Giant Robots Smashing Into Other Giant Robots

413: The Takeoff Institute with Brian Hollins

March 3rd, 2022

Brian Hollins is the Founder of the Takeoff Institute and Founding Managing Partner of Collide Capital. The Takeoff Institute is focused on equipping Black undergrads with the resources and mentorship they need to build a young professional career.

Chad talks with Brian about providing students with necessary skills like etiquette and polish to break into Tesla and McKinsey-level companies and facilitating facetime, communication, and mentorship with other Black people within those companies who are at executive levels.

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CHAD: This is the Giant Robots Smashing Into Other Giant Robots Podcast, where we explore the design, development, and business of great products. I'm your host, Chad Pytel. And with me today is Brian Hollins, Founder of the Takeoff Institute and Founding Managing Partner of Collide Capital. Brian, thanks for joining me.

BRIAN: Chad, I'm pumped to do this. Thanks for having me.

CHAD: So you are obviously the Founder of the Takeoff Institute. So let's start there. Why don't we give folks a brief overview of what the Takeoff Institute is, and then we'll dive right in?

BRIAN: Absolutely. Happy Black History Month. Let's start there. I'm a Black undergraduate student in the past, and I'm building something for Black undergraduate students today. So Takeoff Institute is focused on equipping Black undergrads with the resources and mentorship they need to build a young professional career. I was lucky enough to go to Stanford for undergrad and almost get thrown over the wall, if you will, by mentors and people that could advise me as I broke into my young professional career. And I, unfortunately, noticed that that wasn't the same for a lot of other folks.

I ran diversity recruiting at Goldman Sachs for a few years and just saw some of the mistakes and little things that people who don't have advisors, people who don't have mentors, people who don't have an older brother in private equity. I saw the mistakes they were making and knew I wanted to build something to help bridge that gap.

So we focus on providing the types of things that I think you need to break into a Goldman Sachs or a Tesla or a Facebook or a McKinsey today that might not have been true five years ago. And unfortunately, I think a lot of career development offices and programs out there are helping students break into a job that doesn't exist anymore, and that's more focused on some of the skills that we've tried to tap into.

CHAD: And what are those skills?

BRIAN: I'll point to a few off the top of my head. One is just polish. If you've never had an internship, you don't know cadencing on scheduling or sending an email to a direct report or really focusing on your LinkedIn, and your resume, and your social media being clean and disciplined. And so we bring to light a lot of the things that I think employers are looking for today. I'll use a good example with our students. If you don't have 500 connections on LinkedIn, the number of connections you have shows. But if you have more than 500 connections, it just shows 500+.

And as a recruiter, when you really think about it, at the top of the funnel, they use these little things to guide a lot of their decision-making. For better or worse, I'm not sure it's a great way to decide who should be a good candidate for your company. But when you get 5,000 applications, and you need to get it down to 100 in a couple of days, there are little things like sending your resume in a Word Doc instead of a PDF or having spelling errors in your application, or not filling out some of the boxes that matter. And so we really train them on that etiquette and polish.

Another bucket that I think is super important we built a speaker series at the Takeoff Institute called You Can't Be What You Can't See. And I think for a lot of Black undergraduate students, you go through a Superday at some of these places. You might meet 10, 15 people. Most of the time, you're not going to meet anyone Black. And you're definitely not going to meet Black people that are at the executive level.

And so we really pride ourselves on bringing in managing directors from banks, and founders and CEOs from growing companies, and leading venture capitalist investors and just help our students see that there are people out there doing what they did. There are people that come from their backgrounds that also weren't sure who they were going to be when they were a sophomore or a junior in college. And so, building confidence is another key pillar of the program that we really pride ourselves on.

And we're very lucky we have students at Tesla, at Apple, at Facebook, at Goldman, at NBC Universal. These students have broken into really exciting roles. And as we think about building the full flywheel around Takeoff, now those students become advocates. Now those students become mentors and advisors. And we build proximity for our students to help them realize there are people that very recently went through a very similar program and are now doing the things that they aspire to do.

CHAD: That's great. It sounds to me like it really is a combination of things that they might not have the opportunity to have done before or gain the experience and because they're marginalized, historically. And also just things that are good to have that, in general, aren't taught in school regardless of your opportunity.

BRIAN: That's right.

CHAD: And sometimes people who have more opportunity are getting that exposure in the jobs that they have along the way and that kind of thing. That makes it certainly easier for them to succeed later on, let alone what they look like when they show up to the interview.

BRIAN: Yeah, I completely agree. And I think the anecdotal use there is most of the things that I'm teaching these kids you can find on Google. The problem is they don't know what to look for. And when we think about fast-tracking these students or getting them into these rooms quicker, getting them through those interviews more effectively, it's almost like bringing all of these resources right in front of their face and allowing them to soak and absorb them in a very efficient manner.

So there's a guide somewhere on the internet of how to break into consulting, and there's a guide on how to crush a product interview. And there's a guide on how to build a perfect resume or a perfect LinkedIn. But we find that most of our students, one, don't know that they should be looking for that stuff, and two, don't know how to go get it all when it matters. And that's really what we focus on, bringing all that stuff in front of them at a more efficient clip and help them build that confidence so that when they do get in front of that interview, they're armed with all the things they need to succeed.

CHAD: Well, I know you're already solving a big problem. But is there anything in particular that you do to then make sure that once these people are in the workforce, in the workplace, they're going to companies that are going to treat them right where they're not going to face bias as much as possible and those kinds of things? Or are you mostly focused on getting them ready right now?

BRIAN: No, it's a great question. I'd put that in a 2.0 Takeoff University, Takeoff Institute, but it's absolutely critical. It's super important. And we have a long way to go. Chad, I don't want to pretend like the world is ten times better than it was five years ago. But the transparency through which some of this data is being recorded, the accountability that's being held in rooms that matter, so C-suite, executive suite, board meetings, it is changing. And I'm very excited about that because I think for the students that can, and this is in every student, and I don't want to pretend like it is, but for the students that can choose where they go, they're going to choose to go to those companies.

They're going to choose to go to the companies where there is active, positive feedback from underrepresented people, so Black, Latin, female, people that don't look like the rich, white guy that runs the company. They're going to look for that feedback. And they're going to look for companies that very, very clearly advocate for supporting those types of communities.

And, again, I think we're in the early innings of that. But I think that we're definitely on a path towards that being more and more important and that tailors who we partner with and who we spend time with. And if you look at a lot of our partners, they are people that care about that stuff, and they are people that are actively working on doing something about it, which we certainly appreciate.

CHAD: So the core of the Takeoff Institute is the fellowship. Is that right?

BRIAN: Yeah, that's right.

CHAD: What exactly is that?

BRIAN: The Takeoff Institute Summer Fellowship is an eight-week program, again, designed to advance and equip Black undergraduates with the resources and mentorship they need to launch a young professional career. So the first thing that I think about is what we had talked about earlier, just aggregation of resources.

So we have a partnership with Wall Street Prep, and so our students have to do an Excel and PowerPoint tutorial within the first two weeks of the program. And that's in after hours, and they have to do it on their own. And we track their progress, and they have to submit it. Because I cannot think of a single role in a post-undergraduate career where it is not important to be literate in both of those platforms and also, maybe more importantly, where top performers are not very good in both of those platforms. So the first piece is resource aggregation.

CHAD: And this is happening remotely?

BRIAN: This is all remote. This is all remote. I started the Takeoff Institute in 2020. Chad, I hope there's a day where I say that none of it is remote, but it's the world we live in.

CHAD: [laughs]

BRIAN: And it's what allowed us to scale it the way we did. We had over 500 kids apply for our first fellowship two years ago. We took 50 and had a little over 600 apply for the second year and took 50 again last summer and have some really exciting things coming up for this summer. So we can talk about the goal and where we're headed later. But the second piece is the speaker series that I told you about. And so, bringing in folks during our weekly meetings and allowing them to ask questions and be vulnerable and share that experience.

The third piece is mentorship. And so, I wanted to recreate the feeling of having a direct report. I think too many Black undergrads get to their first job without any real internship experience. And I think in an internship, one of the things you do is you make a bunch of dumb mistakes where your direct report tells you they were dumb because you're an intern. And you check that box, like, whoops, I did that I'm never going to do it again.

And unfortunately, when you get to your first job, and that's some of the stuff you're doing early on, it just doesn't go well. It doesn't lead to you being ranked highly. It doesn't lead to you getting an offer a year later. It doesn't lead to you getting the advocacy and support of people internally to say that you're a top performer. So we almost try to recreate that direct report internship experience and allow them to make some of those mistakes.

And so every student is paired up with a one on one advisor. And so, for folks that are listening, if you want to be an advisor, I'd call it anywhere from 25 to 50-year-olds with a desire to help undergraduate students succeed. We have a variety of different types of advisors. And again, it's really about challenging our students to make sure they send the email to check-in.

They send the email to let them know that they need to meet. They send a calendar invite. And if it's in ET, they remember, oh wow, I need to send that in PT. So just giving them that experience. So resources, access to people that look like them in seats that matter, and mentorship and guidance are the three main pillars of the Takeoff Institute.

CHAD: I love that idea of learning from experiencing failure. One of the things as someone speaking for myself coming from a place of opportunity and privilege and being a white male, I might approach certain circumstances where I'm just not as afraid of failure. I'm a big believer in learning through failure, and so because of that, I'm less afraid of that. Someone who hasn't had that opportunity and is underrepresented might be much more scared of what might happen if they fail, and that's just missing the opportunity to do that.

BRIAN: I think you're absolutely right. And I want to, if you're open to it, have a little fun here. I'd love to flip that question on you and just think about what are some of the things that you would be sharing or guiding to underrepresented ecosystems to help them bridge that gap, to help them kind of get that confidence to know that they do have the right, they do have the skills; they do have the knowledge to break into those places? And it's about quieting that imposter syndrome and going after some of those opportunities.

CHAD: Yeah, I've always believed it's really difficult to tell people not to feel something that they're feeling. [laughs] It's really hard to change someone's feelings. And so I would put it on the mentors that they need to work to create the environment where people understand that it's okay to make mistakes. That's certainly the experience that I had in my internship when I was just getting started out. I saw my manager making mistakes, and they owned up to them. And we talked about them. And we were doing a lot of the same work. We were working alongside of each other. And so that close working relationship is one thing.

I don't know if you're aware, but at thoughtbot, we have an apprentice program where new people are paired with an experienced mentor, and it's almost entirely working together on work. So creating that opportunity. So assuming you have a mentor that's supportive and wants to work with you, great. And if not, I would say try to circumvent that as much as possible and get yourself working with them as much as possible so that you can get close to them and see them working, and see them failing, and really gain that first-hand experience, which in and of itself can be uncomfortable to force that. I totally recognize that.

BRIAN: Totally. Part of the program is they do a research report with their mentor. And so it's sort of this guided I'm here to answer questions, but I am not here to do this for you. And I'm very intentional with our mentors about that. I think a lot of these students, especially the ones who have never had a direct report, they wait until they're told what to do. And they don't know how to turn on that proactive brain. And I think it's a super important muscle to flex, especially at that age. How do you teach a kid to do the thing that he thinks his boss is going to ask for as opposed to the thing that his boss asked for?

CHAD: Well, this is sort of a pet peeve of mine because I think that, in some ways, there is a flaw in our educational system. It's centered around people telling people what to do.

BRIAN: Do what you're told, yeah, absolutely.

CHAD: Right. And so, I was very fortunate that I had some teachers that did more project-based learning and then chose to go to a college that was project-based. And the difference when you're in charge of something, and you're responsible, and people aren't telling you what to do, that really creates the environment where you can do that great work.

BRIAN: Totally. What's pretty cool is we keep a repository of all their presentations. And so, a lot of them, after the program is over they'll actually share their presentation on their LinkedIn or through their socials. And just having a body of work that early in your career, mapping the Esports competitive landscape, or how to build a D2C skincare business for people of color. I mean, really cool projects that they're very proud of, that they worked hard on, and now that they can share.

And, again, part of what we do is build that LinkedIn, build that thought leadership, help them become experts in their own craft because I think it builds that confidence that we just talked about missing for so many of them. And it's doing all these little things that really just unlock their inner self. I'm not giving them anything that they don't already have. I'm just unlocking it.

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CHAD: Let's take a step back. And I'm curious what it takes to start something like Takeoff Institute. How difficult is it to set up a non-profit? From when you decided to do this, what steps did you take as a founder getting off the ground?

BRIAN: I'll give you context of how I started it at first. I was a student at Harvard Business School. Nine months into my MBA program, the world blew up. And so what was a trip to Shenzhen or Tokyo turned into hanging out in my apartment. And I think similar to what you described around that participatory learning environment and how that helped you, HBS is known for what's called the case method. And the case method is a very, very powerful way to learn. It's, by far, in a way, my favorite way to learn. And I knew nothing about it before I got to HBS.

And the repeat experience of being presented a problem and having to choose a side and then gathering information after the fact around whether that was not necessarily right or wrong but whether that was educated or insightful and then repeating that process over and over again. You just learn a ton about your biases and the types of things that you can and can't accomplish on your own without thinking of other parts of your brain or using other kinds of tools in your toolbox.

And so I found myself really challenged after my first year of school, saying, I've never built anything, and I've never put my mind towards some of the problems that I think exist in the world. And I mentioned while I was at Goldman running diversity recruiting at Stanford for a couple of years, and I saw so many problems and flaws in that model. And then my youngest brother was a Marine. So he served in the military for four years and then took the GI Bill, and he's now a junior at Columbia University in New York. And I saw his journey very recently and a lot of the flaws in the system.

And so I just knew that this problem wasn't going anywhere. And I knew that I really, really wanted to be a part of the solution. And I think unfortunately, our generation is taught that you're supposed to turn 50 and be rich before you start giving back and before you, whatever, consider building a non-profit, and I sort of call bullshit on that, to be honest.

I think I will never be more proximate to the problems I'm trying to solve than I am right now. And I'm 30 years old. I'm seven, eight years out of school, but I still very, very intentionally stay close to the undergraduate ecosystem and understand what it takes and what the problems are with breaking into the industry right now.

So I think it was a combination of being a student of the problem, knowing the problem, knowing it exists, building confidence and desire to become a leader while I was at HBS. And third, COVID, just realizing that a lot of these problems were actually being exacerbated, and they were getting worse, not better. I'm sitting at HBS watching some of the smartest kids I know lose internships. And all I could think was, what does that mean for the Black community? What does that mean for Black undergrads who already don't have the internship that's high paying and kind of seasons through these types of things?

And so I wanted to do something about it. And I knew it was going to be bootstrapped. I knew I didn't have a million bucks to put towards it, but I knew I could put something together. And like I said, when I saw the demand for 500+ kids applying, I knew we had something. And in the last two years, we've done a lot and have a long way to go but are really excited about some of the things around the corner.

CHAD: That's great context. And so, how did you go from zero to something?

BRIAN: The first part was just surrounding myself with people that I thought wanted to be contributors and collaborators and building it, so that's both students and mentors, so building an operating board and people around us to help us do it. I can tell you the process of launching a 501(c)(3) is not fun, and it's not for the faint of heart dealing with the government.

And I caveat that by saying towards the end of the process, I almost appreciated how difficult it was because it forced me to get a lot of things in place that were not fun to put in place. And as a result, if I wasn't that serious about building this, I think I would have been paused multiple times throughout the journey. While it's a frustrating manual, kind of nasty process, I do think it's a filtering mechanism for the government. Because the last thing you want to do is allow corporations to give people money that they think is going somewhere good and then it not go somewhere good, so I definitely appreciate that. But yeah, the journey is not fun.

I think anything that's bootstrapped...I'm sure you've had plenty of guests on here that have experience at bootstrap companies. If you can't go out and raise $10 million like some of these seed companies on day one, well, then you can't hire five people, and you can't set up all of the right systems online that you want to someday. So I think that's another component that I just learned a ton from was how do we put the things in place to allow us to do this thoughtfully but not necessarily the things in place that we want to have in year three when now we have a 500k P&L and can flex into some different things and bring people on full time?

So it almost forced us to build a bare-bones mechanism that just went out and really focused on the product, really focused on is this something that Black undergraduate students need and want? And only very myopically focused on that in the early days. Because all of the other stuff, the infrastructure of a non-profit, the operating board, who we bring around, and what money we raise, none of that really matters if Black undergrads don't see it as valuable.

And so I very intentionally spent a lot of our time with the students and was very hands-on, still very hands-on. But really spent time getting feedback and gathering feedback from our first cohort around what are the things you love? What are the things we should change? Who are some of the speakers you wish you heard from? What are some of the ways we can engage you guys now that you have graduated?

It's been a fun journey. I'm learning a lot still. As you know, I run a venture capital fund alongside this. And so just finding ways for those two things to talk to each other and to support one another. We back predominantly underrepresented founders. And these founders come from the same ecosystems where our students come from. So it's a really unique opportunity to see synergies exist across the two things I'm building.

CHAD: As you were getting started with Takeoff, like you said, the most important thing was the students. So was there anything in particular that you did that you thought worked really well to let people know about this and spread the word?

BRIAN: Yeah, I'd say less so in season one, chapter one, whatever you want to call it. Less so in that season than last season. And so what I did is I really turned on our brand ambassador program SO taking the students who graduated from the first cohort and using them to push us into career development offices, help them share on their campuses.

We had 50 students, but it wasn't 20 from Harvard and 20 from Stanford. We probably had 35, maybe 40 schools represented where we had a few kids from a few different schools. But the network effects of allowing the students to go out, and there are 100 things on a job board at a school that people are trying to get access to these students. But there's not that many students actually advocating for the programs and saying, "Hey, I went through this, and it was valuable, and here's why it was valuable. And here's why you should go through it."

We have a ton of our students who are very proud of the program and share what we're building with other students. And I think that that was a really cool unlock because I think that's the most authentic way to get to know your customers is go through people who really have experienced what you're building and allow them to tell the story for you.

CHAD: You said you get 500 applications, 600 applications for the latest cohort, and you're choosing 50. How do you do that?

BRIAN: We use a couple of different filtering mechanisms, so the first is the application. So there are questions in there around why they would join the program, things like do you have another internship lined up? We tend to focus on kids who either couldn't get an internship or don't have a Goldman Sachs banking internship already lined up. We tend to find that they're just more absorbed by the program. They're more focused.

The second thing is there are a couple of questions around just what their aspiration is. I try to look for students who at least have spent some time thinking about who they want to be when they grow up. That doesn't mean you need to know. But oftentimes, if you're not curious or aspirational on your own, regardless of whether you have confidence, if you're not curious or aspirational on your own, it's very hard for me to elicit that in an eight-week program.

And so we really try to filter out the students that we think are excited about getting to the other side or are excited about breaking in or excited about challenging ceilings. That's a little harder to search for than did they fill out their LinkedIn? Did they submit their PDF the right way? So that's the second component.

The third component is honestly being very intentional about matching with our mentors. So I try to find mentors that are at least somewhat lined up with the ecosystems these students want to go to. So if I have someone that wants to break into product, I actually think it's super-valuable to get some of our friends that work at Facebook or some of our friends that work at Pinterest who are in product as their mentors, regardless of whether they work on a product-related research project. And so, using our mentors to guide that journey from 100 to 50 students to make sure that they all feel like they are getting someone that can really help advance them.

And it's funny; it's pretty incredible. At the end of the program, a lot of them will come and say, "I can't believe how similar I am to Tyler, or Stacey, or Rebecca." It's really incredible how connected they become. And I just like to say, "Oh yeah, I can't believe it too."

We are very intentional in the background on making that happen. But our mentors stick around with our advisors, and I hear two years later they are helping each other find a job. Or I'll get a picture of them out to brunch because they check in once a quarter. That's the stuff that just gets me super jacked up to keep doing it is recognizing that these people continue these relationships long after the fellowship program is over.

CHAD: And that's great and really shows one of the great things about programs like this, and you already alluded to it earlier, is that they compound. As more people go through it, the value of the overall program hopefully goes up.

BRIAN: That's right.

CHAD: So are there any interviews or anything as part of the process of getting?

BRIAN: There's not. That's new this year, which we're super excited about. The first two years were, again, really just us in the background making that happen. And I wouldn't have known what to interview for, to be completely honest. I think now I have just a better understanding of the type of student that succeeds in our program. I didn't entirely understand that before. And I think regardless of whether you're diverse yourself, I think there's implicit bias that comes with jumping on a Zoom with someone and seeing how they interact. And I don't know that those biases always lead you to the best candidate.

And so, I think we tried to take a thoughtful approach but didn't want to over-engineer the early days of building our cohorts. And we beta-tested a bunch of different stuff. So we had freshman, sophomore, junior, senior, and first-year out, as well as Harvard, Stanford, Arkansas State, two-year community college, really just the full gamut. There are 1.1 million Black undergrads in the country in every given year.

So finding students from all these different places and then kind of honing that in and figuring out, you know what? I think if you do this program right after your freshman or right after your sophomore year, it's super valuable. And it really sets you up to have that strong junior year internship because that's the one that matters. That's the one that changes your trajectory if you go get a good one.

And so just learning those types of things over the first two years, I think, really helped us hone in who we focus on, and why we focus on them, and what resources we provide for them. Because it just, again, it just helps us build that treadmill to really accelerate their trajectory into their young professional career.

CHAD: You mentioned undergrad, so the program is specifically focused on people in college going to a university of some kind.

BRIAN: It's specifically focused on Black undergraduate students. I struggled with this a little bit because there are a lot of people that need help. I grew up in some underprivileged ecosystems as well. And there were plenty of poor white kids that also should get this or underrepresented Latinos that I knew. And while I wanted to build that, I also knew there's just a lot of noise. There's a lot of resources and advice and people out there trying to help. And I kind of said to myself, "This is the demographic that I understand best."

And instead of pretending like I know how to build a platform to help someone from an ecosystem I don't truly understand break-in, I'm just going to focus all my effort on getting more people that look like me because I know that there's a need for that and know that there's a gap for that. And I know that historically, companies have not been good at doing that on their own. So that's been our focus. And I hope there's a day where we have the privilege to expand that horizon and spend time because we have the resources to do it. But for now, I still have a long way to go within the Black community. And I'm going to keep focusing our time there.

CHAD: Yeah, I was thinking more about the kids who aren't even getting the opportunity to go to college. So they're 1.1 million Black undergrads. There are probably even more people who don't even get the opportunity to go to college. There are so many people you could help with this. What are your goals for growth? And how do you serve more people?

BRIAN: Yeah, I'll tell you the one that's top of mine because we're super excited about it. And this hasn't been released to many places, and so for our lovely thoughtbot community, I'm super excited to share this early, but we're building something called Takeoff University. Takeoff University will be the largest resource repository in the world for Black undergraduate students. Again, I think that the positioning is Black undergraduate students. I don't think that there's a paywall set up where if you don't have a .edu you can't use it. And so, I'm still thinking about how we provide access for some of the people you're describing.

But regardless, the idea being our fellowship is very hands-on and very intentional, and specifically focused on accelerating 50 people a summer. But how can we build something that more effectively brings in anyone in their undergraduate ecosystem development? Whether you're a freshman, sophomore, junior, senior, how can we deliver resources to you and get you some of the things that we know you need at the time that you need them and allow you to more effectively become part of the Takeoff ecosystem? Because what we believe is we can build a pretty unique flywheel around the broader TakeOff University ecosystem and some of the content and curriculum and thought leadership and just sharing that can occur there.

I think a lot about our older students. When we talk to them about how they engage with younger students, it's oftentimes younger students are sent to them. So they have a classmate who says, "Hey, you should talk to this guy. He broke in, or he had an internship somewhere." And those students come, and one of the first things they ask is, "How do I do it? How do I become you? How do I do the thing you did?"

And I think for a lot of students, they don't have a good answer for that. It's hey, let me send you these 2009 PDFs that someone sent me on banking recruiting. Or "Hey, have you checked this out at the career development office?" But they don't send them to anywhere, at least in a concentrated manner. And that's really what got me excited about building Takeoff University was there is not a centralized resource repository where any and every Black undergraduate student should go to prepare themselves for their young professional journey.

And so some of the things that'll be a part of that are the first thing is you come in as a career exploratory quiz. You answer a bunch of questions on what you're interested in, what stage you are in your internship development, what stage you are in your academic tenure. And it just helps guide us towards some of the resources that we know you should look at. And it doesn't mean you can't spend time in the whole library but help us guide you in the early days.

And then from there, dynamic ways for students to engage, so building community and allowing them to share resources, ways for companies to engage. So allowing companies to come in and identify students that might be top candidates for their program. So really just building an inclusive ecosystem for Black undergrads where they can come and know that they'll give valuable resources. And so we're really excited. We have some really cool things in the oven around this and excited to launch it to the world later this year.

CHAD: That's great. What would it take for you to grow from 50 fellows to 100? And is that something that you want to do?

BRIAN: Definitely. If you had used the number 500, I might have paused. [laughter] Again, 50 was like, get it right, do it right. I have 100 kids. I don't want to speak for all of them, but I have a lot of students that love what we did over their summer and really shout it from the rooftops to their community. And that means a lot to us.

And I'm not entirely sure that if it had been 100 and then 100 that I'd have 200 students who shout that. I think we were able to build a very intimate and hands-on experience for our first two cohorts. And as we grow, and as we introduce technology, and platform, and resources, I think there are ways for us to expand the number without getting out over our skis.

And so 100 is in a very near-term goal for us. I'm not sure that it goes much past that. I think instead, like I described with Takeoff University, we start introducing other opportunities. We start putting more things under the Takeoff Institute umbrella. I think a lot like the Aspen Institute. There are so many different ecosystems and community-building efforts going on underneath the larger umbrella. And so long as Takeoff Institute is known as just advancing opportunities, I think we can build a ton of cool ways to have touchpoints with students across the country.

CHAD: Are there specific blockers you would identify? Or you have an attentive audience here, are there things you would ask for to get to that 100 fellows?

BRIAN: It's a great question. I think folks that have had any experience building, you know, call it Twitter University, Pinterest University, Plaid University, folks who have been on the internal teams that help stand up curriculum and training for employees, again, that's a large part of what we're standing up with TakeOff University. And I'm very, very fortunate to have the funding now and not be in a place where we're looking for money to do that.

And so we have the resources to make this really special, and just getting some of the design and product folks that might be listening who might be interested in helping build a community like the one that we're building, we'd appreciate it. We'd love to chat. You can email me at I'd love to chat and learn. And even if you don't have time to chat, if there are platforms that you know that look really cool and look like the type of thing that we should be mocking or mimicking, I think it's always helpful to see comparisons and benchmarks. So I think that that'd be a great one.

And the other thing I'd add is if you want to be a mentor, please apply, It's an incredible experience. I wish I could say I had 100 advisors, but I probably only have 60 because most of the ones who did the first cohort did the second cohort. And they loved it, and they're doing the third cohort. It's an hour a week. It's a very light touch, eight weeks of the summer. It's a very light touch, but I think it's impactful. So we'd love to have some of the folks.

CHAD: Do you specifically look for Black mentors?

BRIAN: We don't. We don't. I think that that's a really important part of this experience. Like I mentioned, you don't get to choose who your direct report is. And so your direct report might be White, Asian, Black. I don't care what they are. You need to get used to having that direct report experience and building rapport, and building that relationship regardless of what they look like. And so we appreciate having mentors that are male, female, and come from all different walks of life.

CHAD: Great. And that website again was?


CHAD: Awesome. Well, I think that's a very natural and great place to leave it. I hope folks will contact you and get involved. And there's so much work to be done in this area. And it's a great opportunity to have an impact.

BRIAN: Yeah. Thanks for having me, Chad.

CHAD: Thank you. You can subscribe to the show and find notes for this episode at If you have questions or comments, email us at You can find me on Twitter @cpytel.

Brian, if folks want to get in touch with you, you want to say your email again and any other channels they should do that?

BRIAN: Yeah, perfect. And you can find me on Twitter @BHolls1, B-H-O-L-L-S-1.

CHAD: This podcast is brought to you by thoughtbot and produced and edited by Mandy Moore. Thanks for listening and see you next time.

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