Today’s guest is from Birmingham, Alabama born, a cultural creative and the CEO and Founder of Scholly, Inc. Scholly is an app that helps students easily find scholarships for college and graduates pay off their student debt. The story behind Scholly began when he decided he wanted to be the 1st person in his family to go to college and discovered $1 million in scholarships. This afternoon, he’s sharing his experiences as a Black and gay founder, how he hopes to help many others achieve their dreams of higher education, and more.
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0:00:13.2 Melissa Bradley: Welcome to Porch Talks. I’m Melissa Bradley, founder of 1863 Ventures and co-founder of New Majority Ventures. Here on Porch Talks, I sit down with veteran founders, CEOs and entrepreneurs who are committed to creating wealth for the new majority. These folks have years of firsthand in-the-trenches experience navigating a fast-growing entrepreneurial ecosystem. Here they break down the roadblocks and barriers that tested their resiliency and resolve and share the lessons they’ve learned through it all. Each and every talk will support the health, wealth and well-being of the New Majority entrepreneur. Undoubtedly, these people and their stories will inspire you on your journey from founder to CEO. So I wanna say thank you for joining me today.
0:01:01.6 Christopher Gray: Thank you.
0:01:02.4 MB: You are Chris Gray.
0:01:03.7 CG: Yep.
0:01:03.9 MB: I’ve known you for a pretty long time.
0:01:06.7 CG: Yeah.
0:01:06.8 MB: But as you acknowledged the other day, we’ve never really sat down and talked. So, I know you as a founder, I know you as a cultural creative, I know you as a role model, but tell me in your own words, who is Chris Gray?
0:01:21.4 CG: So, I am originally from Birmingham, Alabama, so a Southern boy, proud, born and raised, grew up in a single-mom household. Most people in my family have middle school education, so I’m the first in my family to go to college. So education is obviously really important to me.
0:01:37.1 MB: Sure.
0:01:37.6 CG: I ended up getting a million dollars in scholarships to go to school. So I was a good student and I got out of poverty. So we were actually homeless around my junior, senior year of high school.
0:01:48.8 MB: Wow.
0:01:49.0 CG: So being the first in my family to go to college, pay for school and really get out of there because when you’re from inner-city environment, college isn’t just an education, it’s really physically getting out of that environment…
0:02:01.5 MB: Sort of escape.
0:02:02.0 CG: And being able to do that. So that’s why education is important to me. I am obviously a black man. I am also a gay man, proud and all that. And I am the CEO and founder of Scholly, so an app that productized a solution to what I faced growing up and also this problem that so many people have with… They’re drowning in student debt because they couldn’t find scholarships or college when there’s millions and millions of dollars in scholarship that go unclaimed every year because they just don’t know they exist, so…
0:02:31.8 MB: Yeah.
0:02:32.5 CG: I am a Southern black gay man who is the CEO and founder of Scholly.
0:02:37.3 MB: I love that. I love the way it sounds.
0:02:39.0 CG: Yeah.
0:02:39.6 MB: There’s a lot in there that I wanna make sure we uncover.
0:02:42.3 CG: Yeah.
0:02:42.9 MB: But let’s start with I think the most obvious. I was joking with a friend of mine that, when we were sharing your story, I was like, “I wish I could have just have found $10,000 to go to school.”
0:02:52.5 CG: Yeah.
0:02:52.6 MB: But you found a million. And we know that most entrepreneurs start businesses based on a need they’ve been able to fulfill for themselves. Talk to us about that journey of even finding $1 million. Where did you even start? And how did you get where you are?
0:03:07.3 CG: Yeah, so luckily, I was naturally persistent. So my first job in high school was at the Avondale Library. I didn’t have a computer at home. So because I did a really good job for Avondale Library, they literally would let me come to the library and just use the computers.
0:03:22.8 MB: Love it.
0:03:23.2 CG: So between school computers and Avondale, I just spent hours and basically I started looking for all these different scholarships. Before Scholly, it was kind of all these sites that just were kind of scraping…
0:03:34.1 MB: That’s right.
0:03:34.4 CG: Information from the web and it was scams. Someone can just put up a landing page and be like, “Oh, this is a $10,000 scholarship. Give me your Social Security number.”
0:03:41.1 MB: Right.
0:03:41.4 CG: Right? And if you’re poor and uneducated, you don’t know what that means. I didn’t do that. I wasn’t that poor and uneducated. [laughter] I knew not to put that though, right? So we knew that. But yes, it was not really much [0:03:49.2] ____, so it took me months.
0:03:50.9 MB: Wow.
0:03:51.3 CG: So that’s why I always say when I talk about Scholly, we turn months of looking for scholarships into minutes because there was all this money they got unclaimed every year. So I applied for hundreds of different scholarships.
0:04:01.1 MB: Wow.
0:04:01.1 CG: Honestly, I had good grades and good test scores and all that. So I didn’t really plan to get all of them. I just applied. I did the law of large numbers that I’m gonna get some of them. And then what was interesting that… The good problem to have where I started to find out after talking to the scholarship I won, that I was one of the only few applicants that really applied.
0:04:18.9 MB: Wow.
0:04:19.2 CG: So a lot of that million dollars that got accumulated was because I was either the only applicant or just, it wasn’t really many applicants. They didn’t know it existed, right? In addition to [0:04:27.0] ____ and all that stuff, like Gates and Coca-Cola…
0:04:29.9 MB: Sure.
0:04:30.1 CG: Those are the bigger scholarships that I’ve gotten. But yeah, but that was just kind of this issue. So basically you have a lot of these people who are drowning in debt who just didn’t even know these opportunities existed.
0:04:40.0 MB: Right.
0:04:40.0 CG: But for me, months and months looking for scholarships, and then I started to read how I was able to apply for so many, ’cause I realized a lot of them had the same essay requirement. It was like, oh, community service, leadership, where you wanna go to school, what you wanna be. I just basically recycled those essays and that’s why I was able to apply for so many. Everyone was asking, “How did you do that? How did you do that?” and I was like… I didn’t tell them because at the time they’re my competition. But I did… Yeah. And the Gates Scholarship had like eight essays that covered all of them.
0:05:08.4 MB: Oh, wow.
0:05:09.1 CG: Yeah, it was a lot. And then… But I just recycled those essays and applied for all of them. So that was kind of that process. But it took months to find those opportunities. It took months to apply for them. So Scholly kind of productizes a solution that fixes that search process and application process. And because of our partners, we’re now putting more money into the marketplace as well because now we have partners like Google, Amazon, celebrities who are now running their scholarships on our platform and paying us to manage those scholarships. So we’re putting more money into this marketplace where there’s not just… We focused originally on matching it, but now we’re creating that pool by adding millions and millions more dollars to that pot.
0:05:48.0 MB: You mentioned that you were the first person in your family to go to college. Has anybody since gone?
0:05:54.2 CG: I think some. I think I inspired some to go to community college. I’m going to make my brother and sister go, too. I told them that’s already covered, I already saved up for that, for them to be able to go to college. But I think that there’s really this important thing of breaking the cycle of poverty in families, especially black families, where one person goes to college and hopefully that sets an example for others in that family to either then go or do that. And what happens is you don’t see that impact economically over time. But I think one important thing to know is, when I was going to school, I think there was around only like nine, let’s say in the single digits of black men who had a degree. Now it’s close to 30%.
0:06:35.3 MB: Wow.
0:06:35.4 CG: So you see the impact of these different initiatives… ‘Cause it happens, right? But my brother and sister go to school where they’re like… I mean, they’re not gonna graduate till like five, six years. So you see those impacts. And I think that’s really important to be that inflection point and you change the trajectory of family and obviously creating generational wealth and all that stuff, so…
0:06:56.3 MB: We talked about trajectory of education. Talk about your trajectory as a gay black man.
0:07:02.4 CG: So that was really… So I’m from Birmingham, Alabama. [laughter] So I’m from…
0:07:05.4 MB: Might have been a little challenging.
0:07:06.6 CG: Yeah, yeah. So I didn’t come out there. That would’ve been very difficult. [chuckle] Yeah. So I went to Drexel. So I was in Philly. So being on the East Coast was actually really… It was really helpful. And also ’cause it just became… There’s gay people everywhere, right?
0:07:22.6 MB: Sure.
0:07:22.7 CG: So it became… I became a little desensitized to it. And then also I, because of my refund checks and all that stuff, I was also financially independent. So the confidence was always really there, but I just wanted to make sure, check all these boxes and make sure that someone who’s gonna say something, I don’t need them. So, yeah. So I didn’t come out till I was 23.
0:07:45.0 MB: Okay.
0:07:45.9 CG: And that’s when I was dating someone and it was another entrepreneur and that kind of gave me that confidence, usually [0:07:53.2] ____, I mean it was like for a few months, but it just gave me that first real relationship.
0:08:00.1 MB: Sure.
0:08:00.2 CG: It really gave me that confidence. And also just, I think being just desensitized to it, just being on the East Coast and going to New York, DC, you just see that spectrum in traveling so much. So it became a little bit different. But man, I never really… I didn’t do this whole sit-down conversation of coming out. I was just like, “Oh, I’m talking to someone.” And then your parents though…
0:08:20.3 MB: Right.
0:08:20.4 CG: And literally, I was going home for Christmas before I even… Then she’s like…
0:08:21.8 MB: They were like, “It’s about time.”
0:08:22.5 CG: Yeah. They were be like, “Baby, are you talking to somebody? You know you can tell me if you’re gay, right?” [laughter] People know. So it wasn’t like a shocker. But I think that just… I know some people do feel like they have to have that sit-down conversation especially if you’re from a black family ’cause you’re religious, but I just kind of felt like, here it is, and like I said, no one was really surprised anyway. So it’s wasn’t a shock.
0:08:44.4 MB: Well lucky you, ’cause some people oftentimes don’t get that positive acceptance.
0:08:47.1 CG: Yeah. Oh, it wasn’t. Oh, the reaction wasn’t positive.
0:08:52.4 MB: Oh, okay.
0:08:53.4 CG: It was more like… I was also sending them money too, so like this helped my family. So their problem’s kind of having to have my back. [laughter] Yeah, I mean, that was definitely something.
0:09:02.1 MB: That was the dinner table conversation before you got there.
0:09:03.8 CG: Yeah, they’re like, “Oh we’re good, but hey, can you give me $20?” [laughter]
0:09:08.5 MB: Wow.
0:09:08.9 CG: Then what that happened to my face, but…
0:09:09.5 MB: How’d that make you feel?
0:09:11.2 CG: I mean, I knew what they were saying, but also knew how people felt. And also it’s just, homophobia’s just very present. I mean in the black community during the South, it’s just still there.
0:09:20.9 MB: Everywhere. Let’s be clear.
0:09:22.3 CG: But I mean, I really just try to focus. And like I said, having such a community going within the college and other gay friends just, like I said, made me just desensitized to those feelings, right? And I have plenty of mentors. And then… And there was… To be honest, there was a rift. And I kind of like… Post-college, right before then, there was this estrangement that kinda happened for a variety of reasons.
0:09:46.1 MB: Gotcha.
0:09:46.4 CG: I wrote a book.
0:09:47.0 MB: Gotcha.
0:09:47.0 CG: It’s called “Go Where There is No Path”. You can read that. But there was definitely… It was some parts that there was kind of a disconnect to where I kind of felt that I had to either choose my future or basically be in this cycle of bailing people outta jail and really taking this onus of a bunch of problems and things that weren’t ever really gonna fix it itself.
0:10:09.8 MB: Gotcha.
0:10:10.0 CG: And seeing other first generation students literally either have to go back home, drop out or fail or can’t pay their rent because they’re constantly just, not really just helping, but literally just, “Oh, hey, the uncle went to jail. Okay, three weeks later, he went to jail again.” You’re sending bail money, paying… It’s not sustainable. So I chose… So that was a few choices that were really hard inflection point. And it was right that year I was on Shark Tank and I was like, “I have to choose me and I have to focus on this. And it’s maybe a short-term pain, but long-term gain.” But it was tough. It’s a lot. But yeah, that was it.
0:10:48.3 MB: So you talked about being a black gay man within your family. We know that there’s a lot of gay people who are entrepreneurs that nobody knows about. You were obviously out when you started your company. What was that experience like?
0:11:01.3 CG: It was really interesting. There was actually one time I spoke at the Forbes, one thing I throw at the Forbes Summit, Forbes Under 30 Summit, and they actually [0:11:07.6] ____, “Oh, Christopher Gray, black gay man.” And that was really interesting. They actually kind of outed me to people I didn’t wanna know about.
0:11:16.6 MB: Wow. So that’s how you got introduced?
0:11:17.8 CG: Oh yeah. So that kind of actually was inadvertently, but it was interesting. I never really… I think the thing, and something that a lot of us don’t talk about is how different gay people present themselves, right? Because I wasn’t flamboyant or whatever, that wasn’t necessarily the assumption, it just came from conversation. And I’ve had…
0:11:36.5 MB: Sure. And you’re from the South, so…
0:11:38.3 CG: Yeah, exactly. So it’s very… That was a little different. So it didn’t really affect me per se. And then again, all of the spaces I was in, in tech, liberal gay people running around everywhere, but it was… What I will say is unique is a black gay founder. There wasn’t really many of us [0:11:54.9] ____ tech and start out and all that. And it’s really… There weren’t really many of us, yeah, exactly.
0:12:00.5 MB: Were not there. It’s white, white, white.
0:12:01.4 CG: Yeah. So I would say that particular, somebody being black and gay sort of thing. So I was finding community of LGBT people, but I just didn’t really vibe them just socially. So that was something that was an interesting experience of really finding that community within the community. Because when I started at Scholly, like AfroTech, Morgan and I just met, AfroTech really wasn’t a thing.
0:12:23.5 MB: Right, wasn’t popular, yeah.
0:12:25.2 CG: So even finding other black founders, that was still that kind of emergence, right? So that community I speak to, that didn’t exist at the time. So it was really interesting navigating through that. And I think since… Again, I actually think guys who are probably more feminine are out, probably deal with more of that since, but I really… I didn’t deal with that as much. So it really wasn’t an issue. At least it didn’t get presented to me as an issue.
0:12:53.2 MB: Yeah. You mentioned you wrote a book.
0:12:54.4 CG: Yep.
0:12:56.0 MB: Why?
0:12:56.2 CG: Because I think that… I felt like I kept telling my story over and over again and as a tech entrepreneur, even though it’s a book, I think about scale. So I can’t mentor every young person that comes to me. But my book, “Go Where There is No Path”, is really… It chronicles my childhood upbringing. There’s a piece about high school, there’s college, and then there’s starting Scholly and all that journey up until just kind of us now being this profitable company. So I think it’s meant to be an inspiration and it’s really meant to really inspire young people, particularly people of color who oftentimes don’t see starting a tech company as even an option, especially where I’m from.
0:13:38.2 CG: I have a lot of friends now who are in the vineyard, who all have college-educated parents and they’re more exposed than other people. But even then, I have people who still read it ’cause I think they’re people that can relate in different ways. There’s the black experience, there’s the poor student experience, there’s the gay experience, there’s the college experience, there’s just being an entrepreneur, that experience. So I think it really appeals to the audience. It speaks to a spectrum because some people may not identify [0:14:06.6] ____ with a homeless from Birmingham, Alabama, but I understand this experience of being an entrepreneur and building your company and growing it, making the right hire, making mistakes.
0:14:14.8 CG: So I think that you can identify. That’s kind of a spectrum where I think the book talks about that that people can potentially identify with. And a big inspiration of mine was actually Chris Gardner who actually did a quote for the book with the foreword. And so I really like the Pursuit of Happyness kind of vibe but had the tech spin on it because I kinda really… I like that. Just that story was there. So I was able to meet him. He had a ton of book. And the person that wrote my book actually wrote The Pursuit of Happyness.
0:14:45.0 MB: Oh wow.
0:14:45.4 CG: Yeah, my co-author.
0:14:46.7 MB: That’s awesome. That’s awesome. You said the book chronicles different aspects of your life. What was the most significant thing that happened to you in high school?
0:14:54.3 CG: That moment when I got… So, I won a bunch of scholarships, but in that moment I got the call, that email from the Gates Millennial Scholarship, that you have a full ride-in, where you wanna go to, that was it, ’cause that was like that ticket, I was out. That was it. So I think that was the most eye-opening experience ’cause suddenly I was able to go to college and I was able to go to college debt-free…
0:15:16.3 MB: Wow.
0:15:17.2 CG: Go to where I want and I was able to get… They also paid my personal expenses. So I was able to get money to be able to live ’cause my family couldn’t send me money right there. ‘Cause that’s a huge thing that blocks some people from going or staying with retention and going and even graduating ’cause they can’t do daily expenses. And going to a school like Drexel University where people are mostly coming from money. [chuckle] It was… Some people struggle. You can’t keep up. People are taking vacations and all that stuff. Right? So that was this. And there was just also a need that I couldn’t fail. So there’s like… It’s kind of like when founders raise capital, it’s like raising money is hard, but then it’s like, “Oh now the expectations. Now I gotta hit the goal.”
0:15:57.9 MB: That’s right. That’s right.
0:16:00.1 CG: So I was always afraid to have to go back. I actually didn’t drink till I was like 23.
0:16:05.9 MB: Wow.
0:16:06.0 CG: ‘Cause I was very… It was literally out of fear of like, “I’m gonna get drunk, something will happen.” I’m seeing these white kids get drunk and I can’t… “
0:16:12.6 MB: Right. “I’m going back to Birmingham.”
0:16:12.9 CG: I don’t have that luxury, right? I didn’t wanna do that. I didn’t wanna fail. So it’s just like, again, that kind of… But that was like the most pivotal moment in my life. I remember… I still have that email. And ironically, when I was able to… The same guy that sent me an email actually, Larry Griffith, he’s actually still at UNCF, he actually introduced me to Bill Gates and when I was actually like… They flew us out there. It was like 20 scholars who went off and became successful. And I was able to meet them and… I mean that was like a five-minute conversation. So, Bill Gates…
0:16:43.8 MB: Five minutes more than most people.
0:16:45.5 CG: Yeah, Bill Gates. But yeah, it was really just a full circle moment. So it was really interesting.
0:16:48.8 MB: Does Bill Gates know you’re a tech founder now?
0:16:51.1 CG: Yep. So, they told him all about Scholly and everything and also we’re a good example of just what the scholarship has done. So I was able to meet him twice at ASU+GSV. He spoke there and I spoke, but I didn’t speak, not like on the same panel or anything. I did this presentation.
0:17:09.7 MB: You were in the room.
0:17:09.9 CG: And the Gates Foundation found out. They told someone from the Gates Foundation I was there. They put me at their table and then they… And it was actually really interesting, like his security team freaked out and they put me in this area where he was walking [laughter] and it’s like 10 security guards. And I spoke to him for a few minutes. So they do know I’m a tech founder. I met him again at another Gates Foundation event where they actually flew us out.
0:17:33.0 CG: Actually, I thought it was gonna be a big thing. It was actually 30 people who just wanted to meet. So we had a little dinner and all that. It’s like [0:17:39.2] ____ three hours of him and Melinda that that was their time. So it was a good full circle moment. It’s Bill Gates, right? So it’s like… I hope he remembers me, but I don’t think…
0:17:48.7 MB: Sure. I’m sure.
0:17:48.8 CG: I don’t know. But hopefully [0:17:50.2] ____. But I do know the Gates… I appreciate the Gates Foundation because that paid for me to go to school. And they have been obviously very supportive even now and giving me access to certain opportunities and things like that and in terms of what we’ve been doing.
0:18:02.4 MB: Yeah. It all worked out.
0:18:04.5 CG: Yeah.
0:18:06.2 MB: It all worked out. After the break, we’re back to talk more with Christopher Gray.[music]
0:18:15.5 MB: Welcome back. Here’s more of my conversation with our guest, Christopher Gray.
0:18:21.1 MB: Bill Gates is not the first famous person you got to hang out with. You were on Shark Tank.
0:18:26.9 CG: Yeah.
0:18:28.0 MB: Talk about that. Personally, what was that like?
0:18:31.7 CG: So we were featured on USA Today. I was in this college and the producer actually reached out to a professor of mine, with this entrepreneurship school they had and it’s like, “Hey, who’s this? This company is really interesting.” I actually didn’t take it seriously when the producer reached out because at the time Shark Tank mostly did like more mom and pop shop or e-commerce…
0:18:51.8 MB: It was early days, yeah.
0:18:52.3 CG: They’re very e-commerce-based business physical products. Right? They didn’t have a lot of tech companies, barely any at that time. I was like, “Oh, okay.” I told them what I was doing, told my story. They really liked it ’cause at the end of the day, it’s TV. So they’re producing a segment. And they liked the story. I told them about the idea. They loved… I told them about the metrics we had at the time. It was pretty relatively new. And then they told me to send… They, “Oh, we love the story. Send an audition tape.”
0:19:17.9 CG: I went to the Drexel Video Production team and was like, “Can you do this?” Of course, they did it because it’d make the school look good. And they sent it and they sent it out. And actually I got my USA Today article through… So my first PR firm was actually Drexel’s PR firm.
0:19:32.1 MB: I love it.
0:19:32.2 CG: I went to the head of comm and said, “You know what, they loved my story.” And I was like, “Can you pitch me?” and they would literally pitch… And they just wanted Drexel to be mentioned. So I got that article through them. So that’s my first PR. It was free. I hosted my way to a lot of press, TechCrunch, all that stuff was literally like… [laughter]
0:19:46.8 MB: Good.
0:19:46.8 CG: Yeah. So… And then we did that. And then yeah, they reached out and I sent the audition tape, they loved it, wanna fly you to LA. So interesting experience ’cause that was a nerve-racking experience. I had weekly pitches, sometimes by three times a week with the producers. They wanted to make sure to follow the business, make sure what we were doing. ‘Cause when you go to LA… So you get there, you can film and you cannot even air. And I can get there and not even film. So it was very interesting.
0:20:11.9 MB: That’s a big investment of time.
0:20:13.3 CG: So I was supposed to film on a Friday, I think when I first went out there and basically ran out of time ’cause they filmed the segments for an hour and 30 minutes. They filmed like, at that time, it was 10 a day.
0:20:23.4 MB: Wow.
0:20:24.4 CG: And it was about, film for an hour and 30 minutes, two hours. So they went overtime, basically came to me and was like, “Hey, you can stay till tomorrow and we may run out and we’re packed. We already have some spots filled. So you got to hope that someone… Or you can come back in September, which is a few months, but you may not come back. So what do you wanna do?” And I said… I stayed. So what I did was I was…
0:20:47.7 MB: Did they pay for you to stay or you had to pay for your stay?
0:20:49.4 CG: No, they paid for me to stay.
0:20:51.8 MB: Okay, good. Okay.
0:20:52.3 CG: And what I did was, I could say this in hindsight, I went to the entrepreneurs, ’cause we were all in the trailer, we were all in the same…
0:20:57.6 MB: Oh wow.
0:20:57.6 CG: We were in the same motel trailer and we’re all talking about, “Oh, what happened?” All that stuff. And I was like, “You know, they said like y’all gotta have… Y’all gotta make this 30 minutes. You gotta be quick and do this to some of the entrepreneurs.” And I was like, “The producers [0:21:07.9] ____ like this.” [laughter] And I don’t know if it worked, but it kind worked because they went fast and I was the last person they did.
0:21:16.3 MB: Wow.
0:21:17.3 CG: And so fun fact, before I kind of continue, is that the day I was supposed to film the two Sharks, at least one or the two of the sharks that I got an investment from, Daymond and Lori, went on the panel on that Friday.
0:21:28.0 MB: Oh wow.
0:21:28.5 CG: Yes. So it was actually a moment that… Everything happens for a reason.
0:21:31.4 MB: Sure.
0:21:32.2 CG: And I end up with the two [0:21:33.9] ____ sharks. But that was a really interesting experience. You got about 40… I filmed… Actually, I did follow my own device like for 45 minutes. The second is like seven minutes. Lori gave me an offer within 15 minutes on the conversation.
0:21:46.2 MB: Wow.
0:21:46.2 CG: And what I will say on the… And so I got the deal with Daymond and Lori, asked for… To be honest, when I got on show, I was very PR-driven.
0:21:55.6 MB: Sure.
0:21:57.4 CG: So I asked for… I said, “Okay, let me just ensure I get a deal.”
0:22:00.7 MB: Gotcha.
0:22:01.6 CG: And I don’t really… ‘Cause I know that they change things and all that stuff, so I was focused on that. So not really evaluation and I know all those things… ‘Cause you’re able to negotiate that after the fact.
0:22:09.8 MB: Sure, sure. That’s a big disclaimer at the end. Like what you saw here may or may not happen.
0:22:14.4 CG: Yeah, and also the also producers like have a… People don’t understand this is TV, you can’t… Every entrepreneur winning that…
0:22:21.5 MB: That’s right.
0:22:21.8 CG: Is after they wanted to… They’d be like, “Oh, $3 million for like 1%.”
0:22:24.5 MB: That’s right.
0:22:25.1 CG: So they kind of usher you into it to say, and people don’t know that, but I mean, I don’t know if I should, but yeah. I probably should be able to say that. But [laughter] yeah, so got that, started the biggest fight till this day in Shark Tank history.
0:22:39.9 MB: Wow.
0:22:40.9 CG: Daymond and Lori invested in my company. Daymond… Lori gave me an offer right away. And then Daymond came in with little information and they said they wanted the deal, but Mark, the three white sharks, Mark Cuban, Robert Herjavecv, Kevin O’Leary wanted to ask me more questions. And I’m like, I got two people giving me what I want and I’m not gonna look stupid. And I’m saying… I’m thinking to myself, “I’ve seen this show before. I’ve seen people… “
0:23:07.4 MB: “I’m done. I’m good.”
0:23:08.9 CG: I’m like, “They’re giving me exactly what I’m asking with two people. There’s no point.” I said, “Done,” and put two, got two sharks. Great. They’ve been very, very helpful investors. So what happened was they… A big fight broke out like, “You should have done this, this was like giving him charity.” Mind you, I had $90,000 in revenue as a college student…
0:23:25.5 MB: Wow.
0:23:25.6 CG: Within the first few months. And mind you, in the tech industry, white dudes get money with…
0:23:31.4 MB: With nothing.
0:23:32.0 CG: A napkin right?
0:23:32.6 MB: That’s right.
0:23:33.7 CG: And it was awesome. Not even a lot of money they invested. So it wasn’t like… Yeah. So it didn’t really mess up any economic at the time. And they’re like, “You should ask some more questions. You should [0:23:39.2] ____ delve into the deal.” So there was a huge fight and that was more… I mean there was a walkout with Mark Cuban, Kevin O’Leary and Robert Herjavecv walked out.
0:23:49.2 MB: Oh wow.
0:23:50.0 CG: They stormed out. And there was more to that conversation. I will say that there was a production side and that was what we saw on TV, but I will say that Mark and Robert, they were all throwing compliments throughout the thing. It was definitely… I kind of hate how they got positioned as like… ‘Cause that made it look bad. But I really felt bad ’cause they were like, “Oh he’s smart.” I probably could have got a deal from like…
0:24:13.0 MB: All of them.
0:24:13.3 CG: All of them, potentially. ‘Cause they were like, “It wasn’t a lot of money. It was… ” They loved impact-driven of the company. But they walked out and Black Twitter jumped on them. It was this whole… The episode went viral because of that and it was comments about race, they were saying charity, they got… It just… There was a lot of people… There was a lot of hashtags. But I got a ton of PR from them.
0:24:34.1 MB: That’s awesome.
0:24:35.2 CG: We became… Scholly became number one in the app store for both iPhone and Android for about six weeks.
0:24:38.9 MB: That’s awesome.
0:24:39.4 CG: The show kept getting rerun. It was getting thrown up by every week, getting handled by reporter. It was just… It changed my life. I mean Shark… For obvious reasons. But it was a good… It was an interesting experience and it was just… I remember our site was getting hit like thousands of times per second.
0:24:55.0 MB: Wow.
0:24:55.8 CG: And then the fight just made it even more viral.
0:24:57.3 MB: Of course.
0:24:57.7 CG: Some of the sites, our partners, scholarship partners literally hit us up, was like, “Your shit… Our site just crashed because there were so many people hitting the site, even the products.” So it was just a amazing moment for my team going from like, making tens of thousand dollars a day. It was just… We’re just starting. I’m in college. I got my two co-founders and my friends who stepped up and just was able to watch in our AWS servers, AWS users kind of the case study, gives those free credit. But it was good. It was a really life-changing moment for me and it just set the pace for that. And then everything else was easy after that. I only ended up raising 400K in a seed round just five years ago and it was like Kevin Plank from Under Armour, Steve Case from Rise of the Rest and Josh Kopelman, First Round Capital and the money I got from Shark Tank and I really built Scholly to be profitable since.
0:25:47.9 MB: And that’s it. Those were the only investors.
0:25:49.8 CG: 400K.
0:25:50.7 MB: Wow. You’ve said a few times when you described the Shark Tank example, that was one of the most pivotal moments. How did it feel to graduate from college being the first person and then debt-free?
0:26:03.5 CG: Yeah, so I was actually got on… I appeared on Shark Tank my senior year of college. So yeah, it was a lot going on my senior year. I was missing a lot of classes and they worked with me.
0:26:12.9 MB: Sure.
0:26:14.1 CG: Yeah. So I graduated on a national TV show, now running this tech startup, I’m new to the space, graduated debt-free. And it was just… All of it was all these life-changing moments happening in one year. I couldn’t really even enjoy it, frankly, my graduation, ’cause I was too busy working on Scholly stuff, we were still getting [0:26:30.8] ____. It felt like what was going on with Scholly, that post-Shark Tank…
0:26:35.0 MB: Gotcha. You gotta walk across the stage and get this piece of paper.
0:26:37.1 CG: To get back to… To get this opportunity and whatever. And the school was super proud. Drexel was obviously very proud. Birmingham was super proud.
0:26:46.1 MB: Sure.
0:26:47.1 CG: So it was a really good moment. And again, it was… I was kind of, at that time, one of the… It’s very few tech founders who had some visibility.
0:26:55.8 MB: Gotcha.
0:26:56.6 CG: Especially in a mainstream way. I think there were people who have started tech companies and turned circles.
0:27:01.1 MB: Sure.
0:27:01.3 CG: But that kind of mainstream, that attention in Shark Tank obviously helped, 10 million views at the time, that was kind of helpful. But yeah, so that’s where we were.
0:27:10.1 MB: Let’s say you write another book. What does your life look like five years from now?
0:27:15.3 CG: I think there will be an exit of a liquidity event that will happen.
0:27:20.8 MB: Awesome.
0:27:20.8 CG: And then it will be really talking about what phase two of that will be. And I think the book… My first book really chronicles just kind of where, hey, getting into building a successful company. I think I do want people to understand kind of what’s next and kind of be a book that’s more business-centered than life-centered where I kind of wanna… I think I’ve… That first chapter is kind of done and I think being… Probably be more thought leadership-focused. But there will be post and exit. I will start another company. I thought about some liquidity. So I’ve thought about investing, but I realize that I wanna take another swing at the bat.
0:27:56.3 CG: And I realized that if I saw kind of an idea, I kind of may have, that [0:28:00.6] ____ kind of moment, “Oh I love this, personal opinions of them aside. I like this idea so much. I’m gonna write you a check.” I’m probably gonna do it. That’s just me. And also just… I like to really focus my energy on one thing, but I do eventually will like to get in the [0:28:16.7] ____, but I definitely wanna start that next company that will be that multi-billion-dollar exit potential IPO and just have that five years. I don’t know if I can do it in five years, but I know an exit will be soon, and then there’ll be just a new venture, being a second time founder with more equity and being able to end that book, be able to give more thought leadership in an authoritative way ’cause I did it versus kind of like, “Hey, this is my story and now I’m successful,” kind of thing. It’ll be that way.
0:28:47.9 MB: So you just mentioned another company that could be coming down. Any kids? Family?
0:28:52.6 CG: Yes, yes. I do wanna settle. I do wanna settle down. And I do want kids. I mean, I feel like generational wealth is extremely important to me. So I feel like there’s no… There would be no point for me personally doing all this if I can’t pass that down to anyone. And I don’t want partner… Partner or not at that time, that is something I want to do. And luckily I’ve worked hard to be in a financial position to be able to do that and still do that and still balance that with work and have the support I need. But yeah, but that’s… I do want kids. I do want that to be a phase in my life ’cause that’s very important to me. Because of my unique relationship with my family at this time, I think it’s gonna be important for me to feel like, how can I… And through therapy that I do every single week for many years, being able to really try to raise my kids in a way and instill the right values and instill the values that I want in them.
0:29:50.8 MB: Putting the business completely aside, what is your proudest personal moment?
0:29:55.8 CG: My proudest personal moment. It’s kinda related to business, but it’s really interesting.
0:30:00.7 MB: Okay.
0:30:01.1 CG: My first ever intern who ever interned for me, actually appeared on Shark Tank…
0:30:06.7 MB: Oh wow.
0:30:07.2 CG: Two years ago.
0:30:07.9 MB: Wow.
0:30:09.0 CG: And through the same producers that I connected him to.
0:30:12.8 MB: That’s awesome.
0:30:13.4 CG: And it was like, I was a mentor and he was like… He was in high school actually at the time.
0:30:17.7 MB: Wow.
0:30:17.9 CG: And he appeared in it when he was in college and he’s [0:30:20.1] ____. So it was… I’m really about mentorship and really being a connector. So that was really, really a proud personal moment for me. I think there are others, but that was kind of more recent because I think I wanted to highlight the importance of mentorship and also using the things that were hard for you to get access to and make it easier for others, especially with people of color and also just being a pass-back though.
0:30:43.4 MB: I appreciate you.
0:30:44.3 CG: Thank you.
0:30:44.8 MB: ‘Cause I’ve actually learned so much. I’ve been a huge fan. I’m an even bigger fan. I’mma keep in touch and check on you personally. I appreciate you.
0:30:52.8 CG: Thank you.
0:30:53.3 MB: Thank you for being on The Porch.
0:30:54.4 CG: Thank you.
0:30:55.3 MB: Appreciate you, brother.
0:30:55.5 CG: Thank you.[music]
0:31:00.1 MB: Thank you for listening to my conversation with Christopher Gray. It just goes to show you that you’re never too young to pursue your dream, as he started Scholly while he was still in college. If you enjoyed our conversation, please leave us a rating and a review. To learn more about our guest and find a link to the website, check out our show notes. You can find us on social media at @WeAreNMV or search for us with the hashtag #PorchTalks.
0:31:25.3 CG: That is really sad. I should… I really have not really thought about proud personal moment. I really should…
0:31:30.1 MB: So that means I’m gonna have you back, and then you’ll be able to say, “Here’s my… “
0:31:32.8 CG: I just said I graduated. I can push it and say, “Oh I graduated college. That was my proud personal moment.” Or, “I did something or… “
0:31:40.0 MB: You don’t even remember walking across the stage.
0:31:41.4 CG: I really… It was such a afterthought. I literally had a dinner meeting that night. I was like, “Get through this, go.” They were like, “Oh everybody else is out with family.” It was… Yeah. I do have to strike my balance. It’s a thing. It’s a problem.
0:31:56.3 MB: [0:31:56.3] ____.
0:31:58.6 CG: Yeah, I know. That’s what I was gonna say though, but I was like… [laughter]
0:32:02.8 MB: We all have to find balance. We all have to find balance. Yeah. Porch Talks is a production of Kinetic Energy Entertainment and New Majority Ventures. Recording and video production services were provided by Modulus Studios. This podcast was recorded at the Black Joy House in Oak Bluffs, Martha’s Vineyard. Our producer is Ann Kane. Our social media producer is Misako Envela. And the show is mixed by Sonya Harris. The Porch Talks’ theme is “A New View” by Tony Cruz. Thanks again for listening. See you back on The Porch.[music]