Why I Moved to New York
A millennial’ s quest to an unwarranted fulfillment
I had it good in San Francisco — starting out my career in tech, driving out to hike every weekend, and doing life with an amazing groups of friends. But just like many millennials feeling stuck that we weren’t making a “difference in the world”, I quit my start up job to explore the unknown without really understanding what I was looking for. I know I know… raise a big red flag and insert a face palm emoji.
I was sure of one thing, which was to find the intersectionality of the public and private sector. My undergraduate trajectory told me I would end up doing something related to policy and research in the public sector. I went to a progressive school at Cornell, interned with a Congressmember, worked for the United Nations, and did my honors thesis on which groups of people in South Africa were coming out of poverty the fastest and why. I loved the values of the organizations I was working for — freedom, empowerment, welfare, and pursuit of happiness — but felt that their ideals were too far to reach, plans were not addressing the problems tangibly, and, therefore, the results seemed too slow and insignificant.
I’m not sure what catapulted me to try going to business. Perhaps it was seeing my friends interning for investment banks or interviewing for big corporations. So I took a couple of classes and my eyes lit up. The metrics were simplified into 2 main buckets: revenue and growth. Whatever activity supported those two metrics can stay in the organization and those that didn’t in a given time frame were taken out. I fell in love with efficiency and took a job at Oracle.
At Oracle and then at a small start-up in Mountain View, I learned a very valuable lesson that who you are were correlated to “what you can do for me.” The value of an organization was in its people and the value of the people was in their ability to produce value aka money.* The secret to extracting value and money from people? It was to make the person to think that this is good for them. Selling became problem solving for the customer and “thank you for buying our product” became “You’ve made a great decision.” This was a whole new level of “efficiency” and it felt a little uncomfortable for me.
To dig a little deeper, I was in the advertising business and I had to wonder how 2 million impressions of a Burger King ad turned into 20k clicks which equals to… how many people going to Burger King tomorrow? next week? Nobody knew. Yet I was making pitch decks that somehow proved that our platform was effective and that you should, again, spend buckets of your marketing dollars with us. The money was great and the efficiency of an organization was great too, but the lack of value to the society was too suffocating for me. I didn’t want to die knowing that I helped an organization sell million dollars worth of advertising spots so that people can eat more fast food and feel good about themselves?! I’m being facetious but you get my point.
So I went on a mission to find work that satiated my need for value + efficiency.
The words “social impact” and “social entrepreneurship” was buzzing around at that time, so I read about them. UC Berkeley seems to be one of the leading institutions investing in those ideals and Stanford’s Social Innovation Review had interesting articles too. There were people talking about businesses that cared about profit, people, and planet!!! In that phase of excited exploration and networking, my mentor in New York called and proposed an idea for a business with a mission.
My mentor ran a program called New York City Urban Project that equipped students to engage in topics of social injustices in our age like sexual and labor exploitation, education reform, homelessness, and more. One of the main questions that I had coming out of the program was “how do I opt out of the system and buy t-shirts that are made ethically?” as a response against labor exploitation. Four years later, I was still asking that question, and my mentor was ready to actually tackled this question with more financial, mental, and human capital.
We didn’t know what the solution would be — an app, a website, a store, or a service. But I knew that I wanted to take a stab at it with one of my favorite people on Earth who has helped me to think beyond myself. So after taking a look at my bank account and figuring out my run rate, I packed up my good life in California and flew over to New York City 2 years ago. How our company evolved and eventually failed will be in the next article… stay tuned.
*those lessons can be learned elsewhere I just happen to learn it under uncle Larry.