As part of my series about the “How Business Leaders Plan To Rebuild In The Post COVID Economy,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Jason Patel.
Jason Patel is the founder of Transizion, a college and career prep company focused on closing the Opportunity Divide in America. He and his team have helped thousands of students, professionals, and organizations navigate the changing landscape of education and work. Jason is a Brazilian Jiujitsu purple belt and former national boxer, and he brings his competitive spirit everywhere he goes.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
When I was a working student at the George Washington University, I served at the GW Career Center, where I fell in love with helping others navigate their futures and illuminate the shrouded path ahead. The idea of mentorship was imbued in my heart and awakened within me the love for providing valuable guidance. It’s a special thing to be a small part of someone’s life, irrespective of whether they remember your contribution. Each of us lives for only a short period of time, so there’s something captivating about using our limited time to contribute to the success of others.
After graduating from GW, I volunteered to help students in Washington, DC with their college and job applications. I showed them how to evaluate colleges, properly write essays, fill out applications, and choose a college major. A few of my students had roaring success with my approach, and their mothers recommended that I start a business on college and career prep. And so,
Transizion was born. Since then, we added dozens of team members to our company and guided students to thousands of college acceptances and millions of dollars in scholarship awards.
It’s been a wild ride. I love what I do and want to encourage more young people to pursue entrepreneurship. This is where one part of America’s spirit lives — in the hearts of young people who want to take on embedded industries and change their small part of the world.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
This one is funny…and tragic. When I first got started in business, I created a b2b solution that I thought organizations and schools really needed. I won’t get into what the solution was, but it’s safe to say that I spent a year developing the idea and implementation without once talking to customers.
Over the course of the year, we acquired only one customer, lost a lot of money, and gained almost no traction. It was a miserable year. I failed to read the market correctly because I did not talk to my prospective customers. If I had discussed with them from the start, they would have told me that my solution was completely unnecessary and impractical.
One entire year spent on an idea that didn’t go anywhere. That’s one year I will never get back. But, it was a valuable lesson. I learned that I need to talk to my customers all the time. Even if you have a successful product, you need to talk to your customers. If you have a billion-dollar enterprise, you still need to talk to your customers. They will give you advice and feedback that the best and brightest team members cannot provide, despite their best efforts.
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to, that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
Obstacle Is The Way by Ryan Holiday is an incredible book on stoicism, which I embrace. The book has changed my life for the better. It’s full of stories and accounts of prominent people, some businessmen, some athletes, some political leaders, and how they dealt with adversity. Holiday is a non-pretentious and straightforward writer, which makes the book a great tool to harken back to whenever the moment calls for it.
On the Shortness of Life by Lucius Annaeus Seneca is a book that is two thousand years old but one that effectively extols the virtues of stoicism and living in the moment, focusing on the matter at hand, and controlling one’s emotions and response to the hardest of times. Old book, sure, but he’s also quite direct. Readers looking for a classic work without the hard-to-understand jargon need not worry when reading this book.
These books have helped me mature and better deal with the tough times and dark nights that entrepreneurship has to offer. The books are digestible and plain-spoken, but, when reading the,, you need to be open-minded and consider changing your attitude.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven business” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
The vision back then, as it is now, is to help young people and professionals navigate the changing landscapes of work, education, and happiness. We could make a lot of money selling to only affluent audiences, but that’s not what gets me out of bed.
I want to help Americans from all walks of life cure their college- and career-related anxiety.
My goal is to do my part to close the Opportunity Divide in America, so that our country can get back on track. I’m going to play my role and do my job the best I can.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
My number one principle is to put aside the ego, adapt as adversity hits, and punch back twice as hard.
It’s not the strongest that survive. It’s those that can adapt that end up prospering. One must put aside the ego and self-delusions when making pivotal decisions. As such, toning down my ego and emphasizing adapting to the times, trends, and turbulences has helped me to continue to grow as a man and entrepreneur.
Once I’ve adapted, then I respond by punching back twice as hard. In more professional terms, it means that I commit to a goal and vision while remaining flexible on the details. When I do this, I’m going at full speed and stopping at nothing to achieve that goal.
Thank you for all that. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. For the benefit of empowering our readers, can you share with our readers a few of the personal and family related challenges you faced during this crisis? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
I had a loved one pass away due to Covid-19. His deterioration and funeral were both difficult to stomach. We could do nothing to help our loved one — the virus ravages its host with impunity. Now, I’m doing my best to help his wife and kids adapt to their new reality. From dropping off food to being someone they can talk to, I want to be present and stay attention to their needs.
Can you share a few of the biggest work related challenges you are facing during this pandemic? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
I’ve seen some disturbances in the consumer markets that give me alarm. Remember, I talk to all of my customers and prospective customers to learn more about their perspectives. We haven’t been existentially threatened, but our company, just as many others, are entering the mouth of the economic storm. The trouble has just begun. We’ve had deals put on hold because some customers’ financial situations have changed overnight.
To pre-empt and adapt to these pain points, we’ve offered new financing and subscription options to customers. This allows for greater financial flexibility while ensuring our business is cash-flow healthy.
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. What are a few ideas that you have used to offer support to your family and loved ones who were feeling anxious? Can you explain?
I try to communicate to my loved ones that the way we survive this storm is by being excellent to each other and doing our best with the tasks to which we’re assigned.
We cannot change how our federal government is acting. We cannot hold the Chinese government accountable for their carelessness. We cannot shift the winds of the economy.
What we can do is attend to our roles, both professional and personal, with excellence, perseverance, and concern for our fellow human beings. And when we’re feeling helpless, we focus on the next task that needs to be done.
It does us no good to worry about what we cannot control. Worrying is natural, but each of us needs to do our best to play our own role within the community, so that we can ride this storm out together.
Obviously we can’t know for certain what the Post-Covid economy will look like. But we can of course try our best to be prepared. We can reasonably assume that the Post-Covid economy will be a trying time for many people across the globe. Yet at the same time the Post-Covid growth can be a time of opportunity. Can you share a few of the opportunities that you anticipate in the Post-Covid economy?
I think private ,personal online learning is going to take off. Not only was the education industry’s momentum moving in this direction pre-Covid, but many of the necessary steps to contain the virus have crippled our school systems. Kids can’t go to class, and they are short on resources to help them navigate all the confusion.
It’s important to note that there won’t be one winner in online and remote learning — no one company will take all the market share, mainly because learning is, and should be, custom-tailored to each student’s needs and the medium through which a student learns best differs on the learner’s preferences.
In plain English, people will need a broad swath of tools, platforms, and types of people to help them with their education goals, be it planning for college, learning new skills, changing careers, and building specializing in a field.
How do you think the COVID pandemic might permanently change the way we behave, act or live?
Pre-Covid, the American people were losing faith in their institutions. Narcissistic politicians and rent-seeking corporations were brutally hollowing out our country’s cherished institutions.
This will likely accelerate post-Covid. Neither political party has shown the wherewithal nor vision that the country should fulfill, or, at least, attempt to fulfill. Thus, Americans have been turning to private solutions and online enterprises to serve their daily needs.
Although we’re an online business, I don’t think the reliance on online businesses is entirely a good thing. We need the government to work. We need a healthy level of competition to ensure that Google, Amazon, and Facebook are held accountable for the way they do business. Neither of these things are happening, and, as citizens, we stand to lose our country in the long term.
Sure, the changes in daily life may be to miniscule to notice, but, in 2030 or 2040, the institutional makeup of our nation will look different than it is today by an order of magnitude. That’s not a good thing. But, what’s worse is the permanent wave of apathy that will arise as Americans grow resigned to the incompetence of our government. It’s one thing for our institutions not to work; it’s entirely worse for Americans to stop caring about them.
Considering the potential challenges and opportunities in the Post-Covid economy, what do you personally plan to do to rebuild and grow your business or organization in the Post-Covid Economy?
We’re going to focus on online outreach and content creation through new channels. Search engines are great, but there are other platforms and channels, like YouTube, Pinterest, and voice search, that provide an opportunity for growth. I want to explore channels like these to not only acquire customers but also give potential customers another way to consume the information they need.
Similarly, what would you encourage others to do?
Do business in good faith. If you hold your dealings and conversations with others to a high standard, then we are giving our country a fighting chance to cultivate hope and prosperity in the long term. This will breed new leaders, ideas, and solutions that can put us back on track. Each of us needs to do our part.
The social fabric of the American entrepreneurship and business sectors is strong compared to that of the political and media sectors. As entrepreneurs, we can grow trust in our field and inspire young people and newcomers, both of whom will contribute to the comeback our country will make.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My father, a small business owner who came to this country as a broke immigrant, has always told me to “Work hard and be sincere. The hard work you put into your dreams is what matters.” The quote speaks for itself — my father came from poverty and taught himself how to run a business. I’ve seen him struggle and thrive. His story has imbued in me the notion that hope, hard work, and a genuine desire to push forward are the key ingredients to making something of yourself.
How can our readers further follow your work?