Tuan Ho is CEO of ScholarJet, a startup that creates action-based scholarships, where instead of writing essays, students can participate in company-sponsored challenges to fund their education.
What inspired you to launch ScholarJet?
When I first came to the United States at the age of 10, after my mom sacrificed everything we had in Vietnam to buy the plane tickets, I endured a long journey in education. When I finally was accepted into college, my mom was only making $20,000/year. Northeastern University costs upward of $70,000/year. There was no way that my family could afford this. So, while being dyslexic and English being my second language, I wrote over 120 essays to apply for 40 scholarships. I was very fortunate to be part of .3% of the nation who receive a full ride to college. On the other hand, 99.7% of students mostly take out loans to pay for their education. Inspired by my experience, I started ScholarJet because I believe education is essential to every human being and that gaining access to higher education should not be limited to writing essays to apply for scholarships.
What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced so far and how have you met them?
I started ScholarJet when I was a student majoring in Mechanical Engineering. The time management to balance health, school, relationships and ScholarJet was difficult. During the first year of starting ScholarJet, I sacrificed sleep to try and get more time in my day. I was biting off more than I could chew. However, I persisted and accomplished a lot and now things are taking off for ScholarJet.
What’s the most exciting thing on the horizon for you and ScholarJet?
We are wrapping up the year of 2017 and entering the Spring of 2018. This means more companies are signing up as well as more students are participating in our action-based scholarships. We’re learning quickly and defining a direction for growth. We’re very excited to enter the new year.
How do you define success?
Our tangible metric of success revolves around the number of scholarships given, the number of companies being a part of ScholarJet, and the number of students impacted by the scholarships. The intangible metric is the number of students and people who are inspired by ScholarJet and the students who are working hard to participate in the challenges. One of the unique values we offer as a company is that we are providing more opportunities for students to speak through more than just one voice. Personally, I think another form of success will be if a student becomes successful and gives a speech or presentation about how ScholarJet played a role in their success.
What three lessons have you learned about being a social impact entrepreneur?
You have to experience the problem yourself. I had tried to build ScholarJet with $100 million to start, I would have failed. I learned that if you do not understand the social problem deeply, no matter the amount of money, you cannot solve it. The premise of ScholarJet is to inspire hope for underserved communities and low-income students.
You’ll need the strength to just simply let go. I grew up in poverty. As an immigrant, I was taught that the only way to become successful was to get a full-time job as well as other things that were not true. To go from a “you can’t do it” mindset to one of “I can do it” I read approximately 150 books in a short amount of time. These books taught me to let go of who I am in order to become the person that I need to be to create a successful company. I forced myself to become good at the things that I believed I couldn’t do well.
Solitude is a gift. You’ll come to realize that when you are alone working on your dream you’ll face many challenges, but one of the best things that can happen to you is loneliness. You’ll learn how to battle against loneliness, but just know that you will face it and you’ll be able to cope with it.
What three qualities do you think an entrepreneur must have to succeed?
Coachable. Accept when you are wrong. You need to constantly seek out mentors who have industry experience and are already successful. They’ve been through the journey. It may not be your journey, but they can help you shape yours.
Constant Learning. You don’t know what you don’t know. Knowledge is about finding all the dots that the world has to offer. Intelligence is about how to connect all those dots. Everyone has the ability to connect the dots, but not everyone has enough knowledge to do so. I have read over 500 books since I started my entrepreneurship journey. This is because I believe it’s the fastest way to obtain the knowledge. Connecting the dots will be up to me. This video from Elon Musk will help understand what I mean.
Resilience. You’re going to fail to the point that it’s discouraging. The worst failure is the one that you worked so hard for. Sometimes, a failure doesn’t come with a lesson, sometimes it just tests your resilience. But if you cannot get back up from that, you’re going to fail for real.
What words of advice do you have for other entrepreneurs?
Make sure that as an entrepreneur you have an idea that you can dedicate at least 2-3 years to work on with passion. If it’s not strong enough for you to believe in, then stop right now.
My advice for entrepreneurs is to always think bigger. I’m sure everyone at one point has wondered about their life’s purpose. The question that came to me was “How can I make the world a better place?” at my young age. To think bigger is about making sure that whatever you do positively impacts people beyond the money you can make.
What’s one tool – article, book, app, etc. – that’s been helpful to you recently?
I really recommend Audible. This is how I used to read 3-5 books in a day. Books can be really short but offer so much knowledge. I suggest reading “The Hard Thing About Hard Things” by Ben Horowitz.
Left to right: Joseph Alim, COO & Co-Founder, and Tuan Ho, CEO & Co-Founder.
from the series
Startup Warriors: Entrepreneurs’ Stories of Ingenuity, Grit & Resilience