Cameron Sorsby on Career Crashers

Have you ever used a great product and thought “I’d love to work for this company and even become a CEO”?

Today’s guest, Cameron Sorsby, has an amazing story on how he crashed into his dream job by opting to become an awesome customer first, and then to eventually become a CEO!

Now, only a few years later, he’s the CEO of Praxis: a non-tech, startup career bootcamp and apprenticeship program that helps young people bypass the college credentialing machine, and launch their careers in no time.

“What we’re building is a world-class alternative to college. College just doesn’t make sense in today’s world for more entrepreneurial, ambitious, driven people.”

Related: Career Crashers Episode 23: Mitchell Earl on Taking Risks and Betting on Yourself

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P.S. Don’t forget to give the show five stars (or six)! 😉

Show notes

  • How Cameron thought about starting a career when he was in college (and how that led to an internship with Isaac)
  • How being a great customer can lead to job opportunities
  • Making yourself an indispensable employee
  • Being a team player
  • Worrying about businesses taking advantage of your willingness to work hard
  • Why Praxis is a great way to launch your career

Connect with Cameron

Full Transcript:

Isaac
Welcome to Career Crashers, where we tell the stories of those who are not content to wait around following rules and hoping for good things to happen. Great careers aren’t found they’re forged.

It’s time to crash the party.

All right. On this episode of Career Crashers, I’m super excited to be joined by my good friend and colleague. Well, technically former colleague, we’re still gonna call him and colleague, Cameron Sorsby. Cameron. Welcome to Career Crashers.

Cameron
Thanks, man. I think we’ll be lifetime colleagues no matter what.

Isaac
I appreciate that. And that’s probably you probably prefer that to friend anyway, don’t you?

Cameron
You’re we’re two people that are that are on an individual journey. And we share, share some principles and, and whatnot with each other.

Isaac
Well, I think it just got real. You’ve got a really awesome career crash story. And there’s two elements of it that I want to I want to talk about. The first is, when I first met you, you won an internship with me? Well, you really planted the seeds for winning an internship with me later, but you were in college and I spoke at an event that you were attending is like an economics club or something like that.

Cameron
Yep.

Isaac
And I want you to just talk about, what was your thinking kind of in your final semesters of college? In terms of what were you trying to do to get a career and to plant seeds? Because you seem like you were kind of savvy on building social capital.

Cameron
Yeah, I probably wouldn’t have said that about myself at the time. But looking back, there might there might have been a little bit of that. You know, I went through this whole, like personal discovery process. I actually think a lot of people go through like during high school and college had a lot of anxiety around like, thinking through what do I want to do professionally, long term.

And I had anxiety over that, because I felt like I didn’t have a ton of experience. So it was really hard to like, picture myself in different roles. Pretty much from the ages of like four to 14, I just assumed I was going to be a professional soccer player. So I didn’t have to worry about any of this.

But you know, as I started getting later in high school, and then this carried through in college, I was, you know, struggling with that. And I think probably with two years left in college, I just told myself like, Alright, screw thinking about what I want to do five years from now 10 years from now, and try to plan it out.

I really committed to just pursuing my personal interests as much as possible, and figuring out how to get experience in those. And that that led me to becoming involved in different student clubs. That led me to kind of studying different topics like economics on my own outside the classroom.

And I kind of started treating college as like, Alright, like, I’m gonna finish it, but I’m not going to focus on like getting the best grades that I can or making sure I have a mate, you know, the specific major that would be most valuable or like, working extra hard to get a double major. I really focused on putting putting my energy into more professional opportunities that were interesting to me at the time.

Isaac
Yeah, I remember when I spoke at that event, you came up afterwards, you introduced yourself. I think you even had a adorable little business card.

Cameron
Well, I’m gonna blame SFL for that one. They they had all their campus coordinators get a get business cards.

Isaac
So you were a part of the student group. Yeah, that was kind of like right around. That was right near the end of the business card era. Like there was maybe a couple more years where they were a thing. I remember when I first started Praxis, I like ordered a stack of them. And then I never made it through that stack. And then I was like, why did I order business cards? I haven’t used them in five years.

But you had a card or had a you know, you came up and introduced yourself. And, you know, you said hey, I’m going to do this internship in Washington, DC this summer. When I get back to Charleston, I’d love to connect and grab lunch and talk about stuff. And I’m like, cool, great. And just that you took the initiative to plant that seed ahead of time I thought was great.

But you know, we ate lunch, we chatted you ended up interning for me. But that’s not like the super amazing, interesting part of the story. You did it, you did a great job. You were a good intern. But when I first came up with the idea for Praxis, I told you about it because we worked together at the time. And you were like, this is awesome. I want to be a part of this. I want in.

But once I actually got it off the ground, you know, you graduated college and you were on the market, you wanted to go get a full time job. Uou needed a job to be able to sustain yourself. And I’m like, I was not even yet paying myself at first. Then I started paying myself a little bit. And I had, like, you know, a couple people volunteering.

And you had done some stuff. You’ve done some volunteer stuff for Praxis, but I’m like, I can’t, I can’t afford to hire you. And you did something really, really interesting. In order to get a spot on with a with a startup that you were excited about. When I couldn’t afford to hire you. You became a customer first. Tell me about that.

Cameron
Yeah. You know, it’s, it’s interesting when when you first told me about Praxis, like it immediately resonated with me. I was all like dissatisfied. Education never statisfied me, and like sitting in classroom. And there was a couple times in college where I almost got fed up enough to just drop out and had some, like, job opportunities I could pursue but didn’t do it.

So at that time, I was just super, super excited about Praxis, just like, as, as a fan. Like rooting you on, thought it was really cool. I had in the back of my head, I’m like, Huh, like, that would definitely be something I would be interested in. In working on. If the opportunity presented itself. I think I had enough awareness to be like, you know, Isaac’s clearly not in the position to be hiring people, this company doesn’t exist yet. And when it does, like, you know, is not going to be hiring people just quite yet. You’re bootstrapping it.

So I did it for two reasons. I became genuinely interested in participating in the program. And I was really excited about it. Like the first time I was actually excited about like, doing an education or training program, really, for the first time. And but I had in the back of my head like, Alright, what I asked myself the question, like, How can I be most valuable to Praxis right now? And Praxis needed paying customers more than anything. So that’s what I did.

Isaac
Yeah, I mean, I’ll never forget at that time, and you and I might have even talked about it. I’m trying to remember. At this point, that slipped into myths and legends. So we kinda tell the story, however we want to. But I think, either you had said, Hey, I want to be part of this team. I know you can’t hire me right now. What’s the most valuable thing I could do to help? Or I had said to you, Hey, man, I want to hire you at some point. I can’t now. But what if you were a customer? I can’t remember how it went. But we chatted about it at some point.

And if I remember you, I think I gave you like a secret backroom deal of discounted tuition.

Cameron
Yep.

Isaac
But yeah, cuz it was like, Look, we’re launching, we’re bootstrapping out of nowhere, no one’s ever heard of us, we’re trying to, you know, prove credibility that this program is valuable and works. We just need customers and we had six people in that first class, we just need a few people to go through and to prove that it’s valuable. And to be those case studies. You were interested, you were eager, you wanted to know more you were early in your career. And so you fit within the target customer demographic.

But I just thought that was such an interesting approach that I haven’t really seen, other people do, when there’s a company or that, especially if it’s a really early startup, and they just can’t hire you. Yet, for whatever reason, you’re not ready, they’re not ready, they can’t afford it, whatever. The idea of becoming a customer first is such a cool concept that’s going to give you so much more ability, and you’ll know the product better inside and out, you’ll be able to give feedback, you’ll be able to understand what might be valuable to do on a volunteer basis, if you want to, to, to prove your value to them.

If down the road, you know, you can pitch them again or they’re able to hire you, you’ll have so much more insight and connection to the product. Now, obviously, with a high intensity, higher cost product like like a boot camp, you know, it works on a whole different level.

But I think that’s just such an interesting way to think of it most people think of you know, they wouldn’t think of purchasing a product from a company they want to work for as a career investment. However, I think that’s exactly you know what it was for you it was more than that. But I thought that was just such a such a great, a great way to approach it. I mean, when you did that, I was like, I was already a big fan of yours. But I was like alright, soon as we’re able, we got to get this guy on the team.

Cameron
Yeah, it really did pay off and it was an investment. That going through the program using the product. It allowed me to one like just understand the product at a much deeper level than I would be able to if if I was like, hey, just like volunteer And offering to help out with, you know, various tasks from time to time.

I think the most valuable aspect of it was, that allowed me to build relationships with with the existing. So like, a gate like a gave me an excuse to be talking to you and TK on a regular basis. And, and I think that that more than anything probably made a big difference in like, by the time I graduated the program. Like we were pretty much ready to go with bringing me on full time.

And especially with the smaller early stage company, those the relationships and like, just the personalities of your initial team members are probably more important than anything. So I didn’t I know you previously, we work together, I didn’t know TK at all. Going through the program allowed me allowed TK and I the opportunity to know each other better. So I sold myself for the team before, you know, that we discussed that.

Isaac
Yeah, I’ve seen you know, even in other examples. There’s such a, there’s such a strong like, you know, actions speak louder than words someone that says hey, I love your company. And I want to work for you. Who is actually already a user a happy user, a power user of a product. It’s it speaks volumes.

I’ve seen people, you know, pitch a lot of different software companies. And there’s always so much success when you can say, Hey, I’m a huge fan. And I’ve been a user of your product or your tool for forever. I just saw somebody actually a Praxis participant, I think pitch Notion, software company, and they use Notion like as a power user. And they created their whole pitch to Notion using Notion. Like hey, I’m such an I love your product so much.

I’ve seen people, you know, pitch a lot of different software companies. And there’s always so much success when you can say, Hey, I’m a huge fan. And I’ve been a user of your product or your tool for forever. I just saw somebody actually a Praxis participant, I think pitch Notion, software company, and they use Notion like as a power user. And they created their whole pitch to Notion using Notion. Like hey, I’m such an I love your product so much. And that’s just, that’s a that’s a powerful attention getter. It has a lot of other benefits and insights and things. And that’s just, that’s a that’s a powerful attention getter. And it has a lot of other benefits and insights and things.

So okay, so you get you get hired at Praxis. When you came in, I mean, now you’re the CEO, right? You have become a CEO, what, five, five years after you got hired in this?

Cameron
Yeah.

Isaac
So you have become a CEO. You rose quickly.

Cameron
Yeah, five years.

Isaac
But when you came on? Did you have a game plan? Did you have a long term plan? You know, we used to joke that you your goal was to take over the company. Well, now you have, but did you? Did you have a plan? Or was it like, Hey, this is just the greatest opportunity I can see right now. I’m going to take it until further notice. Or how do you approach that in those first few years of your career?

Cameron
Yeah, I, I did not have a specific plan. I knew joining Praxis, like I had a, I had a long term approach to building practices, because I was just so excited and passionate about what we were doing. But I didn’t care if that meant, you know, I just wanted to be part of the team and be as valuable as possible.

That was the thought process. And I think I pretty much took the same approach that I was taking, in the last few years of college of like, Alright, like, I’m still just focused on pursuing the things that are most interesting to me. And Praxis was kind of the next level of that.

Isaac
You have that, you’ve always owned the competitive nature. That I’m sure is why you were so interested in. So you know, at a high level in sports as a kid, that, hey, here’s what I’m doing. I just want to win at it. I want to be the best, I want our team to be the best. And not that you didn’t have or don’t have longer term goals. But there’s something about like just wanting to win in the near term and not saying Well, what’s what’s this gonna do for me in a couple years?

Cameron
Yeah.

Isaac
Like that, that just makes you so invaluable. So okay, what do you think? Cuz I mean, you’ve done pretty much every function in the company, prior to having become a CEO. Some of them you love, some of them maybe you don’t love so much, but you did them because they needed to be done for maybe even longer than you wanted to.

What, what do you think? What do you think made you an indispensable employee over those five years so that you can even be in a position to do something like become a CEO. But even before that, I mean, you were the COO pretty quickly. Like, is there anything about the way you approach work that you think has made you more indispensable as a team member?

Cameron
Yeah, I think one, you know, from the very beginning, we had a, we had a team of five pretty much when when I started, and except for yourself, I was I was the one person on the team that didn’t have a like more specialized focus. So we had someone working on marketing, we had somebody that was more focused on like the program experience someone focused on building partnerships with them, companies.

And the first year and a half, I was kind of in that utility role where I was working on pretty much all aspects of the company. So over that time, because of that opportunity, I was able, I probably knew more about the business than anyone else besides yourself as a CEO and founder. And I think, I think I definitely had skill sets that lended myself to being in kind of that utility position. But I think it was the opportunity itself that allowed me to take advantage of it.

And, and I like my goal wasn’t to be like, okay, I want to be in this position or that position, or like, ultimately end up with that title. My goal was to learn about the, as much as I could about the company. And and I think I just kind of gravitate towards, like, okay, like, what are the pain points, diagnosing those, and then figuring out what is the best way for us to solve those and tackle them? And, and that’s, that’s where I’m probably most in my comfort zone.

Isaac
Yeah, you know, you’re getting back to the sports analogy. You’re like relentless pride in the team winning. It’s such a great attribute that that made you willing to do whatever needed to be done. I’m thinking of you remember that the 30 for 30 about the Bad Boys, the Detroit Pistons Bad Boys team?

Cameron
Yeah, of yeah.

Isaac
I can’t remember if it was Mark Aguirre or Adrian Dantley. I’m getting them mixed up. But one of them I think it might have been Aquire, was a great player was a starter. And he like realized that Dennis Rodman was a better fit on the starting squad than him, even though he was a big star. He, he went to the coach, and he’s like, start Dennis instead of me, it’s better for the team.

And that kind of attitude, that kind of mentality. You know, eventually to become a CEO, the downside is, you do a lot of cruddy work, you don’t get to specialize, sometimes you’re not in your sweet spot. You know, like, for a good while there, you’re just like, if something’s wrong, I just say Cameron, go figure it out, go fix it. Cameron, you go handle the inbox for this. Cameron, and you take over to an applications, Cameron, you know.

And you just do whatever. And I and I always knew, I’m sure I was frustrating to you sometimes. But you didn’t, you know, you tell me your your honest feedback. But you didn’t, you didn’t tell it, you didn’t complain, you would just do it, you’d figure it out. Even if it wasn’t in your wheelhouse, you’d figure it out and do it. Because you cared more than anything about the success of the team.

And the weird paradox is like, by wanting the team and the company to win more than wanting you to be in the best possible position, you put yourself in the best possible position to become a CEO. Because it did allow you to get exposed to every bit of the company to build huge trust. You know, with me, I could hand off just about anything to you, phone calls with business partners, with whoever, presentations, anything that you know.

And so like that, that team first mentality, that’s what I saw early on with you that, you know, you were you were always willing to take a personal sacrifice in prestige, or fun or easiness, or whatever even pay at times for for to maximize the success of the team winning. And as a result, I think you you know, you won from that at least I would, I would say, and you were able to become a CEO.

Cameron
Yes, I did win. Thank you. No, I…

Isaac
Is that just your personality, or was that like a deliberate like, strategy?

Cameron
I think it’s more my personality. And then as I’ve gotten to know myself better over the years, now, I can use it more intentionally as a strategy. So long, like, it’s interesting. Going back to the sports analogy, I think I am more interested in coaching or managing, like, just the thought process versus being in a player mindset.

So that was like, that’s, I think that’s just how I naturally think about things like, Alright, what are the best pieces? How do we solve this puzzle, etcetera. And, you know, at a, at a small team, I have, you know, I have to be one of the actual players.

But I think I’m able to kind of separate those two mindsets and like kind of come out of my own, you know, get out of them as a player and be like, Okay, what is the most valuable thing for me to be doing? And just kind of consider myself as one of the chess pieces on the board. And, and that’s, like, I’m pretty, I’m pretty interested in what that ends up looking like, for my long term career.

I think it’s I think it’s been I think it’s been valuable. Being in the CEO position now. There’s definitely been some learning curves and in different areas that I had to get out of my, you know, I’m starting to get out of my comfort zone and, and focus on, you know, maybe like long term and I think it’s going to be, you know, how can I be in that like, coach position as much as possible?

Isaac
Yeah. Well, you know, one of the challenges, I mean, a lot of young people think that they’re ideally suited for management, just because it sounds more fun, or like, I’ve met some young people like, Oh, I really want to do big picture stuff and become a CEO. I’m like, well, what’s that? You know, like planning and managing, like, I don’t want to actually do the work, I just want to, like, tell people what to do.

So a lot of people think they want but, but like, there are people who are genuinely gifted in that way, and you’re one of those. You’re genuinely good at coaching and managing. The challenge for that skill set, is almost no matter how good you are at that, when you first start, you can’t create enough value as a manager to just be a manager. To be successful, and even become a CEO, you have to be an individual contributor as well. And that can be a challenge, a lot of people don’t want to do that to become a CEO or a manager. They feel like they’re tired of grunt work, whatever.

And like, I would say, for most people, even if you really are good at managing people, it’s gonna take you like five years or something, to get to a point where that’s primarily what you’re doing, you’re going to have to at least a good chunk of what you do, is going to have to be the individual stuff. And believe it or not, that will make you a better manager down the road, and it will prepare you to become a CEO. You’ve been in the trenches.

Let me ask you a question about, you know, doing being willing to do anything and you know, putting team first and some of those things that we talked about that are part of your personality and helped you become a CEO. What do you say to somebody who says, Yeah, but I’m worried I’m, that’s my personality, but I’m worried I’m just going to get exploited. Because I’ll just say yes to everything and do all the grunt work. And I’ll never, the company will benefit for me, but I’ll never move up in my career to become a CEO. Like, how would you answer somebody who’s who’s worried about, you know, getting stuck in that in that role, and just getting taken advantage of?

Cameron
I think that’s, that’s just the wrong mindset to have, with any job that you have, and how you approach your career. If you’re thinking, if you have a tendency to be worried about like, Hey, how are people going to take advantage of me? How are people going to exploit me. One, early in your career, the chances that you’re valuable enough to be taken advantage of are, are pretty slim, in my opinion.

Like, if you if you have the opportunity to just work your ass off in different areas of a company for let’s say, your first couple years, like how is that not going to be valuable to you to become a CEO? If if you never grow out of that, and it’s like, hey, it’s been five years, eight years, 10 years, and you’re still doing the same thing, then I don’t think that’s a, that’s an issue of you’ve been taken advantage of. I think that’s an issue of you haven’t figured out how to leverage your, your opportunities to get to where you want to be to eventually become a CEO.

I’ve never come across somebody who, who was in that type of position early in their career that didn’t get a lot of personal growth from that, and then quickly moved into, like, more valuable positions and everything like a CEO. Like, I think because of what you said, it’s, um, there’s so few people that I think do it well, so that if you do it, you’re going to be valuable to the company.

Isaac
Yeah, one of the challenges if people are not super assertive, I have seen this a handful of times, where if you really are just awesome, and you’ll do whatever needs to be done, and you make yourself indispensable on a series of, you know, tasks or functions that are like maybe relatively low value entry level tasks, right, right. You’re really good, you make yourself indispensable at those. And then you kind of wait and you’re like, well, I’m really good at those. I’m waiting for them to give me a higher leverage a higher value task.

And often, if you’re indispensable, they’ll be like, well, I don’t want to lose you on this stuff. And so it’s kind of on you to say, Okay, I become indispensable here. Now, I know that I have sort of a baseline of security at this company, because I create value for them. Now, let me see if I can become indispensable at something even higher value, even higher leverage. Yeah, and let me show interest and take initiative on pursuing some other things and prove it there. And that can be a tough step to become a CEO.

Cameron
That tolerance of Hey, I’m willing to do a bunch of grunt work in different areas for the for the benefit of the team. I think I think you’re right, it has to be paired with the ability to identify, like opportunities for growth on your own to become a CEO.

Isaac
Yeah. Yeah, and and just being curious and asking about stuff. Sometimes I’ve been amazed at how rare it is for employees to ask questions about other aspects of the company outside of their job, you know, to ask other department heads or other, you know, how does this work? How does this work? What is the struggle here? How do we do this part? And that kind of curiosity is usually a first step to that leveling up to become a CEO.

So I’m gonna, I’m gonna let you finish with giving a little pitch about Praxis. I mean, I think many, many Career Crashers listeners probably know. I started praxis in 2013. And Cameron, as we mentioned, came on pretty early on as well. Then started Crash in late 2018. And Cameron actually left Praxis to come to Crash for a year, and then went back to run Praxis because it was not working with me trying to become a CEO of two companies at once.

Unfortunately, my skill level has a limit. And so Cameron went back and has become a CEO of Praxis, and has been in that position for several months now. So some listeners might already know but give us give us the Praxis spiel and anything you would like to leave Career Crash listeners with.

Cameron
Sure. So Praxis it’s the startup career boot camp, and what we’re building is a world class alternative to college. College just doesn’t really make sense in today’s world for for more entrepreneurial, ambitious driven people. And we we help people launch their careers through the six month boot camp that ends up in an awesome opportunity at a growing startup.

And then I think what’s really unique about Praxis is the long term approach we’re taking to, hey, we want to be supporting our participants as they get started but also as they advance and grow into their career. So we’re building something really unique with the community and network aspect of the program. But it’s a great fit for that entrepreneurial ambitious type as you know. Homeschoolers, teen business owners have been a really great fits so far.

Isaac
Yeah, the alumni network is pretty amazing to see how that gets more and more powerful every year. There’s some you know, well over 350 people a part of it now. It’s like people are active, years after doing the program you know, it’s it’s really cool to see and how that network deepens. So that’s a that’s a pretty cool it’s a pretty cool model and approach to really focus on that long term value.

So Cameron, thank you so much for coming on. Is anywhere people should check you out Twitter or what whatnot.

Cameron
Check out Praxis at discoverpraxis.com And you can find me I’m mostly active on Twitter @CameronSorsby.

Isaac
Alright, thanks so much for coming on Cameron.

Like what you hear, go to crash.co and join the career revolution. Do you want to share your own career crash story? Send it directly to me at isaac@crash.co.


If you’ve got a story you’d like to share, don’t hesitate! Email Isaac at Isaac [at] Crash [dot] co.


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