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Sarah Young from Rock Your Block on Fixing Teen Unemployment

Rock Your Block, the Minneapolis-based startup commonly referred to as the for teens, is every directionless young adults’ resource for channeling ambition, enthusiasm, and…

Rock Your Block, the Minneapolis-based startup commonly referred to as the for teens, is every directionless young adults’ resource for channeling ambition, enthusiasm, and time into finding neighborhood jobs. Rock Your Block is a web app that supplies teenagers with an abundance of opportunities to find internships and part-time work within their communities, thus helping to make at least some progress in lowering the teenage unemployment rate in the US, which is currently over 30 percent.

As opposed to embarking on the hassle of putting up fliers or knocking on strangers’ doors, teens now have a reliable web-app to depend on. Before a teen can set up an account, they need to get an adult to vouch for them and pay a sponsorship fee. When they complete a job, customers are able to post feedback about their work, and this is what will go into each teenager’s job history. This is a great way to help teens start building a reputation and, most of all, train less-experienced job seekers.

The startup has received laudatory remarks for its potential to instill a sense of self-sufficiency in young adults in terms of time and money management, handling job interviews or building a resume. To gain a bit more insight into the startup, we recently spoke with Sarah Young, founder and CEO of Rock Your Block.

What is truly the inspiration or deeper sentiment behind Rock Your Block?

Everyone at Rock Your Block has a genuine passion about working with youth and helping prepare them for successful futures. We feel that providing work experiences and instilling entrepreneurial values early on gives teenagers opportunities to learn life skills and business skills that they can’t learn just from the classroom. Our mission is to provide an opportunity for all teenagers to find ways to make money nearby and to empower communities with the realization that they can make a significant impact on the development of today’s youth. Everyone talks about how bad teenage unemployment is right now…three times the national rate for adults. We want to offer an easy way for both companies and individuals to help change this by posting all types of job opportunities for local teens, from babysitting to working an internship.

How did Rock Your Block gets its first boost, how exactly did you market it? How did you build the hype surrounding it, and where did it appear?

Rock Your Block was lucky to come out with a runner-up finish at the first Startup Weekend that hit the Twin Cities back in September 2010. We basically built a semi-functional prototype of our product and validated that we were onto something big. It was a huge jump-start to the company, giving us significant momentum and buzz right away. After Startup Weekend, we started over completely building the application from scratch twice, adding and subtracting team members as we carried on. On the business side, for the past year and a half leading up to our beta launch, we have been establishing strategic partnerships with both local and national organizations and businesses that focus on helping teenagers develop job skills or that have job opportunities to offer to our teenage talent pool. Much of these relationships are happening in a very grassroots fashion, and more and more opportunities for collaboration are popping up as we continue to grow. These relationships are vital in helping us build both sides of the network model: find teen users who want to land jobs and find the people and companies looking to hire teens.

What’s the market like for your service, and what is the competition like, if any?

We picked the 13 to 17-year old market because of the clear opportunity. There is a huge unmet need for job search services for this age demographic. Today’s teens need a safe and convenient way to find jobs in their community. As web services targeted toward adult professionals have evolved over the years and competitive models TaskRabbit and SitterCity have recently emerged into the industry, it has become clear there is a tremendous untapped market for teenagers who need to make money and love to spend time online. Giants like Monster and LinkedIn provide opportunities for professionals to build a virtual resume and find connections and job opportunities. Each of these competitive services are only available to users ages18 and older.

How successful has finding funding been going thus far?

We have been bootstrapping for the past year and a half, and we have literally just started offering a seed round of convertible debt. So far, the interest in investment seems very positive, as we present a very scalable business model with a variety of revenue and growth streams.

What will the smartphone app look like?

Initially our application will be a web-based mobile application, and all of our development and design for it has been intentionally built to be touch-centric and mobile-friendly. Mobile users will see a very clean display with simple options: Post a job, search jobs.

Using location services, the mobile app will allow teens to find jobs wherever they might be. Users can elect to receive push notifications when they become in-range of a posted job. When a teen gets hired for a job or completes a job, the app will encourage them to share the accomplishment on their social networks. An AI engine will predict the user’s potential next steps and and suggest activities for them such as inviting friends to use the app, or encourage them to build out their profile to become more marketable to job posters.

What are the key metrics for success in the next 6 to 12 months?

Since we just launched our invite-beta, tracking user-ship growth, retention, and feedback over the next 6 to 12 months will be vital for measuring our success. The two primary metrics we will be using will be user adoption and overall application activity. The success of Rock Your Block is dependent on a two-sided network model; that is, it requires two types of users in order for the application to work: both teens that are searching for jobs and people that are posting jobs. The strength of our marketing efforts and our brand messaging for targeting both these markets will be proven in our ability to attract and retain both types of users.

As activity on the application increases, we will gain valuable insights and feedback on which features of Rock Your Block are most useful and what types of additional features might be desired. The opportunity to build additional sources of revenue will increase significantly as the user base increases.
New markets across the US will be tackled when significant key partnerships can be secured – schools, community organizations, and neighborhood associations that have a strong member base who would benefit from Rock Your Block’s services. These partnerships will co-market the launch in exchange for offering a value-added service to their existing community engagement and youth entrepreneurship programs.

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