Disclaimer: The Transcript Is Auto Generated And May Contain Spelling And Grammar Errors
Matt:: 00:00 And music suffers as well. But talk to anyone who loves
making art, loves making music, and ask him the role that has played in their lives, and they’d
go, man, I don’t know what I’d be without it. So it seems to me like everyone should have it at
Tyler: 00:29 Hi welcome out to BizNinja Entrepreneur Radio. I’m your
host Tyler Jorgensen and today we’re going to be coming to you, all across the airwaves on
ABC News Radio as well as through podcast, wherever you tune in. And if you could do us a
favor, if you’re listening on the podcast to like, subscribe, share, and give your best friend to high
five, we’d greatly appreciate that. So today we have the honor and pleasure of talking with Matt
Ross. And even if you haven’t heard of Matt, you’ve probably heard of some of his businesses.
So Matt was one of the founders of the School of Rock and now is running the School of Paper
and Scissors, also known as One River School of Art and Design. Thanks for coming on the
Matt: 01:09 Thank you.
Tyler: 01:11 So you’ve got a pretty cool history and I think we could
start in the middle, at the beginning and that’s why did you start One River?
Matt: 01:20 It’s a great question. So when I left the School of Rock, we
sold it to a private equity firm. I stayed for a year and then I had time. And time allows you to
think a little bit about, in my case, what I wanted to do now I’m 50 years old, a pivotal time in my
life. Did I want to go back and be the CEO of another company? Did I wanted to sort of, maybe
untangle a new concept that was a little bit more stimulating to me and that was the direction I
went to? But it was greatly influenced by the fact that I spent 20 years in the media business
and I wasn’t really learning much more. And I went to get involved with the School of Rock and it
really changed me. I saw what creative education did for people and I’m a big proponent of
personal growth and development.
Matt: 02:05 I started to think, how come there are no cool art schools in
my neighborhood? And it was really that simple. The notion of me creating one location with a
good curriculum to make it fun and compelling for people to take art classes seemed like
something weird and something needed. That was it. And I jumped in and did some consulting
on the side. It took me a few years to really figure out that we had something.
Tyler: 02:33 So when most people think of the suburbs, they don’t think
that they are underserved. But when you think of art schools, they’re usually in the metropolitan,
like in the cities. So it’s kind of funny that the things that like arts, theater and things like that,
thrive in the city oftentimes aren’t prevalent in the suburbs. This is what you’ve discovered with
One River, right?
Matt: 02:56 Actually, I kind of learned that anecdotally through School
of Rock. So I would, you know, I ran radio stations in New York. I grew up in New York of a
rich family in the burbs. And every time I opened a School of Rock location, the suburbs, people
would tell me, saved my kid’s life. I’m like, wow, I’m just teaching them to play the rolling stones.
I don’t know what you mean. But then as my kids grew up and at a younger boy who was all in
on School of rock music and in college right now, I realized that we filled a vacuum. That
vacuum was for the people who aren’t all in on sports and wanted to do something different. Art,
visual artists, so misunderstood in America and most globally and all the cool museums right
here, One River is away from New Jersey. We don’t access them, all the cool art school and
some of the best around in the world.
Matt: 03:52 And I was thinking, Gosh, why is it? It’s because it’s not
convenient. Where we build our little families and lives around convenience we will not do things
if they’re inconvenient. So I’m like, that must be it. Let’s try it here. But this notion of suburbia
being the best for everything is not true. It’s a nice place to raise kids in a pretty predictable way.
And we raise a lot of kids who play soccer, basketball, football, baseball. So the other folks, my
guess is about 30% of the population that I’m motivated by doing creative things. If there’s no
great program, they just don’t do it. In most cases, there’s no great program.
Tyler: 04:38 Yeah. And you know, it’s fascinating. In our community, the
high school is building a massive STEM program. I was talking to somebody and they said,
man, it’s amazing. But they forgot that it’s supposed to be STEAM and they’re supposed to be A
Tyler: 04:53 I thought that was, as I was kind of reading up on you and
getting ready for this, I thought how interesting that is there is really starting to be almost, you
know, a memory gap in A, in a forgetting of the arts. It’s really a shame because you know,
people don’t always see it necessarily. I think today, people don’t necessarily see the utility in it.
But I think that’s a shame. So how are you? I mean, you’re obviously filling a gap for people who
want to pursue creativity. But you know, is there a challenge for the parents to understand the
investment in that and the cost?
Matt: 05:26 It’s a great question. I think that we as a member are really
tied to numbers. We’re really tied to prove. So science, math and vocational outcomes, you
know, proper planning when you sort of throw in like a painting class, most people go. that’s not
Matt: 05:51 At least that’s the way we are led to think. But the truth is,
that when people early as kids and you sort of tap into that other part of their brain which is
really about abstract and creative thinking, Problem-solving were in art making, you’re really
focusing on the core fundamental development things that drive brain growth, brain
development, abstract and spatial thinking that I think is a differentiator if you have those skills.
So to answer your question, at the very core, I think, since I’m a kid. I’m born in 61. I’ve never
once heard in my lifetime there’s an overabundance of art schools. I’ve never once heard that
there’s not a problem for funding for the arts. And music suffers as well. But talk to anyone who
loves making art, loves making music and ask him a role that’s played in their lives and their
happiness and they go, man, I don’t know what I’d be without it.
Matt: 06:54 So it seems to me like everyone should have it at some
level. If you want to be a professional artist, well you’re probably in the handful. You know, a
percentage of 1% just like. But it still stays with you forever and it’s part of your, I think it’s just
part of who you are. If you commit to it.
Tyler: 07:11 So you had the idea to do this. Why did you choose the
franchise model as a way to deploy it out into the market?
Matt: 07:17 That’s a good question. We own and operate units. We
also franchise as well. We’re not purely franchising. I think there’s a number of reasons from a
business strategy standpoint. You know, I opened the first school and I was the general
manager. Then I replaced myself with my right hand. I go. Okay, I’ll work on the business while
she works in the business.
Matt: 07:38 And then I just said, wow, she was successful doing it
without me. In fact, she was better than me as the general manager. Huh. Maybe we could do it
through other people who are disparate from us and in Portland, Oregon. That would be another
way for me to normalize the demand from art. So to what degree, right here, and I wasn’t going
to open a school of my own and Portland, Oregon because it just was too far from the
mothership. But what was, it would be a great way for me to test whether it was really pure
demand everywhere so I could accelerate growth on our operational execution, on marketing
our product, everything. If I can do it well through others, then I would know definitively that this
is a scalable business. One that you know we’re going to double down and grow fast. Our
franchise schools are doing great and our corporate owned schools are doing great too. It
comes with some different management challenges at times.
Matt: 08:36 But if you’re looking for a business opportunity in the arts
and want to change your community, this is a unique platform. I find that through the School of
Rock model, there were just people who came to me and said, my kids, play music. There’s
nothing here. Can I do this? And I think the same thing exists for art, for visual arts.
Tyler: 08:55 Yeah, it definitely seems that way. Now since you brought it
up and it’s what we wanted to talk about next is you have a history. You know, kind of going
backward now in your timeline where you were really involved in the School of Rock which a lot
of people don’t know that story. Maybe tell us, you know, briefly the story of how you got
involved in School of Rock. Where it started and where it ended up?
Matt: 09:17 In a few times.
Matt: 09:18 today. It’s a global chain with about 20 to 30 similar
schools. I’m still a Franchisee and I’m still a partner in that company.
Tyler: 09:24 Cool.
Matt: 09:25 2005 to 2010, I was a CEO formed franchise company and
launched it. So in effect, we’re the founding CEO of the School of Rock franchising business. It
helped that business grow from about five units to about 80 deals under contract in five years.
That was after a 20-year career managing media properties and at one point was senior
vice-president of the Clear channel in New York. And oversaw some of the biggest radio brands
in New York City. So I got about what School of Rock because the operator Paul Greene who
was in effect inspiration for the Jack Black character. He was an artist, super smart, very
compelling idea around how to build a culture of the music school. How to make it fun and
invented this performance-based music education curriculum.
Matt: 10:14 I was the guy running the business. So five years of doing
that taught me a whole lot and it was sort of on the job training to do what I’m doing now in
effect. There’s some similarities but a lot of differences relative to One River. But the very heart
of it, we operate a brick and mortar business and the creative education sites. I’m grateful for
everything that happened at the School of Rock. It’s been a great ride for me for the last 15
years doing this.
Tyler: 10:45 Awesome. Now you mentioned that you were at one point
in time managing some of the big flagship brands in New York City radio for Clear channel.
Managing those level of brands is a big deal because they get, there’s a lot of eyes or in this
case, ears on the brand. But as well as eyes on the branding and the image in the market. How
did that help you prepare to become a CEO?
Matt: 11:08 That’s a great question. So I came up through the sales
channel, sales, sales management. Then director sales for groups of stations. And then I got my
first opportunity to be a general manager. That was at the classic rock station in New York,
104.3, which is still the classic rock station. But along the way, the jobs that I was getting was to
go fix the broken radio stations. So inevitably if you’re the guy who sent to fix a broken division,
in effect, you have a lot more autonomy. I moved to Charlotte, North Carolina to fix some broken
stations. Then I moved to Atlanta. When I got back to New York, this was a station that just
changed to classic rock and it told me how that year to make it work. So that helped me and
along the way,
Matt: 11:57 by the way, I got an MBA, so I was also studying to be a
business leader. I read a lot and very much focused on personal growth and development. I
think inevitably my skills, which were proved out over time and then continue to be proved out
as I’m really good at building teams. I’m really good at creating a culture. I’m really good at
strategy and leading people and creating a collective sort of connection to a cause and a
mission. I’m also pretty good at knowing what I don’t do well. So hiring, you know, operators
around me, folks who stay on task, folks who compliment me and I’m quite schooled at how to
cast a team that sort of builds on my strengths. But also sort of reinforces or supports the things
that I’m not so good at. I think that’s a leadership quality of good CEOs as well.
Matt: 12:48 But inevitably CEO’s all about strategy, culture people
typically vision. And those are things that I’m naturally ascribed to you.
Tyler: 12:57 So you’ve been in radio and you mentioned classic rock
than you did school, you know School of Rock are you a classic rock guy? Is that one of your,
kinda your jam?
Matt: 13:08 Yeah, it’s a great question. I grew up in the hay day of what
I would call the best music ever. The music of this 60’s seventies, eighties was a mess. But
there was some good stuff. I grew up fanatically interested in rock and roll and classic rock. I go, I’m pretty well schooled in jazz and hip hop and everything. I was the head of sales and marketing for hot 97 in New York which is just legendary hip hop brand, you know. I produced summer jam at the giant stadium so I can throw down with some Tupac lyrics. But I could also sing every song the Beatles ever wrote and know my jazz pretty well. To some pretty much who studied musicology and a fan of so many different things.
Tyler: 13:55 What’s the number one group that you haven’t seen in
concert that you wish you had?
Matt: 14:01 That is a really great question. I’ve seen Led Zeppelin and
Pink Floyd. I of course never saw the Beatles. God, that’s amazing. You know what, it just hit me
so hard, Jimi Hendrix. I am a guy who grew up, you know, in this era of the guitar really mad.
Today, it’s sort of electronic driven, pop-driven and rhythmic driven. It’s not really about these
guitar heroes as much anymore. And 1969 Jimmy Hendrix was playing guitar. That’s still better
than anything I hear today and it’s 50 years ago. This is the 50th anniversary of Woodstock, by
the way. So yes, Hendrix, there you have it.
Tyler: 14:48 It’s a great one. Beautiful one.
Matt: 14:50 I’ve never been asked that question. That’s a cool
question. How has she spent 20 years in radio? You can imagine. I’ve seen a lot of concerts.
Tyler: 14:56 That’s what I figured. I knew it would be a harder one for
you then some. Now, you mentioned you went out and you got a MBA during your career, what
would you recommend those upcoming entrepreneurs or upcoming business people, is an MBA
worth the money and would you do it again?
Matt: 15:12 Well, I would depend on what your goals are. For me, I
was the guy. So I got my MBA at NYU and I got it, finance and that program. The building was
down like two blocks from Wall Street and 90% of the people that were looking to get a job at
Goldman Sachs or Merrill Lynch and I’m like this guy who’s selling radio advertising time.
People are like, what the hell are you doing here? And I’m like, I want to learn. So I was training
to be a generalist. I think if you are an entrepreneur and you’re not well schooled on finance,
you’re not well school on marketing and you’re just an engineer, you better get a great right
hand. In today’s world, so much of entrepreneurism is around technology and a widget, an app
or some code. Those folks need operators.
Matt: 16:06 And quite often they need strategists too. So I really
learned a lot. You know, Google brought in Eric Schmidt to run the business and without Eric
Schmidt, they probably, I don’t want to say they fail. They had the best code ever and the best
product ever. But I’m sure he was the guy at the table. I keep everything in order and so I highly
recommend education and invest anyone. Anyone as the sort of tenacity to fight their way
through it and the patience to fight their way through it and the overall self-awareness that they
don’t know everything there is to know.
Tyler: 16:44 Yeah. And I think that’s huge. I think no matter what, even
if it’s, you know, I did a similar thing. I went back and got my MBA. For the same thing, very
much for my own education, my own learning for networking purposes, less about the paper.
And so I think that you hit the nail on the head when you said it’s about what depending on what
your goals are and being self-aware. Right? Having, recognizing those things. Now you’ve done
a lot of amazing things, right? I mean you’ve, you’ve built this career. What is like one of your
major goals for the next, this next phase of life?
Matt: 17:16 You know, I’m writing a book right now and I started to
think about the main topics of. I’ll just share a little bit today, but you know, when you hit 50 and
I’m 58 now. If you are self-aware and I am, you start to think about life’s purpose differently. So
I’ve been successful. I’ve come through some really tough things in my childhood and
throughout my life. I have a son with complex autism and my parents broke up when I was a kid.
It was a really rough household. So I have them wired with grit and perseverance. But a lot of
the tools that I use to deal with my frustration, anxiety, all those things that you fight through
when you’re working hard and driven, they were not probably the right things to help me. Be
happy and healthy long term. So I’ve done a bit of an analysis as to what that’s going to be
Matt: 18:16 And I think this mission to bring visual arts to more people
across America as one piece. Continue to be a better person, father. I mean it sounds trite
maybe, but like it’s really important and to sort of give back more. I love mentoring. I hope over
time I’ve got some other platforms to mentor young artists and musicians. Also a business
books so I could see as things tick on forward for me. Maybe in my sixties. It’s really about
giving back knowledge, sharing and helping. I want to write a book and I’ve got a screenplay.
I’ve written poetry and I’ve written music. I’ve done all those things. But I’ve also been working
guy cause I’d never, I didn’t come from money, right? I can work with to get where I am. And
then at one point in time in my life, I hope I have time. Time is the enemy. Time to do some
things without being on the clock, all the time.
Tyler: 19:17 You know, it’s fascinating. You use a term that I really like
and you said that you’re wired with grit and tenacity. I think that most entrepreneurs are wired
that way, right? They’re wired to persevere. The wired to create when others would do
something else or given. The challenge with that a lot of us says entrepreneurs face is that,
means sometimes we don’t know how to switch from survival mode into thriving or contentment
even. Right? And just bask in the, in what we’ve created. So it sounds to me like you’re in that
kind of phase of saying, okay, I want to continue to create. But I want to also enjoy my creation
and be able to give back and enjoy the moment.
Matt: 19:58 100%. One thing that I’m blessed with is I’m not a
perfectionist. What do I mean by that? Everything doesn’t have to be done my way. I can
delegate, comfortable with other folks doing stuff. So as we grow over time, I hope to continue to
surround myself with people who could help operate, grow, manage, own a lot of the problems
and allow myself to maybe put some of my time and effort to other meaningful things. But then
you just have to do it. I have to find a date. Just say I’m changing matches, starting it next fall.
I’m going to work virtually from other locations in the winter next year for the first time. Because
of I, and it’d be good for me. I need to absolutely focus on your health and happiness and really
what you’re here for this purpose of life then, you know?
Tyler: 20:49 Yeah, absolutely.
Tyler: 20:50 Now, when was the first time that you realized maybe
you’re not just an employee? But you’re an entrepreneur.
Matt: 20:57 Yeah, you know it’s a great question. Because I
retrospectively have been an entrepreneur throughout my professional career.
Tyler: 21:10 Yeah.
Matt: 21:12 I didn’t have the risk associated with being an
entrepreneur. Of course, I always was connected to a paycheck.
Tyler: 21:19 Right.
Matt: 21:20 The School of Rock, it wasn’t my concept. But I was
building strategy and I always build a strategy from the ground up, new businesses, broken
businesses. So we really want to start on One River. I mean, at the end of the day it was an Aha
moment where I go. Wow, I have now the wherewithal, resources, time and genuity. Maybe this
is a misnomer about the 23-year-old entrepreneur. You know, I’m 50 and I have, I have so many
advantages matching Bill Belichick coaching even I sounds grandiose. I mean that’s,
Tyler: 21:54 That’s okay.
Matt: 21:55 That sounds pretty stupid. But let’s just say a seasoned
coach compared to a 23-year-old who’s given a head coaching job I like to season coach
chances. Do you know what I mean? It’s like a surgeon versus a rookie.
Tyler: 22:09 I think there’s a lot more that fall into the second camp. The
candidate you’re describing where the little bit more experienced before they take their first lead.
They may just not make the papers right there, not the headlines. They cause it’s not, it’s not
abnormal, right? They, by nature of its definition, the news is the things that are different than
what’s normal. So the big things that hit the headlines are those, the 23-year old that actually
was successful because he’s
Matt: 22:34 the unicorns, where there’s some code and it’s a $10 billion business that pre-revenue.
Tyler: 22:40 Yeah, yeah. You know, but you look at a lot of the other big
business that has recently sold for billions of dollars or billion plus dollars at like dollar shave
club where they had a young CEO. But they also had a team of sophisticated and wise financial
backers who had experience in time and wherewithal.
Tyler: 22:57 And so, you know, it’s, I think there’s a balance. And I think
when we find, to me, I think age is a little bit of a, it shouldn’t be as big of a concern. I think if
you’re 55 and you want to take your first big risks and swing for the fences, let’s go for it. Right? It’s nice you’ve got a bigger bench to fall back on. But you know what, I’m also okay with that 17-year-old who’s got a great idea and wants to go. And so I think it’s cool that, and I agree with you in listening to your story, a lot of what you did for the radio stations and for the things is you were very, what I call entrepreneurial reacted as an entrepreneur for that company to create massive change in progress. So I think that those traits were always inherent in you, which sounds really cool to hear about how it’s gone. For you, what would you say, you know, it sounds like you’ve already kind of said a little bit about the paintings of what you want to do with your life going forward.
Tyler: 23:45 What’s one major item, you know, either a major goal or a
major trip, something like that’s on your bucket list that you’re gonna accomplish in the next 12
Matt: 23:54 No. I think I want to bring this book further along. I have
been writing the book and it’s loosely about ’em working titles grow or fold. It really is about
midlife. And I have so many observations of people, friends, associates, where people are stuck
in the middle of their life. They don’t realize how young they are and how much opportunities
ahead of them. So it’s sort of the metaphor like a flower. It’s either growing or dying. I think, how
you feed your brain and your heart, your head, and your soul. So I think to finish that book and
also tying it back to investing in your creative side which is another aspect of this book that we
spend so much time focused on. You know, exercise and nutrition and mindfulness. Well, you
know what, what about that hardening brain wiring? How about getting it to think differently?
Because if you wanted to attack the world and solve different problems, it helps if that muscle is
strong. I’m a real big believer in the value of doing artistic things and not just kids. That’s why I’m
mentioning this. So I want to be an advocate for the arts because I think it’s part of the wellness
Tyler: 25:07 I think that’s huge. You know, I think, I was listening to a
podcast the other day from Freakonomics. We’ve talked about the fact that after 35 years old,
we are statistically very unlikely to take up too, like any kind of new music to and basically,
novelty or our desire for novelty dies by at that point. I think that getting into creative arts as a
way to keep that alive. So I hope that more people take you up on that and go to
oneriverschool.com and either find a school in their neighborhood or if there isn’t one, consider
starting. Yeah. So really appreciate coming out on the show, Matt. It’s been an absolute
pleasure chatting with you and getting to know a little bit about what you’re building. Congrats on everything.
Matt: 25:49 Thanks so much.
Tyler: 25:50 All right. Now thank you for tuning in to BizNinja
Entrepreneur Radio, it is your turn to go out and do something.
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