A List of Lists

Senior year in college I co-led a student forum on Entrepreneurship. It was a survey course with a different theme each week, progressing from theoretical subjects to more practical exercises over the course of 13 weeks. In the 5th week, the theme was “Who are entrepreneurs?” For the first half of class we talked about ideas such as Isaiah Berlin’s Fox and Hedgehog, “great man” theory, and the personality characteristics that may be conducive to being an entrepreneur.

In the second half of the class, we turned the focus away from examples of other people who have already gone and been entrepreneurs, and instead analyzed ourselves and our own personal tendencies. I had everyone in the class take a 10 minute Myers Briggs personality test, and then we formed ‘perfect teams’ based on our strengths and weaknesses. This sparked great discussion.

Finally, I encouraged everyone to make self-discovery an active, ongoing, and frequent activity. Personally, I love lists. Back in high school I discovered xPad and used it to keep track of my thoughts. Over time, I developed the occasionally obsessive habit of gradually adding to these lists and adding new ones. These days I use Evernote (along with more than 100 million other people..!). These lists form the backbone of my self-knowledge as well as my entrepreneurial potential, which I see as fairly closely related.

Here is a selection of lists that I have made over the years. Most of the prompts are obviously vague — they are meant to be interpreted differently over time to suit different purposes. I never start a list with the intention of providing an exhaustive “answer”. They are perpetual works in progress, a working databank that will serve you however you choose to serve yourself.

Problems I see in the world:
Problems I see in my daily life:
Sectors/fields I’d like to work in:
My favorite companies:
My personal theories:
“I am a strong believer in”:
What is my ideal situation in X years?
Questions for the world:
Answers for the world:
If I were to look back and have helped the world in one way, what would it be?
Potential project list:
How should I use my free time?
What would I do with a superpower of choice?
My favorite activities/things to do:
Subjects I am passionate about:
Fields that I might like to pioneer given any legitimacy I could automagically have:
Companies I would like to work for:
What am I not doing now that I will look back and wish I have been doing? What will I want to have been doing for years?
What change is needed?
List of questions that I should be asking:
To read/learn/general explore:
TO WRITE:
Why do I want to be an entrepreneur?
Where to work out of college?
Questions to start conversations:
Questions that stump me:
Coolest Ideas I hear about:
People in my life that inspire me:
One sentence examples of social entrepreneurship:
Concepts to learn more about:
Interesting facts about me:
List of my interests:
MY CONCEPTS:
Some goals:
My favorite ideas:
Goals for technology:
I like it when technology does this:

Happy listing!

Sealed

I can hardly believe that I can write this post today. After almost a year of idea-vetting and indecision, I’ve finally begun to work with a developer friend to create an app. We’re calling it Sealed, and it’s an app for time-delayed photo and video messaging. We think it will be a fun and thoughtful way for people to share moments, especially for occasions such as holidays and birthdays. It can also be used as a personal time capsule, which was my initial motivation for the idea many months ago.

We’re on track to have a beta release in the next 2-3 weeks. If you’re reading this, you’re invited to be one of our beta testers. Your feedback will be invaluable and deeply appreciated.

Help us make Sealed the best it can be. We’re looking forward to the journey ahead.

Sealed_circle_real

Life is Looking Up

I didn’t write all last semester. Take that as a good thing. Frankly, for now, I’m doing well. Life is looking up.

I got back from Argentina in late July. I chilled at home for a month. Post-abroad was a strange period of time, not because home-life was somehow unfamiliar, but because I had reached the end of a sentence and was about to begin a new one. My plans had always concluded with, “… and then I’ll go abroad, and then I’ll figure out what I’m doing after that, but I’ll cross that bridge when I get there.”

Well, I’ve since crossed the bridge, or at least I’m halfway across it, though it feels like I’m about to cross a different bridge entirely. I think that second semester, senior year, may feel different from all other semesters, because, well, it’s the last one. This is the end! Of course it’s bittersweet. I’ve already been thinking (and saying, to the vexation of my friends), “I bet this, right now, is among the last five times that we will ____ (walk a certain route, attend a type of event, talk to a certain person). I’ve been counting down since day one. I’m probably counting down to end of my life, too. What’s the point of this, where does it get me? Nowhere, but I’m not sure if I can change the way I think.

Anyways, this last semester was generally great. Great classes, great housemates, great routines. Through new activities, I met many new and interesting people. My relationship is stable and fulfilling. Many days happened with a perfect balance of structure and spontaneity. There is an endearing transience to college, or at least that’s one way of looking at it. I could expound about each of my classes and projects and all of the intellectual innovations that happened to come my way, but I’ll just choose one because it encapsulates many things.

I took a class called Money and Social Change, with a visiting professor Joy Anderson, who is a real pioneer in the social sector and somewhat of a hard-assed business lady, extremely competent and demanding, if somewhat convinced of her points of view. The class was centered around learning about strategic philanthropy. Courtesy of the Learning by Giving Foundation, which sponsors roughly thirty other classes like this across the country, we, as a class, had $10K to give to local nonprofits in chunks of no less than $2,500. The challenge was to decide where that money should go. There are over 250 nonprofits in the local Middletown area: treatment facilities for the mentally ill, preschools, ambulances, libraries, international aid groups, etc. How does money create social change? At which leverage point is money most powerful?

As a theoretical counterpart to the grant-making process, Professor Anderson challenged each of us to develop our individual “Theories of Change“. Theory of Change (TOC) is a widely used theoretical framework that essentially asks, what is the change that you want to see in the world, and what is the concrete road map to get there? Dozens of theories of change could be formulated to address every social issue. For example, if you are trying to solve for homelessness in a city, you could postulate that providing backpacks filled with supplies directly to homeless folk, or at strategic points (shelters, etc) would have a certain effect on the homelessness rate. But another theory of change to “solve for” homelessness could focus on a different leverage point in the system, perhaps targeting income inequality among certain geographical/racial/gender groups, and identifying local, regional, or national public policy as the point to be acted upon in order to create that change.

There is often a broad divide between the micro and macro theorists, and strong arguments can be made for both sides. Soup kitchens are arguably just as important as structural, economic or governmental reform. However, some theories of change are more effective in certain ways than others. What is important is to be able to adopt each mindset and see the pros and cons with some degree of neutrality.

I built my theory of change off of the research that I did in Argentina. The end goal of my theory of change is to “increase the wealth of areas”. The mechanism by which I believe this can be accomplished is by increasing the amount of entrepreneurship (of certain types) in areas. The way that I propose to increase the amount of entrepreneurship in areas is through strategic education programs and media-based campaigns, those being necessarily broad terms: education programs could be “deep and narrow” — an after school entrepreneurship program for high school students— or “wide and shallow” — public policy that reforms public school curricula to encourage “entrepreneurial traits” and activity. Media campaigns could be “localized”, targeting specific groups of people through news articles, literature, or community programming, or they could be “massive”, using billboards, celebrity endorsements, or other pre-existing structures to disseminate a message to a very broad audience. Essentially, I am proposing that some areas of the world produce more and less entrepreneurship, and the reason for this is largely cultural. Therefore, if we want to increase the production of entrepreneurs, we need to strategically culture shift for innovation. This would need to be conducted with the utmost cultural sensitivity, and would therefore be founded upon a research agenda that identifies precisely what would and would not be acceptable and powerful in that specific area.

This theory of change business represents a real step forward in terms of my academic and professional focus. The second semester of senior year is about to begin. I get the awkward, “so, have you started thinking about next year?” almost daily at this point. Luckily, and due to all of the development encapsulated above, I have fairly solidly formed an idea of what I’m looking to do… in life. Immediately out of college, I would like to choose an area of the world (Boston, NYC, or San Francisco), join a startup team (Tech, Social, Social-Tech, etc) and become a valuable member of that team and the city’s larger startup community as a whole. From there, well I’ll cross that bridge when I get there.

Alternatively, I’ll have a killer idea, assemble a killer team, get millions in seed funding and make a killing … yeah… while I’m earnestly working towards that goal every day, that plan is as unreliable as it gets, so I’m not banking on it. For now, it’s join a team, enter a community, meet people and get lucky.

I’m feeling OK about life after college. I have no doubt that I could be a useful member of a startup team, and I trust that I will continue to meet people and stick my feet in enough doors that one of them stays open. The next order of business, therefore, is this coming semester.

I am taking four classes, including Technology and Culture, Graphic Design (extremely excited for this!), and probably most excitingly, after months of preparation, I am co-leading a student forum which I have titled Out of Theory, Into Practice: Entrepreneurship Studies 101. Along with Katya Sapozhnina, a sophomore who founded the Wesleyan Entrepreneurship Society, I will be leading a course that starts with some relevant foundational theory and moves forward with an increasingly practical focus. Each week has a theme: “Market Economies in Capitalism”, “The Role of Networks”, “On the Origin of Ideas”, “What is Entrepreneurship?”, “Who are Entrepreneurs?”, “Cultural Trends of Entrepreneurship”, “The Ecology of Entrepreneurship”, “Lean Entrepreneurship”, “Social Entrepreneurship 1 & 2”, “Tech Entrepreneurship”, “Funding”… and so on.

The actualization of this course is deeply significant for me, because, as many of you know, I have encountered some very real personal and familial challenges through the course of my time in college. Around the time that I first “discovered” entrepreneurship, first semester, sophomore year, I jotted down two ideas on a sticky note: 1) a club for entrepreneurship at Wesleyan, (which Katya went ahead and founded, unbeknownst to me, while I was abroad in Buenos Aires) and 2) a student forum which would attempt to fill the gaping hole in Wesleyan’s course offering that neglects, well, everything “practical”: entrepreneurship, marketing, management, etc. However, the following semester, rugs were pulled out from under me and different trajectories took shape. I am therefore proud to be accomplishing something that is in line with my original trajectory, even if it’s several years later. To some extent, the realization of this goal is absolutely somewhat symbolic of my own re-alignment, healing, and resilience.

And this brings me to my final point, which is that today, January 13th, marks the two-year mark of my father’s death. I didn’t plan this coincidence, funnily enough. I just happened to have a free day and the right energy to write. But right about now, 11:45pm, two years ago, I had just gotten home from my dad’s place after living through some of the most surreal hours of my life. Extremely vivid memories, followed by months of blankness, followed by a lot of sadness that is with me today, though it’s different now. I will not begin to address how we, my immediate family, are doing, as reducing it to, “we’re doing OK,” is not useful nor accurate, and accommodates more to your comfort than to our actual state of being. Suffice to say that we’re sticking together and grateful for everyone who is helpful or understanding. Eternal thank-you’s for that.

But frankly, for now, I’m doing well. Life is looking up.

Summer Summary

So I didnt end up blogging biweekly, or even more than once, and I think thats okay with me. It’s not that I didn’t have anything to say, or that I was too lazy to write, or that I was too busy doing fancy internships and having corporate meetings. I have plenty to say, and I wrote more this summer than any other time in my life, and, as I said before, I pointedly avoided any-and-all career-friendly resume-builders this summer. Plenty of time for all of that.

I came to view this summer as one long, disjointed (yet cohesive) meditation. Yes, meditation— though perhaps my definition of the act is not in accordance with those of antiquity, as I spent very little time in any cross-legged positions— but I did meditate according to this wonderful definition:

Meditation is a practice of concentrated focus upon a sound, object, visualization, the breath, movement, or attention itself in order to increase awareness of the present moment, reduce stress, promote relaxation, and enhance personal and spiritual growth.

This, I did. Usually it was between 9am and 12pm (although those wee morning hours are always contemplative), and usually I was alone at the time, though I could have been sitting on a train zipping through some windmill-dotted countryside with my family quite by my side. Disjointed, yet cohesive, as it is all now bound between black walls; a summer’s worth of thought, poured into a paper vault. A lot of molting happened in these pages.

I am my own best audience, just as I am also my own best companion. Thoreau said something like that. Screw quotes, I go for gist. The ability to quote is a serviceable substitute for wit. Hear that, Joe?

But I actually ended up doing a lot this summer. I’m not good at doing nothing, so I don’t. Instead I chose experiences and activities that I thought would grow my point of view, help my search for self, raise a new perspective— all with the aim of exercising our human-specific infinite molting potential. Lord let me shed my skin!

Early in the summer, I participated in StartingBloc Boston ’12, which was hosted at Babson College in Wellesley, MA. Though I touched upon this experience in “Reflections…“, I want to highlight this experience in my timeline of life events. StartingBloc was important: a five-day entrepreneurial boot camp that brought me into the remarkable company of my fellow fellows, an inspirational bunch of socially conscious, entrepreneurially-minded folks who are all working in unique and impressive ways to change the world. We prescribed to mantras like “CRUSH FEAR,” and “embrace uncertainty,” heard verbal inspiration from folks like Scott Sherman from Unreasonable, and Rachel Weeks from School House, we had entrepreneurial dance parties, and we drank a lot of coffee. This was framed by the Social Innovation Challenge (SIC), in which ReWork, a company that “connects exceptional professionals with companies that are making the world a better place,” challenged us to dissect, analyze, and rebrand key elements of their business plan, company message, and expansion strategy. 100(ish) StaringBloc candidates were separated into 9 (or so) teams, which each presented their innovations in a friendly and competitive forum. PROUDLY, my team, the Blueberries (BLUE, BLue, blue…!) won the challenge, which earned me and my team special interaction with the ReWork founders and a ticket to the all-fellows summit in Chicago in October. Hell yeah.

So that was all really exciting, and most importantly, affirmational of my current aspiration to create something, to start something, to bring something into the world. However, as I have realized repeatedly and again this summer, I have not yet discovered what I am passionate about.

I’ve been doing graphic design for TEDxKabul this summer. If you don’t know TED, you should first hire a contractor to heavylift the boulder you’ve been living under,— and then go immerse yourself in one of the greatest collections of knowledge and discovery ever assembled. It’s glorious— TED presents extraordinary people with extraordinary “ideas worth spreading.” TEDx conferences are independent TED events, where accomplished individuals each give “the greatest speech they can speak” in 18 minutes or less. TEDx events have been organized all over the world- Tokyo, San Francisco, Boston, Mumbai— and now, (in mid-October), Kabul, the war-torn capital of Afghanistan.

And so I’ve been working with Eileen (whom I met at StartingBloc) working on event branding, social media, and infographic design. And from watching video after video, and reading article after article, I have become quite convicted about Afghanistan’s current plight and future promise. I have thought even, after watching&reading such articles, that I could dedicate a solid decade of my life to building Afghanistan, and I would feel righteous and fulfilled contributing what I can to their struggle.

But then I remember MINDS— the nonprofit that I work for at Wesleyan, which works to reduce stigma surrounding mental illness in rural India. Please explore the website for more information, but this is an incredibly important issue of human rights, and another that I would feel righteous and fulfilled contributing what I can to their struggle.

I have elected my path- entrepreneurship- but I have not yet found what I am truly passionate about. I am just as attracted to (or horrified by) this disenfranchised group as I am the next poverty stricken neighborhood. The world is a big place. There’s an awful lot of poverty and disenfranchisement. I will do the greatest good for the greatest number of people that I can, taking into consideration my unique characteristics and attributes. But what will be my angle? Which problem, of those millions, am I to tackle? Cue the age old musing: what is my purpose in life?

As these questions are obviously inconclusive, I return to my current catch phrase, that I’m “gathering inspiration and education” in order to figure it all out. I’m happy with that. I am just about where I’d like to be in this whole process of becoming.

And so I collect! I read a lot this summer, including Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography (written to his son), Walter Isaacson’s biography on Ben Franklin, Sula – by Toni Morrison, a hefty chunk of My Life – Bill Clinton, The Power of Unreasonable People – John Elkington, Audience Evolution – Philip Napoli, and because he’s a creative master, Welcome to the Monkey House, by Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

And as Susan Cain stresses in her IMPORTANT speech about the power of the introvert, I spent a lot of time in nature, sitting, writing, (taking pictures). If you sit still enough (and the fates feel kindly), sometimes the mosquitos don’t seem to notice you.

And now summer is coming to a close, and while I’m still prone to never-ending contemplations about best-using-my-life-for-the-world, I think I am a few inspirations closer, and slightly more educated, and also altogether happier than I was at the beginning of summer, as death and time begin to tire of combat. I am ready for my classes, eager to have some structure and predictability in my days, and looking forward to reentering my long-abandoned social spheres. Summer, check. Ready, set, molt.