Monday night I met with the team over at Notion Theory, a fantastic design shop that specializes in being a CTO for-hire (among many other amazing specialties!) I spoke to them about my virtual guidance counseling idea. They could have quoted me an outrageous amount of money to build a proof-of-concept. Instead, they said it could be done for $0 and I could do it myself in a few hours with free online tools. Sure, it will be a little manual but for MVP, it can be hacked together. What I really need to focus on is finding a couple of schools with a small amount of students who are willing to let me test the idea on them. I think it’s pretty amazing for a design shop to tell me that right now I don’t need to pay them a cent. The time for a slick seamless interface will come, but right now I just need to find people who want my help. Given how much need there is, I can get started right away with what I’ve got.
In the pause: Holding myself accountable
I’m a voracious list maker, mostly because it helps me to remain accountable for moving my ideas forward. Since the weekend, I’ve been making a list of things I need to do to test out my new business ideas for on-demand and virtual guidance counseling for students. So far, I have a few to-dos on the books and they are:
- Writing to my high school guidance counselor who inspired this idea to give him a long overdue thank you and to let him know his efforts were not in vain. I actually made it to adulthood in mostly one piece and am now giving back.
- Making a list of people I’d like to contact to do research on the roles of guidance counselors and school administrators so I can understand their pain points and how this company can be of greatest use to the kids in their schools and to their staff.
- Developing a light-weight version of a pitch deck that lays out the purpose, the impact, the methods to achieve that purpose, and my many questions.
- Setting up time to meet with a couple of friends who are going to give me advice on the aforementioned pitch deck.
- Setting up time to meet with a technology development shop that I love and want to work with.
- Making a list of influential people who I want to contact about the idea to ask for their help, guidance, and ideas.
- Set up a meeting with a designer who I hope will help me with branding, a logo, etc. She reached out to me through Instagram and I love her work!
- Reading, reading, reading. Researching, researching, researching. Learning, learning, learning.
I will say that I’m loving every moment of this. I’m loving it so much in fact that it doesn’t even seem like work. And that, my friends, is the point. We should find something that we love to do so much that the time flies and it makes us feel alive and free.
In the pause: All children deserve to rise
I’m so tired of the acceptance that zip code is destiny. My entire life is a rejection of that belief, and I will keep rejecting it until I’m out of breath and out of strength. Somewhere along the way, our society decided that a child born into difficulty on the south side of Chicago won’t have the same chance to rise to their potential as a child born with every privilege on the south side of Central Park. Is the life of that child in Chicago any less valuable that the life of that child in New York? I don’t think so. I know you don’t think so either. So let’s change that, together. Let’s stack the odds in favor of all kids everywhere.
There are too many kids who are cold, and tired, and hungry, and frustrated. There are too many kids who don’t see a way up and out of their circumstances because no one they know ever got up or out. Imagine what our world would be like if every child alive right now got everything they needed to grow up healthy, educated, kind, and confident. That’s the image I hold in my mind as I think about ways to offer virtual and on-demand guidance counseling to kids across the country, and eventually across the globe. It’s a big vision, a big dream, and our kids deserve nothing less. They have to know that somewhere out in the world, there is an adult who believes in them, who is holding a light for them so that they can find their way forward even in the darkest of times. To that child, that one light can make all the difference. And that’s worth fighting for.
In the pause: My new business idea and passion project to help kids make their way in the world
F*ck it. I’m going for it. I’ve been kicking around the idea for a new business I’d like to start, and after several months of gnashing my teeth and wringing my hands, I decided I’m just going to do it. As I’ve mentioned several times, I was lucky to have an amazing guidance counselor, Jim Wherry, when I was in high school. I’ve learned over the last few months that I was luckier than I thought. In some schools, the ratio of guidance counselors to students is 1:500. And though we spend thousands of dollars every year per student on educating them, we spend the equivalent of a can of Coke per student on guidance counselors. A can of Coke. Bill Symonds, Director of the Global Pathways Institute, calls this “the black hole in the American education system.” I can’t get that idea out of my mind so I decided to embrace it and do something about it.
My therapist, Brian, once said to me that the best way for me to make my past mean something is to pay it forward. I think about how hard I worked and how much I struggled as a student and as a young adult. I think about the free lunch program that I was simultaneously grateful for and embarrassed by. I worked, and worked, and worked so that my life as an adult could be more secure than my life as a child. I think about the fact that despite my many hardships, there are far too many kids today who are in the same boat or even worse off. The boy I met on the streets of D.C. a few nights ago is a prime example of the people who need me to make this business a reality. Every student deserves to have a Jim Wherry. And I’m going to find a way to make that possible while also creating a company that creates jobs and has the kindest, bravest, most passionate, and most respectful culture imaginable because our work is something we should love to do. Our kids all across this country need us to stand up for them and support them as they make their way in a world that is becoming an increasingly difficult place. This is my act of resistance.
That’s my side hustle for now that I hope becomes a full-time venture over time. I’ll still need to work full-time in another job I enjoy (and let’s face it, the world is now full of opportunities for me to do good work) so that I don’t have to worry about money while I build this new idea. And that’s A-OK with me because I want to do what’s right for our kids without making choices based on my own personal finances.
So here we go back into the world of entrepreneurship, and this time a little older, hopefully a little wiser, and just as determined to use my business skills to build a passion project that builds a better world.
If you’d like to offer advice, help, ideas, or encouragement, I’ll take them.
In the pause: Pursuing an interest in historic preservation
In my early 20s while I was working in theater management, I had the great privilege to travel all over the U.S. and Canada with different tours. I was always amazed by the beauty, history, and culture of the restored spaces where we played, and those experiences began my interest in historic preservation. Now whenever I travel to a new city (or even around cities I know well), you can find me looking up and building facades and examining the internal architecture that makes buildings so unique. It’s one of the things I love so much about New York City; the variation in architecture there is endless!
I decided to get a little bit more serious about this interest and enrolled in an online class called The Architectural Imagination. It’s being offered on the edX platform by four professors of architecture at Harvard and it’s free. If architecture and historic preservation is something you’re interested in, too, sign up and we can go through it together!
More info on the class here: https://www.edx.org/course/architectural-imagination-harvardx-gsd1x#!
In the pause: My Facebook feed was filled with these inspiring stories
In the pause: More data on our national economy
As a follow-up to my post a few days ago (Leading Economic Indicators We All Need to Watch), I had a conversation with one of my former business professors. I wanted to get his perspective on my concerns and about the economy to see if there were other indicators I should be watching. He mentions a few here and details some of his very real concerns as well. He is someone who constantly watches the global and national economy, as well as the stock market, so I trust his advice, guidance, and thoughtfulness. I hope this is helpful to you as well.
Nice to hear from you!
Like you, I’m feeling a bit uneasy about the stock market right now. Very high P/E multiples. To justify those prices will take an extraordinary breakout of growth in the US (and world) economy. The saving grace is that the financial industry still looks fairly stable—bigger capital bases than in 2007, more conservative lending, etc. If there is a downturn in the next year or so, I don’t think it will have the force of 2008. But still, a downturn is a downturn and something to be prepared for.
Your blog post offers some very good advice. I encourage people to keep 12-18 months’ worth of living expenses in fairly safe and secure investments. And I remind them of the old adage that there are two ways to be rich: one is to have a lot of money; and the other is to have simple needs. Avoid running up debt balances (except for education and a home mortgage). And the most important asset one has is between one’s ears: keep learning so as to stay valuable to your employer—that’s the best defense against a layoff.
Hope these comments help.
In the pause: If you want to build something for someone, empathize first
Friends, below is an example of what thoughtful customer research and business partnerships can achieve. For all my fellow product and social impact friends, our first goal in the design process should always be to empathize with the customer. Always. Walk in their shoes. Live their lives for a moment and the solutions rise quite magically out of the ether. Grab the tissues before you read this link. The story has a happy ending thanks to Whirlpool though there are some difficult, sad truths on the journey. Hat tip to my kind, innovative, thoughtful friend, Alex, who sent me this article and is always working to make this world a better place.
Wonder: Taking action to get more kids into and through college at 826DC
Last night, I volunteered at 826DC to help teens with their college essays. It turned out that the essays were the least of their issues. The student I was helping turned to me at one point and said, “I’m so overwhelmed. I know I need to do this and I don’t know what I’m doing and I don’t have anyone to help me.” She’s the first person in her family to go to college, she doesn’t have a guidance counselor who cares, and she feels a lot of pressure from her family to make this happen.
This interaction brought back all those feelings for me. I was incredibly fortunate to have a guidance counselor, Mr. Weary, who did so much to help me. I knew he was in my corner and he was rooting for me every step of the way. (When I didn’t get into Princeton, my first choice school, he called their admissions office and gave them a piece of his mind. That’s how invested he was!) He was a gift and I knew it.
Not everyone has a Mr. Weary so in that moment at 826DC, I decided that I needed to play that role for this student. We each took a deep breath, and we went through the online application step by step. It wasn’t difficult to explain the parts of the application; this student just needed someone, anyone, to be in this with her.
Then we got to the financial section and she got really nervous. She doesn’t want to take loans. To her, debt is a frightening prospect. And I get that, too. I started working at 14 to help my family, and then I put myself through college and grad school thanks to financial aid of every conceivable kind and a lot of part-time jobs in college. I know debt is scary though when it comes to college, it seems to be a part o every solution in which parents aren’t paying outright for college. I don’t know if I convinced her to reconsider this idea, but at least I could offer myself as an example of someone who was in her shoes and worked hard to get into and through school.
As I walked home, I thought about what I could do to help more students and parents, particularly ones who feel overwhelmed by all of it. And then I got myself caught in the train of thought that senior year is too late. Student need to have their eyes on the prize of college in late middle school and early high school. They need to learn about how to get in, how to stay in, how to graduate, and how to pay for all of it while keeping themselves healthy and sane during an insanely stressful time in their lives. Education, writing, yoga and meditation, finance, technology, and healthcare. I have all that professional experience, and I’ve been where those students are. And I know what it’s like to climb the mountain and then enjoy the view you never even dreamed was possible.
If you have ideas of how I could do more for students like the one I helped at 826DC, I’d love to hear them.