Summer Entrepreneurial Experiences

During July 2015...

two more blogs to go..

Friday, July 31, 2015 3:47 am

It has been a eye-opening experience for me to see how Handshake has grown in the past couple months and how I grew as a leader and a person as a result of it. We all know what it takes to be an entrepreneur and for the most part understand the gist of what traits an entrepreneur has to have; creativity, motivation, resilience to name a few. You gotta be smart, there is so much pressure, no days off, yeah we know. But it’s much easier just saying the traits off your tongue and saying “Yeah I can do that” instead of having to actually see those traits in action when the pressure is on. Handshake has 15 employees, only four of them are dev, which means they have the computer-science background, which means only FIVE people built the entire interface of Handshake, which is going to be launching and utilized at 60+ universities including Wake, tens of thousands of students, and hundreds of thousands employers. Whether you use it or not and/or like it or not, you really should sit back and think “How was this created by 5 people? How was this whole company created by only 20 people?”

Smart, resilient, experienced leadership, that’s how. When I first stepped in to the Handshake house, Garrett told me straight off the bat that I am as much of a resource to him as he is a resource to me, and I am more than welcome to ask/criticize/question anything about Handshake, because the more perspectives the better. 9.9/10 times you say that to your boss on your first day and question the direction of the company as an intern, your probably getting fired. I have learned so much from him and the rest of the team about how you have to not only be a determined entrepreneur, but a smart, charismatic and resilient leader. I say charismatic because people LOVE working at Handshake because of the culture Garrett has created. None have left since I have been here, and none are going to leave any time soon. It isn’t a one or the other thing; its a one and the other thing. You may be the smartest most resilient guy on your team, but if you don’t know how to communicate effectively with your team and maximize their efficiency while also making sure they are loving their job, your gonna fail, and that’s a big factor into why startups fail so frequently.

If you don’t know what Handshake is, you will get to know it very soon. While I don’t particularly see myself as an up and coming entrepreneur in the next coming years, I have developed the background, experience and the network to hopefully strive and start my own company one day. Don’t really have an idea yet, but it’ll come.

Spool – Spark creative videos

Thursday, July 30, 2015 1:10 am

 

Looks like I have a lot to cover since my last post… The week after my last post, Spool was approved for official Beta testing. This allowed me to add up to 1,000 testers without having to first registering there devices. From there I modified the landing page for Spool so that visitors could submit their emails to gain access to the beta. Over the course of the next few days I spent my time focusing on getting the landing page out to the public, and hopefully some conversions for beta users. After being posted on Betabound.com and posting on subreddits and other forums like hacker news I started receiving some traction and sign ups. Although several users began using the app consistently and submitting their own content, I noticed that the majority of users could were not being retained. This has led me to rethink my marketing strategy as my deadline to launch approaches.

Originally, I was set on trying to do a hard launch where I would try and get as many people to download Spool as possible soon after the initial launch. I planned to reach out to dozens of tech bloggers and forums, but I have since moved away from this idea and am now pursuing a different plan of action. Rather than trying to target as many people as possible to download Spool, which would most likely lead to an influx of downloads and than an equal number of deletions, I plan on introducing Spool to smaller communities at first and promoting a soft launch. With this strategy, users will be more likely to already have a few friends who have downloaded the app, or at least friends within a 2-3 degrees of connections. At the same time, I believe that a slower more steady growth will work out better in the long run as I will be able to more easily keep up with any problems that arise as Spool begins to scale. Spool’s scalability is probably my biggest concern right now. Because of my limited number of beta testers currently on Spool it has been hard to determine how the app is going to handle hundreds of videos within one Spool, or even more as they can technically grow exponentially within a 24 hour period. A slower more steady acquisition of users will hopefully allow me to keep up with any problems that arise, especially since I am currently the only developer on deck.

Currently I have over 100 users with people producing videos and spools every day. It’s very exciting to be able to see people enjoying using a product that I’ve built myself from scratch, but just as I begin to relish on this sight, I can already see all of the different things that still need to be done. Increasing the number of beta testers has given rise to several more bugs that need reworking. As I try and juggle back and forth between acquiring additional beta testers and continuing to improve the product, I’ve tended to lean more toward developing the product first and foremost. I’ve fixed many of the bugs that originally popped up and now I feel that I have a quality product that is (almost) ready to hit the App Store. I submit my first version to the app store in hopes of getting it approved a few weeks before I plan to launch. That way I can still continue to improve the app while having the launch date set in stone. Either that or I’ll be able to know what I need to fix sooner rather than later… I’ll hear back in about a week and keep you guys posted.

If anybody who has an iPhone wants to download out the app just go to www.spoolapp.com and enter your email! After a few minutes you’ll receive an email that lets you download Spool through the TestFlight app. I’d love to hear any advice you may have and any and all feedback! Thanks!

It’s Not Just the Bride’s Day!

Wednesday, July 29, 2015 4:20 pm
Brown Butter Carrot Cupcake

Brown Butter Carrot Cupcake

Dinosaurs and Drums Groom's Cake

Dinosaurs and Drums Groom’s Cake

Close up of the Groom's Cake. Note the guitars, headphones, and drum sticks!

Close up of the Groom’s Cake. Note the guitars, headphones, and drum sticks!

Bride and Groom cake toppers

Bride and Groom cake toppers

Matching table centerpieces set up at the venue upon our arrival

Matching table centerpieces set up at the venue upon our arrival

Creamsicle Cupcake

Creamsicle Cupcake

This week we had the chance to create a super fun cake design. In most weddings today, it has become a tradition for the bride to present the groom with what is called a Groom’s Cake. It is typically decorated to display the interests of the groom. In this week’s case, we were asked to pull of a three-tiered drum cake, complete with plastic dinosaurs as toppers (while playing their tiny instruments, of course)!

This design, while really exciting, was one of the more intricate and tedious of the summer. There were so many tiny pieces that came together in the end to complete the overall display, and it was well worth the work. I was placed on sculpting duty, working primarily with fondant, since I had proven my ability to sculpt to Chelsea and her mother in the previous weeks.

The plastic dinosaurs were provided for us, and we’re supposedly the same you dinosaurs that the groom played with as a child. How sweet!

Some additions to this week’s menu were brown butter carrot cupcakes and creamsicle cupcakes. There was also a salted caramel frosted brown sugar pound cake on the counter that didn’t last long at all! People have to order what they want ahead of time to ensure that they are able to snag the goodies they want at Tart Sweets before they are all sold out. If someone calls and orders 90 macarons at once (which happened part week) then everyone else has to choose from what’s left. This is a result of everything in the bakery being prepared fresh every morning as opposed to mass producing all of their product at the beginning of the week and having it dry out each day it stays on the shelf — like most chain food stores around.

With everyone coming back into town for the school war to start, people better start getting into Tart Sweets as early as possible so as not to miss out on something oh so scrumptious!

 

 

A DOUGH-se of Slender Seven

Tuesday, July 28, 2015 9:55 pm

Exciting news! Slender Seven’s cookie dough is now officially in 13 stores in the DC area! This is a great improvement for the company considering we were in just 9 stores at the start of the summer. This is evidence of just how fast successes and failures can come your way in the entrepreneurial food industry. As Slender Seven hopes to continue to expand Nikki has to start thinking of ways in which she can keep up with the production rate. About 3 to 4 days a week Nikki and I are in the kitchen making the product ourselves. Clearly, as production increases this will not be an effective means of making the cookie dough. Therefore, we are starting to acquire some knowledge regarding co-packaging as we know this will be a step in the company’s near future. Dipping into the co-packing industry is an exciting and nerve racking step. Nikki will have to relinquish the production of her cookie dough to other individuals. Moreover, Nikki’s time is inevitably more valuable outside the kitchen. Therefore, this would be a very exciting step for Nikki as she would be able to have more time to market her product and manage her company outside of the kitchen.

Despite Slender Seven’s expansions to more stores, we experienced a fairly low sales month in June. Looking back at sales, they were almost half the sales during May. Nikki and I both realized that, as a start up, if you are not on top of your game every week than it is very easy to fall behind. To compensate for June’s sales we have started doubling the about of demos which we do. As a company, we are putting a lot of effort in having more of a presence in the stores which we are sold and to engage more with our customers. Through the company’s many ups and downs this summer I have learned that these come hand in hand with being an entrepreneur. As an entrepreneur I believe that you have to be fearless and willing to take major risks. Stability is not something which is found in the entrepreneurial world and in order to be successful in the business this has to be accepted.

Surviving & Thriving in a Saturated Market

Tuesday, July 28, 2015 9:53 pm

It’s no secret that the restaurant industry is an incredibly challenging business. Owning and running a restaurant is hard and risky work and I’ve learned first hand this summer that owning and running a food truck is no different.

Challenges and unforeseen issues are the norm in the food industry. Every morning is a new adventure and has its own unique obstacles. Some days it’s impossible to find a spot to park and sell where we previously promised customers we would be. Other times a food shipment comes in late or the produce is not as fresh as we would like it to be. Events change location last minute or spring additional constraints or needs on us day of. Kitchen appliances and truck parts need repair and attention. There are a million things that can go wrong every day and a huge part of being successful in the food industry is being able to handle a tricky situation and creatively find alternative options.

The biggest obstacle that Swizzler faces on a daily basis, however, is probably the sheer amount of competition in the DC metropolitan area. There are almost 80 food trucks in the DMV (DC, Maryland, Virginia) Food Truck Association and new trucks popping up all the time. At a major food truck spot (known as a “lottery spots” because of the random system that assigns food trucks a certain number of parking spots in these popular locations each month), there are typically 10 or more trucks to choose from. This is of course wonderful for the customers. There are new food trucks every day and foods from across the globe. The options are nearly endless. It is not so wonderful, however, for the food truck owners and is probably the largest obstacle to their businesses.

At Swizzler, we deal with this competition in several ways, but generally we try to stick out from the pack. First and foremost, we try to make ourselves known by producing the best food possible. At Swizzler they have a philosophy that every transaction with a customer is an opportunity to turn a stranger into a loyal member of the #SwizzTribe. We want every interaction with the team to be a positive one and we want everyone to love the food we produce. This is why we source local ingredients whenever possible, use grass-feed beef, and value the presentation of our food so highly.

Another way we deal with competition is by using our social media accounts to their full potential. We are constantly trying to generate engaging content on all our platforms, ranging from drool-worthy instagrams to interesting Facebook article to clever tweets. We use social media to market ourselves in as positive a way as possible and stay in touch with our customer base. Social media is also incredibly important in letting our followers know where we will be – so they know where to be to enjoy a Swizzler!

Finally, we try to be as creative and innovative as possible to stand out from the competition. There are enough kabob and taco trucks in DC to feed a person for a year, but many of them offer very similar meals and lack inspiration. From the design of the truck, to the presentation of the food, to the menu offerings, Swizzler tries to stand out from the pack. Swizzler is completely flipping the hot dog game and trying to do the same with food trucks in general. We’re constantly generating new Swizzler creations and thinking of ways to make our food stand out. This summer alone we’ve tried four new dogs with great success and several other side items including salads and even gazpacho.

Staying afloat in the food business is about being able to adapt in the face of challenge and competition. The DC food truck scene is an incredibly competitive one but at Swizzler we’re utilizing our unique spin on the daily lunch routine and strong principles to stay relevant, delicious, and successful.

The age old question is answered

Tuesday, July 28, 2015 6:09 pm

So this past weekend 4 our of the 5 partners, our bosses, left for China on a product development trip and we wont be seeing them for the remainder of the internship. Due to the fact that we aren’t going to see them again, the company had a meeting where the interns and the owners sat down and just talked. We talked about many things but one theme that was talked about more than others was making the most out of college. The partners ages range from 26-29 and they all graduated from either Bowdoin, Yale or University of Vermont. Their biggest regret about college was not pushing themselves to learn more. Let me repeat myself. Learning. They didn’t say grades. They didn’t say lacrosse. They didn’t say going out. They said learning. Because they didn’t pay much attention to learning new things, they are having to go back an relearn information they should know. For example, they had to learn the chemistry behind yarns for new mesh but they didn’t know anything about it. They had to take time out of their day to watch khan academy videos about chemistry instead of working on other more important things. This answers the age old question that every student ever asks themselves daily and that is “when will I ever need to know this?”

Swimmers Part II

Tuesday, July 28, 2015 2:16 am

Well, after returning from vacation I was both pleased and not-so-pleased with the results of the current methods of attempting to salvage my poor, contaminated cultures. The antibiotic that we treated the cultures with had, in fact, the opposite of our intended affect. It appears to have killed off some portion of the Anabaena and caused the swimmers to multiply exponentially. This does seem to indicate that the swimmers are feeding off of the Anabaena in the cultures as adding an antibiotic shouldn’t provide a food source by itself. This may help us in determining what these buggers are and, in turn, maybe a chemical method of dealing with them.

We also explored some methods of physically separating the Anabaena from the contaminating species. Essentially, liquid cultures can be “streaked” onto solid agar plates in such a way that multiple concentrations of anything within the liquid cultures appear on the plate. From there, individual colonies can be isolated from the others within the culture and used to inoculate fresh cultures. Hopefully, this method will have more positive results than the antibiotic.

The only other thing of interest is that I will soon be starting a new assay with a more biochemical focus. We’ve finally managed to order reagents for an assay that allows for the detection of nitrogen by converting ammonia into a bright blue product. With the help of a spectrophotometer, the amount of colored particles like in this reaction can be measured and thus indirectly measuring the amount of ammonia in solution. Hopefully, this assay will help us determine the amount of nitrogen being produced and left in solution by our Anabaena cultures. That is … if they’re not horribly contaminated. We’ll see how it goes I suppose.

Culture Change

Sunday, July 26, 2015 9:50 pm

I’m quite a few weeks behind writing this, but I can remember reaching that halfway marker like it was yesterday. Ironically, the halfway moment of my internship with Handshake was around the moment they began to officially recognize their hyper-growth as a company, and at this time they hired a couple consultants to help them stay organized and stay committed to improving our customer satisfaction, our work culture and our mission.

Speaking on culture, I am speaking on the top of my head here, and I could be absolutely off, but I want to assume at least 75% of all businesses in the United States, regardless of what type of field they are or how big they are, operate relatively in the same manner. As students, we are smart enough to see how bureaucratic hierarchies are created and who listens to who. It’s not that it is a relatively bad thing, because the work culture is solely off conventional wisdom, because that’s how it’s been done in the past. Corporations, investment banking, even our own University, tends to follow a similar pattern. Employees are usually being overseen by managers, who are being overseen by their managers, who are being overseen by executives and councils, who are being overseen by the CEO/President who is being overseen by some type of Board who is being overseen. While they do intend to better the world and are working their a** off day in and day out, they aren’t bettering themselves or having any excitement at their job because of their work and even their personal responsibilities, and that is a scary phenomena for me as I am entering my senior year. There are millions of companies in the United States and hundreds of millions of companies around the world who operate this way, and it works because everyone is held accountable. But in this age of unique technology, you can sense the tide shifting in how work environments should be like. There is nothing wrong with grinding out your hard work every day to help pay the bills and put food on the table, but if your not thinking beyond your tasks and daily reports, or questioning your company’s direction or even questioning your own direction in your life, then what’s the point?

I had the opportunity to learn the work culture of Google and developed a basic understanding of how Google operates. The various types of workers and leaders of the leading global search engine work in a type of culture that reminds you of recess from elementary school. Everyone is riding bikes, eating free food, working on their laptops in giant beanbags with hundreds of thousands of whiteboards at every corner of Google’s spaceship-looking campus. They even get these giant space-looking spheres for private nap-times. Personally, I think their culture is way too extreme and they are way too relaxed, especially when 1 billion people per day search something on google and rely on them for pretty much everything. If Google goes down, then we go down. It is an incredibly extreme case that a company this big and powerful can work like this, and 9 out of 10 times their culture cannot be mimicked by any other company perfectly and achieve the same results. But there is one aspect that struck me and should be paid close attention to that everyone, regardless of who you are or where life takes you, should seriously consider and apply in their real life.

Tons of Google employees, despite their recess, work a lot of arduous hours to solve some of the world’s most complicated problems through countless lines of computer code and algorithms. And while they tend to have more power than other employees at other businesses, they all have a long line of tasks to do and can take a toll on their day. But Google has a unique rule that every employee must follow: 20% of your work must be committed to your own personal side project. This is where the creative juices of the brains really get going, how we use our creativity in our brain to build something from scratch. This is how Google Drive, Gmail, Docs and Sheets were created. It was not a list of things to do or things to get to. It was some genius at Google who had an idea, and began building it in this 20% of free time. Other employees and even his own managers were wowed to the point they sacrificed their 20% of time to help him work on it. That’s the main reason why Google is so successful; 1/5 of the work time of a Google employee’s work day is committed to new ideas and innovations. This is why Googles CEO Larry Page seems to have a pretty easy job; he lets all his employees do the thinking, because he gives all his employees the proper freedom to be creative in their work, while still getting the job done. How great would it be if Wake Forest made every single student stop working, gave some flexibility in our arduous work schedule, and commit to a personal side project on something that we are passionate about?

Handshake follows the same exact rule. While I have my long hours of working on customer success and other responsibilities for the day, I have been working on my own personal little project of creating a Student Ambassador Program and recruiting students to begin their own at their university. I’ve never really started a club or organization at Wake, so its exciting to build something from the ground up and bring it to campus this fall. Not only this, but the culture of Handshake relies on my opinion and are always looking for critiques and feedback so they can tackle ideas and problems from all sorts of perspectives, especially a student perspective. I have been more than willing to speak out on the direction Handshake is going and have provided my own personal insights and visualizations on moving forward, primarily in customer support and managing each other’s heavy workloads. And they absolutely love what I have to say whether its good or bad, and it makes me want to help more and more.

Search any technology company that pops in your head and take two minutes to search their daily work culture. You’d be surprised and may even want to apply there this year for a job or internship because it could be exactly what you look for in a job. Netflix, Dropbox, Pinterest, to name a few, all have incredibly unique cultures that focuses on the people, not the work. And you don’t need to major in Computer Science to do it. I don’t know the first thing about writing code, but writing code doesn’t help for someone working there in Human Resources or Marketing. The culture in our country is beginning to find a new motivation for working, because it is beginning to put an emphasis on the people first and the work later, because people and people alone do the work. Work is pretty lazy and doesn’t work without a push from someone. I am excited to see culture shifts in companies that emphasize this more and more.

The Startup Lifestyle

Sunday, July 26, 2015 9:35 pm

Over the course of my summer as an intern at a tech startup in Palo Alto, I have been exposed to many truths about being an entrepreneur. The movies and TV shows about Silicon Valley all show the fun of working in a tech startup, but they fail to display the hours and long nights of programming that it requires to get the product out. If the movie “The Social Network” was really accurate, it would just be a two and a half hour movie of Mark Zuckerberg coding alone in his dorm room.

That being said, there is a lot that is special about the startup life. You learn much more in three months of being in a startup than you do in three years in a corporate environment. The reason is because you are wearing many different hats and have to constantly jump between projects. In addition, your projects are critical to the success of the company, so there is a lot of weight on the importance of your work.

Being successful in the startup environment requires you to be extremely self motivated, a learner, and a scrappy worker. Nothing will be perfect and you have to learn to roll with that.

Learning about these truths has led me to love the startup environment. I love the “let’s just build it” attitude and working on a variety of quick projects. In addition, I love learning new things everyday about programming and product management. It is a very different skill set than what you learn in school. You have to love building things and building them quickly. You have to love working on your projects during the weekends. It is a lifestyle that only so many people love being in.

Summer with Franky’s Week 6 & 7

Saturday, July 25, 2015 4:46 pm

Business with Franky’s has been booming! I have been dedicating the majority of my time these past two weeks to creating our new website which will launch shortly and managing our social media. We have also had a few photo shoots that have produced amazing pictures!!

Moria, the founder of Franky’s, recently decided to move to Austin, TX, so we have also been doing a lot of strategic planning– How will we work between NC and TX? How will Moria manage Franky’s with a full time job? What are our next steps before Moria’s move?–This has been complicated, but it will also be great for Franky’s to spread its roots!

Another big step Franky’s is taking is selling at wholesale to retailers! I have been designing the line sheets to give to the retailers. This has been an interesting process because I have been learning so much about business and sales.

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