From his intense involvement in college to his life mantra of helping others succeed, Jerry has truly made an impact on the world, and he has no plans of stopping anytime soon. Empowering others is second nature to him, from joining Teach For America after graduation to non-hesitantly taking on the role as VP of his two childhood friends’ startup, Acceptd, during their initial year, Jerry has proven just this. “It comes down to execution,” he advised me during our interview. Keep reading to learn all that Jerry, and Acceptd, have accomplished since their beginnings!
- Entrepreneur Spotlight: Jerry Tsai (Vice President)
- Company: Acceptd www.getacceptd.com
- Founders: Derek Brown (CEO) & Don Hunter (President)
- Location: Columbus, OH
- Launch Date: February 2011
Acceptd was founded in 2011 by Derek Brown and Don Hunter. Both went to school together from junior high through college with Jerry as well. Derek and Don created the company for 4 main reasons. First, to help art students with entry into school (and then jobs, too). This includes the audition aspect or “pre-screening.” To explain, art students send in their work manually on CD’s usually, which makes the process of sorting through them both tedious and time-consuming for recruiters – Acceptd has automated the process through their online platform. The other 3 reasons are to help with scheduling, recruitment, and digital marketing.
In summary, Acceptd was “founded to better connect applicants with opportunity and streamline the recruiting and review process for visual and performing arts programs. [They] believe the right opportunity should be accessible to any applicant regardless of geography or socio-economic status.”
In a Q&A with The Columbus Dispatch, Don Hunter said: “we like to follow the Zappos model. If you call Zappos and you want to order a pizza, it doesn’t matter that they do shoes. They find a way to help you get pizza.” www.dispatch.com/content/stories/business/2014/01/19/serving-up-simpler-college-auditions.html
In the beginning, when it was just the two co-founders. They spent a few months working with three initial clients; University of Cincinnati, Ohio Northern, and Otterbein. They kept trying ideas and receiving as much feedback as possible. During the summer of 2011, they were “Acceptd” into the 10X Accelerator program at Ohio State University, Fisher College of Business. At 10X, they received mentorship, initial business development assistance, and a chance to pitch to a niche set of investors at the final Demo Day. And most importantly, they acquired seed funding of $575K from TechColumbus, NCT Ventures, and 3 private investors.
After finishing the accelerator program and showing traction through initial seed funding, a collaborative agreement between the founders and Jerry led to him joining the team as Vice President.
Today, the team is comprised of about 12 full-time employees and 4-5 part-time, with hopes of expanding to 20 by the end of 2016. Acceptd has nearly 600 clients and nearly 200,000 users. Their clients are 60% universities, including The Juilliard School, and 40% non-universities organizations (i.e., parades, marching bands, and festivals, etc.).
If that isn’t enough to incite you, get this: there is no other company that specifically focuses on all of the aspects of recruiting and reviewing for art schools and programs like Acceptd has been able to do!
Jerry attended school since junior high with two of his closest friends, the founders of Acceptd. After high school, all 3 friends went to University of Cincinnati together, where Jerry earned a B.S. in Political Science.
During college, Jerry took full advantage of every resource and program he could manage to get his hands on. He thrived in everything from Student Body President and other office positions in over 10 student organizations to participating in the Honors Scholars Program and acquiring a Business Certificate in Spanish. He was even awarded the “Presidential Leadership Medal of Excellence, the highest award bestowed upon an undergraduate student,” as one of only 3 students to receive it in his graduating class.
After graduation, he was admitted into Teach For America.
TEACH FOR AMERICA (TFA)
TFA is “one of the biggest players in educational reform, attracting nearly 20,000 top college graduates for 2,500 spots each year and reshaping the effort to help all students learn,” says US News. http://www.usnews.com/education/articles/2008/03/05/what-is-teach-for-america-really-like
Jerry’s brilliance and intuition to help others succeed led him to TFA, an obvious choice to accept for someone like him. During his time there, he taught 4th-graders in an underprivileged part of Las Vegas, then became the TFA Las Vegas region Development Associate for a year. He also received a Master of Education degree in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas as part of this program.
Then, he saw his childhood friends’ dream finally gaining traction…and funding! His calling came, it was time to join Derek and Don to help Acceptd grow and prosper.
“Find dreamers and help make their dreams come true.” -Jerry
This is one of many life mantras Jerry lives by. Whether it’s helping a 4th-grade student in a low socio-economic area of Las Vegas, a friend trying to succeed in the music industry, or a side project with a friend’s startup called Yokel, Jerry finds the time. All of that, in addition to taking on the role as Vice President of Acceptd.
To keep his goals in mind, Jerry uses an 8 x 11 sheet of paper and tracks them down to the specific attainment date, a process he’s been using since college. Jerry is constantly aware of his core values, life mantras, and future goals. He knows his purpose every single day and remembers to align his actions with that.
JERRY & ACCEPTD
At Acceptd, Jerry takes on multiple roles. His main task is growing the client base, which he and the team have done a phenomenal job of executing just under 600 clients in addition to the initial 3. However, being the Vice President not only means doing his own job but having a hand in any other aspect of the business deemed necessary. He also helps with hiring the right team members and manages the account relations team. Jerry pretty much helps out wherever he’s needed.
What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced working at a startup?
Getting all the resources you need, as in, time and talent, Jerry answered. He explained this and made it up during our interview, as G3 (G-cubed). G-cubed describes the 3 traits he looks for in a candidate, or the “personality recipe,” comprised of someone who is a “go-getter, game-changer, and good guy/gal.” Over the years, he’s started to see a pattern in those that perform well and fit in with the culture at Acceptd through this recipe: G3.
WORK CULTURE AT ACCEPTD
Although Jerry has A LOT of responsibilities, he doesn’t complain. This isn’t merely due to his ambitious and benevolent personality, but also, the talented team he surrounds himself with, the “G3“ kind of people (see above).
With every department from Sales and Account Relations to the Tech Support or Management, everyone is held accountable for their own work. The horizontal company structure below management serves for this purpose, to empower everyone that works at Acceptd. Jerry used the analogy of white water rafting to explain this, saying that every team member must “move their own water.”
Aside from working hard and taking full responsibility for their section of the business, employees truly enjoy the culture at Acceptd. During my visit to their workspace, the first thing I noticed was how everyone sat at the same table; it was a very open and collaborative workspace. Shortly after, I was introduced or greeted with smiles and jokes from every present member of the team.
Looking further, I saw an entire wall comprised of the first 30 clients Acceptd obtained. Then, the typical (but no less awesome) startup must-haves; a ping-pong table, hammock, standing desks, etc. In the conference room, they even have a puzzle laying around. Jerry said when their sitting waiting for meetings or on a conference call, it keeps them from getting bored and works their brain muscles too…we both kept getting distracted trying to match pieces of it together during the interview.
Some photos of their super cool office:
What’s your biggest piece of advice you could give to an aspiring entrepreneur?
“It comes down to execution. If you don’t execute on an idea, an idea will fall apart,” Jerry responded.
What’s your favorite part about working at Acceptd?
Jerry said he likes how every day he feels empowered and that he’s making an impact on the world. A life mantra of his is to make the world a better place by benefitting others, something that he’s been able to continuously accomplish at Acceptd.
What are some of your hobbies outside of work?
Jerry enjoys playing sand volleyball and other rec sports, CrossFit, traveling, volunteering at animal shelters, and learning how to play the drums.
What is your favorite book and why OR what book(s) would you recommend to aspiring entrepreneurs/ young professionals?
I tend to read a lot of leadership related books. It’s really important to me to invest in every member of our team and I find these types of books always give me ideas of how I can best serve my colleagues to help them achieve their goals and aspirations, both professional and personal.
What motivates you in your position at Acceptd?
He said mainly the sales side, as in getting a close, “winning,” and learning to make himself better.
What were you doing during college that possibly benefitted you now?
Jerry talked about how in college a large amount of impact you can have in just 3-4 years. He was leading others in groups, creating things, and taking full advantage of all of the resources his college had to offer. After graduation, those resources aren’t free and they aren’t easy to find, so utilize them while you can college readers!