It’s going to take time and repetition. We tried for months to get parents and teachers on the app, and people really just need to hear about your product repeatedly before they use it.
Engage with your early users. Our early users are the ones who saw holes in the app that we could never have expected. They are also the same ones who will go to bat for you when others ask.
As a part of my series about “Lessons From Inspirational Black Men In Tech”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Lorne A Jenkins Jr., CEO and Co-Founder of Mini Money Management. MMM is an app that helps parents and teachers educate their children about the importance of financial literacy using everyday experiences. Lorne turned a childhood game that his mother played with him growing up, into an app to help teach the lessons he learned to children across the world.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
When I was 8 and my little sister was 5, we asked my mom to go out to eat every single day. She got fed up with it, and posted on the refrigerator job postings for a son and daughter. We had to complete applications, interview for the positions, she called our references (who had nothing but great things to say) and we eventually were awarded the positions. This new job came with a salary of $40 (fake money) per week. The catch came when we had to pay for household expenses such as rent, laundry, transportation, and of course meals. It cost $1 to eat at home and $3 to eat out. My mother’s claim to fame is that by the time we got to the end of the summer she asked us if we wanted to go out to eat. Our response “No mommy, that’s way too expensive”. Mini Money Management and the household economy was born.
I wouldn’t realize the depth of the lessons that I learned participating in MMM as a child until I was much older, and financial literacy is just one of them. I graduated high school as a state champion in track and field with a 4.2 GPA and a full ride scholarship (40% of that being academic). I went to Campbell University for undergrad and graduated cum laude with an economics degree. I ran Division I track and field for 4 years and was the economics student of the year. I then went to the University of East London and earned my masters degree in finance, graduating with distinction. While getting my masters I traveled to 10 different countries and over 15 different cities across Europe. Here’s the kicker, I’ve never been the biggest fan of going to school. School to me always seemed boring and quite honestly pointless. But what I was taught at a young age through MMM is that in life there are going to be things you have to do (chores), so you can do the things you want to do (go swimming). I knew that to play sports I would have to keep my grades up, so I made sure I was a good student so that I could do something that I loved. Once I finished with undergrad my grades allowed me acceptance into a masters program. It had been a dream of mine to travel around Europe, so I used the masters program to see parts of the world I never would have been able to see otherwise.
I ended up getting a job as a foreign exchange broker once I graduated and was amazed how even people with a lot of money can be financially illiterate. One of my coworkers was comfortably making 6 figures, but still had maxed out credit cards, and hadn’t paid off his student loans. No matter where I went, people weren’t taught about money, especially as children. That is why we started Mini Money Management, to give kids around the world a solid financial foundation.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?
The most interesting story I can think of (and apologies because I don’t think it’s that interesting) is how I went back to my old elementary school to talk to a few of my teachers, and I felt like an absolute giant. I was taller than all of the teachers, the toilets were small, the mirrors were too low, even the ceilings in the building seemed to be short. Growing up is a very interesting thing I must say.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
The funniest mistake I made when I was first starting was thinking that with a few spreadsheets and a lot of heart, I was going to be able to create a million dollar company in 3 months. I took a spreadsheet mock up of an app and a testimonial from my 4th grade teacher saying how much he liked the idea of MMM to a potential investor and was laughed at uncontrollably (as well I should have been). The main thing that I learned was how to be patient and let things play themselves out. My word of 2020 and this entire MMM journey has been “patience” We have revolutionary ideas and projects that we truly believe in, but at the end of the day what we need to see these things out is time and patience
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
One of the hardest times we have had was right when COVID-19 hit in March. We had been running a pilot for 3 months with teachers and finally gaining some traction in schools. We pushed our last update for the teachers the same week that all students were sent home for the semester. It was tough to have made so much progress and to have to put everything on hold. At no point did we consider giving up though, we just had to make a pivot so that parents could use the app at home with their kids. We took the next 3 weeks and reworked our entire app and created the MMM Home Edition. The reason that we can work through the hard times is that we know what our main goal is and why we started the company in the first place. The goal is to educate an entire generation on the importance of financial literacy so that people can change poverty from the bottom up. That isn’t a goal that you just give up on because things aren’t going your way.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
My Mom. She is the original creator of Mini Money Management and she has been a huge part of this journey from day 1. She personally contributed money to help build the app, she helps me work on MMM even though she has a full time job, and she is always there to support and encourage me along the way. The entrepreneurial journey is a very long and lonely one, but she does help make things a little bit easier. A great story is when I turned down a pretty good job offer to move out to New York and then back to London, so that we could start this company together. I told her on her birthday that I had made the choice to not accept the offer and try to turn our childhood game into the next big thing. I very rarely see my mom cry, but that was one of the few times I have and it meant the world to me and her.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Sometimes you have to slow down to speed up.” I am the type of person who wants to work hard and push things as much as I possibly can. A mentor of mine once told me that sometimes you have to slow your progress down and go back to the drawing board, so that in the future you can expedite your journey. The hardest thing for me to do is not try to push out and market MMM, but the times that we take a step back and change our course and make the necessary changes, it pays off immensely.
Ok super. Thank you for all that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. The United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This is of course a huge topic. But briefly, can you share your view on how this crisis inexorably evolved to the boiling point that it’s at now?
This ‘crisis’ isn’t new to black people or others of color. This is the life that we have been living since we were brought to this country as slaves. COVID-19 has left white people with nothing to do, and they finally got to see a 10 minute video (George Floyd) of what it is like to be a black man in this country and they saw how ugly it truly is. People of color have been speaking on these injustices for years, and it took the entire world being shut down to get white people to notice. That is definitely going to cause a bit of frustration to say the least.
This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?
It’s important because a majority of white people are unaware of the struggles that go on in the lives of other people. So it is impossible for them to design systems and procedures that are equitable to all people, if they truly can’t understand what that looks like.
Let’s zoom out a bit and talk in more broad terms. It’s hard to be satisfied with the status quo regarding Black Men In Tech in Tech leadership. What specific changes do you think are needed to change the status quo?
We need to teach our young black men and women that there are more options out there than being a rapper or an athlete. If black children don’t see people who look like them in Tech, then how can we expect them to grow up and dream of being the next big Tech Entrepreneur?
We’d now love to learn a bit about your company. What is the pain point that your company is helping to address?
The main challenge that MMM is attempting to solve is the high level of financial illiteracy that is prevalent in this country and the world, that predominantly harms people of color. Only 22 states require at least one personal finance class for seniors to graduate. The average millennial has over $28,000 of debt, and the largest percentage is credit card debt not student loans. A survey of American adults found three disturbing facts, 74% of people who have debt regret it, 33% of people have nothing saved for retirement, and 44% of people don’t have enough cash to cover a $400 emergency. The biggest problem that teachers and parents face is that they weren’t educated on financial literacy so they don’t feel equipped to teach it to their children. That is why we have created MMM, to make it easier for parents and teachers to financially educate their children, without needing to be an ‘expert’.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
MMM is unique in the fact that we give parents and teachers the tools to teach financial literacy using everyday activities. The problem with financial education is that the market only serves two types of people, those who are very wealthy, and those who are in debt. There are limited financial education resources that focus on youth. Children will either be taken on a day long field trip or they will have a financial expert come in and speak to their class. When you look at the way that children learn basic subjects like reading, writing and math, they are taught these on a day to day basis. How can we expect a student to be financially literate when they attend a 3 hour field trip once a year? Mini Money Management uses the approach that children learn best through experience. Instead of a child reading definitions of interest rates, and savings accounts, we let them experience money in a way that relates to them. Experiential learning has been proven to be the most effective way for children to learn, and we utilize that to teach financial literacy to kids at a young age.
We began working with a 4th grade teacher in a low-income school district in Arkansas. She implemented MMM’s classroom economy and her students loved it. The first week when she opened up her classroom store the students were excited to purchase fun items, but some of the more expensive ones they couldn’t afford. When the teacher informed them that they didn’t have enough money for the expensive items, the students shrugged their shoulders and asked to purchase a cheaper item instead. The teacher stopped the students and suggested that they save their money and come back next week. A light bulb went off. The students were so surprised by the idea that they could save their money and were so excited to save up for the next week. The students had never had someone teach them the simple concept of saving their money, and all it took was a teacher mentioning it to change their mentality. The impact that MMM can have on children at a young age is immeasurable. Giving them the fundamentals of money at the age of 8, 9 or 10 will give them a solid financial foundation for them to build on for the rest of their lives.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
We are starting to work on creating classes that help educate adults on financial literacy now as well as children. Our main focus has always been to introduce money to kids at a young age, but the more work we do we see that so many adults need this information as well. If we can make parents more financially aware and educated, they can pass it down to their children more effectively.
What would you advise to another tech leader who initially went through years of successive growth, but has now reached a standstill. From your experience do you have any general advice about how to boost growth or sales and “restart their engines”?
Take a step back and take a break. It is so easy to get caught up in the sales cycles, marketing, development, and the 150,000 other things you have to worry about as a tech leader. Sometimes the best way to come up with new ideas and strategies is to just get away and focus on something else for a week.
Do you have any advice about how companies can create very high performing sales teams?
We are unfortunately a sales team of 1 (me) so I may not be the best person to ask that question LOL
In your specific industry what methods have you found to be most effective in order to find and attract the right customers? Can you share any stories or examples?
We are in the EdTech industry and what we have found to be the most useful is really focusing on building a product that teachers love to use. The school sales cycle is brutal, and getting into districts can be a nightmare. But when a teacher uses your product and loves it, they will spread it for you like wildfire.
Based on your experience, can you share 3 or 4 strategies to give your customers the best possible user experience and customer service?
- Keep it as simple as possible. People don’t like to be confused or feel dumb, just be straight forward
- Don’t nickel and dime people when it comes to cost
- Ask your customers what they want to see in the product, and then actually build it
As you likely know, this HBR article demonstrates that studies have shown that retaining customers can be far more lucrative than finding new ones. Do you use any specific initiatives to limit customer attrition or customer churn? Can you share some of your advice from your experience about how to limit customer churn?
This is pretty similar to what I have already said, but have open conversations with your users and see what they do and don’t like about your product. If you push an update that multiple users have requested, they will be endeared to you and be more likely to not only engage with your product, but to also recommended others to use your product as well. Good customers are the greatest sales people.
Here is the main question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a very successful tech company? Please share a story or an example for each.
- It’s going to take time and repetition
We tried for months to get parents and teachers on the app, and people really just need to hear about your product repeatedly before they use it.
2. Engage with your early users
Our early users are the ones who saw holes in the app that we could never have expected. They are also the same ones who will go to bat for you when others ask.
3. Don’t get sucked up into the Investment world
There is a time and a place to take outside funding. But we have spent nearly a year just working with users to figure out if our idea can work and tweaking it before we even considered looking into investment
4. Be yourself
There seems to be a stigma that tech companies can only succeed in one way, and that’s just inherently untrue. We have a very casual approach to how we work and how we interact with our customers, which people have really liked.
5. Know that it’s going to seem impossible, you “Why” is what keeps you going
I frequently (just last week) have trouble with the thought of this company not succeeding and being labeled a “failure”. But on the days that it feels tough and insurmountable I remember (with pictures, quotes, good family and friends) why I started this in the first place and who I can truly help.
Wonderful. We are nearly done. Here are the final “meaty” questions of our discussion. You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
First of all I literally laughed out loud when you said “a person of enormous influence”, please don’t gas me up like that haha. The movement that I would start would be requiring people to go live in another culture for 3–6 months. I know we have a lot of differences as people, but at the base of it all I think we all want the same things, and that is what could bring people together.
We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
I would love to have a private breakfast (I think breakfast is way better than lunch) with Will Smith. A part of that is I am a massive Fresh Prince of Bel-Air fan, but I respect how he has been able to use his natural talents to become a better person and (seemingly) a genuinely nice person. There aren’t too many people I know with that much money who seem genuine, and he seems like one of them.
Thank you so much for this. This was very inspirational, and we wish you only continued success!