February 2, 2024
After winning $1.3 million in scholarships himself, Christopher Gray founded Scholly, an app that helps students easily find scholarships for college and graduates pay off their student debt. Scholly was featured on ABC’s Shark Tank, landing a deal with Daymond John and Lori Greiner and sparking the biggest fight in Shark Tank history. Scholly has over 5 million users and has helped students raise over 100 million dollars. In 2023, Scholly was acquired by leading education and student solutions company, Sallie Mae (NASDAQ: SLM).
Christopher has been featured in the New York Times, O Magazine, Huffington Post, Forbes, CNN, The Wall Street Journal, Fast Company, Cosmopolitan Magazine, and more. He also made the 2016 Forbes 30 Under 30 List for Social Entrepreneurship, making the top of the list. Christopher is also one of Oprah’s Inaugural Super Soul 100 honorees, Oprah’s list of her favorite people. He is also a recipient of the 2016 Smithsonian American Ingenuity Award.
Julian: Hey everyone, thank you so much for joining me today on Behind Company Lines. I interviewed Chris Gray, CEO and founder of Scholly. Chris infamously started the biggest fight on Shark Tank history with his company Scholly, which is a solution for students who are trying to find scholarships for college.
Chris and I sat down to talk about his early journey as an entrepreneur starting his company at 18, going through college and going through and actually competing on Shark Tank to earn investment from Daymond and Lori on the show and what that really meant for his company and how he took off from there.
Recently he had an acquisition, which we'll get into. We talk about the changes in education and also the need for universities to deliver better content that is more suited for what students need today. We go into a lot of different topics like investment and black ownership, and black entrepreneurship and what that success means to him. Hope you enjoy the video and thanks for joining us. First question right off the gate is, I always like to get into the mindset of a founder when things got real. When did the founder responsibility really hit you?
You built this company, started this idea. When did those responsibilities really wow, I, I run a team of people here.
So I think it from day one, I think that when I started Scholly I was in college, I was 23 years old and so I was still a student. I was graduating, trying to graduate high school, I mean, graduate college and do all and do that, in trying to start a company at the same time.
So that was something that was really unique. And I hired my first employee, what was my COO. He was in his forties. I was in my twenties. And our second employer was also Ned as well, my CMO. And and so it was a really interesting experience because I had to hire these people.
So we launched on Shark Tank.
Yeah, so we launched on Shark Tank, and we did get jammed, and while I was in college, so we, our first real day of launch was a ton of downloads, ton of revenue, just all at one time, with no one else, so we just had all this stuff happen at one time. So yeah, so I had my co founders.
Julian: What year what year in college were you?
Christopher: A senior. Senior year, okay, okay I was a senior and we um, I was a senior and then we just yeah, we just launched, it was, I was, it aired on February of 2015 and then I graduated June, in June.
Julian: Wow, it's incredible to think about from when it aired to you graduating, how different was college at that point in time, that transition, had people really caught on to the episode and really seeing the work behind what you've been doing all that time, I'm sure.
Christopher: Yeah, yeah, so it was different.
So my story starts, I mean, originally I won a million dollar scholarship to go to college. So so I, and I was in school, I was also very active and doing a bunch of things. So, I mean, a lot of people weren't really surprised. So really the problem with starting at Scholly, it really tied to my own personal journey.
And something that I, that I really wanted to do in terms of helping people. And it was so, so people really got it in the beginning. And my first investor, actually, I was a part of this thing called Dorm Room Fund when I first started. It was first, for the first round of capital, I was one of the first founding members and fell in love with Josh Kaufman, first round of capital.
And then actually three years into it, Josh Kaufman, the founder of First Round of Capital, was actually my first investor. Like he brought up, I had a 15 minute conversation with him. Talk about what I was doing, he wrote a 100k check. And that's also that a lot of people don't know this is actually how I got started.
People saw Shark Tank, but to actually start it was actually Josh Kaufman.
Julian: It's often, it's like those angel investors, those people who believe before the big, investment that really don't get the credit often. And it's, awesome to hear your story behind that. When you were going through building the business model, obviously you won these amazing scholarships and awards.
When did it click to you? Okay, I can figure a way to do this for other people. And then, where did the building start from there?
Christopher: I think that, so we started building like 2014. And I wanted to flesh the idea out. The other problem because originally I started it based on I was helping a lot of people and I realized that human myself I can't scale myself.
I don't have I'm not powered by AWS servers and whatnot So I really wanted to really create something that can leverage technology It was a time where this kind of gold rush in tech was happening. So really wanted to Find a way to leverage that. And I started building, right? So I actually built the first database using SQL.
I had to manually find the different scholarships and really just bare bones before recruiting my co founders. One of which Nick Pirello, I went to school with, the director with, and then another one of my co founders also won the same scholarship as me. So we were so we were just.
Just, we had been running out of the design that we need to build it, and I was a non technical fan for the most part, so I had to oh cool. And even though I was trying to teach myself how to code, I realized coding is something that fits a certain personality type. So yeah, so I started, so I know when I fleshed out the idea, realized that I'm not a coder I realized that I really wanted to make something, I wanted to make an app.
That's when I decided to build and I recruited my two co founders who are both are technical. And I was able to really build the thing.
Julian: It's amazing to hear that realization. You're like, okay, I'm not a coder, but I need other people, on my team to actually make this thing happen. And how did your mentality shift towards what you could do for the business?
When did that, I'm sure, Outward kind of emphasis, towards the responsibilities that you had to take on and really grow the business.
Christopher: I think really, I mean, I think when you aired on Shark Tank, we had, we were hitting like thousand hits on our site per second.
So we started the biggest fight in Shark Tank history, which started this huge viral moment of calling it wine, Twitter, everything, it's called X now, whatever. But, but, it's a, it's a lot just happening. So really understand like making that much money, having our team, it really puts it in perspective for me.
And really just I'm starting to grow a business then I think we got another small angel, some Kevin Plank CEO of Under Armour, Steve Case CEO of AOL, founder of AOL, so, these are really big people having these expectations being like, again, I'm the first in my family to go to college, right?
So, you And all this stuff is new to me and I've been, luckily having blessed to have friends who are there, but it's been a, definitely a journey. So, just really interested in running that, just running the business, learning how, setting KPI, setting goals, all the way around having people report to me who are twice my age at the time.
It's just definitely daunting. But I was able to surround myself with advisors and good mentors who were able to help me.
Julian: I was going to ask you, what helped you through that learning curve? Cause that's a lot to learn for any founder at any point.
Christopher: Yeah, I think that for me, yes. So lots of mentors including the people that worked for me, they were really good.
I mean, they also had financial upside for helping, for helping me mentor and make sure the business, that's why I hired a COO first, someone who had, obviously, how to operate, put processes in place.
And also I've been, because a lot of times it's, starting a startup, as a black entrepreneur, it's really daunting, especially next time.
I know when George Floyd happened, I was just like, oh, everyone's going to invest in black financial founders. And then I'm like, oh, okay. That stopped, right? And then now it's kind of like, we're back to normal market. And and when, and, and the thing is, you saw all these people raising friends and family around when their grandma, their dad gave them 30, 000 to start a company, right?
Or they don't have to take a salary for two years cause they can. Not have to not have to work, right? So, so, dealing with that was daunting, but I was but I was really able to move past that and, and really get to a point where I surround myself with the right team and have the right mentorship and luckily other founders who may have been privileged, Who recognize, that we have different backgrounds, but we're really able to give me the mentorship and advise and make the connections that I need.
And one of, actually my first angel investors, but actually the friend was the friend of one of my first employees as well.
How hard was it after you hit that incredible virality that all of us founders hope for at one point in time, how hard was it to recreate that similar type of energy to continue growing?
Christopher: We had a few viral moments. Shark Tank was all of the first one. Shark Tank was all of the first one. Then we were featured in, we were featured in number one, we were featured on the front page of the App Store three times. Like everyone in the App Store saw Skylar. And then we were and then the third time we had actually a random Tumblr post go viral.
Really? Yeah, it was random. What was it about? It was like some random person that actually posted. They post content that wasn't anything related to education, but decided that, Oh, this, they decided to one time post a content that was around Scholly. It was a screenshot of a U. S. city archives and no student helps help peers win scholarships.
And it went viral. We got 30, 40, 50, 000. That was just crazy. Right? So we had a few viral videos were really good. So, but really it's hard to replicate. It just happens and you just keep doing great work. But we did have a few moments that was great and different random interviews, different brand awareness, just things that happened at once.
When, you started growing Scholly obviously for, for those who don't know, you, you pay for the service of being able to access all these different opportunities, scholarships, a huge database, connected with a lot of partners, when you started really growing Scholly what was.
The objective of the business, was it to partner with institutions, find, a big donor backer, find somebody to just fund it and, create a better algorithm? What was, the objective there?
Christopher: So one, Scholly is now free. And that, so that's, that's first. That was last year, right? Yeah. Yep. Last year. And we have three lines of business. We have our scholarship. Man, we have our scholarship management service which we have managed scholarships from Amazon, Google Amazon, Google, Netflix, and a bunch of other brands.
Then we have our other line of business called Scholly Offers and that's our affiliate, and we like, we incentivize people to do scholarship and things to take a look at our affiliates, so that's what we really made money in the past few years that way, before transitioning to make the app free.
Yeah, and the app. It's in the goal of the app is to outside of the scholarship that we manage, we give out millions of year actually directly to scholarships. We manage a scholar's own funds but we are able to then, but also we're able to really be able to like, really have been able to really scale the vision.
And I know we're going to talk about acquisition later, but being able to scale the business, make the right and be able to like help as many people as we can. And actually using that on the back end to make sure that we're helping the students who are immediately in need. And who are and who are just active.
Julian: Thinking about the process of scholarships, you, you talk about the management part and you hear all the time, how many, how much money goes, unused from scholarships. I feel like that's, when money goes unspent in my mind is like mechanically, it's Oh, it's not a bad thing.
But what is, behind these institutions or scholarships, whereas they want to actually have students. Earn these scholarships, use this money to go off to college. How are they mismanaging it? And why is it bad that this money goes unused or unspent?
Christopher: So the thing is, so last year only around like actually a little note, 2022 about only 41 percent of people that qualify for scholarship was applied.
So meaning the 41 people that applied, right? So part of the reason why it's unclaimed is people are, people just are not applying for them. They don't know they exist, and on the big screen, they don't know they exist, right? So that was a big gap that we were trying, we've been trying to solve is that making people think they qualify, making sure people understand merit scholarship exists, all the, just being, it being scattered all over the place.
So filling that gap, I mean, so there are hundreds of millions of dollars that go unclaimed because students don't know they exist. And that's been like basically not my region. So. Really that's really the main way people believe in the existence. People, they think they don't qualify for them.
People don't understand the financial aid process. Scholarships just being hard, hard to find. And then also just a lot of people just having this. New ones believe that scholarships are only for people that are going into college. People don't think that you can apply for scholarship while you're currently in college.
They, so they just go and take out the loan, do the student loan route, which amplifies their student debt and just make, and just makes things bad all across the board.
Julian: Yeah. And for the. People offering scholarships to institutions or companies or organizations. What's their incentive to actually give individuals money to go through college or, become maybe in a certain career path? What's their incentive?
Christopher: So it depends. Some, some companies just simply want to give back. I got a lot of scholarships like the Gates Millennium Scholarship, Coca Cola, Walmart, any brand you can think of probably got it. And I think that for those organizations, they're strictly based on impact.
You have some scholars that are, that are trying to find people they want to recruit for their companies to work for them. You have scholarships that are that are really tailored to getting ideas around essays, business products. You have some scholarships that specifically want to impact a certain demographic, like people that have disabilities, people that are foster youth, and all those things.
Yeah, and so they all have different purposes, and they all want to target very specific people who do certain things. You have different scholars for nursing, different scholars for schools. So yeah, so being so a lot of them are really trying to basically like just help individual individual demographics who are looking for that money, but ultimately the overall goal is impact, but some of them there are business cases around it where in terms of brand awareness and.
We even have certain Netflix created a scholarship to support a show, right? To help promote a show. So there are lots of ways, and we pride ourselves that at Scholly. We were able, we have been able to really take money that would have went to marketing and other things and really convert it to scholarship dollars, so, and really help a lot of people.
So that's been something that we've been really proud of.
Julian: Yeah, that's interesting with the Netflix scholarship to promote a show. What other interesting scholarships have you seen? I'm sure you've seen a bunch, being that you've earned a bunch that, you didn't think would, be something that would be out there ended up being true?
Christopher: I think that, a lot of the scholarships I got, I didn't, at the time, I didn't, I thought the Gates Scholarship, I didn't know a lot of them existed. Coca Cola, Walmart, I mean, at the time, 18, that was, something, being the first in my family to go to college. Not coming from the best school system where I think only like 15 percent of people go to college or don't complete it.
So I think that that was, all of it was new to me, right? But I didn't realize how much was available. There was just so much money. And some of the scholarships told me, I got, I got a million dollars, which is like a lie. I got some of them, but the thing in Lowe's, I think I got Lowe's, there was Dale.
I got so many. I have a Mac, but you know, that's not here or there. I got 5, 000, 10, 000, 20, 000, 30, 000, you can, all you can name. But I think the thing is, I think that overall. Getting some of those awards and being exposed to that really helped me start Scholly because when I went from a place of struggle of trying to just do my own thing and trying to maximize my own awards, to really understand that this is a seismic problem in an industry and being able to find, being able to want to be the conduit and also a case study on helping people.
Get that money, understand that.
Julian: Yeah. I mean, in reflection, you started it so young. Did you always know you were going to be a founder? Or, along the way, did somebody push you, say, Hey, you should pursue this, don't stop this idea and continue it? Was it internal? Was it external?
Christopher: I think it was internal.
I mean, I've overcome pretty much anything you can name without going too much. So it was definitely internal. I think ambition, my ambition was pretty innate. And being able to overcome a lot of things and being able to persevere to one, overcome poverty, I'm a black gay man being able to build a company and being one of the only very few handful of black entrepreneurs that, were able to sell their company to a, actually a major company like that's doesn't happen at all.
So, so really proud of those things and hopefully can, that can be an example to others to be able to who are able to do the same as well.
Julian: Yeah, obviously we want to go into the acquisition, but hold that off for a little bit longer. The idea behind, diverse entrepreneurs, I think really became popular within the last maybe five years, I think, in terms of funding and maybe a little bit longer, six years.
I would say 2018 was the height and then, like you said, it normalized. How much do you see other, I see a lot of micro VCs popping up. I see a lot of different. Accelerators, incubators. Are those exciting to you with what they'll actually drive in terms of the change of having just a more diverse cohort and really just more people to solve more problems?
Christopher: Yeah. So I would say that, that what you're describing all the back three years, three, maybe four being generous in terms of the high, it was 2020, George Floyd. The spike in support of black people is cool, support of minority is cool, support of non women. Then, versus me too, women, people just think we suddenly matter now and it's just crazy.
So, yeah, so that was about two years and two, three years and now toward the end of last year and starting this year, you're seeing people, a whole attack on diversity and inclusion, right, where they're trying to make it illegal to have funds and Do you have any dollars allocated specifically to support a specific minority?
So, I think that times are changing, right? And it's just something that we have to think about. It's something that we have to really fight and show, and show results. So I do think some of the a lot of these D& I initiatives are performative. Some are meaningful, but a lot of them are performative.
It's oh, hey, we're gonna, we're gonna make this. 5 million commitment to this university or this thing. But our percentage of black people we ever hired doesn't change. So it's like, it's Oh yeah, we're going to do this tech startup, but we're not actually going to hire. We're going to, we're going to sponsor all these events, but you know, we're not going to hire you.
Right. Like we're just not doing that. So, and I have a lot of big tech companies, so it's, some of them are effective and some of them are not.
Julian: Yeah. Who do you think is doing a good job?
Christopher: What do you think is doing a good job? One thing a good job is Google's trying harder than the others. They have a lot of initiative.
They're trying, even though they're Everyone's been getting into laying off a lot of DNI people from the recruiting side, but in terms of initiative and funding, that's something that they have done. And I think that, some others who have done well, Amazon Amazon tries to do well.
I think, there's a lot that's there and they've kept their commitment steady. You haven't seen them sunset. Apple has done a good job. I know they've actually are LPs and a lot of black fund managers. So that's something that people don't know. So they're LPs in those funds.
So helping a lot of black fund managers grant me money and be able to invest, who are specifically focused on investing in diverse founders. But Amazon and Google have accelerators. Apple has the Black Founders Developer Program, so there are a lot of people, and I've heard people go through those programs and actually see, and those sellers, and I see that they're super beneficial to what they're doing.
Shifting gears and focusing on the business, what was a pivotal moment for, you as a founder to add these different business lines and really accelerate the growth of the company? As we all know, when you're testing things out, it's hard to sacrifice time on, one service or product and, and, just lose those resources.
What was the pivotal moment to really start expanding and being pulled towards these different? Products that essentially helped your business grow to, the, the recent acquisition.
Christopher: I think that, understanding that our business model had to evolve over the over the times, right?
The, the pay model wasn't the best but it kept the lights on and, but we have other ways to make money that really helped the company grow. And I think that so expanding new lines of business was really important for growth, but also we found that use that app type for and that was something that was really, really important to us.
But I'm really still finding the right business model. It took time. When I was starting school, I knew what CAC was and all these other things and, LTV and all these other things, so I've been learning that on the fly. So, understanding all that stuff now has been really, it's been really helpful, but but overall it's been Yeah, it's just learning, learning the right bismuth, how to write bismuth from the start at the reset.
Definitely was something that I wish I could, I'm happy I made the, I hope I'll be able to do that going forward with any other company I start.
Julian: Yeah, yeah.
Leading up to, being acquired by Sallie Mae and, and, What was the process and just understanding the potential of the opportunities around you?
Was it the only one? Were there many? How did you go through that process?
Christopher: There were a few, few fintechs that, that one of some of our partners but yeah, it's probably May, that process started last March. So about six months before it closed. It was probably a little longer. I mean, we were able to benefit from unique economics, like not raising a lot of unrisked market decay for Scholly.
So that was. A big thing being able to have control over the exit and being able to have control of that decision to exit. That was really important. And have a really great outcome for the founders and my early employees in my team. And then there is and then we closed on last July, July 24th, and then we're going to announce the deal.
And then it was just an amazing experience. Being able to sell your company bittersweet, which you can probably elaborate on later, but yeah, very bittersweet, like thinking about. Everything you have to go through, getting to an exit, hiring the right people, and getting to the other side.
Julian: I'm curious because, Sally Mae has had a interesting reputation both from business perspective, even as a student myself, and hearing the reputation going into college, it's a little daunting because of, of how much, I don't know how to say power, but essentially they just have a lot of ownership in, the student loan debt.
What was, did you consider that reputation going into the acquisition? Did that deter you at all? Did you have to go through an extra process?
Christopher: I'm curious. I mean, yes, it's something that we initially had a negative reaction to. And, but I think that over time, we realized that Scala can be the face that changes that.
Meeting with their CEO, John Witter, was important. And on a meeting with their CEO, understanding their vision for the company, as we become an education solutions company, is something that I, that I resonated with, and something that I really, really wanted to and I have something I really, really wanted to yeah, just support.
So that, so with that, so just really supporting that vision. So being now Scholly by Sally, that has, they made the app free, it would help more people and I can't take everything we're doing right now. But I think they're going to be more acquisition on the horizon. I think they're going to be more more impact on the horizon and just being able to work with a lot of organizations and being able to achieve the impact.
Julian: Yeah. It's a smaller show. You can, you can give us breaking news here. It's okay. When thinking about that relationship now as, as a founder, I mean, it's amazing to have, I think, as a person of color myself, having a big name behind anything you do that. Acknowledgement, that achievement, that accreditation, it speaks volumes, especially for future opportunities and even the growth to your own company.
What does that really meant to you to be like, my company was acquired by Sally Mae. It was so valuable that this larger company had to have it.
Christopher: It feels great. And I wish we could announce the amount and everything. It's amazing. It's I mean, as a founder, I've been great. I did take my first vacation.
I've been able to live, I mean, be able to live a lifestyle that I've worked very long very hard for and support people I want to support and do the things I want to do. And, I think that, being, I'm contractually retained for two. So 2025. But technically after that, I don't have to work.
So that's, that's, that's a good, that's a good place to be in when you, your first family go to college and all that stuff. But yeah, it's a, it's been great. And then again, a lot of Black families don't have exits at all. So, especially for big companies, right. So, so I think that being able to do that was.
And something that's powerful and just being recognized the brand again, creating something that someone wants to buy is always powerful. Especially when they acquired our entire team, 51 people, it was just a lot of benefit to that and really retaining, protecting my employees in a market that was really bad.
The market was just trapped and it's maybe quite arguably still there with all these layoffs, but that was really helpful. It was really good to just be able to have that.
Julian: Yeah, I mean, I was gonna say, a lot of rare acquisitions last year, and even now, I mean, the purse is so tight on, on venture capital and on private equity side, and, and so it's exciting to see a company delivering, solid outcomes being acquired by a large company, especially in these circumstances.
And so Obviously, that, like you said, gave you the ability to make the app free. How exciting was that achievement to just really, as a milestone, be able to offer what you've always been wanting to these services, for now free, being that you've created all these other business lines? What does that mean to you?
Christopher: Oh, it's been great. That's because it makes the scholars start to app free. And I was in my dream, right? I wanted to be successful. I wanted to find the right business model. It took a learning curve for me to understand business and business models and unit economics and what it takes to do marketing, all this stuff.
I'm, I'm a contributor from Birmingham, Alabama. So it definitely took time, but once I was able to do that and I finally got into that model, it was really good. And just able to scale those learnings and be able to help and just be able to, I mean, build the right business and ultimately get it to an exit.
And then yeah, so it's just been, it was great.
Julian: So, yeah. Do you still get recognized for being on Shark Tank?
Christopher: We actually have a Shark Tank coming up, actually. Shark Tank update coming up in a few months. Oh, well done! And then in December we have an Asha Weir update. Yeah, Shark Tank update.
That's all the acquisitions and everything.
Julian: I'm excited! I'm excited to see. How has that relationship, did you actually have, the ability to get mentorship from Daymond and it wasn't Barbara, it was Lori, Lori. Lori, I always forget her name for some reason. Yeah, yeah. Did you actually, were you able to get some mentorship from them?
Christopher: Yeah, there's a lot, and even to this day, with the deal business development, it's a ton of different stuff.
Julian: What were some tips? I mean, obviously, we go to the show to hear their expertise and advice, but you got it first hand.
Christopher: Yeah, branding I think that use acquisition distribution be able to use their likeness to rediscuss acquisition costs, use acquisition costs, that's been great.
Yeah, and being, yeah, that's been a huge thing. And then and then, yeah, and just, even though they were in CPG brands, mostly, they were able to make some good connections. Like Damon, I'm back a month after Sharky, I was at the White House, doing our bond ministry. So that was really cool. The showing up and just being advised and just being, extras with the capital to the ears.
And, and I think being able to make a lot of business development connection, that would have been really hard for us to make on our own.
Julian: Yeah. Yeah. I was going to say that. Having them, I'm sure, was a huge door opener. But in terms of advice that you would give another founder, something that you've learned from them through this experience, what's something that you would share with someone?
Christopher: I would say that, depending on who you are, be persistent. It's fine. Make sure you start off with the right business model from the start. I think that surround yourself with people that compliment your compliment your personalities. Make sure you don't hire the wrong people. Take your time in the beginning.
Make sure that they're the right people because one of the most expensive startups is hiring the wrong people. Right? And and really being able to then also just being able to understand the ups and downs in entrepreneurship. I think a lot of people look at TechCrunch, a lot of people look at even a Scholly Acquisition.
They look at these things and they think, oh, if they romanticize entrepreneurship and realize that it's fucking hard and it always will be hard. So I think being able to understand and be realistic with that is something that I try to encourage entrepreneurs to do because I see a lot of entrepreneurs of color and even students come into that way, into the space with this blind, Blind gleefulness and bliss that thinking that things are much easier than they actually are.
Julian: Yeah. Yeah. I hear that. I see that all the time. Especially with young entrepreneurs, but I mean, it's the name of the game and you, you cut your teeth for that exact reason.
I would like to ask founders, what was the time you felt fear running the business and how did you get out of it?
Christopher: Fear I mean, fear running, trying to raise capital originally. Yes, it was really hard and that's why I just focused on Gato Shark Tank. Made the company profitable. That was really it. So that was, that was a big fear. Profitability, the pressures getting through that. And being on a national TV show where people were hanging, walking in the street.
I was like, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry. That's still a thing. And that has been really, that's been really good. But yeah, but that's been it.
Julian: Yeah. Yeah. Thinking about actually now you'll have a little bit more time and space to really think about the next objective in your career. Where does Chris go from here?
Christopher: I think I'm gonna focus on my work in selling, also angel investing, amazing some things on the side, but I really think. So self reflection is good. Thinking about what management, thinking about those things, but we're going to do a lot with this, and it's a lot going to be good.
And I'm also into the AI space. And then that's something that I really just really enjoyed. And starting to build a new consumer facing products that. Just change the narrative of AI, that's something I want to do. But right now, focus on the company, focus on selling me, focus on Schollyng those efforts underneath them.
Julian: Yeah, you touched on AI, it's interesting because I was just watching a press release from the Argentinian president, prime minister, I can't remember. And essentially, it was talking about, their global economic situation, how they're going to change everything. But it was in English, in his own accent.
Using AI, which I thought was just absolutely incredible. And it just sparked all this curiosity. When you talk about this negative perception, what do you mean?
Christopher: I mean, people think AI is going to take jobs, right? Take their jobs. And I think all of these layoffs are extra exacerbating people. Like people think they're going to take a job and people think it is, all these layoffs and quote unquote downsizing are Like just real A.
I. s replacing work, workforces, A. I. s replacing people's like operating models and just, I think it's probably going to get worse, unfortunately.
Julian: Yeah. Yeah.
You're coming from, you said you came from a it was a small town, right? You said Alabama. Birmingham, Alabama. Wow. It's a famous town. Do people, I guess, now I feel like Alabama has grown a tech scene, when you, I guess you were growing your company at the time, was it hard for them to understand what you were doing and how you were doing it?
Christopher: At the time, yes. Yeah. Yeah. Absolutely.
Julian: How much more are, are they receptive to your advice now that things have kind
Christopher: now it could be successful, but they're receptive to financials, so yeah, but not, but not.
Julian: Yeah, I have the same experience when I go back home sometimes. Thinking about, all this time in your career, if you weren't working on Scholly what would you have been doing?
Christopher: Out and banging. A little bit of banging. Yeah, I love, I love fairing creative ways to make money. Yeah. Yeah. And I, and I'm competitive, so I think it would've fit me in that shape, , at least on a high level.
Julian: Yeah. I'm sure obviously as founders you have very sparing time. If you were to recommend a couple books to people, things that really have influenced and impact, maybe the way you think, strategy, the way you feel, changing mentality in times where it's hard, what are two books?
That have really lasted the test of time in your shelf?
Christopher: First of all, I have my own book called Go Where There's No Path, by Christopher Gray, that's number one. Something else, I I have a book called Black Fortunes. There is a, another book called Good to Great the only startup is a good book.
And those are some of the, those are some of the, those are some of the ones I immediately would just I would, I would refer people to if you want to get started, right? There are other books, like More Above the Snowfall, that book I think is big, oh damn, the biggest goblet of fire, Harry Potter, the Goblet of Fire, so yeah, so that's yeah, so those are the kind of books I would recommend.
Julian: yeah. What do you think I feel like as we're in our own little world, worlds and different industries and things like that. What would you like to see as a change, in, in at least, the, the whole tech landscape startups. For me, for instance, I'd like to see a lot more just like honest reflection of, of teams and sizes.
And I feel like it gets a little bit inflated and we see just a lack of quality nowadays. What about? Companies and startups that you're seeing now, what would you like for it to change or improve?
Christopher: I think that the market has changed right now, and I think, the bar is higher for startups, but it's causing a lot of startups to have a hard time raising capital.
So they'll have a hard time getting to those milestones that will qualify them for a raise. I can't raise capital to get to the tracking while I can't raise the pre seed. You want me to give up 30 percent when I come to their pre seed and another 20 30 percent at seed? That sort of thing is happening.
So I think that, companies putting their head down and being prepared. It's something that, that I'd recommend and then adjusting to just a new market and investing landscape. Cause it's new. And I think for people of color, the George Floyd movement spoiled a lot of people. These founders, they raised money cause it was free.
And then now they're like, Oh my God, I don't know what's going on, I did this, this, they all, they, this is their first time dealing with the times changing. All right. Right. They have a lot of zombie companies because of that. They're just they're there if they exist.
Julian: Yeah. I mean, yeah. There's a lot of companies, in my opinion, that should not have raised capital or didn't have a reason to or they're trying to talk to founders. I'm like, I don't think you should be doing that. I don't see the benefit. Would you have, if, things didn't work out with Sharknado?
Christopher: The problem they're trying to solve is that, they, it's ego. They want to feel like, I raised more, I did this, I did that. Then they don't talk about how much revenue they have or how much they've diluted themselves. They don't talk about that.
Julian: Yeah, that's not fun to talk about. But in terms of, I lost my train of thought. I have it. I'm finding the train. When you you mentioned about the skeleton or zombie companies, for instance, how has I've liked it because I see a lot more businesses delivering really good products, and like I'm a big fan of bootstrap companies who are really like, taking the small amounts here and there from angel investors or whatnot.
How do you think it's improved the quality of the company?
Christopher: I think the quality of the companies has really improved because they've, they went back to fundamentals. And when, when people were raising money on steroids, it was just raising money. I'm going to burn 7 million and make 2 million, right?
And just pour money on Facebook ads and all that stuff and it's just not stable. Now the market has shifted to make people more responsible. So I think that while this market is rough, it's going to It's going to be like another 2006 to where Google was started and all their companies. And I think that when they hit its peak again, these companies are going to be the leaders because they finally have went back to the basics.
You want to come to the goal to be profitable. As quickly as possible, not grow at all, not grow super fast, but be profitable fast, but not grow super fast. And I think that's the muscle that that a lot of Founders didn't have, and I think that they're going to develop that now because of these experiences and how investors are moving and engaging with founders right now.
But it's going to make the quality better because people focus on profit and focus on cost rather than a founder spending 90 percent trying to raise capital for their idea and spending 90 percent of their time getting customers. That's a net, that's a net positive, and it actually is a better look for investors.
Julian: Yeah, I don't know if you've heard of the trend of A lot of, I was talking to my partner about this, the old American dream was to come to America and make it big. The new American dream is to leave America. Where do you think, I guess as a country, we can be reinvesting into like culture, maybe.
I mean, me, for me, it's an education problem. It's just, there's not enough money going into education. People are not getting the resources that I can access. And then people, unfortunately, just have less. Ability, skills and things like that. Where do you think as a country, we can start reinvesting into what actually would be successful long term and, Whether it's business, whether it's education, something else.
Christopher: I think all of the above, right? I think that the government should put a cap on what college is going to charge. Or college needs to really justify the reason why they're raising tuition and things like that, or forcing kids to stay in a room on board for two years, right? It's just things like that, just profit.
And I think that we're going to, university and things are going to move into a skill based assessment model to where people are like, you're seeing jobs in our current degrees and why are they, they're putting more merit and placement on more merit and weight on skills. So I think being able to know how to do the job is going to trump.
Being able to just say I went to this school, et cetera. So I think that it's going to move to just make, I think we're going to start seeing, hard advances. I believe all this stuff have much more open because it just, everything's in there. So that's what I
Yeah, when I was, going to college, I was like, the reason I'm going, honestly, is to get the receipt that said, I've been here, I've done that, and then open some doors for me, really is how I viewed it.
And so for, for my, for my siblings, they're younger than me, I'm having a harder way to convince them in the importance of it. Right now, I'm like, it's really a way to learn and hone skills in an environment that's a softer entrance into real life. And if you can do it, great.
What, is your, I guess, advice for people considering college, or, all these students?
What's the purpose of college for you now?
Christopher: I think that, I think colleges have hundreds of millions of dollars in endowments. They're not going anywhere. But I think they will repurpose their content to be You know, to be skills based at least offer that as an option. I think college is important because especially first generation students, it puts them in a different environment.
And that environment has waves and waves of impact there. So I think that being in an environment where you're surrounded by like a amount of people, you're away from violence, all that stuff, and you have that sense of agency and those formative days of your life where you grow up, I think all of that's really important.
And I think that college will remain relevant. And I think that's really important because I do believe that education is about to be democratized where you can learn a lot of things and it's not in colleges in order to compete or have to lower their prices or have unique offerings that, ultimately they'll be forced to lower the cost of education with just the way regulation plus the idea of these AI learns, like our skills trainer that you know, that we want to that we want to launch eventually and all the stuff that like we're in.
That other companies want to learn, like helping people, helping students learn skills and all that stuff. Those are things that those are things that we're going to those are things that we're going to do. But I think college is going to, I think the concept of college is going to evolve. And I doubt that, that ideally it would be less less expensive.
Julian: Yeah, what was like a culture shock moment for you in college?
Christopher: Coming from the south and going to Philadelphia, that was a huge moment for me. Diversity, all this stuff, yeah, that was the biggest thing.
Julian: yeah. For me it was how dirty people were. I was just like, I can't believe people live like this.
Where are you from? I'm from Sonoma County, which is wine country. If you know, if California. Yeah.
And we're all from there. We're all there. So going to college and just seeing a whole different Unparented behavior of people is crazy. We were pretty strict where I'm from. But Chris, it's been an amazing pleasure to, pick your brain on business, really walk through your story and touch on some different, I think really important and relevant things that a lot of people are really just becoming a little bit more aware of, whether it's education, whether it's, the economy, building business.
Last little bit, where can we find you? Where can we be a part of Chris and his journey as an audience?
Christopher: I'm on LinkedIn, Christopher J. Gray, look up Chris J. Gray Scholar. You'll find me. My Instagram is C J G R A Y 9 1 that's my IG. I know that you can reach out to me.
Julian: Amazing. All right, Chris, it's been such a pleasure. Thanks for being on the show. Appreciate
Christopher: Thank you. All right.