Tuesdays with T4A: Alan Tripp (02/05/14)

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Alan Tripp
Founder & Chairman | InsideTrack
Alan is the founder of InsideTrack and has devoted his career to enhancing student motivation, success, and achievement. With InsideTrack, his attention is focused on the success of college students, as reflected in academic performance, persistence and graduation rates. Previously, Alan launched SCORE! Educational Centers, a national system of K-7 centers aimed at helping students strengthen their academic skills and love of learning. As the founder and CEO of SCORE!, he helped to grow the company to nearly 100 centers with more than 1,500 employees. Alan has also served as a management consultant with Boston Consulting Group, a reporter and editor for the Wall Street Journal and as a Lecturer at the Stanford Graduate Schools of Business and Education, where he co-taught the core course for education entrepreneurs. Alan lives in San Francisco.

Where did you grow up, and what do you remember most about it?
I grew up first in Princeton, NJ, then attended public high school in San Diego. I remember the incredible culture shock as I transitioned from a liberal, intellectual environment to a high school that had a remarkable resemblance to Fast Times at Ridegemont High. I lost so much ground academically that I failed in my attempts to gain admission to Princeton, Yale and Harvard, but at least I had a good time!
What was your first job?
I worked for my Grandfather harvesting tobacco in North Carolina. Incredibly hard work.
What is your first political memory?
I remember telling my friends that they should support Nixon because he had a plan to end the war.
What is your favorite book?
There are so many. Lately, I’m a voracious Audible customer.  One of the most remarkable books I’ve read in the past few years is Matterhorn. It makes me so grateful that I missed Viet Nam by about 8 years. If you haven’t read it, you need to. Great insights into fundamental political and cultural problems we are still struggling with. Also, a gripping story.
As an entrepreneur, you’ve focused on educational ventures (first SCORE! Educational Centers and now InsideTrack). What drew you to the education space? Have you figured out the key to enchanting student motivation and achievement (InsideTrack has been shown to increase graduation rates by x̅ = 15%?
I’ve learned that most students can succeed at very high levels. The key factor is how they feel about learning and their ability to succeed. It turns out that students are easily motivated with frequent, meaningful feedback, goal setting, recognition and adaptive content. Sadly, most systems do not provide this. With InsideTrack, more than 100 controlled studies have proven the effectiveness of our college student coaching systems. Typical impact is a 20% reduction in attrition over a four year period.
You worked as a reporter and editor for the Wall Street Journal. (interesting side note: that period is part of the title!), making you the sole newspaper journalist on our Board (as far as I know). I’m very interested to know what it was like working for such a major paper! Also, what are your feelings and thoughts on dwindling newspaper readership?
The Journal was a truly great paper, with very high journalistic standards. It was an honor to work there in the heyday of the print era. (Note: The Editorial page was staffed by maniacs and was completely independent.) I first worked at the Asian edition of the Journal in colonial Hong Kong in 1984, when I was 22. My biggest article was about my experiences traveling into China with Bible Smugglers. This was featured as the “A Head”, the quirky story in the middle column of the front page. I was next posted to the European edition in Brussels (I speak Dutch and French). I returned from Belgium in 1987 to attend Stanford business school.

Sadly, it seems that no one has yet developed an online/mobile alternative to major newspapers that is equally effective in terms of informing the electorate with balanced, high-quality information and analysis. Consequently, it is even easier to sway people with symbols, wedge issues and inaccurate TV commercials. This makes cash even more important than ever. And this is a problem. Sometimes, I feel as if I’m already the last man who reads newspapers in San Francisco.

Who is your role model and why?
Bill Hewlett, a very modest and capable man. He founded Hewlett-Packard, but wasn’t too busy to serve on the school board. He drove a Ford Taurus, and liked fly fishing. He rarely made angel investments, but agreed to invest $100,000 in my first business in 1992. He gave me the check, and told me to figure out the valuation and send him the appropriate number of shares!

As you look at your community, city/state/country, how do you view your role/responsibility as a citizen? Within that context, how do you view your role as citizen in relation to our government and democracy?
We’ve got to figure out some way to inspire the electorate to move beyond the superficial and to truly engage in the process of understanding the important issues of the day. If we can’t do that, then we can kiss our democracy goodbye. Already, it seems like most of the shots are called by deep-pocketed special interests. I joined T4A because I’m still hopeful. I believe it’s our duty as influential, successful citizens to care about the future. It’s also in our best interest, unless we relish the thought of living out our lives inside the bubble of multiple “gated-communities” of one sort or another.
What is your favorite journey?
California Zephyr from Chicago to San Francisco.
If you could be anyone else for a day, who would you be?!
Justin Bieber, of course!
What is your proudest moment?
When my first business, SCORE! Educational Centers, was featured on the cover of Newsweek. I remember walking through JFK and seeing it everywhere. Amazing!

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