(Picture taken by the remarkable photographer, Justin Hankins. Go get engaged and then have him photograph the wedding: www.justinhankins.com)
I was invited to click through some ppt slides at this year's U21 Conference
, which was conveniently hosted at UVA this year. I'd attended the same conference three years earlier when it was in Singapore
. Furthermore, it was on my first night there that I finally got the unbiased encouragement from a professor (Mark White) to try starting a startup with Steve. Until then, I'd only pitched my parents, who were incredibly supportive but ultimately unreliable. I could have told them I wanted to play professional rugby and they'd high-five me. You should see me run.
Anyway, this year's conference was about leadership and I feel like my hungover dog, beer-guzzling child, and cute kitten slides went over really well. I'm basing this on the number of Facebook friendship requests I made afterward that were not declined.
There is one thing I wish I'd mentioned though. Since I already hardly have much of a right to be sounding authorative about anything
, I want to stress the one overarching thing that probably anyone could have told you, dot.com startup founder or not.
Look around and you'll likely find something that's wrong (or something you want to do right). It can be in technology, politics, society, it doesn't matter. Whatever it is -- just do it*
Rah, rah, rah.
I happened to be at a U21 Conference (and by that I mean at a bar the night before it began) when my switch flipped.
At this point, Steve and I already had a few casual conversations over grub or television about ideas he'd had. After a Waffle House epiphany with another friend, Jack, I'd ruled out law school and wanted to try starting a startup. I just didn't know what. I'd thought about putting salsa into a squeeze bottle (it'd be called Squeezalsa). Lucky for me, I was friends with Steve. He had much better ideas.
One of the better ones was what we ended up applying to YC
with (and got rejected on, but that's another story). This is had in my head on the way to Singapore the Summer before my 4th year. I'd had an NYC internship lined up with Ogilvy PR when Professor White invited me to attend a "technopreneurship" symposium in Singapore as a member of the UVA team. And it'd be all expenses paid. The decision wasn't too hard to make, but it couldn't have been more fortunate.
Please forgive all the ellipses, typos, and the lack of punctuation; my well-ingrained US touch typing wasn't playing well with the keyboard layouts in Singapore so I get lazy.
This is the email I sent Steve on July 11, 2004:
hey bro, i'm in singapore at this technepreneurial seminar, and am basically spending a week learning how to create a tech start-up.i spoke to Mark White (a professor in the comm school, the guy who took me to South Africa, and who recruited me to come here, as well as a generally good guy and technophile) over some drinks last nite, and pitched him on our idea...from his feedback -- and let me remind you that he gets pitches every couple of months from students, and was very candid and honest with his thoughts, but basically said it was one of the best he's heard, period. Not only that, but he wants to be on the board of directors, and already knows some people to hit up for starting capital... I've got plenty of more details, but I am seriously considering putting off law school for this, but i need you, and we'll both need to be doing this full time for about a year to get it off the ground....but the potential he saw was in the millions my friend...we need to talkseriously.i am coming back the 20th so if we could have lunch around 1pm i could meet you whereever you'd like... let me know.honestly, this is the kind of thing that could change our lives - and his motivation has really spurred me.but i need you and the same kind of commitment.
Needless to say, I did talk him into it, and he did indeed wholly commit to a company essentially started in our college apartment living room.
Good thing it turned out OK ;-)
*alas, Nike does not pay me for that.