Memorizing the lyrics to our favorite new song is something we all do almost unconsciously. But learning the vocabulary words for a school test from what looks to be a mountain of flash cards—well, that always seems a little (or a lot) harder.
That disconnect is what led Flocabulary founders Blake Harrison and Alex Rappaport to build their business concept--using hip-hop as an educational tool for teaching children to learn through music.
From Shakespeare to science to history to SAT vocab words, they say everything a kid needs to know is built into one of their songs. And with lyrics like, “Now if you’ve ever felt left out and ostracized, like a pariah, Try Flocabulary Cereal with fiber. We put the k in Outkast, persevere, persist and outlast, We’re part of this complete breakfast,” their tunes are undeniably catchy.
These two entrepreneurs met while waiting tables in San Francisco, but this innovative startup almost didn’t happen.
“I thought somebody out there could create music that taught students the things you need to learn for school,” said Harrison. But, “I didn’t think it was going to be me.”
That is, until he told Rappaport the idea over a game of basketball one day back in 2004.
“And Alex, instead of saying, ‘Yeah, somebody should do that’ he said, ‘Hey why don’t we do that? Why don’t we see if we can do that?’” said Harrison.
Six Shooter Q&A with Alex Rappaport and Blake Harrison of Flocabulary
1. What is your biggest mistake to date?
Harrison: Not doing enough research before investing in a software program. We should have been more deliberate. Instead, we were fairly impulsive.
Rappaport: Yeah - we were reacting to a trend in educational publishing and thought we had to invest in software because everyone else was. Turns out it's hard to make money in software and it didn't really work with our customers. Our existing format - books and CDs - is still very progressive for a classroom environment and it has been a very successful model for us. The lesson here was to follow our own instincts and not be guided by a trend.
2. Do you think the entrepreneurial character is something learned or something inside you?
Rappaport: I would have to say it's inside. Business skills can be taught, but that initial desire to buck convention and go it alone feels like it's ingrained for me. I have had that drive since I was very young and I know that I'll continue to start businesses and non-profits throughout my life. There's a thrill that comes with it that I haven't found in other kinds of work.
3. What do you wish you had more of: time or money?
Harrison: I wish I had more time. Richness in life comes from experiences, not wealth.
4. Flocabulary is a for-profit company that is also socially responsible. How do you balance the two?
Rappaport: We balance by making social responsibility a core value and never letting it get overshadowed by our revenue goals. From the moment we started the company, we made charitable donations and had a focus on underprivileged schools. We feel like it's possible to be successful from a business standpoint and social standpoint at the same time. We'd love to blur the lines between for-profits and non-profits. If all for-profits had a social mission, a lot of the world's problems could be solved.
5. What is your song and why?
Harrison: My favorite song is a song called "Choo Choo Charlie" that my dad used to sing to me when he dried my hair after a bath when I was a little kid. No song has as many memories associated with it for me.
Rappaport: That's a tough one to follow, but I'm a jazz guy and I really like Sketches of Spain. Hard to choose a song, but that album has everything for me and I draw a lot of inspiration from art that can achieve so much at once.
6. Where do you hope you’ll be in 5 years?
Harrison: Hopefully Flocabulary will be in far more classrooms, helping more and more students enjoy the process of learning. We want Flocabulary to be a household name like Schoolhouse Rock.