The Story of Elevate Media

indra-wesley_orig.jpeg

Of all the founder stories out there, this one has a pretty unexpected beginning.

In 7th grade, my history teacher (we call him Coach Rice) assigned everyone in the class a project. We were studying the American Revolution and how the United States government was formed, so our teacher wanted us to create our own nations. To tell the story of our nations, Coach Rice wanted us to pair up and make a video about the project.

There were roughly twenty kids in my class. Through a combination of luck and process of elimination, I was paired up with a kid that I had met in 4th grade. We were always competing against each other, whether it was on tests or simply getting to lunch first when class ended. This little rivalry of ours had continued on from elementary school to middle school. This would be the first time we ever work together.

That kid’s name was Wesley Samples.

I bought a camcorder from Best Buy, and together Wesley and I set out to make our nation. As you might expect from a farm boy with airsoft guns and a weird kid who really liked action movies, we spent most of our time just filming Wesley shooting at me to represent the treatment of natives in our great nation (only later did we realize the implications of this choice of topic and our roles). We finished the project at the end of the semester.

But, as it turned out, Wesley and I really liked making videos.

For me, it was like telling a story with a camera. I always loved stories; I spent most of my days as a kid writing fiction and reading books about adventurous kids and tales of epic travels. I liked making videos and watching people laugh and smile at my work.

It was around that time that YouTube was beginning to really take off. I watched people like Nigahiga, Kev Jumba, Freddie Wong, and much more. As I watched these videos, I felt this desire to make my own videos and start my own YouTube channel. I asked Wesley if he wanted to start a YouTube channel, and he was down. All we had to do was come up with a name. Being the creative individuals we were in middle school, Wesley and I spent hours trying to come up with a name that would represent our values and the brand that our content would be housed under.

Thus, Aimless Experts was born.

 


Wesley and I established a routine in high school. We would make videos on the weekends, bringing friends and pizza together in an endeavor to create content that we would all enjoy. There was never any sort of expectation that we would become big on YouTube, or any of us would actually get paid for all of our efforts. We simply did it for the fun and challenge.

As expected, the first videos were absolutely horrible. They were straight, blatant copies of the videos made by popular YouTubers, further exacerbated by our terrible filmmaking skills and our pedestrian equipment. But we kept making films, and we eventually grew better. Our stories became smoother and more vivid. Our equipment was upgraded. Our skills evolved, forged by years of practice and mistakes.

Time passed, and Wesley and I went to college at Georgia Tech. There, something special happened.

We received a phone call.

It was our high school friend, Rostam. At the time, he was attending Emory University. As we caught up with each other, not having talked in several months, Rostam told us in hushed tones, “Guys, I need your help with a video.”

Our response: “What video?”

Turns out, Rostam and his friend Brian had been working on something since they had met in biology class. They had devised an idea for a medical device called R.E.D.S, which stood for Rapid Ebola Detection Strips. The idea was that R.E.D.S would function as an easy, quick, and convenient method of detecting the presence of the Ebola virus in the bloodstream. But to do lab testing and actually develop the product, Rostam needed funding. So, he turned to Indiegogo, a crowdfunding platform. But to make an Indiegogo campaign, he needed a video.

Enter Wesley and me.

It was an easy video to make. We filmed it in a couple of hours and produced it in a single day. We gave Rostam the video and told him to let us know how the campaign went. His target was $14,500, an ambitious goal for a couple of college freshmen with nothing but an idea and a dream.

They raised $14,605 in 30 days.

Wesley and I, sitting in his dorm room in Perry Residence Hall, were astonished. That video we had made for Rostam had helped him raise over $14,000? It was nothing short of a revelation for the two of us. We had never thought of our videos as anything but something fun to do on the weekends. But the R.E.D.S project had shown us that our content had power, and people were moved by it. Certainly, enough that they would give their hard-earned money to some college students.

Rostam introduced us to a friend at Emory, Kaeya Majmundar. She was an entrepreneur that had recently been featured on Shark Tank. Kaeya had an idea for a new product that she wanted to fund with a Kickstarter campaign, so she needed help to make the video. At the time, Wesley and I couldn’t believe it. We were excited to be able to work with such an accomplished entrepreneur. She even paid us, something we had never expected. Wesley and I made the video for her, and she ran the campaign. Her goal was $8,000, and she ended up raising $8,140 in 30 days.

At that point, Wesley and I knew we had something. But then, the question that popped into our minds was this: what next?


Soon, the summer had arrived. Wesley and I were working at AT&T (yes, somehow we managed to end up interning at the same company too) in Atlanta. For our first internships, it was pretty exciting in the beginning.

That energy lasted all of two weeks.

As I sat in my cubicle, my left hand clicking through spreadsheet after spreadsheet on my work computer, my right hand was on my laptop, moving images and typing words that would form the copy of our official website for our business, Elevated Solutions.

It was there in that office that Wesley and I had decided that we would not, could not work for someone else. No more 7AM train rides. No more random checkups in my cubicle by a manager. No more boring, unfulfilling work. No more spreadsheets (for someone else’s company, anyways).

Pacing around in our apartment at North Ave in the evenings, Wesley and I had realized that we were anxious to do something. We had skills that other people wanted, and now we were ready to offer those skills to the world. Within the first couple of weeks in the summer, with absolutely no experience, we made a website, designed a logo, filed for an LLC, and started our business.

Over the next year, our journey with Elevated Solutions would take us to places that we had never even thought of. We made a marketing video for Rostam (yet again) and his new edtech startup, Mystro. We worked with Coca-Cola and produced a landing page video for one of their newest IT initiatives, Coke One North America. We made several videos for Pointivo, an ATDC startup, to be used at the Consumer Electronic Show.

As we grew the business, we kept in touch with our creative side. We made videos for a local basketball academy teaching kids how to play ball and dream big. We worked with a friend-turned-artist and produced one of our first music videos. We made marketing hype videos (1 and 2) for an event called 1000 Pitches that our student organization, Startup Exchange, was putting on.

We’ve made a lot of progress so far. But we’re just getting started.


Every spring, my Facebook feed is filled with posts of my friends announcing their places of work for the summer (and sometimes for full-time). One friend is working for Google. One friend is working for Goldman Sachs. One friend is working for Deloitte. One friend is working for Proctor & Gamble.
In the summer of 2017, I, Indra Sofian, am announcing that I will be working for myself.

Wesley and I will be running our newly re-branded company, Elevate Media.
Our new brand represents our fresh take on the company that we started as college freshmen years ago. We realized that companies today need content and a brand that speaks to the connected digital age. Content needs to be vivid, shareable, and memorable, something to be talked about at the dinner table, not lost in a series of training videos mandated by HR. In an era of information overload, organizations need to tell their stories in a way that people can understand and remember. That is a need that Elevate Media is uniquely qualified to fulfill. Our company brings a fresh and vivid direction for our clients who want to stay relevant.

Sure, we’re young. We may not have the experience of other “videography companies” and “branding agencies”. We might even be a little overconfident. We’ll face competition, and that will leave our futures uncertain, especially as we approach our last year in college. Wesley and I are taking a leap of faith with our company.

But we don’t care.

When I was a little boy, I had always wanted to start my own business. Part of that was shaped by the occupation of my parents, who own restaurants in North Georgia. My mom and dad always told me that, at some point in my life, I had to go start my own business, be my own boss. In his usual gruff but passionate voice, my dad would say, “Sure, you can go work at a company. But don’t stay there too long. One day, you’ll get old and fat, and they’ll replace you. They always do.” If my younger self were to see me now, I hope that he would look up to me with admiration. I hope that my parents are proud of me as well.

Today, I take my destiny into my own hands. No more wasting time.

We’re Elevate Media. If you’re ready, contact us and we’ll get to work.

-Indra

Atlanta, 2017

Advertisements

A Story of my Writing in 2016

coffee_orig.jpg

I’ve always loved to write.

When I write, I enter a different world. All problems and distractions melt away, leaving me and my words alone. I become acutely aware of my senses, but they remain background noise. The sound of rain pattering against the windows. The smell of bitter coffee and toasted bread. The warm heat blowing against my skin from the vents.

When I write, the environment affects my words, influencing their tone and diction. If I’m sitting in a coffee shop on a sunny afternoon, my writing tends to become flowery and musing. If I’m laying on the window sill on a rainy night, my writing sounds reflective and brooding.

Guess where this piece was written?

When I write, I also feel an inexplicable joy. Ideas constantly swirl around in my head on a daily basis, and writing allows subconscious thoughts to take form in the shape of stories and narratives. It’s a form of creation. In my fiction, my favorite part is building the setting in which the story takes place. I love detailing the world around imaginary characters. When people read those words, they can imagine themselves in that world, completely immersed in a different universe. They could be knights riding along the shoreline of a lake, the bright sun beating on their armored backs as they race across the land through billowing winds. They could be a group of friends sitting in a bench in a park on a sunny afternoon, laughing and playing as if they had been there all along. They could even be me, sitting against a dark window alone in my room, watching rain fall from a moonless sky against the glass as blue light from my computer illuminates my reflection in the window.

Before I arrived in college, I had loved writing short stories and imagining worlds. But, shortly after that, I had stopped writing.

 


I entered college at Georgia Tech in the fall of 2014. It was a new environment, much bigger and much more diverse than anything that I had ever experienced to date. It was an exciting time. There was something new to explore every day, whether it was a club, a sport, a student organization, a class, a place on campus, and more. I had wiped my slate before coming to college, and I was filling it back up in those first few months. At the same time that first year, as I was joining clubs, applying to internships, exploring the city, finding friends, making Youtube videos, and taking classes, I had stopped writing.

By the time I came back as a sophomore in the fall of 2015, something felt off. Maybe it was a sophomore slump, but I wasn’t as positive or passionate about what I was doing anymore. At that same time, I began to hear more about blogging from my friends. It was at least every other day that I’d see another friend’s blog post on my feed. It was a different mode of writing than the fiction that I was used to making, but I was willing to try it out.

It was hard at first. When I write great stories, it all comes in a rush. I had to feel intensely passionate or energized by the topic. I couldn’t just write. I would sit for hours in front of my laptop, hoping that some idea would take me and I’d write my first blog post. But it never came like that. It was too unnatural. So I gave up trying to force the issue and simply waited.

That’s how I ended up writing How We Have Become a Generation of Flakes. It was something that had been bothering me for months. My friends always “flaked” when we had hangouts, or there was always churn at events I organized because it just assumed that a lot of people would “flake”. It ate at me, and in January I wrote the piece and published it on Medium.

As soon as I wrote that piece, it became much easier to write more. It was always the same pattern. Some thought, some event, some idea would consume me so much to the point that I just had to write it all down, usually in a stream of consciousness fashion. Over time, I learned to incorporate some form of research and legitimate argumentative rhetoric into my pieces so that they wouldn’t just be blatant rants. But recently, I’ve learned that what people liked the most in my writing was not necessarily how “right” I was or how well I made my point, but how genuine and authentic I was.

That idea culminated in my Looking Back at Stanford piece, my most “successful” piece to date. As soon as I left Stanford’s campus, I rushed to my laptop to write the piece and published it pretty soon after I finished it. I wasn’t expecting much more than normal, but I was blown away by the responses to the piece. It made me rethink the way I did my writing.


I still love telling stories, but now I just do it in the form of blog posts. This past year, my first year on Medium, I’ve written 11 pieces. It was actually a lot more than what I had been expecting, so I was pleasantly surprised when I found out. I’ll eventually move to my website at indrapsofian.com, but I’m satisfied with Medium at the moment. It’s a fun community, and it’s much easier to reach people through this platform. The editor interface is also nice and minimalistic, too.

This year, I’ve decided that I’m going to experiment more with personal essays. It’s a much different flavor of writing than what I’m used to, but I think it can only help me, both as a writer and me as a person.

I hope that all of you who read my writing, whether you’re a first-timer, an occasional reader, or that rare person who reads everything for some reason, have enjoyed everything so far. If you ever have any sort of suggestion, comment, or criticism, I certainly welcome it.

2017 is going to be a fun journey.

-Indra

Atlanta, 2017

Looking Back at Stanford

1-orri3tintoo6hhy-o-ucqg_orig.jpeg

I didn’t get in, but has that made all the difference?

When I was a little boy, I wanted to go to Stanford one day.

I first set foot on campus when I was in middle school. My older sister was touring universities, so my parents dragged me along with them. I was only ten years old, but I knew that I felt something when I stepped on the main avenue to the university. The campus was, and still is, beautiful. I loved the fresh green grass that extended on for hundreds of meters into the distance. I loved the architecture of the buildings, the smooth stone columns and the iconic church. I loved the weather, and the feeling of the sun as I laid on the grass and soaked in the sunlight. It was idyllic.

Then, my turn came to visit colleges again. I was sixteen years old this time. With the memory of the university still within me, I visited Stanford again. This time, I felt something different. I still loved the campus and all of its beauty. But as I stood there, watching college students play soccer on the lawn and Chinese tourists take photos of their children, who were probably hoping for their own children to be admitted one day, a feeling of hope and envy rose in my chest. I had worked hard during my high school career. I spent nearly an entire summer preparing for my SATs and writing my college admissions essay. I had researched Stanford. It was a place that spoke to me, in a way that most other universities didn’t. The students that I talked to liked it. The education was top-notch. The campus was beautiful.

Then admission decision day came. I went through the process of checking my decision letter slowly. My throat had choked up, and I was silent as I moved my mouse across the screen towards the link that would reveal the decision. With only a moment’s hesitation, I opened the letter and read what followed.
And read again. And reread. Read it slowly, silently enunciating every word in my head. I read that letter fifteen times, and nothing changed. I didn’t get into Stanford that day.

I was quieter at school that week. I kept thinking about all the wasted hours spent studying for my tests and preparing my college applications. I couldn’t stop thinking about my parents, who loved me and sacrificed so much to ensure that I had the best possible chance at whatever I wanted to do. Yet, years later, I did that exact opposite. I had set my goal, and I had failed. Completely.

That’s what I had been left with when I started college in the fall of that year.


It’s been almost three years since that day now.

I now know much more than when I had been just a high school student applying to colleges. You would think so, wouldn’t you? Otherwise, I would have really wasted my efforts and my parents’ efforts.

I visited Stanford again recently. I haven’t set foot on campus since my last tour almost three years ago. The grass was the same. The buildings were the same. The students were the same. Again, I felt different this time around.
But this time, I didn’t know what to feel.

When I first came to college at Georgia Tech, I thought that I was just going to a school that I had thought that I would be comfortable in. It wasn’t a “reach” university like the others that I had applied to, so I didn’t have high expectations. I viewed everything that happened at that school with that lens. That was just the way that I was.

Turns out, I was pretty wrong.

I had friends at other universities during my time at Tech. I kept up with them and learned about their lives at their schools. All of it seemed fairly normal. Same dining hall experiences, same hard classes, same goals, same worries. That’s when I started to get an inkling of the truth.

But it wasn’t until this past summer in San Francisco that my eyes were truly opened.

If you’ve been following me for a while, then you know that I was a TEC Fellow at True Ventures this past summer. I spent ten weeks in the Bay Area, learning more than I ever thought I could learn in a single summer. During that time, I met hundreds of other interns from all around the country. So many different universities, yet there were so many that I recognized. That you would probably recognize. University of Pennsylvania. Cornell. MIT. Boston University. Harvard. Yale. Georgetown. Stanford.

As I talked to these people, my contemporaries at other universities, I learned a lot. I made some friends. I learned about their aspirations, their involvements at school, their hobbies, their desires in life. That’s when I realized the truth.

We were all the same.

We had the same strengths and same flaws. There was nothing different about these people. Take a student from Georgia Tech and place him or her at any of these other schools, and no one would notice a thing. And vice versa. My friends at Tech interned at Google. They joined clubs like India Club. They liked to stay in their beds and watch Friends. They love going out and taking Snapchats of themselves partying. They suffered through exams. They were unsure about their futures.

The people I met this past summer were the same. The only difference was the school on our diplomas.

For the longest time, I felt like my self-worth was tied to my university. The truth is that I know that thousands of other students across the country have felt that. We all grew up thinking about college being the end game. Our parents pushed us all so hard to apply to the best universities. We spend some of our most formative years in high school taking trips to universities, studying for standardized exams, and doing everything in our power to be the perfect applicant.

You know what I’m talking about, don’t you? You volunteered at shelters and organized a fundraiser for disaster victims in some foreign country. You were the captain of a math team and won several competitions in your tenure. You were a soccer player since you were small and became a nationally ranked player by the time you reached high school. You were a pianist from a very young age and spent an immeasurable amount of hours practicing and learning and memorizing new pieces, reliving the lives of Chopin and Mozart and Beethoven and Lizst through frenzied fingers. You learned how to code before you were out of elementary school and went to high school hackathons, building apps and learning new stacks every time, creating, innovating, problem solving. You went to a countless number of summer programs and summer colleges and did internships and learned everything you could about your dream career and even did lab research — pipetting liquid into tubes for hours on end — but you don’t complain — because all this was done in hopes that that would affect the admissions decision.

After all that, is it any wonder that we assigned so much value to college? And is it really shocking that the assignment of value to our choice of college permeated to our actual perception of ourselves?


I said that I had mixed feelings.

As I stood there in the middle of campus, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be there anymore. Yet, Stanford remains one of the biggest what-ifs I’ve had in my life. Would I be as far along in my personal development? Would I be surer of my future career? Would I have made better friends? Would I have been a different major? Would I have been involved in the same communities on campus? Would I have developed different hobbies?

Would I have been a different person?

It’s tough to say. I know some things would have been better. As a business student in a technical school, I haven’t really been appreciated as much while going to Georgia Tech. I probably would have fared better at Stanford. The education would most likely have been better in that regard. I know my interests in startups and desire to start my own business would have been better received at Stanford. I know that I would have loved the California climate and the weather in the Bay Area.

Yet, I know that’s not the whole story. Stanford, and the Bay Area as a whole, is a bubble. I know that I wouldn’t have been exposed to as many different perspectives on life and topical issues had I gone to Stanford. The university is expensive, and I know that I would have been worrying about my parents, who pay for my education, the entire time, guilt slowly eating away at me internally. Even compared to a place like Georgia Tech, I know that there is a huge bias towards the tech industry in almost all aspects of life there.

I’m aware of the advantages and disadvantages now. And I know that, despite everything, the people are the same. They’re neither better nor worse. In the future, we’ll all end up in the same places. We were all once young children whose hearts were filled with passion and determination while the grassy campuses of our dreams were reflected in our eyes.

I can’t help but feel melancholic when I set foot on Stanford’s campus. Even as I gaze down the avenue into the heart of Stanford, kids laughing and playing on the green lawn, their minds filled with the same hope that resided within me all those years ago, I still haven’t made up my mind.

Maybe I’ll feel different once again someday.

-Indra

Palo Alto, 2016

What Saddens Me

1-rvia951vicq7lpqbisbllw_orig.jpeg

I didn’t stay up all night watching the news.

I went to bed. When I woke up, I checked Facebook. I checked my email. I checked my news sources (Wall Street Journal, TechCrunch, The Washington Post, Mashable, etc.). I checked Twitter. And then I collapsed back onto my bed.

Why? How could we do this? Apparently, I severely underestimated the decision making capabilities of the general public of the United States. Somehow, someway, we decided to elect Donald Trump as the President of the United States.

I’m not going to focus on the criticisms of Trump. I’m not going to focus on his blatant misogyny. I’m not going to consider his unforgiving xenophobia and racism towards Mexican people, Muslims, and other such groups. I’m not going to think about his utter lack of ability to act as a decent human being and be nice to people, even with those who may disagree with him. I’m not going to care about his total, utter lack of preparedness for office.

I’m going to focus on the people who will be affected. Because, whatever happens next, already tomorrow, every woman, immigrant, and minority in America will walk a little less sure and safe and steady.


I’ve been analyzing my Facebook feed for the last several weeks. Surprisingly, it’s a fairly diverse feed. People from different socioeconomic backgrounds, different ethnic demographics, different places in the world, different levels of education. Trump, Clinton, and even third-party candidate supporters. You want to know what I’ve noticed?

Almost every single person who announced that they were voting for Trump to all of their friends…was white. Also, generally male (some female as well).

They say that Trump knows business and will help the economy return to its former robustness. They say that Trump will better represent our country. They say that Trump will be good for the United States.

Yet, what about everyone else? My friends. The ones who don’t have that same sureness of security that my more privileged friends do. The ones who are literally crying because they are scared for their futures. The ones who feel every single word of hate that Trump espouses. The ones who will truly be affected by the nature of the Trump administration now.

Imagine if you were a woman, and you heard the “nasty” remarks made by Donald Trump, the words masquerading as “locker room talk”. You see the way he treats women. How would that make you feel?

Imagine if you were someone of Islamic faith, and you saw on television Donald Trump saying that, if it were up to him, he would ban all Muslims from entering the country. Your people, your family across the sea, your friends outside of the United States, told that they were no longer welcome. How would that make you feel?
Imagine if you were from Mexico, and you heard Donald Trump saying that he would just love to build a wall between the United States and Mexico to stop “those murderers, those rapists” from coming over. You believed that no one would stand for his words, yet, as you visit the grocery store tomorrow, no one, not the cashier nor your neighbor across the street, disagrees with him. How would that make you feel?

There’s so much more I could say. But the words would fill a library.

Those of us who believed in the possibility of humanity tried. But as I’ve thought all year, our best weren’t good enough to face our worst.


I used to be angry. I was furious with the rest of the country for forcing Donald Trump into our lives.

But now…I’m just sad. I’m disappointed because I thought the American people would have a little more empathy for those who are more vulnerable.

Believe me. I know it’s hard for some of you to understand. How could you? Don’t worry; I get it. Of course his words don’t affect you. If you’re not a minority, why would his xenophobic rhetoric matter? If I weren’t a minority, I know I wouldn’t care. I don’t have a controversial faith. I’m not LGBT. I’m from this country. It makes complete, logical sense for you not to care about Trump. After all, if some of his words do ring true, you’ll never hear the echoes.

Did you know that the initial title of this article was “Here’s What Infuriates Me”? I was prepared to lash out at the world with criticisms of people’s hypocrisy, with barbed speech meant to skewer those would disagree with me, what I deemed logic. But I stopped. Deleted half of my words. And remained silent and unmoving for a long time. Felt the anger drain out of me, leaving gray dullness in its place.

I have friends who are laughing right now. They joke “guess you’re getting deported now!” They roll their eyes and shrug. They treat this whole debacle as a game, like an unpopular football team just won.

We are so privileged to be able to laugh at this.


The air outside feels just a bit different now. It’s as crisp and chilly as it always has been, yet it’s biting now. You didn’t notice it before, but now it’s practically choking.

They are not monsters. They are silent wraiths, staring at people like you and me from their curtains of shadows. Not dangerous…yet. Just uncomfortable. They have always existed since the beginning of humanity. But now they’ve revealed themselves, and there are many, many of them. Their weapon of choice? Fear. Like a horde of disturbed cattle, fear is what drives them. And now, they intend to spread that fear to us. Compared to them, we are just singular sea shells amidst a vast shoreline of sand. They don’t have to worry about the high tide, the rising waves of water that threaten to swallow us whole and sink us beneath its depths. They don’t understand how we feel, nor can they. Life just gets that much harder for us now.

But that’s no excuse to just let it happen to us. We won’t stand to be bullied, even if we’re surrounded. We won’t abandon each other, not now, not when it’s now vital that we continue to stand up to those who would try to declare that this is the way that their world works. Perhaps it is the way the world turns…for now. But never accept discrimination and a culture of hate as the norm. Do not accept that this is how the world will be. Share your concern, your kindness, your love for those who need it now more than ever before. Those with privilege, shelter those who don’t. Those who don’t, hold each other close and stand strong.
It will be a long winter. Some of us won’t get to see a beautiful spring.

But we will survive.

-Indra,

Atlanta, 2016

We Are Not Our Majors

1-yjo2hriexuf9qcxnsynnpw-orig_orig

During freshman orientation for my college, the first years, and there were many of us, were divided up into small groups. Then we were all separated, led by our FASET leaders. FASET is the term for orientation at Georgia Tech, and the FASET leaders were upperclassmen who decided that they wanted to spend their summer helping little freshmen figure out how to college and why scheduling a class in the College of Business right after a class in the Instructional Center is a very bad idea.

In our groups, after a round of introductions and some icebreaker activities (everyone’s favorite), we were asked what our intended majors were. Many people boldly proclaimed their majors with proud faces and confident voices. Computer Science. Mechanical Engineering. Electrical Engineering. Industrial Engineering. Biomedical Engineering.

Then it came time for me to speak. “I’m majoring in Business.”

Right away, a gamut of different reactions. Some, the less sure ones, simply nodded and accepted. The FASET leaders smiled and nodded as they always did. The rest were more homogenous. Some had slightly confused looks, as if they couldn’t comprehend why I would choose my particular major. Some didn’t know how to quite react and resorted to nodding emptily. And then some had silently appraising eyes, looking me over and forming their own mental models of me in their heads, hidden behind friendly smiles.

Then it passed. We continued on to the next person. Computer Science. Chemical Engineering. Industrial Engineering.

I didn’t know it then, but it would be my first encounter with the fixation with majors in college.


It’s been two years now. Here’s what I learned:

Students tend to define themselves based on their majors.

Your first instinct may be to say that it’s not true. People are people, and they’re not defined by their chosen profession or field of study. I completely agree.

Yet, that’s not quite true, is it? There are stereotypes associated with different majors and fields of study, and those stereotypes heavily influence students to the point that they start to think of themselves less as people and more as majors.

Take Industrial Engineering. It’s heavily associated, professionally, with logistics, supply chain, data analytics, and operations. Talking to dozens of Industrial Engineering majors, I’ve discovered that many of them consider themselves “good” at logistics, supply chain, etc. Logically, that makes sense. If you have interests in those particular areas or are good at related skills, then you tend to study what you’re good at. However, that’s not where the problem lies. The problem, which I’ve discovered, is that many students tend to say that they are, by default, “good” at logistics, operations, and the like because they are Industrial Engineering majors. They say that, as a result of their chosen field of study, they automatically think of themselves as a collection of characteristics of their majors.

There are other examples, of course. Computer Science majors are supposed to be rather quiet, reserved, and kind of nerdy. They don’t like talking to people. They’re incredibly smart, but they don’t really have social skills. Business students are outgoing and very people-oriented. They don’t really have technical skills, and may not be as smart as a student that studies Computer Science. Philosophy majors have their heads in the clouds, and they hardly study. They chill, and they don’t really have good job prospects. They’re pretty laid back.

Sound familiar? For many people, it’s a painful day-to-day experience. These stereotypes push us into certain frames of thinking when, combined with group think and conformity, makes us truly believe that we are only as strong as our majors. We begin to follow the stereotypes. We begin to use our fields of study as the primary defining characteristic of a person.

What are the first three things you might ask a person when first meeting them in college?

“What’s your name?”

“What year are you?”

“What’s your major?”

 


But why do we do this?

There are a couple of reasons.

Career-oriented environment. My university might be an extreme example. However, the fact remains that most colleges tend to be platforms for future jobs and careers. They are fertile hiring grounds for companies ranging from the smallest startup to the largest corporation. These companies want student talent, especially from the top universities. However, they have specific needs, particular positions they want to fill for their agendas. So, they look for students with certain skill sets. For better or for worse, companies categorize based on majors to be more efficient, as students with certain majors like Computer Science tend to have experience in things like software development or data analytics, which are important skill sets for the companies. Students recognize this focus on majors by the companies and accommodate to suit the environment. As a result, there is a very heavy emphasis on majors and how a student defines himself/herself. Classic elevator pitch to a recruiter: “Hi, my name is X, and I am an X-year, X-major.”

“Student” isn’t even included in the sentence anymore. Students are reduced to a collection of labels that determine a large part of their professional career and, ultimately, their identity.

College student identity crisis. At the ripe age range of 18–24, college students are at a point in their lives where they are no longer tethered to their parents and where they have to make very important decisions on their own. Friends, career, relationships, student organizations, fields of study, and so much, much more. It can be a lot to take in. At this age, students are trying to find themselves, find their passions, find out what they live for. Majors, for lack of better phrasing, help determine much of that. They provide a comfortable path to follow, particularly for fields that have a lot of fellow followers, like business. Young people are incredibly malleable and uncertain at this stage in their lives, and something like a major can provide a guiding light for the unsure and the unconfident.

Stereotyping and conformity. How many people do you know that tend to only hang out with students with the same major? Same classes, similar schedules, and shared struggles contribute to this. But, beyond that, many students, particularly unsure, malleable young people, want to feel a part of a group, something that allows them to feel as though they have support and a place to share experiences. So, just like we hang out with friends who have similar interests and hobbies, we group up with people of the same majors.

Then the stereotypes set in. Maybe you’re a business student who comes into college set on keeping both your technical and non-technical talents. You were captain of your school’s varsity math team, and you used to hack together iOS apps back in the day. Then you start talking to people, who, when learning about your interests, seemed to treat you with confusion. They may say things like, “You’re good at math? That’s weird for a business major”, or “You know how to make an app? That’s cool! I thought you had to be a Computer Science major”, or even “You shouldn’t be a business major if you’re good at those things, don’t waste your time here”. Suddenly, you feel as if something is wrong with you. You start to focus less on those fun interests of yours and you try to involve yourself with more “business-y” things. If this is what everyone else is like, then they must be doing something right.

And then you slowly start to forget who you used to be.


Let’s just say you assume that a good chunk of the points that I’ve made so far are correct. But then you might ask, “What’s wrong with all of this? Doesn’t knowing what you want and knowing what you’re good at help you? Why are you making such a big fuss about majors?”

Here’s my response to that.

hate it when people disqualify themselves because of their majors. They assume that, because they’re a Computer Science major, they must be good at making apps and not good at talking to people, or because they’re a business student, they don’t know how to do anything “technical”. Just because you’re a certain major, it doesn’t mean that you don’t know how to do anything else besides it. Before you came to college, you were probably a lot of things. A ballet dancer. A captain of a debate team. A football player. An artist. A web developer. A photographer. Yet, when you come to college, some of those amazing qualities that used to define you suddenly undergo a general atmosphere of discouragement, as if what you choose to study in class from 10AM-2PM stops you from doing something outside of class.

Then people start to assume things about others, purely based on their majors. They may say things like, “He’s not really good at talking to recruiters. CS majors, right?” and “Business majors don’t really do anything. Their classes aren’t hard; you don’t have to really know anything.” These stereotypes encourage close-minded thinking and stifles creativity. They snuff out the unique qualities of what makes a person a person, and replace them with what’s expected of them as a major.

We aren’t just a collection of college courses and declared professions. Every one of us is unique and different, and we each have something different to offer, even if we’re the same major. We do things outside of class that we love to do.

So, whether you’re a freshman coming into college right now or a senior ready to get out of college, I encourage you to reassess yourself.

To the freshman: you may have already started to experience this culture of major. Ignore it, to the best of your ability. Define yourself not by your classes, but by your passions and skills. Don’t listen to anyone who tells you that you can’t be something just because you don’t study a certain subject. Companies that do that don’t deserve your attention.

To the seniors: you probably have been living within this atmosphere for a long time. Maybe you’ve already accepted it as fact. This is an opportunity for you to take a step back and reconsider. Take the leap and try something completely outside your field of study. It can be as simple as joining a club you know nothing about, reading about subjects you’ve never even touched, or just talking to people of different majors. It’s never too late.

To everyone: don’t judge yourself based on your field of study. Your major is just another interest that you have, same as everything else. 

It’s a part of you, not all of you.

-Indra

Atlanta, 2016

A Summer With The True Entrepreneur Corps

1-kxxlsmdw0e8xugxwpql4zw-1-orig_orig.png

It was November.

Outside my window, the sky was tinted dark blue, typical of a fall evening in Georgia. My room’s ceiling lights were off, leaving only the warm glow of my desk lamp and my computer’s bright screen. I sat there in my chair, staring at my laptop intently as it sat in my lap, blowing hot air across my legs. The feeling of the fans running in the computer tingled my skin through my thin polyester shorts.

It was only a couple of months after I had finished my last internship. I honestly didn’t enjoy the experience, and I wasn’t looking to repeat it again. Still, it was hard to ignore the pull of doing a summer internship when quite literally all of my friends around me were interviewing and announcing their new workplaces for the summer of 2016. So, with a bad taste in my mouth, I started to look for new opportunities.

But I didn’t want to work at a big company again. For some reason, it just didn’t sit with me. The feeling of smallness within the enormous gears of the corporate machine. The lack of spark I saw in many of the employees and even some of the interns. The strange sense of yearning that I felt, like I had to do something that meant more than just a bi-weekly paycheck. I knew I wanted to start my own company in the future. With all of that in mind, I began to look for internships at startups.

The main problem with that was that startups, by nature, were relatively small compared to more established companies. Most of them don’t have the resources to market and recruit extensively from university talent pools. Especially not the smaller ones that I was aiming for. My search for startups was daunting from the beginning.

So I began my search in the most natural place to look: Google.

There were many, many links for me to click on. Startups on Angelist. Indeed.com internships. TechLA internships. But it was hard to find something that fit my profile and could use my skills. I sat there, late at night, flipping through page after page on Google’s searches.

Then, on the 5th page, something caught my eye. It was a blog post titled: 15 startup internship programs to apply for. I honestly hadn’t seen anything else like it before, so I clicked on it. True to their word, there was a list of 15 links with short descriptions of the internships below each title. I began to click on all of them. Half of them no longer worked, their links as broken as their promises. Half of that didn’t even apply to me (unless I could somehow learn software engineering in a month). Then there were only 3 left. After parsing through two of them and leaving their tabs open, only one remained.

It read: True Entrepreneur Corps Fellowship.


As soon as I arrived on the website, I knew something was different.

For one, the website actually looked modern. Flat design, only a few choice colors present, using sans serif typeface. Then, as my eyes fell on the text, words leapt at me from the screen. Bay Area. Technology. Startups. Fellowship. They prompted me to keep scrolling down. The website promised a “life-changing experience” with a small group of students chosen to take part in this program. Students of any major or field of study could apply. Not only that, but students from any part of the world could also apply. The program had been running for several years now.

Then, as I grew more and more interested, I flipped through other parts of the website. I learned that True Ventures, an early stage venture capital firm, was the firm that hosted the fellowship. True would place these selected Fellows at their portfolio companies and the students would intern at these startups. But it wasn’t just work, though I was also very pleased to see that the positions weren’t just software engineering roles. The Fellows would also have the opportunity to learn about venture capital and the technology startup landscape as a whole throughout the program. The fellowship class was actually very, very small: 10–14 people. The website stressed that this program would bring together a small community of students passionate about technology and entrepreneurship. Based on everything I had seen, it was clear that this wasn’t just a regular internship.

Then, I looked at some of the posts in their blog, where they talked about the progress of the firm and important updates in their portfolio. I looked at their portfolio companies, these awesome startups that ranged in industry from Saas to ecommerce to consumer tech to hardware. I looked at the partners and employees of the firm, who all came from diverse but impressive backgrounds.

It all looked amazing.

As I looked through the past classes of Fellows, something else caught my eye. I read the line slowly at first, and then kept reading it again as if I couldn’t believe what it said: Shivani Negi, junior Computer Science student at Georgia Tech and intern at npm.

There was someone from Georgia Tech who had been a Fellow! Not only that, but I actually knew Shivani since we were both in Startup Exchange, Georgia Tech’s student entrepreneur community.

At that moment, after seeing her on the screen, learning about the Fellowship, reading the lines of blog posts about the program, looking at all of the cool startups that True had invested in, I knew that I had to apply.

It was my goal to become a True Entrepreneur Corps Fellow.


I’ll spare the details of the long application process. I contacted Shivani, who was more than happy to tell me more about the program and help me with the extensive Fellowship application. A long Typeform application, a one minute-long video demonstrating my interest in the program, 2 letters of recommendation, and a personal statement later, I had applied to become a Fellow. I heard back, I interviewed, and then the summer was upon me.

It is August now.

The entire summer has come and gone in the blink of an eye. It’s actually incredibly difficult to put everything that I’ve experienced to words. On paper, the True Entrepreneur Corps, or TEC, has given me an opportunity to make fantastic relationships and connections with amazing people. I’ve gotten to meet some impressive individuals, many of whom came to personal speak to the Fellows at our weekly meetups. The founder of Typekit. The founder of Product Hunt. The Founder of Madison Reed. The Founder of UXPin (my CEO). All of the partners at True Ventures.

More than that, I’ve also gotten a chance to know the other Fellows. They all have such different backgrounds, yet their passion, intelligence, and drive ring the same way. It’s been a privilege to have gotten the chance to meet them. One Fellow has started her own startup and is currently raising funding. One Fellow has worked at 4 startups before he started university. Another is an amazing singer and a member of Penn Masala. Many of them are very involved on their university campuses and have done so many exciting things. Beyond all of that, they’re not just simply a collection of resumes. We’re not just a group of similarly-aged students from the same place studying the same fields at the same schools. To date, the Fellows have been the most diverse and interesting group of people that I have ever met. As many people who have gotten to know me over the summer may recall, I’ve been in a constant state of amazement by other students during my entire time in the Bay Area. Sometimes I’ve learned more in a conversation with one of the Fellows than I’ve learned in a single class back at school.

An internship program is supposed to provide value to students beyond just having them do busy work and paying them (though the latter is admittedly nice). With the TEC fellowship, there’s not a shadow of doubt that I’ve learned more than I ever thought I could in a single summer. Through my startup, I’ve learned a great deal about brand strategy, how to operate within different marketing channels, and user experience design. Through True’s other programs, I’ve learned about everything from how venture capital works to the emergence of virtual reality as a platform to how to build a successful startup from absolutely nothing. I’ve visited Alcatraz, volunteered at a church, attended True University, celebrated three birthdays (thanks to all the Fellows born in the summer), and took a road trip down to Lake Tahoe with 10 other Fellows. It’s the sheer variety that’s astounded me more than anything.

And that’s just the tip of the iceburg.


Your network is your net worth. Connections are everything. The people you know now translates into your success later. Much of the advice from founders and industry professionals that I’ve gotten essentially boils down to the importance of relationships. Whether it’s your customers, your team, or your advisors, people are the most important aspect of any venture. That’s why I made meeting new people the core of my entire summer. The Bay Area Intern Slack, a community of over 2000 interns working in the Bay Area over the summer. The non-technical intern dinners. Every single meetup and workshop. And of course the TEC Fellowship.

Let’s make it clear, though. Not everything has been seamless at my time here. There are a lot of harsh disparities in San Francisco. Homelessness is rampant and commonplace. Average monthly rent here surpasses the monthly income of most people in the United States. The saving grace of the Bay Area is tech, and there’s not too much variety beyond that. The Fellows, as great as they are, aren’t perfect. Some have known each other longer than the duration of the program, and there are certain smaller groups of friends that form stronger than the rest over time. Some of us mesh better than others. It’s an unfortunate reality, but it’s hard to overcome natural tendencies.

Yet, I can’t imagine what I would be doing now had I not been accepted into TEC. Despite some of the negatives I’ve mentioned, it truly is a fantastic program that allows you to learn from amazing speakers and mentors and to have an opportunity to do meaningful and impactful work at a company. It’s hard to imagine what could be better. That’s why I wholly recommend applying to the program for anyone interested in technology, entrepreneurship, and one of the best experiences you’ll ever have.

There’s only a week left now, I’m afraid. One week to keep meeting people, do good work, and enjoy the time I have left in the program. It’s bittersweet. If some of you may recall, I wrote a post discussing the uncertainty of my decision to come to the Bay Area at the very beginning of the summer. I didn’t know what I would think of San Francisco, much less the work I would be doing and the people I would be meeting. I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know how I would feel at the end. I was so unsure then.

As I gaze down Mission Street from the big window of my apartment in the sky one last time, twinkles of white light still flowing down a line of warm yellow street lamps extending into the horizon, everything looks the same. Yet, it seems different somehow. Brighter.

I’m happy to say that it’s all been worth it and more.

-Indra

San Francisco, 2016

1-cwtfoaedymctaw73fzgpoq-orig_orig

Why I Hate Networking

non-technical-dinner-copy-orig_orig.png

I took a deep breath before I stepped inside the building.

The room was brightly lit when I walked inside. There were small crowds of people around the area, congregating in circles of light conversation and friendly professionalism. Most people had already found their corners, having latched onto the first people they had found that they could talk to for more than 5 minutes at a time. Some were roving around the area, eyeing different circles and trying to find interesting conversations and gaps between people. Some walked around with more purpose, coffee cups in their left hands and their right hands primed for raising and shaking the moment a greeting was needed.

Then there were others like me, who stuck to the back of the main areas. My face was impassive, but on the inside my eyes and ears felt assaulted by the ever present sounds of small talk and people milling about the room, never staying too long in one place as they all smoothly drifted between circles like an orchestrated waltz.

There was a thump at my shoulder. My friend was looking at me, his eyebrow raised. “I’m going to go talk to some people before the speaker arrives,” he said, smirking. “Got to network, right?” Then he was off, sliding between the lines of bodies.
Networking. I sighed and took a deep breath, sucking air through my nose and exhaling in a controlled fashion. I rolled my shoulders, straightened my shirt, and launched myself into the room.

People everywhere. Most were too busy to notice me as I threaded my way through the crowd. Some eyed me, but their eyes quickly averted as they deigned me either too uninteresting or too distant. If only they knew.

Suddenly, before I knew any better, a tall but burly-looking man walked up to me, meeting my eyes and sealing the inevitability of a conversation. I sighed internally and walked up, a casual but confident smile crossing my face as we introduced ourselves. He seemed friendly enough.

“How did you hear about this event?” he asked, gesturing towards the panel table with his Dunkin’ Donut catered coffee cup.

I shrugged. “A friend told me about it. It looked interesting to me, so I decided to check it out.”

The man nodded. The topic drifted from the usual explanation of our surrounding situation and the circumstances of our presence to the inevitable “what do you do”s. At the time, I was working on a video project with a client, so I talked a bit about my videography business and the work I was doing at the moment.

“That’s interesting,” he replied, nodding back. As I began to continue to speak, having stopped momentarily to allow his phrase of confirmation that he had indeed registered my words, he immediately launched into his own piece, without a single wrinkle in the transition. “My business does something similar…” After a moment of recovery and listening, I realized that he was now relaying his “pitch”.

A few minutes later, his words slowed to a crawl. I murmured a couple of encouraging words and his eyes flickered away. Suddenly, it was as if the man’s mind was a couple of feet away, no longer standing in front of me. He quickly shook my hand, handed me his business card, and left with a couple of words about potentially doing business with each other later. Then I stood there, alone and mildly confused. After a moment, I shook my head and went straight towards an open chair. I sat down, looked up at the panel table where the speakers would sit, and simply waited there for the event to begin as conversations swirled around me.

A single phrase bounced back and forth between the walls of my thoughts.

I hate networking.

 


For the longest time, I’ve hated networking. Oh, it makes sense in principle. Talk to new people, try to find an opportunity of mutual benefit for both parties, and establish rapport. After all, people want things. Sometimes, we want things from each other. In lieu of the ancient art of battling each other to the death, we network and make connections in hopes that we will gain something from one another.

That’s why “networking time” is a hallmark of any big meetup, gathering, and conference, isn’t it? It seems reasonable enough. If I want to meet a particular person for some reason, whether he or she knows some important individual or has access to resources that I desire, I should go and try to make conversation with that person for that reason.

Yet, that sounds a bit shallow, doesn’t it? Does the feeling of making small talk with another person while both parties are trying to determine whether or not the conversation is worth their time bother you? Does the situation of you nodding your head as you listen to someone else talk about something completely uninteresting to you and having to sit through it to “network” with that person seem wrong to you?

For me, yes.

 


I will admit it. Part of the reason behind my personal despise for networking stems from the fact that I hate shallow relationships, especially shallow interactions.

Is there any wonder why? Personally, I’ve never enjoyed surface-level interactions, the inane words thrown around like hooks tossed towards edges to establish a bridge, a connection between people. For me, it just seems like a waste of time. Wouldn’t it be better if we all were more honest to each other and cut the fluff from our dialogue? This idea extends even beyond networking and into just general conversation. I would much rather talk to someone about subjects we both cared about and found interesting rather than converse with someone while playing the verbal dance we all follow during networking. And, for a moment, forget the idea of trying to talk to someone with a purpose and a goal in mind. Just be spontaneous and personal and don’t focus on “making that connection” with the person. Let’s be real with each other.

Some may argue that what I say doesn’t make sense. Networking is an integral part of our lives. It’s how people advance the socioeconomic ladder and empires are built. In the real world, everyone is a networker, scrambling over other people and leveraging one another in attempt to reach some pre-defined peak. It’s just that some are worse at it than others.

Then others may argue that most people don’t have the time or effort to establish those enduring relationships that go beyond the surface. It’s true that, at its foundation, networking is supposed to eventually lead to these long-lasting relationships. But that’s not often the case. As for my dislike of shallow interactions, I know that some people thrive on networking situations. And further still, some people will simply say that I’m just an oddity, and that everyone else doesn’t have similar thoughts or concerns when it comes to networking.

But there is a problem. I know plenty of people who dislike the act of networking. I know I don’t like it. And, according to a study conducted by Tiziana Casciaro at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management and Francesca Gino at Harvard Business School, the majority of people don’t like the dirty feeling of what they define as instrumental networking, the act of creating social ties to support one’s personal or professional goals. Yet that’s the bedrock of professional interactions.

Is there any way to avoid it?

There just might be.

 


Despite what it may seem like now, I actually like meeting new people. It’s fun learning about people’s stories and experiences and sharing your own in return. No goals, no strings attached. Just friendly, sincere interactions between normal people. And then, the moment you know you’ve made a new friend is one of the best feelings in the world.

So why don’t we just do that instead?

Instead of just trying to make connections, why don’t we just focus on making friendships? If there are professional motivations, then worry about those later after you’ve established a relationship and made it clear you’re not trying to use the person for something. A friendship can be much more powerful than a shallow connection; they’re intrinsically worth so much more. Friendships are genuine bonds, formed between two people who actually enjoy each other’s company and aren’t always trying to actively use each other for personal gain. Anything else is secondary.

That’s what I did this summer. Instead of trying to focus on networking and making those shallow connections, I just tried to make friends. That’s why I didn’t attend as many “meetups” as I thought I would, coming to the “Tech Central” that is San Francisco. That’s why I organized dinners for complete strangers through the Bay Area Interns Slack group and had a great time just eating and talking with cool people. That’s why I avoided trying to “pitch” or sell myself to others and just focused on getting to know other people for the sake of getting to know them.

And I enjoyed every second of it.

Inevitably, people will find holes in this argument. They’ll say that this strange new theory of replacing connections with friendships is just another ploy, a means to an end. Making friends and then using them for whatever one may have in mind. They’ll say that it won’t work, and that most people will always resort to networking to get what they want. Maybe we’ll have to accept that these shallow, surface-level interactions and conversations will always be a part of society.

It’s an idealistic thought, I know, getting rid of networking.

But, somehow, I think we’d be better off that way.

-Indra

San Francisco, 2016