Jose Rodriguez is a Babson College freshman and the founder of Tasium, a clothing company designed to help people with autism and ADHD. A Providence, Rhode Island native, Jose won the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship’s (NFTE) 2020 national business plan competition by outlining the vision for his then-nascent company.
Jose Rodriguez holds up a Tasium t-shirt
Tasium was inspired by Jose’s autistic younger brother, Joel, who would frequently misplace his fidget toys. Tasium’s clothing provides built-in fidget toy outlets to release distractions and energy, while lowering anxiety, stress and sharpening focus.
Upon winning the competition, NFTE paired Jose with mentor and volunteer Jacob Witt, a Corporate Strategy team member at PayPal. The following is an oral history accounting for Jose and Jacob’s time together, and how they worked to take Jose’s winning pitch to proof of concept.
Jose (left) and Jacob (right) met virtually for five months
Jacob Witt: Something I've always really enjoyed is mentorship. When I was in high school, I took part in a tutoring program for students who were not up to par in their classes. In college, I did a bunch of tutoring as well. Those were always roles I gravitated towards.
Liliana Pichardo, Corporate Partnerships - NFTE: Last year we held our first virtual mentorship program. PayPal actually helped us create the program, develop it, and connected us to a partner, Village Capital, who helped us build the curriculum for it.
Jacob: Being a new hire at PayPal out of college, there's nobody to mentor because I'm the baby, I'm the fresh face. When the opportunity to volunteer through NFTE was posted on PayPal’s internal Slack channel, I was super stoked.
I messaged the team like, “Hey, is it okay if I'm 24 years old and doing this?” And they were like, “Yeah, anyone can help out.”
Jose: I was fresh off winning NFTE’s National Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge, and there was an alumni program within NFTE where they set you up with a mentor to help you in areas of your business where you were lacking. I was like, “You know what? This sounds great. I do need some guidance,” because I was kind of new to the whole business world.
Liliana: When a volunteer signs up, our team looks at where they work, and asks them about their specific strengths. It's usually more of a generalist advisor role where you're coming in with the assumption that you really want to support this small business owner, helping them with all the minor and major things that they're working on.
Jose: They thought that Jacob was best for me, and looking back I think he was best for me too because, man, did he help.
Jacob: He's from Rhode Island, so we quickly bonded over sports and all that fun stuff. And then we started talking about his company.
Jacob: Every week we'd meet for an hour and a half, just chatting about various parts of his business. Jose’s business was super early on, had a ton of publicity, a couple of prototypes, but he had no experience in product design, product management, any of that stuff.
Jose: The first couple meetings, Jacob structured the meeting, and then he was like, "You're going to have to start structuring these meetings. You're going to start leading these meetings because that's a skill that you need to learn.”
That was probably the first thing I learned - how to structure a meeting. How to be organic and conversational, but also not wasting anyone's time. I now run a lot of meetings, so it was very, very valuable for me.
Jacob: Jose also showed me that he’s a grinder – he has always had a bunch of jobs and is a self-starter. By the time I met him, he was already working with intellectual property lawyers to see if his idea was patentable.
Jose: After every meeting, we would have a list of what I would do between now and our next meeting. When we’d meet the next week, we’d walk through what I was able to get to on that list. Then after that, I would get into my game plan going forward, what I wanted to do next, and Jacob would give me his insight.
Jacob: I shared with him a few things I thought would be helpful in continuing to grow the business. One was finding super users. He said, “I want to do Facebook ads and I want to send this to everyone, and I want to get it out as big as possible,” when he didn't really have someone who was obsessed with the product as-is. I pushed him to first partner with schools and find people who love the product before expanding too quickly.
Jose: I would just bounce ideas off Jacob. I was at the very beginning of my entrepreneurial career, and he was just helping guide me. He would also help me build structures and processes.
Jacob: There wasn't really a process to get people who were interested in Tasium to convert to a purchase decision. This is where some of my PayPal e-commerce background helped Jose in setting up an online shop. At first, Jose was just using his phone, accepting emails and tracking it all himself, ad hoc. Eventually we got him on a proper sales funnel where he had inbound emails and a tracker.
Over the course of working together, Jose began talking to actual manufacturers who could print out the shirts themselves and create a wider scale. He was super on top of it and driven.
Jose: Jacob actually ended up being my first sale!
Through the NFTE program, Jose and Jacob met every week for five months. At the tail end of the mentorship, Jacob’s role evolved into that of an informal college advisor, reviewing Jose’s application essays and going through weekly checklists together. The formal partnership concluded in March 2021, though Jose and Jacob still keep in touch on a regular basis, checking in on work, college, and one another’s families.
Jacob: I think the role I really played for Tasium was helping Jose think about what he should be thinking about, but then also giving him a level of accountability. “Let's get really good at figuring out what you actually have time for, committing to something, and then doing what you said you were going to do.”
Jose: It was great for me to share my ideas on what I think I should do next with Jacob. I was so new to the business world, and he never made me feel like any questions I asked were dumb.
Jacob: When you give an hour to teach and mentor, there's a very palpable impact in that you can literally see how you are helping someone out. It was something I looked forward to every week.
Jose: One thing I learned through working with Jacob and being involved with NFTE in general was to change my mindset and to stop seeing problems as problems, but instead to see them as opportunities to solve, create, and innovate. My drive for entrepreneurship comes from the fact that my business comes from the heart.
Liliana: Everything our students accomplish is always already within them. They're just taking the tools that we're giving them and really running with them, just like Jose’s example has shown us.
Jose: What I love is the smile on my brother's face when he wears his shirt. I want to replicate that feeling in every person and family member that has been affected by autism or ADHD. In the beginning, I didn’t have the capital or business know-how to make that happen. With Jacob’s support, and because of NFTE, I’m excited to announce that in April of 2022 as part of Autism Awareness Month, Tasium plans to partner with and donate ten percent of its proceeds to an Autism support organization in Rhode Island.
To learn more about volunteering opportunities as a PayPal employee, visit the PayPal Community Impact Hub, and follow in:#community_impact_teams on Slack.
To support and learn more about Tasium and NFTE, visit TasiumWorldwide.com and NFTE.com.
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