantly reminds each other to focus on one task at a time and to place anything we deem to be a “feature creep” into its own bucket. Having three co-founders has been extremely helpful in checking and balancing within a defined scope.

When I look back to the very beginning about what type of company I was looking to build, one of the first things I did was gather a bunch of research to see what similar concepts may already be out there or see if someone already was a big player in the industry. I wanted to get a good understanding of my competition. I quickly discovered what had worked for similar models (with different target markets) as well as what hadn’t worked in the past for more direct competitors. Keeping up to speed on what is happening in the industry and what other companies are doing wrong and right is great for guiding some of our company’s strategic decisions. Don’t reinvent the wheel… and identify the reasons behind other companies’ failures–lack of understanding of the market, bad timing, bad implementation, etc.—and do it better.

Another strategy I use to help shape and execute ideas it to surround myself with people who have similar motivation and drive – other startup technology entrepreneurs. I tell people about Rock Your Block and what we’re working on all the time in order to get as much feedback as we can. Ideas often evolve based on other perspectives and insights.

What’s one trend that really excites you?

I’m excited to be a part of the future of technology for teens. It probably can be considered more of a standard now versus a trend, but the movement of everything toward mobile devices provides large opportunities for new businesses. Teens and youth are increasingly becoming a significant part of the market for products and applications as they have easier access to mobile devices and have a shorter learning curve for adopting new technologies. Building an application that rides the early upside curve of this trend is an incredibly exciting experience.

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

Tell people about my idea earlier than I did. I sat on the idea for Rock Your Block for over a year before I told a single person about it. It’s hard to say if it would have given us more of a lead on the competition or if the timing would have been better or worse that it was for us in 2010 when we started. Another lesson I learned early on was the necessity to be “slow to hire, quick to fire.” It cost me a decent chunk of wasted time and money when I hired anyone who just wanted to be a part of our startup. I quickly realized we needed to be much more selective and patient when bringing on new team members.

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

Ask for help and feedback. I realize this may be a cliché piece of advice, but I don’t think it can be emphasized enough. As much as I seek guidance from others on building my business, I still often need to be reminded that I’m not in this alone when I run into a roadblock. Turns out that people are often more than willing to help give their insight on a problem, especially if it’s something they’ve been through before. As a young entrepreneur, there are brand new issues I run into all the time that if I never asked mentors and advisors for help, I’d never get anywhere! From small things like, “What do you think about this Facebook ad?” to much bigger questions like, “How should I structure my first investment offering?”, I don’t hesitant to ask others for help.

What is one problem you encountered as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

One? Just about every day consists of putting out fire. I would say that we have yet to experience a true significant problem or major conflict, but definitely one of our biggest obstacles for making headway was our lack in financial capital. We have been truly bootstrapped, operating on a shoestring budget for two years, and one of our biggest focuses for overcoming our lack of cash was to draw more attention to leveraging other types of resources. If you view cash as just another resource for obtaining other resources, why not aim straight for the resources you need themselves? I stressed over money (and sure, I still do) a ton before I realized I was still able to get a lot done without the finances I thought I so desperately needed in order to make anything happen. Putting in more labor hours internally as well as leveraging our team’s network has been vital to our success thus far in finding legal support, accounting support, discounted contract work, and free PR.

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

To be honest, I don’t have any other business ideas too far outside of what I’m doing. If I brainstorm and daydream about new ideas, they usually all center around different paths and directions I can take Rock Your Block. For example, my 10-year plan includes creating a non-profit arm of RYB that can offer career and college readiness training as well as scholarships to youth.

If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be and how would you go about it?

I’d like to find a way to help everyone learn where and how they can best contribute to society and motivate them to do it. Too many people in this world are consumers, and too few are contributors. People are constantly motivated to take advantage of the resources around them, and are much less frequently encouraged to conserve or contribute resources.

How would I go about it? Start small, iterate, repeat. A valuable training and teaching component that could be offered in more schools and more job trainings is strength discovery. In recent years, professionals have been taking assessments and courses on learning about what their natural strengths and talents are and how they can best leverage them to be successful. These practices could and should be emphasized more with young children.

Tell us a secret.

During my college lectures, I took all my notes with my left hand (I’m naturally right-handed). Two main—and definitely valid—reasons behind this I guess… 1) Being ambidextrous would make me smarter; and 2) It would make the class more interesting. Only the most keen of my classmates would ever pick up on the habit when they might notice me using my right hand on test days—because yes, although my handwriting with both hands is nearly identical, I will still always be a lot faster using my right.

What are your three favorite online tools or resources and what do you love about them?

My team uses Trello for our task management tool, and it’s great because it’s a simple to-do list where you can easily move tasks from the “to-do” column to the “doing” column and over to the “done” column when they are complete. It gives a nice scrum-style visual of what tasks are in the pipeline, what’s priority, and who is assigned to each.

We also use Toggl for time-tracking our hours spent on RYB. This provides us with a very transparent view of how much time everyone is spending on any given task, helping improve our team’s overall efficiency.

We use MailChimp for our e-newsletter mailing list. MailChimp is great for a startup because it is a free service up until you reach 2000 subscribers. We use it for keeping our early adopters and supporters in the loop on recent company developments or milestones.

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

You Are Not So Smart, by David McRaney. Although more classified as a psychology book, I highly recommend this book to entrepreneurs and business owners because it provides entertaining and down-to-earth information on why people say, think and act the way they do. In order to build a company around a product that people want to buy and use, it is important to understand people and what drives them. This book highlights all the reasons why people can’t accurately define reasons for their actions even though they think they can.

Three people we should follow on Twitter and why?

@RockYourBlock – I hear it’s this awesome startup company that helps teens find jobs!

@TechCocktail – They organize awesome tech startup events and publish news and articles relevant to the entrepreneurial community. Oh, and they had Rock Your Block as a Showcased Startup at their event down at SXSW 2012 where we launched our Beta.

@TECHdotMN – Only the best technology news creator and curator in Minnesota with an emphasis on the startup culture.

When was the last time you laughed out loud? What caused it?

The Oatmeal never fails to make me LOL, but this one got me several times pretty good throughout:

Who is your hero?

Sergey Bubka, the best pole vaulter of all-time. He was the first man to ever jump over 6.0 meters and the first and only man to ever jump over 20 feet (6.1 meters). As a former pole vaulter and current coach, Bubka had been a huge inspiration to me for over 11 years. His near-perfect form in the sport has been used by hundreds of coaches across the world as the model for optimizing your jump.

If you were to go back and re-do college, what would you do differently?

I think about this question a lot in regards to my chosen career path. Although my marketing major has been very useful to me as an entrepreneur, I often wish I had chosen finance and/or accounting instead. There are so many advantages to being financially savvy as an entrepreneur—making sound projections, managing and budging money when it comes in the door, etc. Many of these things I have been forced to learn hands-on anyway, but having a more formal base in the area would have been very valuable.

How do you stay sane?

Yoga. I am either teaching or taking a yoga class or 3 every day. I am naturally a high-strung, fast-paced person, so yoga has helped me slow down and calm down. Working out on a regular basis is so important for keeping you feeling great and keeping your mind at its sharpest, which is critical when operating under the crazy demands of an entrepreneurial lifestyle.


Rock Your Block’s Website:
Rock Your Block on Facebook:
Rock Your Block on LinkedIn:
Rock Your Block on Twitter: @RockYourBlock
Sarah Young on Twitter: @SrahSrahYoung