Exploring the Value of Music & Mentorship with Care2Rock CEO Karyn Scott
Karyn Scott of Care2Rock inspires children in the foster care system with free music lessons and mentorship. By offering live online music lessons with advanced technology to the public for a reasonable fee, teachers are able to also volunteer for youth in foster care in their own communities. She combines this mentor-driven platform with outcome-focused music mentorship and her students are thriving. Her program helps foster care children set and reach goals while earning their own instrument and emotionally connecting with their teacher through a mutually appreciated subject—music. Find out why this advocate for children in the foster care system has a passion for social enterprise and how she’s combatting funding and scalability issues that sometimes plague social-impact programs.
fA: What's the big idea behind Care2Rock?
Karyn Scott: Care2Rock offers online music lessons for the general public, which gives us an opportunity to recruit teachers from across the country and give them a way to earn extra money. Our teachers also volunteer to teach a child in foster care, one child for a long period of time, so they can form a long-term, stable mentoring relationship. As an example, if we recruited a teacher in San Antonio, and they teach one child in their community that is in foster care, then even if that child gets transferred to another home the very same teacher continues to teach and have that relationship online through our platform. It's a great way of keeping kids in foster care connected while our teachers make money. Music teachers are underpaid and they don't have enough sources of income, so I think having a way for them to make money and crowdsource their volunteering efforts is really the best of both worlds. And if teachers can’t volunteer, we donate $2 from every lesson to a non-profit who helps kids in care succeed, so teachers can be a part of this no matter what.
fA: Who are your Clients?
Karyn: We have three clients: the teachers, anyone that wants to take a music lesson, and the kids in foster care. We did studies to see what our teachers thought was fair pay and what we needed to charge for our site to remain financially sustainable and grow. We are currently in beta mode, but are already adding teachers and customers to our platform.
fA: How did Care2Rock get started?
Karyn: As a juvenile prosecutor in Travis county, I saw so many children coming through juvenile court that were in foster care. I realized what a lack of community resources there were for those kids. They were great kids but they were just falling through the cracks because there wasn't anything outside of the court-mandated system for them. I volunteered as a court-appointed special advocate for kids in foster care. Then I left the D.A.’s office and started working with other attorneys who were working with musicians. Eventually, we started giving music lessons to kids in foster care and that’s how my free music mentorship program, Kids in a New Groove, was born. Kids in a New Groove was built organically and eventually became a program that was very outcome-driven. We had some great results and higher graduation rates than you see nationally. As the program went on, we gathered statistics that supported using music for positive outcomes in abused populations. I already knew from experience that mentorship was a great way to affect outcomes but when you took a specific kind of mentorship, which was essentially music therapy, it really had great results. I think it's because music is nonverbal and kids emotionally relate to it without having to talk about their problems. They could also get comfortable with their teacher on another level and then they were able to set and reach goals and earn their own instruments. Kids were earning their own keyboard or guitar and taking that with them as they moved around because they move so frequently. Earning and goal setting and the context of the mentor relationship became a powerful combination. Care2Rock evolved out of that as I realized that local nonprofits were not designed to scale. I went to Stanford's executive program for social entrepreneurs a couple years ago and that's when I really started to learn about the problems with nonprofits and why they don’t scale efficiently and how they can become more financially sustainable. There are others offering online music lessons but they are not socially impacting sites. We wanted to make sure that our platform was competitive in every way because we know that our customers’ main concern is going to be a quality music lesson for their child. Our model gives the teachers more money if they volunteer to mentor a child in foster care, but the extra $2 for the foster care lessons will be donated to one of our partners that help foster care kids.
fA: Are the lesson's recorded or live?
Karyn: Live. The idea is that parents who want convenient, high-quality lessons for their kids but don't have time to drive the kids to lessons can get all their needs met through our platform. They will work with high-quality teachers from Austin and other areas and we offer a range of instrument instruction, including guitar and piano. We also want to offer song writing because Austin has a real wealth of talent and it would be great to take song writing online.
fA: How do you fund your business?
Karyn: Care2Rock is part of the UnLtd USA incubator, which is a social enterprise incubator . We receive a small amount of seed funding but it's not enough to start a company or fund it long term. That small amount is used for web development. I’ve tried to keep costs down so I can self-fund it initially. With social enterprise, it's really important to achieve customer traction before you try to get funding. I'm trying to keep the infrastructure as small as possible to get the site launched and start building customers and then eventually we will seek funding. The goal with social enterprise is advancing a cause through impact. I think the route for successful social enterprise is for-profit. I've been in the nonprofit game long enough to know that it’s severely limited in its ability to scale. Although I started a thriving local program with Kids in a New Grove, there just aren’t enough wealthy donors around to take something like Kids in a New Groove and fund it successfully on a nationwide basis. You really have to find resources natural to your enterprise and find a way to make it financially sustainable so you can continue to work on that impact that you are trying to accomplish in a larger way.
fA: What traits are crucial to your success?
Karyn: One of my strengths is the ability to motivate people to support an idea. When we started Kids in a New Groove, it was a brand new concept, so getting people open to new ideas and younger people excited about an idea, has been critical. Without these young people being enthusiastic about what we are trying to achieve, I don't think we would have had the labor resources to get to the next level.
fA: What do you love about being an entrepreneur?
Karyn: I like starting things, seeing results and progress. I also like a challenge. I don't like working for someone else, but I guess mainly when I see kids from our program performing and I see their success, it drives me. I have relationships with kids throughout the years that are musicians in our community now, and it helps me remember what a great vision we have for making Care2Rock a success. It's not the profits, even though I have to be mindful of that. My driving force is the vision I have for these kids. I have seen the results and I'm excited to see if we can make that scale.
fA: What advice would you give an aspiring start up?
Karyn: Going into social enterprise, I would say look at the resources that you have and the impact that you want to achieve. See if you can figure out a way to talk to other entrepreneurs, including competitors, to figure out how to make your startup sustainable. I always tell people in the nonprofit space to talk to people who are already serving the client that they want to serve and by all means if someone is already doing it then don't start a nonprofit. If I didn't think that I could compete in this space then I wouldn't be trying. You just have to start doing it. I don't have a background in what I am doing. I'm just doing it. Years ago, when I was out of college I always had tons of ideas and one day, a woman who owned a hair salon in town told me that the only difference between me and all these people who have started all these businesses and companies is that they are actually doing it. That always stuck in my head. Start doing it and people will support you if it's in the right direction. If you fail that's good too because you can always start something else. My hope is that teachers who want to earn extra income and impact the world will want to teach on our platform, and that customers will want to take lessons on our site because we are playing an active role in improving kids’ lives who have very little access to music.