Music and education are an interesting combination that can help spark interest in today’s youth and allow them to learn in a more compelling way. This is what Austin Martin noticed before he launched his company Rhymes With Reason. His company aims to help improve literacy among kids in schools by using their favorite rap and hip-hop songs.
Austin’s story starts when he was a child. All the way up to the age of 15, teachers and others told him he was an underachieving student. However, Austin was very intellectually curious. He would research everything there was to know about music, artists, and sports. He became a walking human encyclopedia on these topics because he was able to connect to these things more naturally. He felt that school was just a system that didn’t work for him, because it didn’t build a connection to the outside world. He became very studious towards music and lyrics, and this was one of the reasons he developed a good work ethic.
Storytelling really captured Austin’s interest, but school put him in a box that suppressed his creativity and potential. Once he entered high school he was able to focus, as his love for music shaped him into a more hardworking person. This led to his acceptance into Brown University. This really hit Austin hard because he felt like the reason why he got in was to do something bigger with his life. He had this idea to help other kids similar to him that were also suppressed by the current education system.
Rhymes With Reason’s mission is to educate kids through the genius of pop culture. There is a misconception that things like music and hip-hop lack substance and intellect. Currently 65% of students in 4th grade and up are reading at a lower level than they should be. The goal of Rhymes With Reason is to raise the reading level of students. For example, if you are in a low-income family, you are still able to listen to music because of how accessible it is. Music is a cultural source that is filled with words and language that can be utilized.
Literacy has a lot of power since it determines the socioeconomics of groups in America. For example, 70% of prison inmates perform at the two lowest levels of literacy. People that are born into working class families are exposed to thousands of less words than those who are born into professional families. This is a cycle that keeps repeating itself because lower classes lack access. This is where Rhymes With Reason comes in. It makes literacy more equal among the classes via popular music—a resource that happens to be uniquely accessible across social classes.
This literacy market is pretty vacant at the time being. There are other companies that create rap songs to help kids memorize the periodic table or other things like that. However, Rhymes With Reason takes advantage of current popular music that kids already enjoy. Millennials actually listen to music 40+ hours a week, whereas kids are spending 35 hours a week in school. The competitive advantage Rhymes With Reason has is that their approach happens to be more authentic and resonates with the students because it doesn’t feel forced like the current education system.
Rhymes With Reason has had its share of challenges along the way. One obstacle has been that it can take a long time to receive the payments from schools. Since the aim is to help these underfunded schools, it just comes with the territory. Developing new models, strategies and tactics to deliver to their customers has also been challenging. The way Austin has mitigated these challenges is by having a large support system. Austin also faces some adversity because he is a young founder who has never done this before. There were many lessons to be gained from the inexperience. These obstacles have not stopped Austin though; he is excited about overcoming adversity. The journey of achieving more and more with Rhymes and Reason has humbled him and built his confidence at the same time.
The Elevate My Business Challenge (EMBC) was appealing to Austin because he wanted some guidance and support to help build more structure in his business. Since most entrepreneurs see things from their perspective, sometimes they can gain more when they can look at their business through another lens. The reflection of his business in the EMBC helped him hone in on where to focus on. A big part of being an entrepreneur is to reflect on what is and isn’t working. Austin said, “The challenge can get you to reflect and take a look at areas that you may not think of on a day to day basis.” Sometimes entrepreneurs lose sight of the bigger picture due to the fact that they are in too deep in the weeds of their business.
In the next three years, Austin wants to have an impact on over 3 million students and to develop the brand to become synonymous for being an educational music streaming service. Since winning the Fall 2018 South Bay EMBC, Austin has accomplished a lot more by being accepted as a member of the 2019 Echoing Green Fellowship. Austin explains that it is a perfect fit for him and what he is trying to accomplish. This group is an incubator that aims to help companies that have a direct social aim. This year they had over 4,000 applicants, but only accepted 34, so less than 1% made it. This group has a large network with financial resources that helps fund companies using recoverable grants. Some famous alumni that have been a part of this program include Michelle Obama and Van Jones. Additionally, Rhymes with Reason just confirmed a collaboration with Chance the Rapper’s SocialWorks non-profit, which will launch in October 2019.
Also, since the EMBC, Rhymes With Reason has increased their revenues 3x and have added more members to their team. Austin would like to go into secondary markets by teaching English using hip-hop and popular music around the world. The next big initiative for them is to launch their individual student package (non-school) that places an explicit focus on test prep.
Austin had some key words of advice for fellow business owners and to those who may want to open up their own business. Passion is the key, because you have to want to be doing this, otherwise it will feel like a chore and you will eventually burn out. Self awareness allows you to realize what you are good at and what you need help with. Without self awareness it is easy to become delusional. Also, if you make your company bigger than you, then it becomes easier to get past the roadblocks.