SBDC Client Spotlight – The Courage to Pivot Made College Web Mentor a Huge Success

Rudy Chavarria Jr. had built a successful life as the owner of an independent record company back in 1993, but as the music landscape changed and the big box music stores like Tower Records disappeared, he pivoted into music marketing. Among his first successful projects was a Bob Marley record that he sent to number one on the charts within six weeks of its release. How? By targeting college students. As Chavarria Jr.’s marketing business began to grow, and he started working with brands like Disney and promoting movies, he knew needed to branch out and starting growing. “That’s when someone told me to go to the SBDC,” he says. Little did he know he was about to pivot again, and that it would signal his biggest success yet. As Chavarria Jr. puts it, “When you build relationships, you have a different perspective on how to change things. And that’s what happens.”

The relationship that changed things for Chavarria Jr. was the one he built with Bill Waldo, an SBDC @ UCI Applied Innovation consultant and Tech Coast Angel. Before Waldo was an SBDC consultant, he was the Founder and CEO of his food service sales and marketing company for 25 years, which managed all food service sales and marketing functions for some of the nation’s largest food manufacturers as Nestle, Sara Lee, and HJ Heinz. When he decided to sell, he pivoted to angel investing. For the last 12 years, Waldo has worked with hundreds of early-stage companies alongside his duties at the SBDC. When he connected with Chavarria Jr., he saw a diamond in the rough.

“The company Rudy was trying to launch was still an idea – a communication vehicle where movie studios wanting to target college and university students could use Rudy’s connections with radio across the country,” Waldo explains. “He struggled with that business model for a long time, picking up some business here and there, but it was never sufficiently monetized,” said Waldo.

Then came the a-ha moment; Waldo asked Chavarria Jr. a question that changed everything.

“It was Bill who said to me, ‘If you’re so passionate about helping college students, why aren’t you doing this?,” Chavarria Jr. recalls. “And it was an awakening. I started to realize that college students don’t need more products marketed to them, they needed help with jobs and student debts. They were taking their courses and doing their homework, but none of them seemed like they knew what they were doing or what they wanted.”

So Chavarria Jr. made the ultimate pivot, and completely changed his business model from College Web Media to College Web Mentor – a move Waldo refers to as “a full paradigm shift for [Chavarria Jr.], and a very unique experience for me.” Chavarria Jr. began the process of assessing how to be a problem solver for students who needed more guidance and preparation for their post-school life. He met with students to learn more about their guidance and mentorship goals and needs, he began guest speaking at colleges and high schools, and he even set up a booth at Santa Monica City College for two years. Over that time, he met 450 college students that said they wanted to be mentored and signed up for Chavarria Jr.’s program.

Initially Waldo had thought there was nothing he could do for Chavarria Jr., until everything shifted. “When the pivot started developing, my goal was to stay with it,” he says. “It’s one thing to help Rudy get into business, but the other part is helping him stay in it.”

And that’s exactly what Chavarria Jr. did, using Waldo’s support to keep him moving in the right direction. Chavarria Jr. felt that Waldo would always explain things in a way that made sense to him, encourage Chavarria Jr. to get real world feedback and test the waters for his idea instead of immersing him in the more academic side of business planning. Says Chavarria Jr., “Bill would say, ‘Never mind all that, just throw things up there and see what sticks. I would take this stuff back to Bill and he would say run with it,” he continues. “I would take information to investors, and they’d say, ‘This is great, show me the numbers.’ it just kept moving forward.”

Now, Chavarria Jr. is on the fast track to making College Web Mentor a nationally recognizable resource and a huge success, he has already obtained over $100k in equity funding and created two jobs. He also recently met about a partnership with a concierge company that specializes in supporting overseas students with cars and places to live, and  now working on getting investors. His short deck is built, the marketing and business plan is complete, the company website is in process, and they’re filming student testimonial videos in support of Chavarria Jr.’s mission. And he says he owes it all to Waldo.

“A good mentor is someone who will take you to the level you can get to,” he says. “Bill told me, ‘At some point, you will say to me I don’t need you anymore, and I will say to you, you don’t need me anymore. I’m always going to be here, but now you need someone who’s bigger and better.’ Bill will always be that one person that I go to who will always keep me in check.”

For his part, Waldo continues to be impressed and inspired by Chavarria Jr.’s dedication and his willingness to change, which ultimately led him to success. “He made a complete pivot,” Waldo notes. “Instead of giving up, he stayed with the target audience he’s familiar with, listening to them and their needs, and turned his business into something with an even greater need for students and himself.” And Waldo feels his working relationship with Chavarria Jr. was equally as fulfilling for him. “He’s of these guys who’s coachable, listens, takes direction, comes back and reports. I look for entrepreneurs who are coachable, because if they’re not, it’s a waste of both of our time.”

Chavarria Jr. has one piece of advice for entrepreneurs who are debating whether or not to work with the SBDC: don’t hesitate, and don’t be afraid – do it.

“The SBDC is big, and I’ve always looked at it as big, but working with Bill has made it personal,” he says. “If I could say to anybody who has had someone tell them to look into the SBDC, it’s to not be intimidated. I was the same way! But it can do nothing but improve you.”

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