MG Meets brothers Matthew and Joseph Moheban, the founders of 220 Leadership, who focus on helping students position themselves to accelerate their careers and their lives from an early age, therefore developing the intrinsic motivation they need to attack their most challenging goals. They partner with visionary organizations to help their students thrive in work and in life. In this exclusive interview the pair discuss why education was their true calling from an early age; how hard it was to transition from day job to dream job (clue, it involved driving an Uber at 4am!); success stories from satisfied students; plus they offer some helpful hints and tips for graduates taking their first steps on the career ladder!
The idea for 220 Leadership came from the leadership camp you created in Indiana for middle school students. What made you start the camp in the first place, and how has the company grown since those humble beginnings?
Matthew: When I finished my freshman year of college, my dad told me it was time to get a job to help pay for school. But instead of telling me to go start interviewing at grocery stores or golf courses, he encouraged me that it was a great time to take a risk and try to start something (I had already expressed an interest in entrepreneurship).
At that point, I thought the only people I could help were people younger than me. And since I had done pretty well in school, obtained leadership positions in sports and extracurriculars, and got accepted to an awesome university, I knew I could teach these students how to be successful.
So I created a curriculum based primarily on what I had learned from so many years in sports, pitched it to the principal at my old middle school, and Joseph and I piloted the program in 2009 with 14 students. In 2010, we worked with 44 students. We fell in love with coaching and helping students and were pretty sure we had found our calling.
But I felt like I had to finish out my business school education and wait to start this company full-time (things we’re trying to help our students avoid), so both of us got jobs up in Chicago (me in banking, Joseph in consulting).
Eventually, we decided we’d had enough of the corporate world. So we moonlighted our company on nights and weekends, put together a plan and used our savings to leave and start the company full-time in 2015.
The ‘plan’ we had initially was scrapped almost immediately, and it took a really long time and a lot of mistakes before we finally got some momentum.
Since then, our curricula, programs and abilities as entrepreneurs have really evolved. We’ve worked with over 2,000 students and 30 organizations, and feel like we’re just getting started.
Was working in education always your true calling from an early age?
Joseph: Sports always felt like my calling when I was younger, but through those experiences I learned what it meant to be a leader. What I learned through sports has shaped my life and is one of the main reasons I feel so strongly about reimagining education through 220.
M: When I was younger, I liked helping people and teaching people how to do things. But I had a lot of interests growing up like sports, music, food, politics and eventually entrepreneurship that made me doubt I’d ever end up in education.
It wasn’t until the leadership camp in 2009 that I felt like I might end up back in education, even though I was studying finance at Indiana University at the time.
How hard was the transition from quitting your day job to focus 24/7 on 220 Leadership, and when did you know things were really starting to take off?
M: We immediately loved the freedom of being on our own schedule, and didn’t have any issues with the day-to-day of working since we’re both pretty self-disciplined.
The toughest parts of the transition were:
- Knowing the right things to work on, which took a long time to figure out
- Unexpected failures and setbacks, of which there were many
- Financial stress, because it took so much longer than expected to make money so we both used most of our savings to pay for living expenses. Joseph even drove Uber starting at 4am for a few months to stay afloat!
There are definitely things we would have done differently looking back, but we wouldn’t trade our experience because of what we learned, and what we can now teach to others trying to live out their dreams.
As far as knowing things were starting to take off, we’ve found that it’s really more a series of smaller moments you don’t recognise are big at the time, that eventually accumulate and all of a sudden you realise much farther than you thought.
From talking with and learning from other entrepreneurs, this seems to happen when you’re truly invested in your work. It’s easy to take for granted how far you’ve come from when you started. This is something both of us are trying to get better at by celebrating small wins and being consistently grateful for the journey we’re on together.
How is 220 Leadership unique and what makes your company so successful?
M: These are the three things we hear most often from our customers.
- Our partnership model: Most of our work consists of deep partnerships with the organisations we serve. These partnerships include a lot of thoughtful planning and customisation, frequent communication, adaptability throughout the engagement and a fierce commitment to results
- Our authenticity: Any content we develop and teach has been tested and proven by both of us, and then backed by research we do of other top performers in a wide variety of industries. We hear from customers that this comes through in our passion, makes us very relatable to their students and as a result, increases engagement and effectiveness
- Our personalised practicality: We also make sure our content is (a) personalised by providing frameworks and guidelines, but allowing the work to be customised by each student based on their goals and interests; and (b) extremely actionable, so that students understand concepts, but always know how to apply it to their life and the first steps they need to take. These are two factors we felt were missing from our education and most leadership programs we participated in growing up
Please could you name the three most inspiring people you met when you were starting out…
J: The three most inspiring people were:
Jennifer Robbins: Founder of Ignite Development. She’s been an invaluable part of 220 since the day we met. She helps and inspires us in more ways than we could ever describe and we couldn’t imagine this journey without her
Ramit Sethi: Founder of I Will Teach You To Be Rich. Although we’ve never formally met, Ramit has been one of the greatest inspirations in our business since very early on. The way he says what most people are thinking, but few are willing to say; the topics he tackles in his emails, blogs and products; and his business model are all things we try to emulate in our company
Any sibling rivalry between the pair of you?
M: It doesn’t show up as much in business, but things get pretty heated in our tennis and FIFA video game matches!
Do you have any case studies / success stories from 220 Leadership that you’d like to share?
J: One of our favourite recent examples is a program reflection from a 1-on-1 student: ‘I feel a lot better now than I did before. Before, I saw myself as really unmotivated, not excited to do anything, didn’t really care about anything. I actually see a purpose in life now. I feel more motivated to get my things done and things matter to me a lot more now and I want to work hard. It’s helped me with my parents the most. In situations with my parents, it helps me not to get mad at them, and understanding more what they’re going through. I take a lot more into consideration… I’ve found myself not hanging out with the same (negative) friend groups anymore too. It’s not that I can’t, it’s just that I don’t really want to after what we’ve talked about and worked on.’
Another one came from a student who told us our message on a conference panel inspired him ‘not to wait’ and start his company before graduating college, and Matthew is now an advisor for his company.
What is pretty amazing, too, is when the educators who are just be supervising tell you things like this from a National Leadership Academy: ‘Not only did you both inspire, but because of you both my vision is growing beyond what I had thought it could in a week. The past three months I’ve been reflecting on my fears and what lies I’m believing that hold me back. It’s been a difficult process. But I believe that it was the necessary groundwork that needed to be done to receive what you both shared on having big, ‘unrealistic’ dreams and goals and to move forward in courage and belief.’
What are your top tips for new graduates so they can deliver on their potential and get the job they deserve? Also, how can candidates stand out from the crowd when it comes to job applications?
M: My answer is the same for both: do bold things that make you stand out, and show the company you want to work for that you can add value from day one.
Most people you’re competing against (a) have similar statistics and experience, and (b) are just hoping that their resume, experience and interview skills are enough.
If you want to work for a division of Apple, show them you would make their company better by creating a custom research project or a software demo just for them. Austin Belcak of Cultivated Culture calls these ‘Value Validation Projects.’
Don’t put all the power in the employer’s hands, take some back by doing something unique and valuable.
The other strategy that always helps is to switch roles and ask yourself:
If I was interviewing candidates for this role, what kind of candidate would I be looking for? What qualities, experiences or actions would stand out to me?
What are your thoughts on artificial intelligence and how it will affect the career of graduates in the future?
M: Here’s my thoughts…
- People are going to require a lot more education than a 4-year degree (or even a masters or PHD). As life expectancy continues to increase (according to Axios, the person that will live to 150 has already been born), people will start preparing for a 100-year career. I think this has the potential to completely change the structure of our education system, and will place a lot more emphasis on people taking charge of their own learning throughout their life. Even if you get a traditional degree, you will need to consistently go back to school or take certified online classes to stay up to date on knowledge and skills because of how quickly artificial intelligence will change what’s required to be successful
- Because many of the hard skills people go to college to develop will be automated away, the importance of having skills like leadership, communication, problem-solving, rational judgment, and creativity is only going to increase. We’re aiming to help incorporate this ‘soft skills’ learning into formal education, but in the meantime students will need to continue seeking out opportunities to develop these skills on their own through sports, extracurriculars, entrepreneurship and philanthropy
What was your dream job as a child?
J: Professional Lego Builder, so either working with Legos or becoming an architect!
M: To become the next Reggie Miller and play in the NBA. And although I am not an NBA player, I continued following my passion for sports which led me to coaching, which led me to the leadership camp in 2009 and now 220. That’s why we tell students to follow your passions, despite conflicting advice out there.
What’s your proudest work accomplishment?
M: For us it’s the authenticity we get to bring to our work every day. When we tell our students that they can accomplish their wildest 10-year vision, it’s because we were in their shoes dreaming of becoming entrepreneurs. And here we are 10 years later living out our dreams.
Enough about work, let’s hear more about the real Matthew & Joseph… If you could listen to one song for the rest of your life, what would it be?
J: One Sweet World, Dave Matthews Band
M: Clarity, John Mayer
What are your hobbies outside of work?
M: Acoustic guitar, summer concerts, tennis and golf, weightlifting, Indiana Hoosiers, Indianapolis Colts, Indiana Pacers, cooking and Chicago restaurants, full-time Harry Potter fan, time with family and friends.
J: Pretty much the same as Matthew (outside of acoustic guitar), which is a big reason why we get along so well.
If you had one superpower, what would it be?
J: The Force (Star Wars)
M: Spiderman’s web-slinging
Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
M: Yes – we recently launched an exciting new product called the 220 Membership. This gives educators access to weekly lesson plans on leadership, workforce, entrepreneurship and personal development, along with other Members-Only Benefits. People can check it out here.
Finally, do you both have a life motto?
M: You have one shot at life. Fill it with as much love, growth, and contribution as you can.
J: Life happens for you, not to you!
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