This week, I had the opportunity to talk to students at my alma mater, Bard College at Simon's Rock, about entrepreneurialism. Here's a quick recap. As Rockers, we all know about stepping outside of traditional education. Instead of business school, my business education happened at inDinero, a finance startup, with Jessica Mah (a fellow Rocker). During my first week at inDinero, I was tasked with creating a better support management system for our growing 20K userbase, papering legal board consent and option agreements for our employees, filing DE franchise taxes, and helping translate customer feedback into product decisions. Months later, I tackled new client verticals, recruiting, SEO/SEM, and freemium conversions. A year into inDinero, we were on the verge of failing, everyone in the company had left or was let go, and it was up to me and the original founders to start over and rebuild the company. After this pivot, I helped launch a new business model, generated the first $1M in revenue, became the financial advisor to over 300 companies, and grew the company to over 50 people. Not too shabby for a linguistics major without any business, finance, or technology experience!
Three years at inDinero was the most incredible learning opportunity, and it prepared me to start my own company in April, SlideChef, as well as SF PitchMasters. Traditional business school educations can be very valuable, but I encourage students to at least consider joining startups and perhaps even starting businesses of their own one day. Why? Because Rockers are awesome.
There is increasing discussion about the value of liberal arts educations in the modern workforce, or the lack thereof. While some assert that STEM field educations are the only justifiable "investments," people are beginning to acknowledge the importance of having diverse liberal arts perspectives in technology companies. Steve Yi, CEO of web advertising platform MediaAlpha, says that:
"The liberal arts train students to thrive in subjectivity and ambiguity, a necessary skill in the tech world where few things are black and white."
Rockers question everything, and we rarely accept the status quo at face value, so we push boundaries of our work and peers. We are great communicators, writers, and eternal students. We contextualize everything, and this makes us process-oriented and socially conscious. We're also creative, nerdy, and fun to work with (this is where I'll shamelessly plug that I am always recruiting interns!) Proportionate to our school's teeny size, Rockers are well represented in technology companies. Three Rockers, Nat Thompson, Bill Meltsner, and Jebediah Moore, are engineers at Yelp. Jessica Mah, Christian Perry, Todd Farrell, Faine Greenwood, Curran Dwyer, Lauren Moos, Maudie and Sumul Shah are just a few Rockers excelling as entrepreneurs, engineers, designers, VC's, or technologists. All Rockers should be aware of these opportunities to use their liberal arts educations in high-impact fields. For interested students, I also shared a few tips:
1) Take advantage of our uniquely small, close-knit network to get advice, introductions, internships, and visit other cities while you're in school. Rockers help Rockers. Naturally, because we're so small and secluded, you're more likely to get help from a fellow Rocker than alumni networks in bigger schools like NYU or UC Berkeley (I suggest using all your networks, but the Rocker network is a good place to start.) Build a LinkedIn profile for yourself, search for alumni, and contact them! It doesn't matter what year they graduated. Just shoot over an email, introduce yourself, and ask for advice over a phone call or Skype date. Find local Rockers when you visit your hometown, and take them out to coffee. After you've developed a relationship, ask if they know of any internship or job opportunities, and perhaps you'll be invited to sleep on a couch in the city you'd love to work!
2) Start creating your personal brand on social media now. One of my regrets is not starting a blog or Twitter sooner, because it takes time and cannot be rushed. Follow thought leaders, and get in the habit of consistently posting articles, blog posts, and getting into digital conversations about what you're passionate about. Post questions on Quora. Start conversations on Twitter. Being a great writer can help you greatly in your career, but it won't serve you unless people can find you and your work.
3) Find any opportunity to build your experience, even if you have to volunteer your time for free. Find remote opportunities or part-time contract work. For example, if you want to become an designer or web developer, volunteer to build a local business or organization's website for little or no money. Make sure you blow it out of the water, so that you'll then have a direct reference to help you secure your next opportunity, and eventually a paid one! This also goes for students interested in business, which is all about proving you can execute and get shit done. Get out there and start something. I met a student at the Rock starting a small venture of his own selling books while he is in school (shout-out to Pichard Books!); this is exactly the type of project that may arguably help his immediate career prospects more than anything else he will do in school.