Sumukh is smart, articulate, wise far beyond his 19 years, and determined to change the world for the better. He’s an inspiration to me, and I know he’ll inspire you too. He wrote his first book at age 12, organized two TEDX events at his high school, and founded Teendemy.com. He knows there are many skills to master in order for his generation to find professional fulfillment and success in our fast paced and ever-changing world. Skills and wisdom that traditional education mostly ignores. He shares with us what those are, and more. Listen to this one with your kids and teenagers and pass it around. They’re capable of far more than we give them credit for.
Find the courses and interviews at https://teendemy.com
More about Sumukh Setty at: http://sumukhsetty.com
For more episodes go to: https://schoolofconnection.com/podcast
Rana Olk (Host): Hello, everybody. It’s good to have you back. I have been chomping at the bit to have our next guest on today, and I do not want to waste a single minute, so let’s get to it. His name is Sumukh Setty. He started his first company in 2015. It’s called Teendemy. He founded and curated two TedX events. He has hosted a radio show called TGIF, Thank Gosh It’s Fresh, and he has interviewed some of the most influential leaders in Silicon Valley today, and here is the thing: he has barely just begun because he’s only 19 years old. I feel very privileged to be one of the people who will get to witness the world that he is no doubt going to play a big part in bettering for all of us.
Sumukh, thank you for being here, well covered.
Sumukh Setty (Guest): Thank you so much. I’m really, really excited, and I’m super, super grateful for the opportunity.
Rana Olk (Host): You’re welcome, thanks for coming. So, tell us where you are joining us from.
Sumukh Setty (Guest): Yeah, yeah. It’s super exciting. I’m joining you from Babson College. I’m in my dorm room where I am currently a sophomore, and Babson is the number one school for entrepreneurship and has been my dream school.
Rana Olk (Host): Wow! So, how old were you would you say when you got your first taste of entrepreneurship?
Sumukh Setty (Guest): Yeah, I mean, I think it goes back to when I was like, 13, probably, I think. One of my dad’s friends, he wanted some Kindle books converted or some e-books converted to Kindle books, and I offered to do it for him, and I earned a good chunk of money, about $2000, I think.
Rana Olk (Host): Oh, my God! At 13 years old.
Sumukh Setty (Guest): Yes, that was a good sum of money to have when I was that young, and I’d say that was probably my first taste of entrepreneurship.
Rana Olk (Host): Who was your advisor on negotiating that deal?
Sumukh Setty (Guest): My dad. He continues to be my biggest advisor today.
Rana Olk (Host): I’m a fan of your dad as well. So, tell us about, I mentioned Teendemy, and that is really what you are still doing. So, tell us about Teendemy.
Sumukh Setty (Guest): Yeah. Teendemy has been a wild journey. We basically started off aiming to inspire the next generation of entrepreneurs, and over my time at Babson and through the later parts of my high school, I started to realize that I don’t know if entrepreneurship is for every kid, right? I think as kids, we are sold this myth that entrepreneurship, it is this beautiful, luxurious path where you work and all of a sudden, your companies going to get sold and you are now a millionaire, right? But, I think a lot of kids are hidden from the fact that entrepreneurship is a lot of long days, a lot of failures, and so I think we shifted gears and we started to realize, let us up with these kids with soft skills and life skills so that they can go in and be successful regardless of whatever they wanted to do, and so we now are in it to not just create a generation of entrepreneurs, but create a generation of better people. If they choose to go through the entrepreneurship path, that is on them, but we are in it just to equip you with these skills that you end up coming out of your young years being prepared and ready to kill it in the real world.
Rana Olk (Host): Well, that’s incredible. Now, I’m wondering, having grown up in Silicon Valley, do you think that you are even more surrounded by kids who are growing up under the influence of those kinds of thoughts, like “Oh, I’m going to be an entrepreneur. I’m going to create something and I’m going to sell it, and I’m going to be a millionaire”?
Sumukh Setty (Guest): I mean, I think it’s worth in the value, right? And, I think this whole belief for me started – I think wouldn’t have come about if I wasn’t in the Valley, and I love the Valley. I think it’s an amazing, beautiful place, one that can really make or break you, but I also think it can get to people in the sense that you are caught up with all these people that are doing amazing things, that are doing incredible, on some initiatives and starting their own things, but at the end of the day, I think a lot of kids need to realize that they need to follow their own paths. Whatever that means for them, that means whatever that means for them, but I think they are caught up in this like, “I need to do this, this, this in order to keep up with my friends or people who I call my peers,” and I think a lot of kids get caught up in that whole feeling.
Rana Olk (Host): So, I’m curious how you came to the realization that these soft skills are really what make or break all of us, frankly?
Sumukh Setty (Guest): Yeah, I mean, I think it was a combination of not just me talking to my dad’s family friends and entrepreneurs in the Valley and realizing that success for them never really came down to what they learned in school. Yeah, that was super helpful, but I think success came down to, were they able to network effectively? Were they able to make deals? Were they able to think critically and make effective decisions, right? And, I think because they were able to do all that, their rate of success was dramatically rapid – was more rapid than I think a person without those skills, and I started to look at my peers and I realized, I had learned these skills kind of through osmosis, just by being in the car with my dad and conversations with him, and talking to my family friends, but not every kid really gets that experience, and so I basically wanted to replicate kind of my upbringing because I felt like my parents had given me a much more well-rounded education, and hopefully, just wanted to replicate that for more kids around my country.
Rana Olk (Host): And, that’s a great point to make, I think. I would’ve asked you, in fact, how much of what you do you attribute to the fact that you had all of these positive influences in your life, and surrounding you, whereas I think it’s safe to say the majority of teenagers don’t have that, and is Teendemy filling that gap?
Sumukh Setty (Guest): I hope. I hope that through our work, there is some kid out there that’s watching our content, that’s looking at all of the interviews that we are putting up, and really taking it on themselves on this journey of starting to personally to look into professional development and all these things that they can do to better themselves, but I don’t think that there is a place where kids can really get started. We did a course a while back with a mentor of mine, Dan Waldschmidt who is a consultant [0:07:19] and he talks a lot about how to be awesome, how to be educated, right? It’s the unique things that I think we want to bring to kids all around the country, and hopefully, inspire them to start this journey of becoming better and over all, just becoming able to handle the world’s challenges.
Rana Olk (Host): Yeah, and that podcast, actually, Dan also has this podcast, it’s a great podcast for anybody, absolutely. So, for those who are listening who are saying, “Okay, I don’t have these influences. In fact, I have a lot of struggles, a lot of challenges, and maybe I’m not even doing well in school,” and for those of you listening regardless, if you have children, they should listen to this. If you have teenagers, they should listen to this because a lot of the people listening right now may be adults, but I personally believe that the interviews that you are doing in Teendemy with people like Dan Waldschmidt, the WallMax, with Dr. Rowe, these are interviews that would benefit anybody. I know that they are geared toward teenagers, but all of the people that you talk to have really insightful things to say that we should all learn from, but to those that are listening that are saying, “Okay, my circumstances are so different,” where would you advise them to start?
Sumukh Setty (Guest): Yeah, that is a great question, one I get actually a lot when I talk to teens who are now in high school [0:09:00], and actually, just a quick note, we actually did interview Amy on our [0:09:06]. That was an absolutely incredible interview that I had the pleasure of doing, and so hopefully, that will be up before this interview gets out, so hopefully, people can check that out as well, but back to your question, where could people start, right? And, I think it goes back to really surrounding yourself with people that first of all, help you grow, right? Like, even if it’s peers, I think those are as well positive influences. So, I’m lucky enough to walk out of high school with three best friends who push me, call me out on my shortcomings, and who make me a better person, right? And, I think it starts as simple as they are. I think a lot of kids nowadays are like, “Oh, I need to find a mentor. I need to find these people that I look up to, I need to get close to these people,” and I think it starts with looking at who you are really close to now, and if you can’t really consider your close friends as people that will push you to succeed and support you on your goals, then I think you need to reevaluate who exactly you are spending the majority of your time with, but then obviously, there’s the whole thing of, go to events, network, use your family’s presence and the things around you as much as possible. You are young, and you get to be young ones, and so you have the youthful charm about you now, and I recommend using that as much as possible. People love to, I think, help young people because it’s the next generation and obviously, they want to see us succeed, and it’s just about putting yourself out there.
Rana Olk (Host): Great. I was going to say, everything you just said applies to adults once again except for that youthful charm part, so no, that’s fantastic advice. So, where do you see that this is going? Where do you see this going in the next, say two years, five years, 20 years?
Sumukh Setty (Guest): Yeah, that’s a big question.
Rana Olk (Host): If you had your way, if you had your way in a perfect world.
Sumukh Setty (Guest):So, we are starting to build an online presence, but what we have started to realize is in order to build and actually thriving community, we need an off-line presence as well, and so we are starting to look into our own live event, so organizing that in the Bay Area, and then also, what has become interesting is we started to have some interesting discussions with people that run of events for executives, and hopefully, we can be the people that help them adapt their content for younger audience and reach out to this totally new market. We come in with the expertise about content, about marketing and things like that, and they come in with their brand and obviously, their established audience, things like that, right? And, I think it’s an awesome, awesome synergy between both of them.
Rana Olk (Host): You bet.
Sumukh Setty (Guest): Can you hear me? What about now?
Rana Olk (Host): You are back.
Sumukh Setty (Guest): Oh, there we go.
Rana Olk (Host): I’m so sorry, we lost you there for a while.
Sumukh Setty (Guest): Do you want to start right from the last question?
Rana Olk (Host): Yeah, tell us once again. So, where do you see Teendemy going if you had your way in a perfect world two years, five years, 20 years from now?
Sumukh Setty (Guest): Yeah, that’s a great question. We have started to build this online presence. We are at 2600 kids so far, but I think what is important and what we realized is the key to building a thriving community is I think also building off-line presence, and so we started to look into our own live event and what has become really interesting is we started to have discussions with events that target executives and those kind of people, and hopefully, helping them be the people that help them adapt their content for younger audience. So, hopefully, through those kinds of initiatives, we can build an off-line presence, and then truly, truly start your reading and building this Teendemy community of kids that really want to level themselves up, and hopefully, we start integrating it to schools and education, and the government, and then it becomes a nationwide [0:13:40]. So, that’s like a 10, 20-year goal, right? But, right now, we are completely focused on getting our first event up, raising some money, and hopefully, we can go from there.
Rana Olk (Host): That’s incredible, incredible! So, I just want to mention here too to listeners to remind them, if you don’t have people – face-to-face, obviously, and finding people in your community and being able to be live with people and surround yourself with people who are going to push you can be an influence in your life, that’s the best option, obviously, but if you can’t find that, that is where social media is fantastic. There’s all these amazing groups and people outline that are all about whatever it is you are interested in, however it is you are interested in growing or learning, so that is just great. Now, I don’t know, you are much younger than me, but do books come into the equation at all in your generation? Do you guys read books for advice anymore? Do you listen to them? What do you do?
Sumukh Setty (Guest): Yeah. I think a small subset of us do, but I think what my generation I think with the generations after us will start to gravitate towards is these podcasts, and then I think it will move into more bite sized formats, right? So, how can I use the least amount of time to gain the maximum amount of insight? I think that’s the question is going to be answered in the next generation or two through some sort of technology, some sort of new format. Whatever it ends up being, I think whatever can create the most efficiency of learning, I think that is the solution that’s going to end up winning.
Rana Olk (Host): So, this is an interesting question: is it really possible to learn and absorb something, even if you hear it in three minutes, if it’s simple, yeah, but what about the stuff that requires deeper thinking and concentration, is it, you think going to be possible to do that [0:15:43]?
Sumukh Setty (Guest):I think you build it, right? I think if I listen to something for five minutes, and then I understand the surface level, and then I listen to – maybe tomorrow, I also listen to the same thing, I listened to like, the part two of that for the next five minutes, I think eventually, you will start to see that you are building upon what you already learned and are also adding new insights, and so I think it’s like what you’ll end up seeing and learning is not us and us forcing students to sit in classrooms for eight hours or whatever, but more spread out and more in a sense, building upon what’s already been taught, because I think that’s what the key really is, is bite sized learning at micro learning. I think those two things are going to really blow up in the near future.
Rana Olk (Host): Yeah, you’re absolutely right. There are certain bite sized learnings – podcasts and advisor that I absolutely love for those times, those little gaps of time that we fill up, and some insights, it does just require a reminder, and was you keep listening and listening, you start adapting new habits and ways of thinking, so I think you are right about that. What do you wish – so, I’m making you a representative of your generation right now. What do you wish the old generations understood, or what is it we misunderstood?
Sumukh Setty (Guest): Yeah, that’s actually something I’m really passionate about because I think the older generation it really looks at us as lazy and this unmotivated generation, but actually look at it the other way. I think we just don’t vibe with traditional education because I think, I’ve told this to a lot of people, but I think success is getting younger, right? Like, we are seeing all these kids come up with these ideas and tips come up with these different ways to make money, whether it’s like selling T-shirts and [0:17:46], that’s success, right? And, I think because we are seeing success get younger, more and more kids are realizing that the traditional path or this traditional machine of education that we put most records into is not what they like, is not what they love, and so we are starting to see more and more could venture out and can do their own thing, but honestly, because they are taking that risk and there is no proven track record for them, I think we get misunderstood as lazy, as unmotivated, as just a generation that will reap the rewards of the work of generations before us, whereas I actually think we have a lot more work in our generation to solve some of the world’s biggest problems that will face us.
Rana Olk (Host): That we’ve kind of kicked down to these guys, right? Oh, gosh, well, now, I want to talk to you then, because I would talk to you all day, but you’re talking, and we are talking a lot about the educational realm and Teendemy. Are there any other causes that you are passionate about that you see yourself becoming influential in?
Sumukh Setty (Guest): I mean, I love supporting founders, right? That’s what drove me to VC, in venture capital. I’m actually a venture partner with Contrary Capital which is a university lecture fund that funds 50 to 200K in college startups, and so that’s been absolutely incredible, just to be able to talk to founders about the ideas, use you really look at what they are working on, and if it’s a fit, then we are able to then support them monetarily, right? So, I do see myself getting very involved in supporting, whether it’s the only cost-based ventures or whether it’s only impact companies, but I don’t know what that would end up being, but I’m very, very passionate about how can we support people that are doing good things if they don’t have the resources to?
Rana Olk (Host): So, I’m going to push you a little more on this, I’m sorry. I need to know what else you consider good things. I’m very curious when you say that, like other social causes, is that what you are talking about, or would it be still in overhauling education, like Mind Valley?
Sumukh Setty (Guest): Yeah, I mean, I see myself very much involved in education throughout my life, but I’m starting to become more and more into kind of this whole idea of income and equality, and that has become a real interest of mine, just kind of seeing – it kind of goes hand-in-hand with supporting founders because I think if were able to support more founders that have come from disadvantaged backgrounds are coming from areas where they don’t have the resources around them, then we are able to empower more communities and that just result in more jobs, and that results in more economic boom, and I think it’s a cycle, right? And, I think it starts from supporting these kids that are – I like the term ‘Lost Einsteins’ which I learned from, I think Daniel Siegel, former partner of YC, but I like to use that term a lot because I think there’s a lot of lost Einstein’s out there that just don’t have the resources to really shine.
Rana Olk (Host): Absolutely, absolutely. Wow. You talked about success a little while ago. You said that younger people are seeing success, or they are seeing success sooner or earlier at younger ages. How are you defining success?
Sumukh Setty (Guest): Well, I think success in their eyes is where they have, I think for me at least, success is more freedom than before, right? Like, if I get a paycheck or whatever, then I have more freedom to do what I want because in my mind, more money means more freedom, and so I think success is at a point where the incremental addition of a money order that incremental addition of freedom does not matter anymore, right? Because you already have the freedom that you need, and so I think these young kids are starting to realize success younger and younger, and it could just be actuated to the fact that they already have a roof over their heads and they could experiment, and keep trying different things, but I think it also is a credit to this new age of digital media and social media, and seeing how kids can kind of capitalize on that do no matter what age they are to build whatever they dream about inquiry that financial freedom for themselves.
Rana Olk (Host): Incredible. Okay, so what are some normal teen things that you do?
Sumukh Setty (Guest):I’m a huge basketball guy, so I love –
Rana Olk (Host): Wait, you realize, I’m using normal and I’m not saying that you’re abnormal, right?
Sumukh Setty (Guest): I know, I know.
Rana Olk (Host): Okay.
Sumukh Setty (Guest): But yeah, I’m a huge basketball –
Rana Olk (Host): [0:23:09] sports.
Sumukh Setty (Guest):I’m a huge sports guy over all – basketball is my favorite sport.
Rana Olk (Host): Do you play?
Sumukh Setty (Guest): Once in a while, but not anything for a team or any of that, and then I love to read, I love to just go out on movies, so I’m a huge – I like to go create experiences, and so instead of spending my money on food or material things, I prefer much rather to spend money on things that will enhance my experiences, enhance my friendships, and so that’s what I kind of try to live my life by.
Rana Olk (Host): So, I’m very curious about this. Did you grow up watching TV?
Sumukh Setty (Guest):Yeah, I did.
Rana Olk (Host): Okay.
Sumukh Setty (Guest): I still remember kind of some of my favorite shows on the TV. That was a good time.
Rana Olk (Host): Okay. So, I guess what I’m trying to get at is like, did you come home, because you went to a traditional school even though you are not really crazy about it, right, for good reason, I might add. You and to regular school. Did you come home and study? Were you a straight a student? Or did you goof around because you could because you were smart enough to get good grades? Tell us a little bit about that.
Sumukh Setty (Guest): Yeah, I think it was a mixture of a couple of different aspects of what you mentioned. I think there were days when I would definitely have a lot of work, and so I will be a little [0:24:41] to do anything that I really wanted to, but there are also days where I did what I needed to do to get the work done, and I just chilled or whatever, enjoyed the rest of my day, right? I was the type of person that would love to minimize, I think the amount of time, but I think even if I was even if I was minimizing the amount of time, then I would maximize the amount that I did in that time to get the work I needed to do that, and even if it resulted in not the best quality work but just enough quality of work to get by, I was clearly fine with that because I felt like I didn’t want to put all the effort that I needed to because I don’t know, I just, I guess wasn’t really a kid that really liked the traditional education system, and there was a lot of busywork and stuff like that.
Rana Olk (Host): So, where your parents ever having to get after you to study or do well in school? Was there any parental pressure?
Sumukh Setty (Guest): Oh, yeah. I mean, regardless of what my parents might say, like at the end of the day, they want me to do well, and so even if – the success as the foundation today is a good GPA, right? Like, that builds you up for success more, more than anything else, I think. At least, until this day and age, that is what the common knowledge was. I think nowadays, you can get by by just doing a lot of really cool things of your own and things like that, but back – I’m not that old – but I think what I was still in grade school and still going through that whole ‘I need to get into college,’ and stuff like that, I think it was still very, very important to my parents that I had a good GPA, but now, I think they’re starting to realize that that’s not that important if I’m doing really cool work on the side, and so I’m starting to see this shift in at least my family, and I think there’s a lot of families that are out here that are also seeing that same shift.
Rana Olk (Host): So, one of the things our listeners don’t know, I must say went and checked you out right away, but they don’t know that you are of Indian heritage, so have you been to India?
Sumukh Setty (Guest):Yeah, I did a year of school there.
Rana Olk (Host): You did a year of school there? Please elaborate.
Sumukh Setty (Guest): Yeah, that was an interesting period of my life. I did my fifth grade there and I hated it more than I hated the education system here, actually, and I think it’s because there’s less flexibility over there, and so I didn’t see myself very much enjoy the strict focus on academics, the school board system – I don’t know, I just didn’t like several aspects of the Indian education system. I loved the people. That was amazing, and I loved obviously, the bus was really cool. I didn’t have to walk or anything like that, but besides that, yeah, I didn’t really find myself enjoying my year there too much. I mean, love my family and stuff like that, but the education there.
Rana Olk (Host): Sure, and I can actually relate a little bit to what you’re saying. I was in fifth grade when I went to school in Turkey after going to school here, but this isn’t about me, so I’m curious, if someone were to say, “Okay, so you didn’t like the school system there,” what did you gain from being there? What have you gained? In what ways has being exposed to that culture made you better?
Sumukh Setty (Guest): Well, I think it has put me – it’s made me realize this problem is bigger than I thought, right? I thought maybe this is just in the US and maybe this is a small problem, but going to India and doing a year of school there, I really realized are really important these soft skills and life skills are, and I think that goes back to – nothing against the people are the kids there – but I think the culture of putting these kids in this path, I think it’s more predominant in India because I think you only go into a couple of different school systems or a couple different styles of colleges, and then you don’t really have a room to innovate or operate outside of those realms, right? And so, giving these kids and equipping them with the skills they need to really think critically and make decisions might enable them to in a sense, make their own decisions, and really, if they want to do something on their own, then they really can, and we are not in it to really help them – we are not in it to help make the decision for them; we are in it to give them the skills so that they could make the decisions for themselves instead of just going down this traditional path that society tells them that they have to.
Rana Olk (Host): Exactly. Well, should’ve asked this earlier, but could you elaborate for our listeners a little bit since you brought it up again what soft skills are?
Sumukh Setty (Guest): Yeah, that’s a great question. I consider soft skills anything that is important to, I think to success overall, right? I think it’s these understated skills that a lot of successful and high performers have, but aren’t really talked about a lot, so whether it’s decision-making, creativity, innovation, critical thinking, things like that, things like that that enable them to truly be successful in the workplace or as an entrepreneur, or as a janitor; they have to have the skills they need in order to make themselves shine in that career.
Rana Olk (Host): Thank you. So, I could talk to you for ever and ever, and ever, but I know that I have taken a lot of your time. Before we go, and I know you’re very busy, before we go, could you tell us, if somebody wants to find out more about you, where they can reach you, find you, get more information before I ask you my very last question.
Sumukh Setty (Guest):Yeah, I mean, I think the best place to start would be to look at Teendemy, check out some of our content, and then feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, so that’s just be easy way to reach me.
Rana Olk (Host): Very brave. Okay, should I put that in the show notes?
Sumukh Setty (Guest): Actually, I’m happy to talk to anyone.
Rana Olk (Host): Awesome.
Sumukh Setty (Guest):I want to meet them.
Rana Olk (Host): Awesome. Well, I think generosity, too, is one of those soft skills, right, that a lot of the leaders and these people that we know, and the influential people, everybody that I’ve met. It’s very much about generosity and giving, and I wish more people understood that too, right? So, okay, so the very last question for anybody who is listening, if they can take away one action item after listening to this that they could start today to improve themselves in some way, what would you tell them?
Sumukh Setty (Guest): Yeah, I think my thing would probably be around – I just started doing this a couple – I guess I just started implementing this a couple of days ago, but I started to make my bed every morning, and so I think it’s more about the mindset of just getting something small done in the morning. It really sets me up to be more productive and more, I think – I like to do more in a day, right? So that’s just the super helpful for me and for my productivity and also just seeing a cleaner bed, I think just also helps. I guess if you already kind of do that, then maybe look at what else, what other small task can I do to start the day off, right?
Rana Olk (Host): I think that’s great advice considering I read that, and I think you mentioned it to just before we got on and we were setting things up, that I have read that people who are successful make their beds first thing in the morning, right? Yeah, I do. I know that I make my bed. I guess there’s a lot more success coming my way because I’ve been making my bed forever, but you are right, especially when you are in a dorm room, right? It’s about putting some order and organization, and discipline into your environment.
Sumukh Setty (Guest):Yeah, I agree with that.
Rana Olk (Host): I like that. Well, everybody, I hope you’re really enjoyed this as much as I did and pass it on, I think that Sumukh has a message and a mission that we could all get behind, frankly. It’s about our future and the future belongs to Sumukh and his friends, and his generation, so thank you very much.
Sumukh Setty (Guest):I appreciate the opportunity and it was a wonderful conversation, so thank you from my side.
Rana Olk (Host): All right, everybody, have a great day or night wherever you are. We are out of here.