Advice from an NCCU student: Justin Laidlaw from RUNAWAY

Justin Laidlaw is the communications and media director for RUNAWAY, a Durham-based apparel and lifestyle brand. He’s also a student at N.C. Central. Here’s how he balances being a student and running a business.

My journey as an entrepreneur has been a strange one.

I started at RUNAWAY as a model. I didn’t have a strong interest in business. Instead, my passion had always been in storytelling.

Originally, I went to Durham Technical Community College, planning to get my degree in history and teach at a high school. I started my own blog and began to hone my writing and communications skills through small freelance gigs. Eventually, I became a writer at Clarion Content, writing features and hosting a regular podcast. It was there that I connected with Gabe Eng-Goetz, RUNAWAY’S founder and creative director, and considered the idea of being a businessman.

Now, I’m the communications and media director at RUNAWAY. I’m also pursuing a bachelor’s degree in journalism at N.C. Central University.

Building a business while pursuing a degree is all about time management and lots of coffee, because you don’t sleep much. Balancing a schedule that includes work obligations, school responsibilities, and some semblance of a social life leaves little room for error.

As communications director, I do a lot of interviews with media, plan and attend events with other creatives and network with like-minded business owners to learn more about the industry and develop strong relationships for the future.

Taking on this role has forced me to become more organized and outspoken for the sake of our company’s success.

As much as I value formal education, I’ve learned an incredible amount from being in the field around professionals whose industry experience far exceeds my own, including my business partner Gabe. Having mentors who can answer my questions and working in an infrastructure like the one here at American Underground (home to the RUNAWAY office), where hundreds of companies are taking a similar professional journey, brings so much added value to the environment. This is not a knock on my fellow students! Knowledge is important, but so is application, and with the way technology is disrupting every industry, it’s imperative that we keep up with the times.

RUNAWAY has truly been a remarkable experience. But I cannot honestly recommend it to anyone unless you have a strong support group, whether that be friends, family, colleagues or mentors. I would suggest having all of them.

Running a business means working 40+ hours. Add that to being a student and a young adult with the urge to socialize, and it’s exhausting. It takes time to find your footing and get a rhythm, but I will say that it is rewarding to look back on what you have accomplished. It prepares you for the future in a way that neither school nor work could do individually.

If you’re hoping to start a business while in school: Godspeed.

Originally published at on May 25, 2017.