10 Questions: Jake Schwartz, CEO and co-founder, General AssemblyFebruary 27, 2014: 1:30 PM ET
On aspirations of space travel, putting human relations in high regard, and learning not to chicken out on a good opportunity.
FORTUNE -- Jake Schwartz grew up in Oregon, and had an early love of music. Switching from violin to fiddle to guitar, he found that music developed his thinking and communication styles, a tool which came in handy later as CEO of General Assembly, the company behind the learning facilities of the same name. The company offers online and in-person courses and workshops in business-related tools such as marketing, design, product development, and data science. Under his leadership, General Assembly has scaled to nine cities (Berlin, Boston, Hong Kong, London, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Sydney, and Washington, D.C.) in less than three years, working with more than 70,000 students along the way.
Prior to founding General Assembly, Jake worked for Associated Partners, a multi-stage private equity firm focused on telecommunications, media, and technology. He has a B.A. in American studies from Yale University and earned an MBA with honors from The Wharton School. Schwartz, 35, is based in New York City. He spoke with Fortune.
1. Which technology sector excites you most?
I think self-driving cars are going to change how we live in fundamental ways and radically alter the real estate market. Sociologists talk about how the Interstate and the car are what created suburbs and sprawl. Once you don't have to drive, all sorts of neighborhoods, towns, and lifestyles become attractive.
2. Is business school necessary for entrepreneurs?
We get that question often at General Assembly because you could argue that business school is something we're trying to disrupt. And it's tricky because I'm also an MBA [graduate] from Wharton. I definitely use all the knowledge and experience I gained to run GA now that we're 200-plus person company, but I'm not sure how useful it was when we were getting started. I think if GA had been around when I was in my 20s, I wouldn't have needed to go to Wharton at all.
3. What is the best advice you ever received?
Howard Schultz once told me that if he could go back, the one thing he'd do differently at Starbucks was "hire the best HR person and give them a seat at the table." That resonated with me in a huge way, and so I went back to GA and did just that. We hired our amazing Chief People Person, Jill Maguire-Ward. She's a C-level executive, and she's involved in all the major decisions at the company. It has literally changed our company's course, and I don't think we'd have been able to scale past 200 employees without her.
4. What is one goal that you would like to accomplish during your lifetime?
When I was a little kid, my dad would read me science fiction books about interstellar travel, and it's had a huge impact on me. I really want be able to go up in space with him while we're both still alive.
5. What was your biggest missed opportunity?
I almost started a crowd-funding business in early 2007, before Kickstarter or any of those companies took off. I saw the trend and could have ridden the wave, but I chickened out. It's a great lesson in taking the leap when you see something like that coming.
6. What do you do to live a balanced life?
I'm not sure I do live a balanced life. I try to read novels, work out, hang out with my girlfriend; things like that. But GA is a huge part of my life, and I'm glad that it is. That was what I set out to have my work be -- a core passion and calling -- and so I'm happy that it's almost all-encompassing.
7. What was your first job?
I worked as a tour manager for a singer-songwriter I knew who had a record deal in the late '90s. It was awesome. I drove, met a lot of interesting characters, and sometimes I got to run the soundboard. Being in the music business is the ultimate entrepreneurial experience -- nothing happens if you don't make it happen, and so you have to be a hustler. It makes Silicon Valley startups look easy.
8. What do you do for fun?
I'm always trying to learn a new musical instrument. I've tried to learn the banjo a few times, and right now I'm working on it again. It's hard, but it's so different than my work that I find it really relaxing.
9. What is one unique or quirky habit that you have?
Ask anyone on my team and I'm sure they'll have a laundry list. One of the biggest is I've been on a no-carb diet, off and on, for several years, and it's still a daily struggle. Sugar is like crack [cocaine] for me, and so it's better if I completely abstain.
10. If you could have one superpower, what would it be?
I'd love to be like [X-Men leader] Professor Xavier and have telepathic abilities. It would make running a company way easier.
Correction: Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this story described General Assembly as a series of "coworking-meets-learning facilities." The company no longer offers coworking.
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