Yellowbrick.me Co-Founder Matt Connell, EDD says he’s been starting businesses his entire life. He still runs his own bookkeeping, teambuilding and executive coaching consulting company, where he works with Hartford-area startups helping them plan their strategy and vision and managing their financials. Connell also mentors at reSET and has judged some of the organization’s pitch competitions.
Connell’s background includes teaching education to Hartford-area at-risk students. His areas of interest include sustainable agriculture and energy, educational reform, and group emotional intelligence.
INNOVATION DESTINATION HARTFORD: How did you and Co-Founder John Christensen, PhD develop the idea for Yellowbrick.me?
CONNELL: John and I met about five years ago while I was working on my Master of Business Administration at the University of Connecticut. At the time he was a new assistant professor.
I saw John’s bio and realized that with my interests and my research for my doctorate and John’s research background we had a lot of synergy. I reached out to him and we’ve been doing research together ever since. That research, as we honed it, kind of landed us on the path to forming Yellowbrick.me.
For me, business doesn’t make sense unless it’s socially rewarding and there’s a social impact to it. The concept behind Yellowbrick.me is that parents are a much underserved population. Even though there are thousands of resources available, they’re very poorly put together. So we decided we could create a community that helps parents navigate information better and we could make the journey a little easier.
IDH: So you’re virtually guiding them down the Yellow Brick Road.
CONNELL: Right! Parenting is a crazy journey and at the end of the day we could all use support making our way down the Yellow Brick Road.
Your experiences in life could benefit me and help smooth my road out and vice versa. What we’ve found through our research is that parents want to provide information and knowledge to other parents and they want to receive that information, too.
CONNELL: They are also looking for knowledge and information from credible experts, licensed professionals, academic researchers, and educators.
Yellowbrick.me provides that reliable information. We’re an educational community focused parents and families. Our goal is to connect parents to parents and parents to all of those resources. Another one of our goals is to be the leaders in educational technology.
Now we’re starting to develop online courses for parents and families around various topics. And we’re starting to work in the community to add community resources. We’re essentially working from the inside out to affect parents and families and working from the outside in helping agencies develop curriculum toward their mission and bringing those agencies back to Yellowbrick.me.
IDH: Tell us a little more about the site—do you have to become a member to use the resources?
CONNELL: Right now membership is free on the site. You can read anything on the site without creating an account. If you sign up for an account, you can actually engage with the site. You can post in a forum or respond to post. The free membership also enables you to respond to an expert in the Expert Corner.
IDH: If the membership is free how are you generating revenue?
CONNELL: Our goal is to generate revenue through online courses. Yellowbrick.me had a soft launch in October 2015. We launched live in January 2016, so we really spent the first seven months focusing on developing the content and building the platform. Now we’re shifting to our revenue-producing models.
Our first model will be online courses. Internally we are developing courses for the community. We’ve also got experts from around the world developing courses.
Our second revenue-producing model will be advertising revenue and the third model will be in the community, helping agencies develop curriculum specifically for their communities based on their missions and then helping drive them to a solidified platform.
IDH: How so?
CONNELL: A lot of agencies—nonprofits as well as businesses—go out and teach something to a target audience and it’s like a one-off; there’s no follow-up. By teaming up with Yellowbrick.me they get to bring that follow-up back to our site, engage the community further, encourage more conversation, and continue their mission.
IDH: There is a lot of focus on community. With worldwide experts, how do you maintain a local community feel on the site?
CONNELL: One of our taglines is “A global conversation with local resources.” We’re really interested in sharing parenting resources—understanding why things may be different in other countries, why that is, what works, what doesn’t work?
But at the same time, we understand the micro community is very important. We want to provide those resources so someone from a specific town can feel connected when they’re on the site and know that those local resources are available.
IDH: How does Yellowbrick.me find contributors for the site?
CONNELL: There’s a forum in which anyone can post—parents, experts, educators, and researchers. And if you’re signed up for an account, anyone can respond to your post.
Then there’s the Expert Corner, which is specifically for licensed professionals, educators, and researchers. We vet their credentials, they write content for us, and we post under their user account.
IDH: How are you connecting to the contributors and how are they finding you?
CONNELL: Lots of phone calls and social media. We spend a lot of time looking at people’s credentials.
IDH: So it’s really grassroots?
CONNELL: Yes, 100% grassroots. We try and connect with relevant experts, agencies, and organizations. We are always reaching out and trying to explain how we feel we can be mutually beneficial.
IDH: How are you marketing?
CONNELL: We just engaged Scott Phillips who has become our Marketing Consultant. Before that we worked with an agency that helped develop the site.
Most of our marketing is grassroots too—making phone calls and talking to people. We also use a lot of social media. We’re posting to Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, and Twitter several times a day.
IDH: How would you describe your life as an entrepreneur?
CONNELL: On the edge. Out of all of the businesses I’ve ever started, this is the one I’m most passionate about. So that adds a level of anxiety, which is really interesting to me.
I feel like I’m always on the edge. As an entrepreneur you’re always living in this world of ups and downs. My whole life I’ve always lived on the edge and been a bit of a risk taker. As I’ve gotten older, I still have that mentality, but my risks are more calculated.
IDH: It’s interesting, you mentioned you’ve launched other startups in the past but you’re most passionate about this one. So, what took so long?
CONNELL: I’ve been passionate about education since I was a teenager. When I was younger, I believed I had to earn a lot so I could put my money behind education reform. I was just doing things to try to make money. Then I got into teaching. I ran a national healthcare company for about five years before I started my consulting business. Around the same time, we started developing Yellowbrick.me and it clicked that I could create education reform in my business, with my passion.
IDH: How do you define success?
CONNELL: Most people tend to define success as: You do your job, meet your deadline, and that is success. Or, if two people are working together on something and they accomplish a task, that’s success. But for me, that’s not necessarily success because success is all about the cohesion of the relationship.
IDH: It’s not always about checking off an item from your to-do list.
CONNELL: Right. To me success is a cohesive unit that can work through any problem together.
As far as success as an entrepreneur, there are certain milestones I’ve defined as successful. We just hit 1,000 signed up users, I think that’s a cool milestone. I would love to see 1 million times that, right?
Success would also be enough revenue coming to support my partner and I being able to work on Yellowbrick.me full time. That would be a major milestone.
But success is also waking up every day and knowing my family is safe and that I’m living my dream in a lot of ways, working on something I’m passionate about. So there are a lot of ways to look at success in that realm.
IDH: Any advice for those starting out?
CONNELL: In my consulting business when I advise people I tell them, if you want to start a business it’s not worth it if you’re not passionate.
I tend to advise startups within their first year or two. Most business owners come to me with an idea. They think: I’m going to sign the incorporation documents and tomorrow I’m going to have the fancy car in the driveway! A year goes by and they realize how much work goes into launching a business—all the minutia with payroll and taxes and everything else.
If you’re not passionate about what you are focused on, all of that minutia can completely overwhelm you. So, my advice to startups is be passionate and understand what you’re getting into.