Strength & Honor

Mike Moradian

Executive Director of HonorSociety.org

Mike Moradian

Location: Las Vegas, Nevada
Date: 5/8/2020
Title: Strength & Honor
Profession: Executive Director

Q & A

Tell us about yourself. Who are you and what do you do for a living?

I’m Mike Moradian. I grew up in Westlake Village, California, where I lived until I was 18 years old.

I currently work on a number of tech projects, and focus my philanthropic energies as the executive director of Honor Society.

What's your backstory and what led you to Honor Society? What drives you?

I went to high school in Westlake Village and then came to UCLA. At UCLA I was looking for an opportunity to learn business, and I did the business economics and minor in accounting program, which I feel gave me a very solid fundamental in analytics and understanding statistics.

Econ and accounting are very numbers driven subjects, so those two kind of gave me the background of understanding how numbers interact with business and how they interact with the world around you.

With econ and accounting there’s always a right answer. It really trained me to focus on finding the right answers and optimizing.  This was before I even really knew that I’d be working on the Internet or anything of that nature. 

I was lucky that the skills that I built were very analytical, and that’s exactly what the Internet requires. When I graduated from UCLA, I spent a year working at KPMG.

I realized that while it was a very interesting out of college position, it wasn’t my calling. I yearned to build something that would make an impact. Something that I could start myself and be proud of growing into an organization.

MikeMoradian

When I was 22 years old, I started my first Internet company called CampusBuddy. It was a time of great change in the Internet.

Social networking was really just taking off and the virality on Facebook was a real thing.  Building a following wasn’t as hard as it is today. 

We built apps that got millions of users and we built Facebook pages that have millions of followers. We used that to really leverage and grow our brands.

The proliferation of social media helped me realize that there is potential out there to make an impact even as one person with one idea.

I think that’s where my story begins - realizing that one person can be empowered to make a difference. 

I seized the opportunity to see how I want to make a dent in the world, even as small as it may be.  I asked myself, “How do I want to approach my interaction with the world?” 

I realized upon graduating from college that there was a lot still to be desired of being a student and going to school. 

So, I really focused on how I can help optimize or make an impact in the college and university space. We launched CampusBuddy, which connected you with your classmates and showed you the grade distributions of every course and professor so that users could understand how easy or hard certain classes were. 

This was a very interesting and kind of groundbreaking thing because we were bringing a level of transparency to the public by publishing the school’s official records and the school’s data in a way that had never been done before.

That had a natural allure and helped us go viral and gain an audience, which is how we took off. CampusBuddy got first place in BusinessWeek as America’s 25 under 25 up and coming ideas and people.

Mike Moradian

That helped catapult both our brand and eventually my acceptance to Harvard Business School in 2011. It was a really tough decision because higher education was one of my dreams. 

Having the opportunity to attend perhaps the top business school and for them to recognize my work was a very big deal for me. At the same time, I was running a company that was finally taking off, finally getting its footing and making an impact. 

We had hundreds of thousands of people all over the United States using our platform on a monthly basis, and we had a real reason to believe that we could keep growing.

So, there was this dichotomy of education versus business.  It was really tough on one hand because I had this lifelong dream of going to Harvard. And on the other hand, I had an opportunity to jump on a growth opportunity that could set me up to pursue my passion for a lifetime.  

Push came to shove and I really didn’t know what to do. I did something very interesting where I actually proposed the question for a public vote, “Should I got to business school, or should I start my startup?”.  It was picked up by TechCrunch, Mashable and Washington Post.

Harvard

It was really the viral item of the day back in the Summer of 2011. We received tens of thousands of votes and I received a lot of feedback on what I should do. 

I got feedback from venture capital firms, I got feedback from professors and all of these people gave me feedback that was actually really valuable. Of course, I weighed that all together.

Ultimately, by the end of summer I realized that my passion was in building an organization and I decided to stick with it. 

So, I never showed up to the first day of Harvard, and instead continued building CampusBuddy and CollegeBudget.com to be the biggest and best services they could be.

CampusBuddy is basically an academic and social oriented product intended to help students get better grades and connect with classmates.

CollegeBudget.com is a site that’s dedicated towards saving students money. It helps them save money on textbooks, finance and provides deals and discounts on products students need. 

What I realized is that there are a series of decision points throughout your life that ultimately shape who you will become.

Passing on Harvard was one of them and another was about 8 years ago, when we moved to San Francisco for a year. We saw how Facebook left Harvard and went to San Francisco and said, “Hey, if we’re doing something similar we might as well make an experience out of it and go to San Francisco where all the tech companies and all of the energy is.” 

It was a very invigorating time.  We met so many people.  I was hanging out with Travis from Uber before Uber became a big deal, and we were connecting with these VCs and meeting founders on a regular basis. 

It was a very energizing time to be there and I think it furthered my passion to be a tech entrepreneur. 

In 2012, we were presented with the opportunity to work with and take the concept of an honor society to the next level. A lot of people think that I founded Honor Society, but that is not true. 

There was an opportunity for leadership given my background and my abilities in tech, marketing and education to help Honor Society realize its full potential in the Internet world.

We took a relatively small idea and decided to focus on building it to be the largest and leading academic society in the nation.

What is Honor Society?

HonorSociety.org is a platform dedicated to helping students and professionals maximize their success. 

We connect students with opportunities to meet other people and to find prestigious positions in graduate schools and professional positions. We focus on academics, professional tools, benefits and really recognizing our members. 

It’s really a community of success, in many ways sharing some of the same values as Toolsy, and more geared towards academic, professional and personal success.  That’s why I’m so happy and honored to be able to share our story with Toolsy. 

To further our philanthropic programs I help found the Honor Society Foundation, which is a platinum rated 501(c)(3) that distributes our member scholarship program across the United States. 

We give away dozens of scholarships per year and we build content around our core values, which we believe can help shape success.  We also have a museum that’s dedicated towards preserving the illustrious history of Honor Society.

Many people also don’t know that honor societies have been around since 1776.  What you’re looking at is an institution that’s deeply embedded in the American spirit and tradition of higher education. 

It’s been an extremely humbling experience being able to preserve that history with artifacts from the 1700’s, 1800’s, 1900’s and today.

Today, I’m focusing on building the best society possible and preserving and enhancing the legacy of Honor Society.

Kobe Jones

Describe the process of launching your business. What was it like?

For this one, I’m going to look at CampusBuddy in 2008, which was also the beginning of the Great Recession. It was also when I was graduating from college and had my employment at KPMG. 

I think first you have to find something you’re passionate about and something that you believe in.  If you don’t believe in it, you’re not going to be able to put in the hours necessary.

I think the one thing people commonly underestimate is the amount of sheer hours and effort that goes into taking something off the ground. 

I essentially started moonlighting and working on CampusBuddy from 8pm to 2am every day when I was working for KPMG. 

At the time they had set me on a project in Stockton, California, which was ranked the number 2 most depressing city in America back then.  I was there for 5 months, working all day and night. 

There wasn’t much to do in Stockton, so it became a constant focus of hiring freelancers, looking on things like Upwork (formerly Elance at the time).  I’ve hired developers in 5 different countries along the way to kind of utilize different skill sets and of course budget. 

We had developers in India and Pakistan in the very beginning because we simply couldn’t afford more. 

The process of starting a company was choosing an idea, putting aside lots of time and hiring freelancers for the least amount of money that could help us achieve our goals. From there it’s honestly about having faith because it’s really a leap of faith.

You mentioned that CampusBuddy took off relatively quickly. How did that happen?

For us, uniquely, we had an idea that we felt there would be a demand for.  We were offering something that had never been offered quite in that way before. 

We were essentially publishing information for free, which was previously not available. We actually spent a year and a half in private development gaining data and building the process. 

I wouldn’t necessarily recommend waiting that long to ship a first product, but we built something that we really believed people wanted and had never seen before.

Facebook was looking for verified apps to launch their app platform. They had an application process, which we applied for.

We were selected to be one of the first 40 apps, and I was able to go up to San Francisco to connect with them and eventually have a 5 minute one on one with Mark Zuckerberg in 2009, which I reflect back to commonly when I think about his leadership.

Having that opportunity was really cool. I was just cognizant of the environment around me.

There was an opportunity for something that could help us at the time, and it did provide us with some level of traction. What I would say is that it’s important to look for opportunities, whether it’s applying to certain speaker series or grants or whatever it could be. 

There are always opportunities out there that can help you, and it’s particularly advantageous if you can jump on emerging trends. 

After a year of collecting the information and then a year and a half of launching it, it was something that people did prove to have natural demand for. 

Students were coming to our site, telling their friends and sharing it on Facebook, which helped us build an organic following.  We also had made teaser groups on Facebook showing screenshots of the concept leading up to launch.

Again, it was much easier to go viral back then. This CampusBuddy Facebook group pre-launch had about 25,000 people in it. That really helped light the fire on the business, day one.

I think today I’d recommend building an email list more than anything.  Building an engaged subscriber list where you can notify and keep your followers up to date. Social media is a must have too, but it’s significantly harder to go organically viral today. 

Through starting your business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

For anybody looking to start something, I would say always start with the Internet first and then work backwards from there.

I think that’s the best opportunity for somebody starting fresh.  There’s a low capital expenditure, maybe a couple thousand dollars, and you can make an initial impact on the Internet. 

Most other career paths or organizations with brick and mortar are going to cost substantially more and don't necessarily have the same scale opportunity with the Internet, where you can reach the whole world.

Essentially, billions of people can be connected through a website. So, I would say focus on how you can reach people at scale and then see how you can offer them some value.

Value and scale are really all you have to seek.  I would say value comes first because it’s better to have a small audience that’s highly engaged than to have a big audience that just clicks on your site once. 

You want a highly engaged audience.  That’s how Facebook started at Harvard, and then launched university by university one at a time to gain critical mass and keep growing.

Instead of opening up to everybody from the start, they focused on one area at a time.  Now, it’s a ubiquitous tool that’s used all over the world and probably more so in third world countries that didn’t even have access to Facebook until years after it started.

Start small, build an engaged audience, and look for scale. 

To what would you attribute your success as an entrepreneur?

Persistence.  I think if there’s anything that I would choose, internal or external, it’s just never giving up. 

Every entrepreneur loses more than they win.  That’s just a fact. If a single loss dissuades you, then you’re not going to go far. What I’ve realized is that you’re going to have a lot of ideas and you’re going to put forth a lot of effort.

I expect 80% of my ideas to fail.

When you go into something having that understanding, but still give it your all it frees you to push hard without expectation. 

As a result, you’re not discouraged when ideas don’t materialize into what they could be. The reason why this is important because although up to 80% of ideas do fail,

I save and make processes around the 20% that work.  You discard the 80% that didn’t make it past the drawing board, and you choose a new top 10 projects where another 80% are going to fail again, but 20% might just be special.

Then you take the 20% of those again and incorporate them into your processes.

If you have that attitude where you launch a bunch of things, and you’re happy when 80% of them fail, then you’ve freed yourself from disappointment and you’ve built a process where you can capitalize on what works. 

We’ve been conditioned to think that you have to be 90% successful to get an “A”.  The truth is you can be successful failing 90% of the time and be a superstar in business.

People need to change this mental perspective and free themselves from the shackles of unrealistic expectations. 

Honor Society Team

What accomplishments would you say you are most proud of and why?

I would say early in my career it was being in America’s Best Young Entrepreneurs and BusinessWeek. That was a humbling and proud experience that more than anything made me believe in myself. 

I had this moment where I realized if others believed I belong at this level, then I should believe I belong.  

Self-doubt is something that creeps into founders.  Of course, every founder at some point or the other has to deal with that.

So, getting these accomplishments early and then also getting into Harvard, were accomplishments that actually helped create a self-fulfilling prophecy.  They lifted my confidence and created a belief system that molded a success mentality in me. 

Today, I’m proud to be heading the Honor Society Foundation, and having become a platinum rated organization with GuideStar.

Giving away hundreds of thousands of dollars in scholarships per year to students has been extremely rewarding, and we’re on pace to be giving out millions of dollars in scholarships. 

I think those are the moments that make me the proudest because it really makes me realize the impact we’re making on other people’s lives. 

Investing in our members and their potential is what makes me most proud. We see high achievers coming from struggling backgrounds, who served in our military, who have overcome obstacles and who are trying to create a better life for themselves. 

I look at the scholarships as an opportunity to give them a similar type of boost or success mentality that I received. By giving them scholarships we’re re-affirming that they are capable and simultaneously taking financial pressure off their shoulders. 

That removes self-doubt and gives them some money that goes a long way in giving them the time to focus on doing the best they can academically and professionally, without as much financial pressure. 

Scholarship

Preserving the history of honor societies is kind of my new passion. So much of the past is being lost and forgotten because the Internet is so new and convergent on the present. 

As a result, a lot of historical things are not necessarily preserved.  They’re kind of lost in the gaps of popular culture and history. 

With Honor Society Foundation, we have about 300 artifacts from 1794 onwards. One of my favorite pieces is a letter written by a student in 1794 about their visit to Dartmouth University and how they met with the people at Phi Beta Kappa, which was America’s first honor society.

That same individual went on to become a US Senator, and I just think it’s really cool that we’ve been able to preserve the history.

HonorSociety Letter

It’s interesting to see how over decades and centuries, human nature has changed but also stays the same.

People were looking to belong 250 years ago the same way that people are looking to belong today.  Understanding history gives you a better understanding of today and tomorrow.

Personally, and by far my greatest accomplishment has been meeting Brittany, who is my soulmate and wife. Being able to find somebody that shares the same values, goals and drives as me. 

Having somebody that believes in me more than anyone else.  It really has changed my world knowing that I have someone that shares my vision and I can build my family and life around. 

I think I was very blessed and lucky two years ago to have found that person to share my dreams with.

What's the biggest challenge you've had to overcome in business and how did you go about it?

I would say that the biggest challenge for anybody starting is building a brand and perception for people to choose you.  Human nature tends to discredit new things.

We like things that are familiar, and when you’re starting something new, you’re disrupting that process.  It’s just the way of the world. 

So the hardest thing that I have faced is how do I make something new? How can I create something that’s accepted and chosen by people? 

The biggest challenge is gaining acceptance for your idea, pursuit and position.  It’s always a challenge to get people to view you as the leader especially when it’s something new. 

That challenge is overcome through persistence in your messaging.  You have to communicate clearly that you’re authentic, you’re here for the long haul, and you’re dedicated to what you’re doing.

When people can see the dedication and see that you’re focused, they view it much more positively. 

Building a track record is the most important part of gaining acceptance. You have to build a track record of delivering what you say you will.  If you can do that, then naturally acceptance will follow. 

How are you doing today and what does the future look like? What's your ultimate goal?

I’m feeling proud of how far we’ve come, but I’m also feeling hungry for the opportunity and the difference we can make. 

I’m very hungry to grow our organization, impact more lives and help shape the future for thousands of high achievers who are seeking to take their academic and professional lives to the next level. 

My ultimate goal is to just create a life that is meaningful and to grow that impact. Being self-sufficient, being aware of the world around us, and being a positive force for everything around me is really what drives me.

There’s not necessarily an end goal, but it’s a consistent growth. So, both in my career and personally, I think what it comes down to is just building a meaningful life and growing it in every facet. 

Software & Tools:

What software do you use for your business?

WordPress and Mailchimp are great tools in their respective categories of CMS and Marketing.

Slack is important for keeping our team synched, as well as the Google Suite.

What tools, other than software, do you use for your business and why?

Whiteboard for meetings, and notebook for notes are old school but still surprising helpful.

Resources:

Where would you steer someone looking to learn more about business and the Internet?

Google and YouTube have a wealth of information. The important part is having the drive and searching meticulously for the information and clues you need to succeed.

What are you doing to continue learning and growing in your business as well as personally?

I spend 1 or 2 hours per day researching current events and emerging trends.  I would say keeping abreast with the news and emerging trends is really important.

I spend time doing that and I’m always taking on new education opportunities.  I’m currently taking nonprofit management courses at UNLV so I can gain knowledge and earn my certificate in nonprofit management.

To this day I look for education, both formal and informal, to keep moving forward.

What are you doing to continue learning and growing in your business as well as personally?

Just listen to people. Everyone can teach you something, as long as you listen.

Final Question:

What advice do you want to share with people based on your experiences?

It’s kind of cliché, but I would say to believe in yourself.  Work really hard, take your wins and forget about your losses.  If you can just keep repeating that repeatedly, you’ll get to where you want to go.

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