Why I started a company

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Start-now-are-you-sureIn case you’re wondering, I didn’t wake-up one morning knowing that I would start a company.

In fact, I grew up thinking I was going to be a doctor, or veterinarian, because that’s what my parents told me to be. I was not told “You can be whoever you want to be!”. Instead, I WAS told “Being a doctor and veterinarian will make you a lot of money. Business on the other hand is very risky, and much harder to be successful”. Yes, my parents are immigrants. I find most children of immigrants hear this type of dogma in their households as well, and I certainly agree with their statements above (kind of).

However, I quickly learned that Medicine was not my calling. I really disliked biology class in school, and I was surrounded by people who were much more interested in memorizing the composition of a Mitochondria (element found in the cells of your body). So I gave up, and switched to Environmental Science. As graduation approached, I learned that your liberal arts major means very little in the job world.

The only thing that matters is what you’ve accomplished.

Then came the waterfall of shitty jobs where I learned the following: Working in Washington DC on Capitol Hill was boring. AND working for other people was a bit disappointing.

As long as I can remember, I’ve always had a job. Lifeguarding, swim teacher, camp counselor, advertising sales, legislative intern on Capitol Hill, and finally head of business development at a start-up. None of these jobs inspired me to go above and beyond the call of duty. And I’m the kind of person who LOVES to be challenged, and pushed out of my comfort zone. None of these jobs challenged me the way I wanted.

I found myself doing mediocre work to attain somebody else’s idea for a company. All I could think about was that I was wasting time doing this, when I could be putting in the same energy to build momentum for my own company.

The two things that held me back were:

1 – The reputation, and aura of the jobs that I was being offered

2 – The idea that I wasn’t ready, or could learn something special at these jobs

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Here’s the story of the straw that broke the camel’s back.

As a Junior at UC Santa Barbara, I participated in a program called UCDC. Once accepted to the program, you live and work in Washington DC for 10-weeks, receiving course credit for your work. I had the choice between a few different positions, and was ecstatic to receive a last minute acceptance from Senator Feinstein’s office. This felt like one of the most prestigious internships that you could have while on the program. SUCCESS! (not)

Everyday we dressed up in a suit & tie and joined the cream of the crop of the most powerful nation in the world, on Capitol Hill. Swinging my special admittance Senator intern badge, I beamed a smile at the security guard and strutted by into the depths of our political system – The next 8 hours, were spent sorting mail, scanning papers, delivering packages and doing menial research for staff around the office. WOW! I was completely blindsided, and furious that I had fallen into this trap of uncompensated, 40 hour per week labor. Not only that, but I wasn’t even excited about becoming a legislative assistant ( a position that I wouldn’t attain for another 5-10 years if I stayed on this track).

So why did I take the job?

The idea of working for the Senator of California was too much to turn down. Not only would I have that name stamped on my resume for a lifetime, but I figured there had to be some secrets to running a successful organization hidden within the walls of her office. I was completely wrong. The office was understaffed, underpaid, highly inefficient and they didn’t even care enough about interns to write a thoughtful recommendation after the job was complete.

My entrepreneur bells started going off.

“Don’t stay here” they were saying. “Go build something useful!” the little voice inside me yelled.

Flashback.

Even as a child, I knew that I didn’t fit in. I rarely followed rules, would openly talk back to teachers when I disagreed with their ideas and always looked for out of the box solutions to fairly linear problems. This attitude started creeping into my job life as well. I started spending the bulk of my working days thinking about StudySoup. How could I start immediately?  Where would I find an engineer? What did I want to do with the next couple years of my life? Was I ready for this?

As soon as I landed back in Santa Barbara, I started looking for an engineer to start working on my vision for StudySoup (see my post on finding my co-founder). But, my life as a start-up CEO didn’t just start all of a sudden. For 6 months, I juggled school and college activities while building out StudySoup. I’ll even admit that I was applying for jobs at Google, and a few start-ups in San Francisco. And then one day, while reflecting on my work over the past year and considering my post-college life, I decided that I would give StudySoup the best chance I could to succeed. We had already signed up 2 prominent schools for pilots, including UCSB and University of Oregon, even though our product still really sucked. I stopped applying for jobs, and dedicated 150% of my free time to selling StudySoup to new customers.

I think its important to mention that I was in a very unique position. Most people are already working, and might even have a family to support when they venture out to start a company. This is why I decided to publish this blog, and encourage people my age, who might not realize the luxury they have to try something new and fail without affecting your entire life.

If you’re still reading, then you probably like what I write about. Submit your e-mail address on the left, and you’ll get a friendly update next time I post. No spam, I promise.

On a side note: I am very thankful for the opportunity that my internships for start-ups, and Senator Feinstein provided. These were eye-opening experiences that forced me out of the nest, into the unknown. I hope that by reading this blog piece, some of you entrepreneurs will avoid wasting time going down the path to a real job.

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