When I started The Startup Story I would have never expected to be interviewing a founder of a homeschool group, but here we are. This week, Tiffany Sorya, founder of Novel Education Group, shares the many unconventional pieces that have comprised her entrepreneurial journey to this point. It makes sense that her story would be unconventional since her goal is to meet the educational needs of those whose lives are unconventional. Her first two clients were Kylie and Kendall Jenner, and she continued working with other high-profile children such as those of Fortune 100 executives.
When I started The Startup Story I would have never expected to be interviewing a founder
of a homeschool group, but here we are. This week, Tiffany Sorya, founder of Novel Education Group, shares the many unconventional pieces that have comprised her entrepreneurial journey to this point. It makes sense that her story would be unconventional since her goal is to meet the educational needs of those whose lives are unconventional. Her first two clients were Kylie and Kendall Jenner, and she continued working with other high-profile children such as those of Fortune 100 executives.
In exploring her startup story, you will gain insight into how cultural heritage can impact the entrepreneurial journey. Also, Tiffany says, “People shy away from entrepreneurship because of the fear of the ‘what ifs.’” We will discuss not only how paralyzing that can be but also how powerful your story can become once you find yourself free from that fear. You will also learn how important it is to be aware of gaps in the marketplace.
Make sure you listen to the very end of the episode because there is a critical learning that Tiffany shares with us from her relationship with Kylie Jenner. It is at the very end because, while Tiffany’s story may include Kylie and Kendall, her story is so much more. It is one that needs to be heard without the distraction of the Hollywood limelight; especially
because her story begins as far from the glitz and glamour of Hollywood as you can possibly
imagine. This is Tiffany Sorya’s startup story.
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Novel Education Group: https://www.noveleducationgroup.com/
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Follow Tiffany on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/tiffanysorya/?hl=en
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Special Guest: Tiffany Sorya.
The Startup Story - Tiffany Sorya
Tiffany Sorya: This is Tiffany Sorya. I'm the founder of Novel Education group, and this is MY startup story.
James McKinney: Every wildfire began with a spark. Every superhero has an origin story. And every single startup has a moment that they point to as their beginning. And every founder has a purpose that drove them in the midst of all obstacles. THAT is The Startup Story.
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James McKinney: Before we jump into our episode this week, I want to share a review that was written on iTunes by Karin Banghart. She rated it five stars and wrote, "As an entrepreneur myself, I love hearing the stories and journeys of fellow business owners and startups. Keep them coming!" Well, Karen, you can be assured that these stories will continue, because there are hundreds of thousands of stories to be told. All of our featured founders have amazing stories and we know they are stories that can encourage and inspire hundreds of thousands more to start their entrepreneurial journey. We just need to get the word out. So thank you for being a fan, and I hope you will share The Startup Story with your friends and your LinkedIn network. If you found value in any of The Startup Story episodes, please leave a review. I will continue to read one each week so plug your brand in the review as well. Giving your business a plug is the least I can do if you take the time out of your day to write a review.
Now let's jump into this week's episode. In 2017 and 2018, I held live events where 80 to 100 people would attend to hear the startup story of a successful found in the technology space. The focus was on the tech scene or some sort of tech angle because of who our sponsor was at the time. It was during that period that I began to realize how many incredible startup stories were being overlooked because of that narrow focus, staying within the tech space. I wanted to tell these stories and that is why I launched The Startup Story podcast in January of 2019. This episode marks our twelfth episode, and we've explored the startup stories of E! Entertainment Television and Varidesk, social media influencer DocJenFit, and HGTV Fixer Upper star Clint Harp. But when I started The Startup Story, I would have never expected to be interviewing the founder of a homeschool group. But that is also why I started The Startup Story because I knew there were amazing founder stories out there that would inspire and encourage all who had listened. And this episode, I'm sure, is going to be one of our most popular.
This week's guest is Tiffany Sorya, the founder of Novel Education Group. Tiffany's startup story has so many unconventional layers to it that it truly displays how diverse the entrepreneurial journey can be. It sort of makes sense that her story would be unconventional since her goal is to meet the educational needs for those whose lives are unconventional. People like children of Fortune 100 executives, where travel is very significant. Or recording artists who are on tour with them, or even in some cases children who have early careers and are in the recording studio or on set frequently.
Tiffany Sorya: Being able to bring education into that space and make it relevant was really my big goal. I'm very lucky to have had very well known clients, so when I first started the business my first clients were Kendall and Kylie Jenner.
James McKinney: Your very first ones?
Tiffany Sorya: When I started the business, yeah.
James McKinney: How does that even happen?
Tiffany Sorya: Right.
James McKinney: Let's not just brush over that, because I'm sure I'd get all kinds of hate mail, "How did you not ask that question?"
Well, just know that I do ask that question, and I also explore some of her learnings of working with such high profile individuals like Kylie Jenner. That said, if you're hoping for an hour long conversation of what it's like being so close to Kylie and Kendall, then this is not the podcast for you. My conversation with Tiffany is about her startup story, and in this episode you will gain insight into how cultural heritage can impact our entrepreneurial journey. You will learn how paralyzing fear of the "what ifs" can be, and how powerful your story can become once you find yourself free from that fear. You will hear how important it is to be aware of critical gaps in the marketplace because opportunity lies within those gaps.
Make sure you listen to the very end of the episode, because there's a critical learning that Tiffany shares with us from her relationship with Kylie Jenner. I placed it at the very end, because while Tiffany's story may include Kylie and Kendall, her story is so much more, and it is one that needs to be heard without the distraction of the Hollywood limelight, especially because her story begins as far from the glitz and glamour of Hollywood as you can possibly imagine.
Tiffany Sorya: So my family is from Cambodia. Both my parents were born there, but they actually didn't meet there. They met in Paris. So my parents moved from Cambodia to Paris in the seventies. They lived there for 10 years, and then they came to the states. My parents are actually, I think of their story, they're not entrepreneurs but in every right they kind of are because their story alone, I feel I could never do that. They came here with just nothing. Didn't really speak English.
James McKinney: Coming to the United States as an immigrant, that's a startup story in itself.
Tiffany Sorya: Right, exactly. Didn't really speak English. My dad was educated, but when my parents met in Paris, it was during the second half of them being there was during the genocide in Cambodia.
James McKinney: Oh wow.
Tiffany Sorya: So they actually lost quite a few family members during that. So my mom dropped out of school to work so my dad could go to school. So then they moved to the states just for more… I think they had always planned on staying in France, but it just so happened they ended up moving to the states. I think that they lived in a hotel when they first moved to Oregon.
James McKinney: So was Oregon their first landing spot from Paris?
Tiffany Sorya: Yes, I believe so. I hope. Mom, I hope that's right.
James McKinney: I'm always kind of curious. In my mind I think if I'm coming to the states, obviously it would depend on which side of the globe I'm coming from. I think New York and I guess maybe LA is where I think of the landing spots, but Oregon, that's interesting. Okay.
Tiffany Sorya: Yeah. I think it was because my dad had a brother in Oregon already. It was either Oregon or Washington, somewhere in the northwest. So then they just did so well for themselves considering the situation. My mom worked like a night job for a while, then had my brother and I. I had a fantastic childhood. I really did. I had a fantastic childhood. My parents, we travelled from a very young age. Like I left the country for the first time when I was like seven or something. Grew up going to Cambodia every two years since I was 12, so very aware of my roots and my family in Cambodia. And very familiar with the country and the history of the country and all of that.
So had a great childhood, regular suburban kid, though, really. I went to public school. Had a dog, did the whole thing. I lived a very suburban life and did dumb stuff, whatever, when I was-
James McKinney: But being an entrepreneur was not on your radar.
Tiffany Sorya: it was not on my radar.
James McKinney: When you think back to your high school years, career day, which booths are you visiting?
Tiffany Sorya: I really had no idea. I was very confused. I think I had a bit of an identity issue growing up because I am a first generation kid. So I think for a lot of first generation kids, it's difficult because there's a huge cultural divide between your parents and how they want to raise you, and then the people that are around you. Especially growing up in Beaverton, Oregon which at the time was not the most diverse place in the world. I really kind of didn't know what I was supposed to want. But, I did always have something in me that wanted more.
James McKinney: That's awesome.
Tiffany Sorya: I always was curious about what else there was outside of Portland, Oregon. I would always like read magazines or books or things like that, and sort of just be like how did that person get there? There was always so many possibilities to me that were really… when I was talking to my peers, which is perfectly fine by the way. For them it was just sort of like, "Okay, this job sounds cool so I'm going to do this." There was really no job for me that sounded cool. I really didn't know. But for me, just there's got to be more. I want something more and I want something bigger.
James McKinney: Were your parents advocates for that thinking or was this the Truman Show where it's like, "You don't go over there."
Tiffany Sorya: A bit Truman Show-ish. Yeah, a bit Truman Show-ish. It's not like they held me back, but I think because of how their life turned out that reaching for something like that was just inaccessible for them. So raising my brother and me, it was just sort of like you could, and it might work out, but why would you do that when it might work out, when you could do this and you know it could work out for sure?
James McKinney: Yeah. They wanted stability for you.
Tiffany Sorya: They wanted stability. They wanted me to be safe. They wanted me to be happy. For them, they had no stability until they were like in their thirties. everything was really, really up in the air, and really horrible things happened to them. So I can understand. When I was younger, I never said any of this. Now that I'm older, I can really understand where they were coming from. So in high school, I wanted to graduate early.
James McKinney: So an overachiever.
Tiffany Sorya: Yeah, but-
James McKinney: Because you wanted to be, you're an overachiever by nature or you just wanted out?
Tiffany Sorya: I just wanted out.
James McKinney: Got it. Okay.
Tiffany Sorya: I just was done with that. No part of my high school or my life there really intrigued me very much. I was just ready to see what else there was, and I didn't really care about all the things that a traditional high school would give to you. I was never really interested in that. I just wanted to be done early so I could be out in the world and doing something else.
James McKinney: So did you finish a year earlier or-
Tiffany Sorya: Well actually, I didn't end up finishing. Sorry. I didn't actually end up finishing early, but I did end up taking some other courses. Like I shortened my senior year course list and took some other courses at the college. I decided to go to the city college. Everyone was going to these big state schools in Oregon and it was just my worst nightmare to think about going to college with the same people I went to high school with. So I was like I'm going to go this state school. So my path first started when I was still kind of confused and going to college. I was like, "Okay, I guess I'll just be pre med."
James McKinney: Actually, before we get to college, you said something interesting and part of your journey is obviously as a female entrepreneur. I hate that we have to add "female entrepreneur" in front of entrepreneur, but when you read statistics that only 7% of startups that get venture backed funding are female founded companies. So you know that we're still in a space where we do have to say "female founder," "male founder," because there has to be visibility to female founder companies. So going to your high school and your upbringing, your parents wanted stability. Was there a difference in parenting and guidance between you and your brother from your parents, or-
Tiffany Sorya: Yes.
James McKinney: So there was, okay. I thought there might have been just from a culture perspective, but I wasn't sure if one leaning was do what you want, the other was be an attorney, be a doctor. What was that like? What were some of the differences there?
Tiffany Sorya: Well, first of all, one similarity was that my brother, they never really pushed both of us to really reach for the stars. But my brother always had the time, whereas I didn't have the time.
James McKinney: Oh, okay.
Tiffany Sorya: That was really the big difference, was just like, "Okay, well you've got to figure it out because you've got to have babies and you need to get married." That's when your life really starts. Where for me, when you get married and when you have babies is when your life really starts. I'm neither married nor do I have kids right now, by the way.
James McKinney: But you have a dog.
Tiffany Sorya: But I have a dog, so I guess yes I do have one kid, which is not anything I ever really believed in.
James McKinney: Thank you for answering that. I thought there might have been and I wanted to unpack that a bit, because I think whether we acknowledge it now or not, it did have an impact into your journey.
Tiffany Sorya: Definitely. It continues to impact my journey. My brother still has more time than me, you know, even in adulthood. I am limited in ways because I'm a woman.
James McKinney: Does that drive you?
Tiffany Sorya: Yes, absolutely. Absolutely.
James McKinney: Awesome.
Tiffany Sorya: I mean I think the plight of being a woman, it's like I've got to be successful but I can't be more successful than my husband. I have to be a good mom but I also have to be like this boss. I have to be a boss, but I can't be mean. But then I can't be too nice.
James McKinney: There's a dance. You're always having to dance, yeah.
Tiffany Sorya: Always, and that's just to me the plight of being a woman, is just trying… people always wanting to say, "She's cool, but she's like this." I don't really feel like men run into those problems.
James McKinney: What I love though, and for all of our female listeners that are entrepreneurs or aspiring entrepreneurs, and maybe even business students we'll say, what I love that your mindset is you've just owned it. You're like, "That is not going to be a barrier or hurdle to me. It's what it is, and I'm going to bulldoze my way right through that." I love that about you.
Tiffany Sorya: Thanks.
James McKinney: So let's jump into your college now. You don't want to be an entrepreneur yet. You're thinking pre med is what you were saying.
Tiffany Sorya: I was thinking pre med or I was thinking something in the medical field. The thing is, despite whatever, I was always really good at school. I was always a bit of the school nerd, and I always loved science. So when I first when to school, I was like, "Okay, I guess I'll just do the pre med thing, whatever." But it wasn't the pre med thing that really captured my interest. It was just the science part. So my first year of college, I actually did really, really poorly and I think it's because I was really lost as an individual. I hadn't found the thing that like sparked anything in me. I just felt like I was going through the motions of life. Because I was just going through the motions, what was the point? I just didn't know the point of reading all these books and doing well. Couldn't see the forest through the trees. I couldn't see a light at the end of the tunnel. I was just doing it because that's what I was supposed to do.
Then when I dropped the med school pressure and suddenly the end wasn't as important as jus what I'm doing right now, something just clicked and suddenly I just started doing really, really well in school.
James McKinney: That's awesome. It's that love of learning became real again.
Tiffany Sorya: exactly, and suddenly then I felt that again of just the world is at my fingertips.
James McKinney: Oh, I love that, I love that.
Tiffany Sorya: I started feeling that again, like what I felt in high school, because I didn't feel that my first year of college. I felt really just like what am I supposed to do? I'm so limited. I actually felt really limited. Then when I just let go of the pressure, then everything suddenly felt like I could do anything I wanted, and I could be in school still. I didn't have to drop out of school. I could stay, and in fact being in school gave me more opportunity because I was learning more about all the things that were available to me, and I could travel.
James McKinney: That's awesome.
Tiffany Sorya: So then I graduated school and was at that point extremely ready to get out of Portland.
James McKinney: In Oregon, from U of O?
Tiffany Sorya: Portland State University, and I was really read at that point to get out. So that's when I moved to Los Angeles.
James McKinney: Let's time stamp that. What year are we talking you moved to LA?
Tiffany Sorya: 2010.
James McKinney: 2010, so you graduated in 2010 with what degree?
Tiffany Sorya: I graduated with a degree in biology and a minor in French.
James McKinney: You are incredibly smart. So you leave Portland 2010, biology, a science and a language. What were you thinking? Still right now you're not thinking entrepreneurship.
Tiffany Sorya: I'm still thinking…
James McKinney: But what were you thinking from a career perspective? You're coming to LA. What were your intentions?
Tiffany Sorya: At this point, I was feeling incredibly free spirited.
James McKinney: And this was not the seventies, by the way.
Tiffany Sorya: Yeah. So I came down with not much of a plan. Not much of a plan, but I knew in the back of my mind, I just wanted to get out and go somewhere where I was going to be exposed to so many new things, and I just kept my mind really open and I said, "Okay, I'm going to move to LA. I'll just sort of see what happens the next few months and I'll go back to school." Because really at this point, I had sort of fallen in love with school, and I saw myself maybe teaching at a college level or doing research, something like that.
James McKinney: So you're really in love with school and learning.
Tiffany Sorya: Definitely.
James McKinney: I mean you're thinking of that from a career perspective. You're really in love with it.
Tiffany Sorya: Yes. I'm really in love with it, because when I started doing well in college too is when that's the roots of my tutoring began, because I would help all of my friends with school and I would lead study group. Suddenly that was my power, like knowledge was my power because I grew up looking at all the pretty girls in school or looking at all the popular girls in school and not really knowing where I fit in. So when I suddenly became this really awesome student in college, suddenly that was my edge. That's what defined me. So I went with that. I was like, "Okay, I'll move down to LA and live life for a little bit, and just meet new people, see what experiences are there for me, and then I'll go back to school."
But what happened was in that time, I started tutoring as a job. I've never been a bartender or waitress type of person. I had one waitressing job in college. I was terrible at it. And I was like I can tutor, I know how to do all this stuff. I really enjoyed doing it before. I started tutoring and I was working for an agent. I got hired through an agency.
James McKinney: For tutoring?
Tiffany Sorya: For tutoring, and before I knew it I had a full case load. Within a few months, I had homeschool kids, I had after school tutoring, and I never even saw myself as an educator when I was younger, which was crazy. But I always loved school, so it made sense for me and I really enjoyed tutoring. I just really thought it was cool to see someone struggle or to see someone hate school and then come in with this fresh, new, young perspective. Because I was always like, and I still am a young spirited person as well. I just kind of felt well rounded. I mean, I loved school but I also like other things too. I wasn't just like living in a box. So when I started to click with the youth, that's when I started thing entrepreneurship.
James McKinney: Interesting. So what was it in that period where one, you found a passion. Now it's like okay, helping. I think there's service, there's a passion in that right? It's service, it's helping someone kind of get over that hump that is holding them back in some way, helping them with the love of learning. But how did you get to entrepreneurship in that?
Tiffany Sorya: So there's a couple things that happened. So I was fulltime for the agency and then I also got hired through an actual school for homeschooling, a school that exclusively did homeschooling programs. I was working for both and the school was actually based in Atlanta, but they had an LA branch out here, so I was sort of the head of the LA branch. I just saw, because I was the one that was working one on one with all these kids. I was the one that was picking out all these teachers to match with the families, so I kind of just really started to notice what worked, and what didn't. I saw a void.
James McKinney: That's where the entrepreneur journey begins, right there.
Tiffany Sorya: That's where it all came. And I remember when I was just tutoring too, I was talking to my parents and talking to my friends. I was like, "I feel like I could do this on my own, and I feel like I could do it better than the agency is doing it. I feel like I could do it better than this school is doing it. I know what these kids want. I k now what type of schooling they're looking for." I feel like it all comes from something like I could do something that no one else is doing right now.
James McKinney: So how old were you in that moment?
Tiffany Sorya: 23.
James McKinney: Okay, so for all those listening, think about the ingredients that Tiffany just put out there real quick. She saw a gap. She knew herself to know that she could do something better, and she began processing through what that looked like to actually do it herself. And I think what a lot of people get hung up on is they can see a gap, but then they start thinking to themselves all the things as to why they can't be the ones to solve that. So my question to you is you did not grow up in an entrepreneurial environment. It doesn't sound like you had a lot of mentorship under entrepreneurship.
So why did you think you could do it and how did you overcome? I assume you probably had some self doubt in your head, but you're thinking, "Okay do I really want to do this on my own? Is this contrary to how I was raised with stability?" because entrepreneurship is anything but stable, both emotionally, financially, any way you want to slice it. How did you get over that mental narrative to actually say, "I'm doing it," and move forward on it?
Tiffany Sorya: The support of some friends, definitely. And just the idea that if I didn't, I already knew what was going to happen if I didn't do it. But I didn't know the possibilities unless I tried it.
James McKinney: Oh my God, I love that.
Tiffany Sorya: I already knew what my life was going to look like if I didn't try. Not that it was bad. I loved teaching. The agency was great, the school was great. But who knows what could happen if I tried, and if it didn't work out, it's okay. I could always go back. It's okay if it doesn't work out. I really felt like that was the big thing. And I kind of feel like a lot of people don't know how easy it is to actually incorporate a business. It's pretty simple. It's like the click of a button.
James McKinney: Yes, it is. It really is.
Tiffany Sorya: Literally anything that you want. If I want to start a sweater company or something, it's just the click of a button to incorporate the name of something and to purchase the domain online. It's very simple. And a lot of… including me, didn't understand how simple it was to really have a website and have an incorporated name. then after you have that, then it's really yours. It's yours and you can do what you want with it.
James McKinney: You know, you said something that I felt like you were just taking myself and listeners to church there, and I want to make sure we cover that again is that you knew what your life looked like if you didn't make the decision, but you didn't know what would be on the other side of that and you wanted to explore that. You wanted to see that. I love that because there are so many opportunities people miss out on, and you weren't having it. You're like no, I don't know what's over there, but I want to explore. I want to see what's over there. And I love that.
Tiffany Sorya: Yeah. I want to see what's over there. I want to see all the possibilities there are. I didn't want to put a cap on anything, stable or not, and that's really what pushed me to do it.
James McKinney: I love it.
Tiffany Sorya: Was I just want to see what happens. Just like click the button.
James McKinney: I'm the first member of church of Tiffany. I love this. I love it. So keep preaching. So you now know that you want to move forward in this and you have friends that supported you and having that support system that was encouraging, that encouragement army behind you obviously helped. So what is that journey now? Now you're moving forward in this. What do those steps look like?
Tiffany Sorya: So then I incorporated Novel Education Group, which is the company that I have now, and started my own private homeschooling and tutoring agency. So what I did website I will say it requires research. That's something that I must say, other than clicking the button, you have to do. So I took the bits and pieces that I loved from all my experiences and from the little jobs I had here and there, and sort of molded my own company and my own philosophy, and the way that I would have liked to be taught, and the way that I see kids now want to be taught. Education is in a much different space than it was even when I was in school, especially in Los Angeles as well, where we have younger and younger people really looking to entrepreneurship, and younger and younger people making money. So being able to bring education into that space and make it relevant was really my big goal.
I'm very lucky to have had very well known clients. So when I first started the business, my first clients were Kendall and Kylie Jenner.
James McKinney: Your very first ones.
Tiffany Sorya: When I started the business, yeah.
James McKinney: How does that even happen? Let's not just brush over that, because I'm sure I'd get all kinds of hate mail, "How did you not ask that question?" How does that even happen?
Tiffany Sorya: I actually was working with them previously through one of the other companies.
James McKinney: As a tutor?
Tiffany Sorya: As a tutor.
James McKinney: Got it, okay.
Tiffany Sorya: And then I started my own business and let them know what I was doing, and it really resonated with them. It resonated with Kris Jenner, and they've also always been very supportive of women entrepreneurship, obviously.
James McKinney: Oh, that's awesome.
Tiffany Sorya: Yeah. So when they knew that I was starting this, they trusted me with a lot of stuff, and they believed in me, and they believed in what I was doing, and they said, "We want to go with you."
James McKinney: That's awesome.
Tiffany Sorya: So that was really the start of everything and what really helped me launch this whole platform of just this is the way that I want to do school, this is how we make it relevant, and this is how we fit it into lives of people who live this type of lifestyle.
James McKinney: So what years was this when Kylie and Kendall were your first clients under Novel Education Group?
Tiffany Sorya: It was like five years ago I would say. Yeah, it was about five years ago because obviously now they're both graduated and doing well for themselves.
James McKinney: I think they're doing all right. I mean…
Tiffany Sorya: Yeah, they're okay.
James McKinney: So five years ago, Novel Education Group starts. Your first two clients happen to be big names, but were they your only clients? Was the business model one to one, and you stayed with them through the course of education?
Tiffany Sorya: Yeah, give or take. The homeschooling was one to one. But through just sort of the network of tutoring and things like that, I started just to get a lot of calls from, "My friend said that you tutored her daughter. We were wondering if you had anyone for my son who's struggling in chemistry?" And also, when you're in any industry for a while you kind of get to know other people that do the same thing, so I'd be like, "Oh yeah, my friend Harry over here is really great at chemistry, so let me send him over." So I actually started doing that before I incorporated the business. I would just sort of be like, "Oh, okay, I'll send my friend here and I'll send my friend there." But then I started getting more calls, and so I was like, "Wait a minute. I know I can turn this into something."
Then when things started rolling where we really started to shine was in the homeschooling, and being able to provide a service that I really didn't feel like existed at the time, and a service that a lot of parents really took to and so did the students. I always feel like the goal when you start a business, obviously you want to be successful and you want your business to be lucrative. You set those goals for yourself. But what's equally important is actually working on your service and your product, and making that the most important because if you continue to really fine-tune the service, then people will come to you. Because what are people ultimately looking for? They're looking for a good product, and they're looking for a good service. So if you don't have those things and you start a business, even if it's fleeting in the beginning and you do find success in the beginning, it will very quickly dwindle.
James McKinney: What obstacles did you run into? You were 100% right on the product and service, but a part of the growth of a company is that learning. It's you hit a wall, whether it be financial wall, whether it be in the case of restaurants bad reviews, whatever. You hit something that just impacts your growth. It causes you to second guess some of your steps. What were some of those early steps or missteps for you because your only… well, your only clients weren't Kylie and Kendall because you had a lot of the other tutor placements and referrals, as well.
Tiffany Sorya: Yes. I did have a couple other families here and there, but in terms of homeschooling, it was just the one. The obstacles were getting more clients. The space that I really wanted this to work in, which was in sort of the entertainment industry space, and the space of people live unconventional lifestyles where a traditional schooling experience doesn't really fit in with how they live their lives. It was the awareness really. Getting the message out there was definitely an obstacle. Branding was an obstacle as well.
James McKinney: What was the challenge and what did you learn through that? Now I'm thinking about it, your contracts if you will do have a termination date and it's graduation. So at some point you know this client I am no longer servicing after X date. So there is only a finite time of service, so you're right you had to find more clients. What was that obstacle to awareness, especially in the entertainment industry? There's so much noise out there, and how did you overcome it?
Tiffany Sorya: Trying to find a way to spread the word I think was one of the biggest obstacles I had, and continue to have really, especially with a business like mine which is a bit unconventional what I do.
James McKinney: You are the only homeschool brand that I can imagine interviewing. This is hilarious to me, so you're right it is unconventional.
Tiffany Sorya: It is unconventional and a lot of people didn't know, still don't know, that it exists and that a service like ours does exist. So really finding a way to reach out to the right people and just hitting the ground running with that. Putting together something really presentable and reaching out to as many people as possible in terms of this is what I do, this is who I am, and you just keep going. You've got to just keep going, and you learn that if you cast a wide net, then you're going to catch fish.
James McKinney: But how do you do that with your clients? If I misunderstood please correct me, in your pursuit of those with unconventional lives, entertainment industry we'll say, I'm assuming that is heavily dependent on word of mouth.
Tiffany Sorya: Yes, it is.
James McKinney: If I'm a celebrity, I'm not going to let just anyone school my kids. It's going to be a recommendation from another celebrity who has had their kids schooled.
Tiffany Sorya: Right. So you know how you said that everything is sort of finite with what we do. And it is, you're absolutely right. However, it's almost like that's a detriment to my business but it's also not because if I wasn't good at what I did, then they would continue to need me forever.
James McKinney: That is true, that is true.
Tiffany Sorya: The point of what I do is that they continue to be successful adults after our job is done because we're trying to make education not just like, "Hey, geometry and physics and World War II." We're trying to teach these people a set of skills that they will carry with them into adulthood. So even though you've got a 15 year old singer who has just signed a major recording contract or something, he's still going to need how to write and read well. He's still going to need to communicate effectively. Those are the things that we're going to try and teach them. When your time ends with them, and they move on to be successful, then that's sort of like the best advertising that you can have.
James McKinney: Oh awesome.
Tiffany Sorya: That's really how it's worked out for me is that the kids have always done well.
James McKinney: Yeah. So for those, and I'm curious right now the construct of the business, is it just you that are the full time teachers?
Tiffany Sorya: No. I have a team of teachers now.
James McKinney: So people can contact you for homeschooling their kids in the industry?
Tiffany Sorya: Mm-hmm.
James McKinney: Awesome.
Tiffany Sorya: Absolutely, absolutely. Yeah, we provide all of that. It's a full service that we provide.
James McKinney: So now you've been doing this for five years. If you were to look back, what would you do differently after you left the agency in growing this business?
Tiffany Sorya: I think I would have spent more time on branding.
James McKinney: How so?
Tiffany Sorya: I think I would have spent more time on how people viewed my service and how people viewed me, and being more informative on all the things that we were capable of doing. I think that's really important. I think I would have planned further in advance in terms of how to deal with capacity.
James McKinney: Okay. What would you have done though?
Tiffany Sorya: Well, I would just say that one mistake I definitely made which has helped me but looking back what I would have done differently, I learned schedule management, taxes, all that stuff, I learned it as I went which was extremely stressful.
James McKinney: Absolutely.
Tiffany Sorya: It was really, really stressful so I think I would have spent more time on like the logistics of it all.
James McKinney: Makes sense, makes sense yeah.
Tiffany Sorya: And like setting it up. Not just dealing with things as they come, but trying to prepare for them a little bit more. Curating the service obviously really important, but also finding a way to prepare for what's ahead. And also really projecting where you see the business in like five years. That's not something I asked myself when I started the business, because I kind of did it on a whim. But I would have asked myself, "Okay, like where do you see yourself in five years and how do you get there? And then what do you do to prepare for when you do get there in five years?" Because sometimes it's five years later and you look up, and you're like, "Oh, I didn't really plan for any of this."
James McKinney: And this is so common to the entrepreneurial journey. People jump in. they see a gap, they see a way they can solve it, and they just go into action mode and forget sometimes about the planning, the forward thinking. So let me ask this question though, because as a solopreneur when you started, did you, especially because you came out of the gate with clients, so you didn't have the financial stress. I don't say that just because of who your clients were, but because you had clients. You didn't have the financial worries of, "I've got to get invoice, I've got to get a sale, I've got to get a sale." Did you find yourself becoming comfortable and that impacting your growth as well?
Tiffany Sorya: Well, you know, in all honesty I did have the financial stress because my clients were finite. They were graduating in a couple years. But I thought to myself, I was like okay, I've got nine months of school year to teach them, do my job with them, but I also have nine months to like grow this business and get more clients for next year. So I was thinking a year ahead for every single year, just sort of how can I get clients here, how can I get clients here. That's really what I'm constantly even now.
James McKinney: See that's interesting. I didn't take into effect your business being we'll say September to June or whatever, and therefore your income, your revenue stream September to June. Okay, now I understand. Got it.
Tiffany Sorya: I mean I do a lot of our kids go to school year round because of just sort of-
James McKinney: Their life.
Tiffany Sorya: Their lives, the situation that they're in. They don't take summer breaks or anything like that, and a lot of them are trying to graduate early. So that's a little bit different, but yeah, I was always thinking about the next year. Here's the things, too. I feel like a lot of people shy away from entrepreneurship because of the instability and because of the stress and because of the worry of just like what if I'm sitting in my office and the phone doesn't ring all day long?
James McKinney: The "what ifs" are a thousand pound burden for people.
Tiffany Sorya: Yes, they really are. They really are. But just moving forward, continuing, and I feel like this is where the whole curate your service thing comes in. If you just put the work in and believe in your product, and continue just to move forward, the phone will ring. People will call. And if you provide something good for them, then they'll refer you to a friend. It'll just, that's how it organically happens.
James McKinney: For those that are considering homeschool, we homeschool our kids, what sets you apart from the numerous options that are out there for those that are listening?
Tiffany Sorya: It's definitely the tailored aspect of what we do, and it's the all inclusive service. We are able to provide everything, and we're talking teachers, supplies, full time curriculum. We can go wherever you need us to go in the world and coming from a philosophy of teaching people how to learn, I think that's really been the foundation of Novel Education Group. Teaching people how to find the answer to things that they don't have the answers to. Teaching students how to read something and look at it critically. Teaching people how to find information on the internet and then understanding whether or not that information is reliable.
James McKinney: Wait, it's not always true on the internet? What are you talking about?
Tiffany Sorya: You know, really teaching them because you'll be surprised. A lot of them, this newer generation that's coming up is obviously heavily influenced by the internet. Libraries aren't really a thing. I remember having to go to libraries and looking up information for my papers. You could always rely on a book because people read them and published them. And on the internet, you don't get published on the internet. You just kind of can put information on the internet. So teaching kids that, teaching students, sorry, they're not all kids.
James McKinney: If your students are listening, they're like it's about time you corrected that.
Tiffany Sorya: Yeah, yeah, exactly right. That how to approach a problem and how to solve it I think really has been, and going through the curriculum with those philosophies in mind. So really teaching skills through the curriculum. I think that's really what sets us apart.
James McKinney: That's awesome.
Tiffany Sorya: It's not a plug and chug type of situation, and that's really what I wanted to veer away from, and that's what I was feeling when I was just tutoring, and that's why I wanted to break out of it. I don't want to go plug and chug. I don't want my students to ever feel like they're doing busy work, and I want to be able to provide the type of service that feels really impactful.
James McKinney: That's awesome. Are you fulfilled with what you're doing?
Tiffany Sorya: Absolutely, absolutely, yeah. In fact, yeah, I couldn't be happier that I decided to do this.
James McKinney: Because it's easy sailing, right, there's no challenges at all. Right?
Tiffany Sorya: Yeah, right. It's been so easy. I look back actually on how confused I was as a college student and a high school student, and I really feel like I have found this great little niche for myself, where I feel fulfilled emotionally and also professionally. Another great thing about being an entrepreneur is that you don't ever run out of work. There's just always something to do and there's-
James McKinney: Always.
Tiffany Sorya: Yeah, right? There's just new projects to take on and truly the possibilities are endless. Truly. And you only really get that with entrepreneurship, and that's just like the beauty of the whole thing.
James McKinney: That's the beauty of the journey is you can keep extending the journey. You can add a new path. I absolutely love it. Since you've learned that five years ago you wish you would have kind of done some forward thinking, and where you want to be in five years, what is the future of Novel Education Group?
Tiffany Sorya: I see, you know Novel Education is something that I just want to continue to grow. I see a larger team of teachers. I see us working international, with more international families, and I really see us being the go to for the entertainment industry, in terms of how a younger like a teenager can go to school and pursue a career at the same time. That's really where I see it. I see it being the go to for management companies, and agencies, and things like that that are just like okay, cool. We've got this 15 year old that really loves to sing, or we've got this 15 year old that really loves to act, but education is also really important. I don't ever believe that you have to choose between having a career and being educated as a young person. It's really important that it stays prevalent. And it's important that it stays relevant. I want kids that are following all these stars on Instagram and things like that, I want them to also know where they're going to school. I want that to be a part of their message as well.
James McKinney: I love that. In fact, that falls in line with your brand. I think I saw somewhere, I think it's the tagline of your company, "Making learning stylish."
Tiffany Sorya: Yeah, "Making smart stylish again."
James McKinney: Making smart stylish, I love that.
Tiffany Sorya: We live in this time of trends and things like that, and I feel like education has just been sort of washed out as of recent years because of this huge boom of influencers and young careers. Suddenly, school is just sort of been on the back burner or just… and I want it to be not that. I want the kids that are these fans to also know that school is great and being educated is cool, and being smart is cool. It's a cool thing to be smart. It's a cool thing to be aware, and it's a cool thing to be able to speak effectively, and really just no matter what career you get into, you will be a better songwriter if you're educated.
James McKinney: Oh, absolutely.
Tiffany Sorya: You will be a better actor if you're educated, and you will be a better, more impactful influencer if you're educated. Your opinions will have validity. It resonates with everyone.
James McKinney: You will be a better human being.
Tiffany Sorya: Yes.
James McKinney: Absolutely, oh I love that. So one of the questions I always ask founders, because I believe so much that if we forget the shoulders that we stood upon to get to where we are today, and we lose that sense of gratitude, it will inevitably lead to our failure. So when you look back at your journey, and you're still in the journey, who do you look back to and point with just an immense amount of gratitude?
Tiffany Sorya: Even though my parents didn't say, "Reach for the stars," them. If anything, they just made me feel safe enough to do this. Another one is my aunt who passed away few years ago. I looked to her for a lot of advice because she was also first generation. So she also struggled with the same things that I was struggling with, of just sort of my parents want this but then these people want this. My parents want me to do this, but I want to do this, what am I supposed to do? So she really helped me make everything more focused. How do I focus all of these ideas into one thing that I can execute? And really honestly Kendall and Kylie, for believing in me, for continuing to support me. A lot of my LA friends just for saying, "This is cool, you can totally do this. You can do this." I'd be like, "Yeah, you're right. I can do this. I'm going to try this. I'm going to see what happens."
James McKinney: Part of the reason I ask that question, one because I truly do believe that if we forget all the people that poured into us and encouraged us to take the steps we need to take to where we are today, we'll begin to think that we can do it on our own, and it's in that solo flight that we will fail. So I truly do believe that. But one of the other reasons, for the listeners to understand just the incredible power of support and encouragement of others. Even if you're a reluctant entrepreneur yourself and you have those people in your life that are wanting to do something different. Even someone who's so incredibly overweight but they have made the statement that, "I want to lose 200 pounds." That encouragement and that support matters in the long term.
Tiffany Sorya: It really. Also, my publicist.
James McKinney: She's in the room. There's an awkward silence here.
Tiffany Sorya: No, but she really made me believe it. She was like, "You're doing something really great." When you have people tell you that, I always feel like and I feel this way with students too. I always feel like you want to live up to the expectations that people put on you. So when someone believes in you and believes that you're great, you want to be great, and then you work hard at being great.
James McKinney: I love it. Words are so powerful, and I just want people to understand. I love that there's… in fact, I think you spoke recently at a women's luncheon event for entrepreneurial women. There's just so much power in the assembly of likeminded people. And so I love that you're pouring back into the entrepreneurial community by joining us as well. So thank you for your time and doing this with us, because I think your journey brings so much encouragement to those listening. It's so insightful. Again, I would have never guessed when I started The Startup Story that I would have ever had a founder of a homeschool networknever . This is crazy to me. It's amazing to me how diverse the entrepreneurial journey is, so for all those listening that have a notebook full of dreams or whatever the case may be, or you're a frustrated entrepreneur, or a defeated entrepreneur, there are so many ways to keep pursuing.
So I guess I want to ask you as we wrap our time up together, I do say our listeners are the reluctant entrepreneurs and 9 to 5, maybe a mortgage and they're married with kids, and there's some reason they're hesitant to move forward on their dreams. Or maybe it's age. Maybe they're in their late fifties and they think it's too old to do something like that. Or the defeated entrepreneur who's tried it over and over again and failed every single time. Or the one who is an entrepreneur right now and has a business, but is just frustrated by the lack of growth. In fact, I'm sure as I'm describing these, you're resonating with at least one of those three as we're talking about it.
Tiffany Sorya: Absolutely.
James McKinney: So what do you say to one of those people right now?
Tiffany Sorya: It is never linear. This path is not linear at all. Don't ever believe for a second that the successful person that's sitting next to you in a restaurant, or the person that you read about in a magazine, that they just tried something and then it just worked and then that was it for them. Because that's so not the case. Two, it doesn't matter how old you are. If you're 70 and you want to start a business, you can do it.
James McKinney: Love it.
Tiffany Sorya: You can do it, absolutely. It's just an idea until you put it down on paper, or until you do something with it. And everything starts as an idea. So just to try. That's really just my advice, is just try. Just give it a try, that's it. That's all it takes. That's all it takes is just one try. Then suddenly that try turns into another try, and then that try turns into another try. It'll work. Something will work for you. Even if just your current product or idea or something isn't taking off the way that you wanted try a different one. Try a facet of that product. Try a facet of that service, do you know what I mean? There's not only one thing that people do. There's several things.
James McKinney: I love it. Take me to church again. That's so good. I hope all the listeners, and I know all the listeners got so much value from our conversation. Thank you so very much, Tiffany.
Tiffany Sorya: Of course, thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate it.
James McKinney: After my time with Tiffany, my eyes are wide open to how many different paths to entrepreneurship there are, and I hope yours are as well. I believe that all too often, we have a very narrow perspective about what an entrepreneur is, or what type of venture is worth of pursuing. That narrow definition is also adopted by those around us who don't even have entrepreneurial longings. What has been your challenge on moving forward on your idea or passion? Is it that you've convinced yourself that there's no need for it or that it doesn't have a place in the market? That might very well be true, but have you validated it yet?
See, it's so common for us to allow our internal narrative to dictate our path forward. So many times we've allowed a false idea to take residence in our mind and limit our future potential. If you have some belief in your mind as to why your business is failing, or why you should not even start a business, do the research and analysis. Do not simply let an unfounded idea stay within your mindset and control your future direction and potential. Tiffany shared with us that for her, she was simply too curious about what could happen if she ventured on her own, so she did the research and moved on her dream. Do not sit still. Keep moving forward. The entrepreneurial journey is not linear and there is definitely no one size fits all form to entrepreneurship. Do not opt out of pursuing your own venture because of something you are unsure of. Do the research and make a decision on truth.
Now while Tiffany's startup is very different than most, her challenges remained the same. Exposure and brand awareness. Please support a fellow entrepreneur by following her on Instagram @TiffanySorya. We'll have a link to her Instagram in our show notes, so make sure you check that out as well. You can also visit her website at NovelEducationGroup.com. Entrepreneurs support entrepreneurs, and in all the digital noise that surrounds us, it is so very challenging to get our message out there. Yes, this is even true for those closely tied to Kylie and Kendall Jenner. So let's support our featured guest today and let's give Tiffany some love out there.
Now, for my personal ask. The Startup Story community has been so incredible with sharing our podcast with others, but we have more stories to tell and more people to reach. We are a startup and the most powerful way you can support The Startup Story podcast is to leave a review on Apple Podcast or wherever you get your podcast. Follow us on Facebook and Instagram @TheStartupStory.co. Share The Startup Story on your social media, either with a link or a screenshot. Make sure you tag or mention us @TheStartupStory.co so we can see your help and say thank you for it.
Lastly, share the podcast on your LinkedIn profile. The Startup Story is for entrepreneurs, so please do not underestimate the power of sharing The Startup Story on your LinkedIn profile so other entrepreneurs can discover us. In fact, most people struggle to share good content on LinkedIn anyways, so if you want to support The Startup Story then search for The Startup Story company page, follow us, and share our posts to help encourage other founders and spread the word about the podcast. Every single founder has a story, and the startup stories we bring you every week can encourage and inspire another founder. It might just be what they needed to hear to keep moving forward on their dreams. I look forward to sharing these stories every Tuesday with hopes to inspire you to start YOUR story.
James McKinney: So I know I'm going to have people that are listening, wondering how did James not ask anything about being what it was like to be around Kylie and Kendall. So being that this is a startup story podcast, it isn't incredibly fitting, but I know people are dying for that type of question. So my question to you is, what did you learn from your time with Kylie and Kendall as you were their mentor?
Tiffany Sorya: So I remember when I first posted on my Instagram who I was, what I did, what I stood for, and what my business was. This is at a time when Kylie had just launched her app. This is a long time ago. She had a section of her website and app called Fresh Blood. It featured people who were making moves in their specific industry. So she said, "Okay, this is great. I want to highlight you and what you're doing with education, and what you're doing with school." I was like, "Oh, awesome. Great, thank you so much." We did a little shoot, a little Q&A, and then it went live on the app, and then I posted it on my Instagram and it was the first time that I had posted sort of anything that really correlated my career with myself.
James McKinney: Got it. Okay.
Tiffany Sorya: And I posted it and I was really excited, and I posted. I remember writing in the caption, "Who am I? I'm Tiffany Sorya and I'm the founder of Novel Education Group. I was Kendall and Kylie's homsechool teacher." I got some hate. I got some negative comments.
James McKinney: Oh my goodness.
Tiffany Sorya: I got some mean comments and I was like, "That's mean, and that's sad. I'm sad." Then I remembered just thinking, "I can't post stuff because I'm a teacher and I have to be sensible all the time. I'm an educator so I have to be serious all the time, and I can't post about this new lipstick that I love or this new movie that's really cool," or something like that. So I remember talking to Kylie about it, because when I said to her, "God, people are really mean sometimes on social media, really saying mean comments." At first she was like, "Welcome to the club."
Then number two, I was like, "I don't know. Maybe because I'm a teacher I should be careful about what I post and be a little bit more sensible, and just sort of to the people that follow me." I looked at her, and she looked at me and she goes, "Who cares?" She's like, "You can be whatever you want to be and just because you look the way you look, and you like the things that you like does not make you not smart. So you can be whatever you want and people will love it. Even if you were to stay sensible and you were to stay inside the box of being a teacher, you would still get hate for that somehow." So she really taught me to just be whoever I wanted to be and that was fine.
James McKinney: I love that.
Tiffany Sorya: And I was going to find success despite all the things I wasn't and all the things that I was.