Austin Martin, Rhymes with Reason.

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Founded in 2015, Rhymes with Reason is an education tech company that teaches students words and helps boost literacy skills using music lyrics via a web app. Founder Austin Martin participated in a 2018 Founders First accelerator program—he even won the pitch contest. We caught up with him to see how things had been going for Rhymes with Reason since then and to see what advice he had for other entrepreneurs.

Why did you start Rhymes with Reason?

I was a young student that was not very interested in school, but I was extremely interested in music, and particularly music lyrics. And because I was so interested in music lyrics, I would print out lyrics and investigate everything there was to know about the lyrics that I was listening to.

One of the huge things that I soaked up in this kind of independent study of lyrics was vocabulary. And that eventually created a spark that transitioned into me becoming a good student.

When I was in undergrad at Brown University, I did research on the correlation between academic vocabulary, vocabulary aligned with standardized tests, and vocabulary that is in music lyrics. So the business really started after I found that 67 of the top 100 words on the SAT are in popular music lyrics.

How was your business impacted by participating in the Founders First accelerator program?

My business has been transformed since being in the Founders First accelerator program.

The mentorship from Kim Folsom—even beyond the accelerator—has taught me really how to scale a business, how to take something from a very early stage, the idea stage, to generating consistent revenue.

And I think part of it is just seeing what she does and her leading by example, but another part of it is the specific conversations and consultations that she’s lended me and my business.

And then also other members of the Founders First administrative team have kind of taken my business as somewhat of a case study and recommended certain things that have helped expand our revenue, expand our brand presence, and more.

I would say that my fondest memory of Founders First was that I was lucky enough to win the pitch competition in 2018. And that was like a huge signal for me that I was really on the right track and what I was building had the potential to be a nationally acclaimed business that serves people on a national scale.

That award and that validation, going through the process, and I guess winning, was a huge validator that boosted my confidence in my work. 

What important lessons did you learn from the accelerator?

I think that a lot of the market research that we did was really helpful. We found out more about potential customer segments. We did a really broad kind of market research analysis in going through the accelerator. And now we do that on a much more specific and zoomed-in level. So that’s a huge thing that we continue to do. And now we’re expanding from being a B2B company to exploring direct-to-consumer.

So there’s new market research and customer research that we’re doing as a part of that expansion and Founders First kind of laid down some of the foundation for how to go about thinking about that type of expansion. So, lessons from Founders First stick with me every day.

You mentioned the 2018 pitch competition. Was that your fondest memory from Founders First?

I would say that that was my fondest memory from the accelerator, for sure. And like I said, it was an early indicator of the potential of what I was building and not just winning that, but competing and winning it in front of these judges that are so esteemed in their respective fields, in finance and in other sectors.

I was like, “Whoa, all these people from these different sectors see what I am doing and what Rhymes with Reason is building as valuable across sectors.”

This wasn’t a pitch competition geared toward educational products. There were all kinds of different businesses that were in this pitch competition. So that was huge. That was huge for me and the business.

Has the pandemic affected your business at all?

A little bit. I think it was a really interesting thing because our program, again, is an education technology company. So we serve students and schools and educational institutions online with our programming.  And we were doing that before COVID so we are in a good position during COVID, but one thing is during the height of COVID, when COVID first started, there were huge shockwaves sent through school budgets and after school programming budgets.

So it was interesting. There was maybe increased demand for what we were building, but just the weakening of the ability to pay for it was just across the board. That was kind of inherent in the times of COVID. It kind of made it all a wash. 

But now, two years into COVID, people have now caught up. There’s been federal aid delivered to school systems and things like that. Now we’re starting to see that incline.

What made you join the Founders First accelerator?

Yeah, just being an early stage entrepreneur that was trying to get my business off the ground. And I heard about Founders First through my networks. I’ve always been a fan of the work that Kim Folsom has done. And I wanted to see how I could possibly be a part of the accelerator because it was the perfect program at the perfect time for where I was with the business.

So it was just an absolutely key step in my entrepreneurial journey. And it came at a perfect time.

What advice do you have for up and coming entrepreneurs?

One obvious one, which I’ve kind of been saying throughout our conversation, is the power of things like accelerators, having a community around you, having mentors that have done what you’re trying to do is absolutely necessary and vital because starting a business and scaling a business is something that you simply cannot do by yourself.

So going through an accelerator like Founders First is something that everyone should consider. It will be a fundamental step in your entrepreneurial journey that will help launch you to having the type of growth and impact that you seek when you start on your journey.

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