Inspiration, hope and diversity were just a few terms that caught my attention in 2007 when Obama was on the campaign trail.
I was 11 at the time and hadn’t really followed politics much, but after hearing Obama once, I was hooked. I remember going to barackobama.com and signing up for my own profile at such a young age and being able to help contribute to something so much larger than the man himself.
I felt both special and a part of a greater mission. His words were my catalyst. It was different and it was authentic. Even today, I am doing things to make the world a better place, but I change my roles from time to time to appeal to different audiences.
In the case of Obama, I saw something and I went after it. It began with me making phone calls, playing the djembe on my street and calling family and friends.
One of the highlights of my life was meeting Obama and Vice President Biden and attending the inauguration. Why? I ask that question every day, and in that instance, it was my gut instinct to follow the campaign.
Investors, non-profit leaders, educators and others are who I try to appeal to now, and sometimes, I wish it was just as easy as snapping your fingers to go back to that time and place where you were doing something and being yourself 100 percent because you were inspired.
When I was 9 years old, my parents decided to move up to Williamstown, MA from a small neighborhood outside of NYC. It brought about huge change in my life, which I was completely against. Now, in retrospect, I don’t know what I would have done if we had decided to stay.
I grew up privileged, and still, to this day, I have loving and supportive parents. But, a few years ago, I had a stroke of insight and began to realize something terrible was happening right in front of my eyes — that is when I changed forever.
I attended boarding school from the age of 12, where I was surrounded by children from the same backgrounds as me. It taught me so much, but it also made me conform to an identity that wasn’t right for me.
I cared about the shoes I wore, the watch I had and the car my dad drove. It was a disease, and it spread like cancer for five years until a very specific moment.
After graduating from my first boarding school experience at Eaglebrook, I moved on to Saint Andrew’s School, which had a totally different ethos. But, still, like my last school, people did things you couldn’t believe in order to conform to society, as well as achieve educational rewards.
I tended to be a disorganized student who achieved high marks when I cared about the subject, and when I didn’t care for it, B’s were the grades I usually earned. I look back and wonder why I put so much effort into the classes I didn’t care about and didn’t relate to me, and the answer was to get into college.
Getting into college has to do with grades, SATs and more, but it should not take over your life in high school. Despite my subpar grades, I loved being an entrepreneur from a young age.
Whether it was building communities like the Young Obama community I built at my elementary school or a lemonade stand monopoly, I always loved having some cash and getting validated for it.
I had been trying to figure out a business for years and had failed at a coupon aggregation site and others, but I was determined to do it. I was sitting in my friend’s dorm room once. We were chatting, and eventually, ONMSG manifested out of that conversation.
We were bringing in our first client within a few months for almost nothing.
Luke Baumann, my cofounder, was doing it for the same reason I was — making some money to buy groceries and have a company under our belts. We were not doing it as a résumé builder or a college application.
I have always been a trustworthy and naive kid, and in the context of ONMSG, I sure as hell learned what was real and what wasn’t.
A few months after revenue started picking up, and we already had some good clients, people started expressing interest in joining the company. I was on board with it right away and let it slip right from my fingers.
This one person wanted to get paid for doing nothing and have something for his app, even though he had done nothing. I remember a student named Andy telling me his friend from Seoul had his dad buy an app from a developer to state in his college application he had built the app.
“Is this real?” I thought to myself. It was, and I wasn’t making an impact at all through my startup besides getting youth empowered and proving skeptics wrong about my generation.
Impact and authenticity were the words that flashed in my mind the day I realized many people wanted to be in my “tribe” not for themselves, but because they were trying to live by society’s standards.
ONMSG is still around, and I consult businesses on the side to bootstrap my current startups, but since then, I have learned the power of vulnerability, authenticity and asking for help. I was diagnosed with every label in the book by the age of 13 and it messed up my thought process for a while, but now, I have become self-aware.
Last January, I decided to leave Saint Andrew’s after becoming depressed and realizing my path was not about conforming to a norm that would create a fake narrative for the next year to get into a mediocre college.
Instead, I was going to do what I was destined to do — be an entrepreneur, create impact and change the world. Going back to my roots of wanting to help Obama, I began seeing a problem and wanting to solve it.
ONMSG was a service-clear-revenue-model-based business. WorldState, one of my current ventures, was different.
We had one mission and one mission only: to engage and inform people who were ignoring the news. In May of 2014, I found my tribe through an amazing community called StartingBloc.
It wasn’t so much the event, but the people, which led me to the Thiel Foundation, Hatch Experience, Tony Hsieh’s Downtown Project and many more amazing organizations.
The willingness to fail is something entrepreneurs who are successful learn to embrace quickly. In a few short days when I was at StartingBloc, I saw how outcomes, which generally would be described as failures, were successes.
After StartingBloc, I decided to apply to the Portland Incubator Experiment, where I was surprisingly accepted for WorldState. What did I learn? If you ask for advice, you will receive a lot more than that, and if you ask for money you will hear, “NO” a million times.
Although WorldState is not my main focus and I have moved on to work on the Limitless Times, a media company that is teen-focused, zeroing in on a high school and early college audience, I don’t ever regret the long hours I spent on a venture that is simply just a newsletter.
Through doing WorldState and immersing myself in a community of change-makers, my business at ONMSG has expanded.
WorldState turned into the Limitless Times; I received financial backing, and lastly, I have found who I am through self-exploration, failure and my mentors.
In the future, I hope to change the United States education system, build systems for children who are lacking resources, motivate kids to change the world for the sake of being a citizen and create businesses or change systems in larger organizations that make an impact and are catalysts for social change.
Picture Credit: Daniel Goodman