What advice do you have for students who are also trying to get their own startups off the ground?
Make sure to give yourself grace. You’re going to mess up, you’re going to fail, you’re going to forget meetings, and all kinds of stuff is gonna happen. But be sure to take care of yourself as a person because you can’t run anything if you’re not good in the head. And I’m gonna say time management is an amazing thing if you can go ahead and master that. But I’m still working on that one, honestly.
As the first of your family to go to college, getting into Kenan-Flager, and now getting two startups off the ground, how does it make you feel when you reflect on that?
Well, honestly I used to be homeless at one point. I remember sitting on the corner street with nothing but a gray hoodie and some khaki shorts and telling myself that whatever I’m going to do, I’m gonna be the greatest. This is the thing I imagined: I imagined looking at a diploma from one of the best schools in the country. But to actually see it and be able to, like, touch it and know that I did that completely debt-free. I’m working on making my dreams come true. Being able to see it, that’s the greatest feeling ever.
How old were you in that memory?
The same time I was selling bookmarks, anywhere from 10 to 12.
Do you think your story might inspire other people in similar situations?
It’s hard for me to give myself titles like ‘role model’ or ‘inspiration.’ I have had people who message me saying my story is so inspirational. I just try to do my best, and I say that my purpose is to help other people achieve their dreams and show them that they’re possible. So, if that’s what I’m doing, I’m doing something right.
What else would you like readers to know?
One thing I always like to talk about is the people on the journey. People will say I have an inspirational story and all, but the people who inspire me really made it all possible. I have had the greatest mentors in the world. I have professors who have gone out of their way to make sure that I could go on trips to study abroad or to go do my internship. I have mentors who have guided me through so much and still guide me. I have a professor who I talk to literally every day, Allison Schlobohm.
My other mentor, Stephanie Robertson, I met when I was applying for a job in the business school my freshman year. She was the person I was interviewing with. I totally did not get the job, but she emailed me saying if I needed any help navigating the resources at UNC to let her know. She’s been a mentor ever since. Literally, anything I need, I call Stephanie.
How important is it to have mentors like that when starting your career in business?
Funny enough, I think, before, I was not too worried about networking. Now I’d say it’s probably the most important thing. People you meet help foster the ideas, they keep you motivated, they help you do things you never even thought of. Whether it’s giving you opportunities or advice, your network makes it possible.
Get to know the people you’re working with and the people around you. They may become your best friends. You never know how they can impact your life.
Are you a student-founder? Poets&Quants is interested in talking with you about balancing the demands of pursuing a business degree or MBA and running a new business. Email your story to firstname.lastname@example.org.