My Story So Far
I grew up in Georgia. My dad first introduced me to the word "entrepreneurship" when he caught me trying to sell my old toys when I was 10. He told me, "You can work for someone else. But, if you do, know that you will always be dependent on someone else for your living. And, one day, they might think that you are not useful anymore."
Entrepreneurship is an ingrained concept in my head; it has always been my dream to one day start my own company to leave a lasting impact on the world. But I didn't really know what it all meant until I arrived as a business student at the Georgia Institute of Technology in August 2014.
First Year In College
I've made Youtube videos with my best friend Wesley since I was in middle school. Through just a hobby, we became amateur filmmakers. So when my friend Rostam Zafari decided he wanted an Indiegogo video for his invention, the Rapid Ebola Detection Strips, we were his first call. Once we made the video, Rostam ended up raising over $14,000 in a month, meeting his goal. It was exciting for both of us.
It wasn't long after that Rostam referred us to his friend, Kaeya Majmundar, a Shark Tank entrepreneur. We made a video for her newest product, Ziptanks, and, for the first time in my life, charged fees for the video. It didn't take long for us to realize that we had a burgeoning business on our hands. It took us months, but while I was interning at AT&T in the summer of 2015, we officially started our business, Elevated Solutions, to provide videography services for businesses.
While we ran the business, I was busy trying to learn how to navigate through college. I was young, innocent (still am), and determined to find my place at Georgia Tech. I faced constant confusion and derision as a business major in a technical school. I wanted to find opportunities in college that would best enable my growth and learning.
That led me to apply and enroll in the Denning Technology & Management Program in the spring of 2015. But that wasn't the end of it. I joined Alpha Kappa Psi that semester as well, the professional business fraternity, to improve my communication skills and surround myself in a diverse community of highly motivated and intelligent people. I took an internship at AT&T as a product development intern for the summer of 2015. During that summer, I also got the opportunity to explore my filmmaker side and flew to Los Angeles as a finalist in a film festival called Campus Movie Festival Hollywood. Not long after, I took on a role as Director of Marketing at an entrepreneurship hackathon called 3 Day Startup, organized by my friend Wesley and people from my fraternity. It was a fantastic experience.
Rising Through My Second Year
During the fall of 2015, my second year in college, I fell into a slump. I wasn't working on any projects for my business. Classes were more time-consuming and harder than ever. I wasn't making any new friends, nor was I trying anything new on campus. My friend Wesley was moving to Korea to study abroad there in the spring. Alongside that, I had grown to despise my summer internship at AT&T, as I had been bored and unfulfilled with the work. It was a low point in my life.
Thankfully, I had decided to become a Big Brother to my "little" in the fraternity that semester. She was an ambitious freshman from Florida. She was just a first year student, but she had already started a startup with her friends, become a writer for the Technique (our newspaper), joined the TEDxGeorgiaTech organizing team, the Startup Exchange organizing team (the student entrepreneur community at Georgia Tech), and SWE (Society of Women in Engineering), and still had time to go to a number of hackathons and work on very interesting projects. All while she was still pledging my fraternity.
I learned a great deal about myself while I guided her through the process. So, it was around November that I started to take stock and reevaluate. I felt frustrated with my personal lack of growth and inspired by a young freshman who was off to a better start than I was just a year ago then. I didn't dwell for too long. I was sad, but I was determined to change things. I realized that I wanted to experience that sense of exploration and growth that I had felt in my first year in college. I was depressed because I wasn't doing anything new.
With that, I started the year in 2016 with a fresh face and threw myself in a number of different directions. I joined the Startup Exchange organizing team, wanting to involve myself in the student entrepreneur community and help aspiring students. Elevated Solutions took on a contract with Coca Cola and produced a video for the IT arm of their bottling business, CONA. I started going to hackathons, even as a non-technical student, and learned how to do UI design through a haphazard curriculum of Youtube videos and blogs. In one of my classes about product development, my team and I created a spice subscription service, Appalachian Spice. I started my blog on Medium and fell in love with writing again. Meanwhile, as I searched for summer internships, I was determined to not work for a company where I couldn't make an impact, so I applied for internships at startups. That led me to apply to the True Entrepreneur Corps Fellowship in San Francisco.
As a 2016 TEC Fellow, I interned at UXPin as a marketing intern and learned the full stack of marketing, from social media marketing to content marketing to email marketing. Not only that, but I became friends with a fantastic group of people: the Fellows. The program was exactly what I had been looking for. I didn't just work, but I got to meet the incredible partners at True, learn from weekly speakers the partners brought to the office, attend a number of conferences and workshops around the Bay Area, and join a lifelong community of amazing people. As expected, I wrote about it in a blog post and even made a video about it.
But this past summer wasn't just the program. With only 10 weeks in the Bay Area, I was absolutely determined to make the most of my summer. I didn't know a lot of people there at first, so I joined The Intern Project and help start an online Slack community for interns in the Bay Area. It grew from just 5 people initially to over 2000 by the end of the summer (I considered it a success). I attended as many (free) workshops and meetups that I could go to without my introvert half dying on the inside. I learned a great deal about startups and venture capital and somehow became a venture partner at Contrary Capital, a university-focused venture capital fund with partners at over 50 universities across the country. I also explored the Bay Area and grew to love the region, even despite its many faults. For some reason, almost everything that I ate had some form of avocado in the dish. Not that I minded, of course.
Mastering The Third Year
As the summer turned to fall and I returned to Georgia Tech in the fall of 2016, I didn't want to stop the progress that I had made. As it turned out, I loved staying busy. So, with the hardest academic workload (curse you, ME2110) that I had ever had in my college career, I forced myself to be the person that I had been in my freshman year. Fresh-faced and yearning to explore. I joined TEDxGeorgiaTech as part of the marketing team to help improve the event and meet people that I had previously never interacted with before. As Co-Director of Startup Exchange this academic year, I put in more effort into Startup Exchange than I had ever contributed to any one organization or initiative. We revamped the website, changed our organizing team structure, created Vice President executive positions, organized over 5 different events throughout the semester, raised over $3,000 in funding, and grew the team from just 5 people to 17 in the span of a couple of weeks. It honestly felt like running a startup. In retrospect, it was a fantastic learning experience.
On the personal side, I continued to write for my blog. I hadn’t made a Youtube video in well over half a year at that point, so I restarted the vlog with my friend Wesley to detail our adventures in Atlanta and eventually tell the story of our startup experience. We also took a trip up to New York City for spring break and tried out live video for the first time!
It was during the middle of the spring that Wesley and I decided to rebrand and launch Elevate Media, a digital marketing agency that would provide strategic marketing strategy and content production services for companies. We dedicated ourselves to building our original company into the face of Atlanta media, to bring a fresh, vivid direction to content for businesses.
That summer of 2017, we ran Elevate Media full time, building the company to nearly 6 figures in revenue within several months from virtually nothing and working with some pretty cool clients. We even hired people for the first time, which was a pretty weird experience. We learned a lot.
Launching Into the 4th Year
The 4th year of college came faster than I expected. Suddenly, I was running Elevate Media, working as a venture partner at Contrary Capital, building a new initiative at Startup Exchange, serving as a teaching assistant for a class at Georgia Tech called Startup Lab, and still trying to balance classes and all. The latter half of 2017 was busy as hell, but it was thoroughly enjoyable. I enjoyed everything I was doing. I was learning a ton about venture capital through my work at Contrary Capital as I looked for university startups to invest in on campus. Together with my co-director Garrett, we launched the CORE initiative, a private community of student founders at Georgia Tech. Wesley and I got more work done with Elevate Media in several months than we had done in the past two years. I even spoke at TEDxGeorgiaTech about overcoming personal inertia, something that had been a goal of mine for years!
Yet, despite it all, something felt off. I was enjoying myself, but there was a sense of mild dread as I headed towards my graduation in spring 2018. But what could it be?
It took until the winter of 2017 to realize what was wrong:
- Building the university entrepreneurship ecosystem at Georgia Tech through Startup Exchange and Contrary Capital had been instrumental to my college experience. I met some really cool people along the way. But I had gotten antsy over the years, and I realized that it was time that I focused less on building up entrepreneurs and building my own journey as an entrepreneur more.
- Adding to that, I learned that marketing and videography alone aren’t what I’m truly passionate about. It had been a lot of fun--a big learning experience--but Wesley and I were ready to find something else to work on (though we still intend on running Elevate Media after college). I found that I was particularly passionate about education, and that became the goal of what I wanted to be involved in the future in some way, shape, or form.
- College is a period of time where people soak up lots of knowledge, go to a bunch of places, and meet many different people. We spend years picking up new skills, honing our talents, and building our networks. And for what? To go work at a big bank? To write code for a food delivery app? To work in IT? We’ve spent so long at these amazing institutions, yet everything we build goes to what I consider less than noble goals. In the winter of 2017, I realized that I want to dedicate my efforts and talent to solving bigger problems in the world.
We've caught up to the present. I'm still working on Elevate Media, Contrary Capital, and Startup Exchange, but I've opened myself up to exploring new avenues of growth and opportunity. Wesley and I are working on a side project or two as we chart our new course into the future.
That's my story.
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