We had the good fortune of connecting with Kevin Kao and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Kevin, what is the most important factor behind your success?
Culture – it contributes to the types of teachers we attract (and retain), and also to the types of families that join FreshStart.
The 3 main pillars of our culture revolve around humble joy, a growth mindset, and positive mentorship.
Humble joy is first because without it, the other two can’t exist. Without humility there is no growth, and without joy there is no positive mentorship.
Joy – One of the first things new hires at FreshStart always notice is all the smiling and laughing our staff and teachers do at the studio. This starts from the top; I’m naturally a positive and even-keeled person and have always been quick to laugh.
Humility –While interviewing countless teachers, I’ve observed that those who see themselves as ‘all-stars’ are also the loudest and most frequent complainers. It only takes one to wreak havoc on your culture and morale.
Growth – I believe in order to be a teacher, you have to be a student – and learning never stops. We’re always sharing our teaching experiences and tips and tricks with each other. We also bring in pedagogy experts for staff workshops. The more tips and tricks a teacher has in their teaching toolbox, the better equipped they’ll be to help a variety of students.
Mentorship – On the surface, we teach music. But I’ve always believed what we’re really teaching is perseverance, courage, how to learn, and other leadership qualities; we just happen to use music as the tool. Private music teachers are in such a privileged position in students’ lives. Just teaching music is not enough; we’re also role models. So when we hire, at the end of the day, I ask myself one question: “Is this somebody I would want as a role model for my kids?”
Now, culture can’t be artificially created. It’s a by-product of consistent behavior. Our culture is the differentiating success factor of our brand because it’s a byproduct of me. And I’m blessed to be the person that I am not because of anything that I did, but because of grace. The family I was born into, the parents I have, my life experiences that shaped me, none of this was in my control. So ultimately, it’s by grace that FreshStart Music Studio is the success that it is after only a few short years.
Can you give our readers an introduction to your business? Maybe you can share a bit about what you do and what sets you apart from others?
One of the things that set FreshStart apart from other studios from the beginning is a focus on teaching. You’d think this would be the case at a school, yet most music school owners are not trained in pedagogy (study of teaching) or music education.
One of the mistakes I see parents making often is thinking that if somebody can play the piano, they can teach it. Most parents wouldn’t think that a great scientist or mathematician would make an equally great teacher for their 6-year-old, but somehow they do with music. Or they think that they don’t need to find a good teacher in the beginning because their child is just starting but what they don’t realize is that the beginning stages are the most important and actually most difficult period to teach.
We want our teachers to continue to learn and improve as teachers and for our students to get the best start (or should I say “fresh” start) on their musical journey.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
We’re so spoiled to be living in Irvine. There’s no shortage of awesome food places for all sorts of cuisines or places to visit. Any trip with me would revolve around food and window shopping, lol. We can start at Irvine Spectrum, that would include lunch (Tender Greens or “the Japanese place in the back” if we want to start healthier. Then movie. Then boba/dessert at either The Alley or Somi Somi, then shopping for bread/cakes at 85c, then ferris wheel for awesome Irvine views, then dinner at either Cucina Enoteca or The Melt.
Another day we’d head to Fashion Island. I love walking around there and also at Roger’s Garden. Most stores at Fashion Island are too rich for me but that Koi pond is a hit with the kids, lol.
Then of course there’s South Coast Plaza (see what I mean about being spoiled?). Ding Tai Fung is a must, then it’s the carousel, while carefully navigating around the balloon kids trap. As you can see, my best friends all have kids.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
One person I haven’t mentioned yet in my previous response is my wife. There’s been a lot of ups and downs in our journey opening and operating FreshStart Music Studio and I couldn’t imagine being on this roller coaster ride with anybody else. She’s been such an indispensable part of our studio, I literally don’t know of a harder working person than her.