What part of Arizona do you call home?
What was your very first entrepreneurial venture?
Starting the first Mathnasium learning center in Arizona.
What do you do now?
I set the vision for [Sokikom] and work closely with team leads to get everyone executing and making sure the execution is on the same page.
What does Sokikom do?
Sokikom is the only online collaborative math program where students help each other learn in a team-based game. Developed through grants from the U.S. Department of Education, Sokikom has been proven to significantly increase student math achievement through numerous randomized control trial studies.
How did you come up with the idea for your business?
I had a prior math tutoring company and was also an elementary math intervention teacher. In both capacities I saw how far behind students in the U.S. are in math achievement. At the same time, I was able to test how powerful collaborative, team-based learning can be—especially in games.
What was the biggest challenge in executing this idea?
It’s really hard to pick one biggest challenge. I think starting a company, especially one in K12 education, which I would argue may be the toughest industry out there, requires a ton of stamina. It’s not a short win or a sprint, it’s an ultra-marathon and some. If I had to pick the toughest it would be around building the right team and getting everyone executing full steam ahead in the same direction.
What is your favorite part about running a business?
Growth and impact potential. We have touched the lives of over one million kids coming from all fifty states and over one hundred countries. Fifty years from now many of these kids will remember the impact Sokikom had on their math learning. Just the thought of that is exhilarating.
How did you get started in the tech industry?
I got a computer sciences degree from ASU. I started as an intern software engineer at Motorola (now General Dynamics) in Scottsdale. I was interested in software because I liked computers and I loved problem solving—I was always big in math. My high school math teacher actually recommend that I become an engineer. I also saw that the demand for software engineering outweighed all the engineering professions because of all the advancements being brought forth by software. It was innovative and exciting and a growth area, so I was intrigued by it.
How long have you lived or worked in Arizona?
If you could only describe your city with one word, which word would it be?
Hot (sorry, it’s not original). Or clean.
What’s your favorite thing about living in Arizona?
I have a lot of friends and family [here]. There are great people in Arizona. I also really like how clean, neat, and organized everything is. The road system in Arizona, especially in Phoenix, is probably the best that I’ve seen anywhere. The grid system makes it really easy to know where you’re at and a general idea of where things are located. It’s also nice because so many things are newly constructed.
What’s your least favorite thing about living in Arizona?
There has been a lot of improvement in this area, but we’re still far from having the warm, open, and entrepreneur-friendly ecosystem. I’ve seen lots of progress in this area which is great though.
In what area do you think Arizona still has a long way to go?
Namely, the above. What I’ve found in other places (like the bay area) is that as a founder or CEO you can reach out to others and they are willing to spend time with you over a quick coffee or provide introductions, so on. The environment is super supportive and helpful. In Arizona, I see many founders having to pay for things like this that they shouldn’t have to. That being said, I’ve seen much improvement over the last several years in Arizona.
The foodie scene is growing bigger and bigger by the day here in Arizona. What is your favorite place to get breakfast in your city?
What’s your favorite place to grab lunch?
I usually don’t go out for lunch unless I have to for a meeting. If I do have to go, I like Pita Jungle or Spices. For me, eating out for lunch is a waste of time during the week—I think it takes too much time and also makes it easier to overeat, which slows your performance afterward. So I stick to Trader Joe’s salads and light lunches during the week. [During] the weekend I like Mimi’s Cafe and Spices Mediterranean Kitchen—they have the best chicken shawarma in Arizona!
What’s your favorite dinner spot?
Arriba’s Mexican restaurant. Their chicken chimichanga is unbelievable! But you’ll need to go run it off the next morning.
What’s your favorite place to work in your city aside from your office?
I like Paradise Bakery and Whole Foods. Starbucks is good too.
Best place for a meeting over drinks?
What is your favorite memory from Arizona?
This is a tough one. I’ve actually lived in many places in Arizona from small towns to big cities, and can think of terrific memories in each place. I have a great memory of our team going to Invest Southwest and winning both company categories: the most likely to succeed and the most likely to raise capital. It was a team effort and we really enjoyed the event.
What is something about living in Arizona that only a local would know of?
If you’re hiking Camelback Mountain on the weekend, get there super early, and it’s easier to find parking on the Cholla side.
Any tips for new Arizona residents?
Let’s start building a more entrepreneur-friendly and supportive culture.