The Balancing Act of Being a Student Entrepreneur
James Base is redefining the way we network.
As a student at Temple University, James went into college with the intention of entering the realm of business. Tired of the ambiguity that surrounds graduating college and “finding your passion,” James took it upon himself to ensure a positive career path. James soon found that this was a common problem many young individuals face. Today, he’s the founder of Diversifyre, whose mission is to give all students the ability to find their passion or enrich what they already love with people they can share it with, without barriers.
What does it mean to be a student entrepreneur? Learn from James’ experience and get his insight on the balancing act. Don’t forget to check out James’ page to learn more about his company, Diversifyre.
Tell me a little bit about yourself.
I’m a homegrown college student from outside of Philadelphia. I live in the close-knit suburban town of Springfield, PA; a place where most people know me as the former school mascot or face of my high school’s yearbook. However most importantly, around here I’m known as ‘Jimmy’, not ‘James’.
In August of 2015, I had just decided that I wanted to go into business at Temple University, not knowing anything about the field or what I wanted to do. I was tired of being told the usual innuendos; that I had ‘plenty of time to figure things out’. Lost without direction, I played to my strengths and introduced myself to as many people as possible. Soon, I began to identify the importance of good mentorship. Taking the advice of people who were nice enough to give it to me, I decided to declare Management Information Systems and Marketing. The Internet of Things is the future, and I strongly believe that social engagement can be used for the betterment of the world, regardless of what Donald Trump’s tweets may lead you to believe. Now, I run on a very rigorous schedule so I can prove this true with my own efforts.
Any average morning, you could find me sipping a cup of coffee, blasting music and reading the news. After that, I would hop off the train to class or a meeting with someone I was dying to connect with that day. Learning about people and all of the things they want to or have already done is what ignites my creativity and spark.
Tell me a bit about Diversifyre?
Diversifyre is rooted in technology and promotes connection between people. Our mission is to redefine networking for the young professional and empower our users to chase meaningful futures. Diversifyre drives users to change the way they learn something new in their field, find their passion, meet new contacts and interact with their connections.
We want to give all students the ability to enrich what they already love with people they can share it with, without barriers. We solve the issue that meeting new people in the fields you’re interested in is far too difficult to accomplish right now. We’ve noticed that having a broad network is pivotal to follow a fruitful career path, and we want everyone to have the same shot to expand their own.
If you want to see what we envision, check out our landing page here.
What do you think it means to be a student entrepreneur?
If one thing has been consistent for me throughout this process, it’s understanding how to balance my schedule. Making time for family, class, other work and this business has been difficult, but every one of us has our own way of cracking this code. From in the classroom to meetings all throughout the city, acting as a student and an entrepreneur has made for two types of invaluable education.
There are certain things being a CEO has taught me that school has not. One of the several outliers is working with people; management, partnerships and trust are just some of the many things I’ve learned to handle. When it comes to leading a business, acumen and intelligence can get you in the door, but having someone understand and imagine your vision the same way you do is a true skill that can’t be taught anywhere else. Perception is reality, the proof is in your people.
There’s no handbook on the right moves to make, but that’s what makes startups great — you have to figure it out for yourself. Being a student entrepreneur helps you understand the importance of the studies, time management, trust, and making decisions as a leader.
How important has your founding team been to your company?
The Co-founders of Diversifyre, Joshua Luchon and Michael Gangnath have been instrumental to our accomplishments so far. Since the day the company was started, the two have pushed themselves beyond the boundaries and faced challenges through thinking outside of the norm. Our company would not be where it is right now if it weren’t for the two of them being so motivated and driven for results. They bring to the table all the knowledge and resources that I don’t have. As my counterparts, the company is able to move forward with wholesome and thought leadership.
What are the next steps for your company after your release your beta?
Once we release into beta, we simply want as much feedback as possible so that we can engineer a better product that people want to use even when push notifications are turned off.
In order to get these early adopters, we want to build a community of student ambassadors that will tell all of their peers, colleagues and friends why they should take the minute to download our application on their phone. Hopefully we can spread this around campuses and workplaces to grow a community of intellectuals that everyone wants to be a part of.
We put our Marketing and Community Team, Leah Grubb and Zachary Ludwig, in charge of guiding our initiative in the right direction to make this a reality.
What has been the most difficult challenge that you have encountered with starting your own company?
Our direction is constantly changing. Once I tell myself I have everything figured out, there’s a new hurdle to face and you have to act strategically and fast. It’s not always easy to get everyone on board, but we find a way and make things work.
Have you always had an entrepreneurial spirit?
I like to think it was always inside of me, but it took me a long while to recognize it’s what I really wanted to do. I was always intrigued by products that make life easier for millennials, but it was a matter of finding out how I wanted to make a change and identifying where people like myself needed one. I found that meeting people was far too hard, that there was no good way to introduce yourself to someone new online unless you were looking for a date. I found my issue, it was time for me to fix it.
What are the advantages of being a student entrepreneur?
People are impressed that a 19-year old entrepreneur and his team of teens are committed to something bigger. Using the situation I’m in and my age helps me leverage myself to receive more help and advice, and amaze people with our current progress. I’m also at a point in my life where most established founders have been before. If you help those kind of people envision themselves in your shoes as they once were, they’re much more willing to share the lessons they’ve learned to guide you against making the same mistakes that they once made.
What gave you the inspiration to start your own company? Was it the process of being an entrepreneur or the idea of Diversifyre?
I guess you could say that my inspiration was both of those things. Looking back, the process of becoming an entrepreneur is incredible and I think it’s something everyone who ponders the thought should go for.
However, one night I was scrolling on Kickstarter before falling asleep, and I noticed there were so many different and awesome projects, my only wish was to think of something that I could make. As I fell to rest, I abruptly woke myself up at 3:00am to write a note on my iPhone describing what I had in mind and then I stayed up to research if there was anything else like what I had come up with. For the next week, I found that it was something worth pursuing and from there, I’ve been working on it ever since.
Has the idea of Diversifyre changed since the inception of the idea?
The idea of Diversifyre has always revolved around the foundation of our work and time-lining of our progress. The execution on how we want to accomplish our goal has become remarkably different as time goes by and I’m sure it will continue to change and become more defined.
For example, when found that other companies had tried to crack into this broken system before, we were challenged to find why we were different. Why were we going to be the ones that solve this? In parsing the task, we found that we needed to create an algorithm that manipulates the scientific principles of connection between two people, thus changing our direction.
As new steps are taken, we find new ways to solve this problem. I think that every company needs to change after its’ inception, that’s where the real innovation begins.
What is the story behind finding the idea of the company?
Finding the idea was subject to meeting Josh and Michael, then introducing the two.
Working as a grill cook many seasons before my time at college, I was alongside my right hand, Josh. Every cold winter morning, we would set up the prepping area exactly how each one of us was used to operating it. Once we had it down to the point where we could do things blindfolded and not run into each other, we knew we were meant to do business together at some point or another, and have been best friends ever since.
Once I got to college, I found myself in a Leadership class taught by the professor that challenged me the most during my first semester. It would also be the place where, three rows behind me, Michael would be seated. One day before the lecture began, Michael and I joked about ‘the LinkedIn Project’ and how he already had his mandatory 10 connections ready to go about two years before it was assigned. Many days later, I decided to message Michael about getting lunch and he happily accepted.
The day of our lunch meeting came, and when I messaged Michael again there was no reply and I was eating lunch alone. I would go to class to see that he was nowhere to be seen, and suddenly I realized that I wasn’t being ignored. Something had happened.
Days later, Michael told me that he had been admitted to Temple Hospital after a medical emergency the day of our meeting. He told me that he’d been dealing with neurological issues since the age of twelve; from long term amnesia to the first symptoms of multiple sclerosis, and that what he was going through was not out of the ordinary. Immediately getting on the subway, I found myself at the front-desk only to hear that “Mr. Gangnath has been remitted as of 8:00am this morning”.
I traveled back to campus, sick to my stomach, telling Josh of what had happened to this brilliant networker and kind acquaintance of mine. Weeks passed by, Michael came back to campus and we were fortunate to pick up where we left off; lunch.
My first thought was to ask what he wanted to do with his life, what set his heart of fire. He told me that meeting new people and making connections was the way he wanted to fulfill himself, I agreed that this was the way I wanted to do it as well. After having Josh meet Michael for the first time, we realized we shared in this fyre we had created.
A week later, Diversifyre was born.
Quinton Peppin is an intern at about.me. Currently, he is a student at Seattle University found snowboarding in the neighboring mountains of the Pacific Northwest.