In Conversation with Samantha Sinclair of Pathway to Purpose
Samantha Sinclair sits down to talk about building Pathway to Purpose to help prepare first generation students for college, the impact of the pandemic on education related services, and how she found meaningful ways to connect with students remotely.
Describe your business in a few words?
Pathway to Purpose is an education innovation company. We partner with middle schools, high schools and community organizations to create/enhance their college going culture by providing services such as college trips, student, parent and teacher development workshops. We also customize special events like financial aid fairs and college awareness days. Pathway to Purpose has served 23 school districts, partnered with 50 different schools and has impacted 10,000+ students. In April of 2020 amidst the pandemic we launched the “College Study Flashcards” which are 5 decks of flashcards, 24 cards in each pack created to help students prepare for college in school, at home or on the go. The flashcards are the first resource of its kind and are designed to empower students, parents, and school leaders. The categories are: Financial Aid, Types of Colleges, College Resources, Affirmations and Entrepreneur.
What made you take the leap to start your own business?
Starting a small business was not a lifelong goal however, in 2016 while starting my doctorate program, I recognized many NYC high school students were facing the same college prep challenges I encountered 11 years prior in my journey to college. My vision to create solutions was clear and that is the reason I started Pathway to Purpose.
What was your background prior to starting your own business?
As a former NYC Department of Education first-generation college student, I often find myself using my journey to inspire students in my community to reach their untapped potential. Prior to starting my business, I was working at CUNY Hostos Community College as the Assistant Director of College Now, a program that gives high school students the opportunity to take college courses. Over the past 10 years, I have also worked in school enrichment programs and have done private college prep consulting in Brooklyn, New York.
Did you always know you wanted to be an entrepreneur?
No, being an entrepreneur and starting a small business was not a lifelong goal or on my radar. In 2014 I worked as a Data Analyst for an education vendor and it was the first time I realized it was possible to work as an independent vendor for the NYC Department of Education. Fast forward two years later in 2016 while starting my doctorate program, I was drawn to the fact that high school students were facing the same college prep challenges I encountered 11 years prior. My vision to create solutions was clear and that is the reason I started Pathway to Purpose.
Take us back to when you first launched your business, what was your marketing strategy to get the word out and did it go as planned?
In 2016, while working as a Residence Hall Director, I spent my 5pm-3am hours building a listserv from scratch. I used Fiverr to build my first website and to create all marketing materials. Since the designers were in different time zones, I found myself waking between 4am-6am on most days just to catch them during their working hours, and to avoid delays. My initial marketing strategy was to create email campaigns and become registered on every list where my potential school partners searched for vendors. I would say my early marketing efforts went better than expected! My new business received tons of leads, and I closed my first contract within 4 months.
We always learn the most from our mistakes, share a time with us that you made a mistake or had a challenging time in business and what you learned from it?
A challenge I faced in business was not crafting interview questions specific to the role of Pathway To Purpose staff. I learned when hiring someone, to hire for enthusiasm. If an interviewee lacks energy in the interview process, it might be a warning sign they might not be able to transfer the right enthusiasm in the field of work. At Pathway To Purpose we work with hundreds of students each week, so enthusiasm is a must!
What is the accomplishment you are the most proud of to date?
The accomplishment I am most proud of is the lasting impact my business has made in my local community since we got started. In year one, my goal for Pathway to Purpose was to provide students with the opportunity to explore college options beyond New York City through college tours. Fast forward 4 years later and Pathway to Purpose has impacted the college preparedness of more than 10,000+ Department of Education students, serving students and families of all races, cultures and socioeconomic backgrounds in 23 school districts across 48 different partner schools in New York City. My goal now is to impact 1,000,000 students through our first of its kind innovation “College Study Flashcards.
When hiring for your team, what is your go-to interview question? Please share any hiring tips you can share from your experience?
My go-to interview question is “What does the word culture mean to you?” I like this interview question because the word “culture” can mean so many different things and so the question often entices the interviewee to dig into their unique experiences to come up with an answer and that helps me to get to know them better.
How has your business or industry been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic?
The impact of the pandemic on Pathway to Purpose business was the cancellation of all our in person services; 39 student workshops, 30 college trips and 4 special events, a $144,970 loss in revenue.
The impact of the pandemic on the education system particularly in NYC has largely meant the shut down of many school districts in-school instruction, with approximately 70% of all students now in remote-only instruction and all middle and high schools now remote-only. It has also traumatized our local community, with many students grieving the loss of friends and family members. The economic impact of COVID-related shutdowns has simultaneously reduced budgets for many school programs that students depend on, including the college and career services that my business provides.
What’s next for your business? What can we expect to see over the next few years?
In 5 years, with adequate support and a robust strategy 1,000,000 students will have the Pathway to Purpose College Study Flashcards which is a simple and fun college prep resource fit for every student between elementary school and high school.
What is the biggest lesson you have learned in 2020?
“Every problem is an opportunity in disguise.” With over 70 canceled events, thousands of dollars in event merchandise, 2020 Pathway to Purpose could’ve easily tanked. Instead we focused on solutions and innovation to create our first product “College Study Flashcards”
What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were first starting your business?
The thing I know now that I wish I knew when I started was the importance of building efficient systems within my business. Being hyper focused on implementing good systems, means a decrease in the amount of time spent on repetitive tasks and it drastically improves my teams ability to function at a high level.
How have you managed to stay grounded this year?
To help me stay grounded I practice daily affirmations, along with weekly meditation and restorative yoga sessions.
Do you believe in work/life balance? What are some of your best tips?
Yes I am a big work life balance believer. I also believe in finding the balance within your normal flow state by setting intentions and not making it a chore. My best tips for work/life balance is to really detach yourself from the work part when your intention is time with family and friends and most importantly yourself. Two of my favorite ways to detach is to travel and second to find a great women’s retreat geared around wellness and growth.
What’s something our audience would be surprised to learn about you?
I think the audience would be surprised to learn in 2016-2019 I went on over 20 trips. My top 3 included visiting a healer in Bali, writing future goals in a castle in France and doing a Jungle tour in Belize which was a beautiful reminder that everything we will ever need to survive was created in nature.
What are your top 3 tips to stay productive each day?
- Before you begin working, clean off your desk or table, clear away any clutter, make it feel free and open. If you’re anything like me, light a candle as well.
- Write a task list and prioritize the tasks that make you money!
- Before you jump into another task, ask yourself “what is my strategy?”
What does being an Entreprenista mean to you?
Being an Entreprenista means being a boss in your world and rising to all challenges centered, well-reasoned and ready to add value to other people’s lives
Really good stuff!