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Musician Turned Academic Mentor: Tim Urban

by Susan Johnston

Tim Urban
University: Harvard
Major: Government
Grad Year: 2004

Company: Cartim Group
Title: Co-Founder
Industry: Education
Year founded: 2005
Type of company: tutoring company
Location: Santa Monica, CA
Number of employees: 25
Websites: www.thecartimgroup.com and www.timurban.com


When Tim Urban graduated from college and moved across the country to Los Angeles to become a composer, he began tutoring on the side to pay his expenses. "I started putting up flyers," Tim recalls. "I went to schools and met with guidance counselors. All that work was really hideous, actually. Finally, I got a student."

In addition to putting up flyers, Tim dropped off his materials in person at dozens of high schools. Tim says he "intuitively knew" that that approach would be more effective than blanketing bulletin boards and sending out mass mailings. He met with fifty or sixty people, until finally his persistence paid off when a school administrator mentioned that her mother was a semi-retired educator now working as a tutor.

Forging a Partnership

Tim met the mother, Carolyn McWilliams, who also happened to live across the street from him. The two found that they shared a similar philosophy: that tutors should be role models who motivate students, rather than simply helping them finish an algebra or English assignment.

"The ideal situation is when you can get with a student and help them with their whole academic life."

"The ideal situation is when you can get with a student and help them with their whole academic life," Tim explains. "Teach them why you need to be a good student; form a relationship as opposed to just being a tutor."

Carolyn started referring some of her students who needed help with math to Tim, and the two started working together. Within a few months the demand for tutors exceeded Tim and Carolyn's availability.

The Birth of a Business

"People kept calling, and you're not gonna turn down business," says Tim, who seems to grasp business concepts naturally (as he is quick to point out, his degree is in government). "You figure out a way to create more supply, so we hired a couple of tutors and moved into the office."

Thus, the Cartim Group was born. Now their roster of tutors fluctuates between twenty and thirty depending on the time of year. They also hired a part time employee to manage the office's administrative needs like processing payroll, purchasing office supplies, and handling insurance. Carolyn meets with parents to explain the tutoring process, and Tim matches students with tutors and ensures that sessions go smoothly.

"Most of my time is taken up with quality control," he explains. "We charge parents a lot and they get the best service in LA. If you let the quality go, then you turn into any tutoring company. We have tutors come in and meet Carolyn and me and talk about certain students. We're very hands-on."

"I like the fact that we're supporting creative college grads and teaching kids to care about education."

To ensure a good relationship between students and their tutors, Tim says he hires tutors based on "who will kids think is cool? Who will a sixteen-year-old look up to? They're all top of the line college grads in Los Angeles trying to do something creative."

Helping other recent grads in his position (those trying to make it in the entertainment industry) gives Tim as much as satisfaction as knowing his tutors are helping students improve their academic performance."We're providing employment to all these tutors," Tim explains. "They're like me?We're all fighting for the same goals. I like the fact that we're supporting creative college grads and teaching kids to care about education."

Taking it to TV

With over 100 students, the Cartim Group's revenue is projected at over a million dollars a year. Tim's success as a young entrepreneur also caught the attention of The Apprentice: Season 6 producers. Donald Trump fired him after teammates (perhaps unfairly) questioned Tim's loyalty. Still, he was among the youngest candidates and made it to the top six.

"It was an intensely fun experience," Tim says of his stint on The Apprentice. "Even though the tasks are simple, the people who do well are the same people who do well in business. Entrepreneurs are constantly facing new challenges."

As an entrepreneur, Tim faces many of the same challenges off the air that he faced on The Apprentice. "Marketing, sales, and creativity are the same skills have I've been [using] during the last few years of my business," he explains. "[Entrepreneurship is] like a game to me. You have to set up a grade system and figure out how to get it out to people. I'm competitive, and I want to set up something great. That to me is fun. I love the specific thing we're doing [at The Cartim Group]. I'm passionate about the cause."

Being on The Apprentice also provided exposure for Tim's debut CD, Turning Home. He timed the release of his album with the airing of The Apprentice on NBC last spring. Produced by Glen Ballard, who's also worked with Dave Matthews and Gwen Stefani, the CD features eight of Tim's musical compositions.

The self-taught pianist and composer says his album has been selling pretty well on his website (http://www.timurban.com) and on iTunes. "I would welcome a music career," muses Tim, who has already scored a few documentaries and HBO movies. "I like doing two things at once because you never know where things will go."

A Circus Act

Juggling both ventures keeps Tim on his toes. At the time of his interview for this article, Tim had just dropped off his pet turtle ("he doesn't have any quotes for you," Tim joked) at a student's house and was flying to the east coast for several weeks. He added that he would probably spend a lot of that time on the phone communicating with colleagues and parents back in California.

"Come up with a really good idea that is practical, and just start doing it."

"Part of being an entrepreneur is that it blends the work and life," he admits. "You're kind of always working. Anyone who really cares about their business is gonna do something 365 days a year."

Still, he encourages other recent grads to try entrepreneurship. "Everyone has a good idea," he says. "Come up with a really good idea that is practical, and just start doing it. There's nothing like starting a small business at a young age. It's a big game, and, if you win, you make a lot of money. [Even if you don't] you're never gonna look back at 65 and regret it."
Cartim Group
Cartim Group
Tim Urban
 
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