My college experience

A story of bringing outside learning back into campus

This essay is in response to the Husky 100 application prompt: what you have done while a student at UW, what you have learned in your time as a Husky, and how your learning in and out of the classroom supports your growth and development of the Husky 100 criteria.

Update: Didn’t get the Husky 100, but it was fun to reflect & write :)

A year ago, I built a Chrome extension that lets me select a specific date in the future and every time I open a new tab, it shows me the number of days till that future date. This is my current new tab:

I have 137.304808 days till Life Starts. That date is June 10, 2017, the UW Seattle Commencement ceremony — the day I graduate with my BS in Informatics.

People say real life starts after college — “School has prepped you the past 4 (or in my case, 5) years in order to deal with the harsh, real world.”

I never bought that.

In fact, I’d say my personal growth was more “in the real world” than it was in the classroom. By working at innovative companies around the nation, launching products to the market, and building a network far beyond the walls of campus, my growth is heavily rooted in the “real world”, supplemented by the resources on campus.

But while I grew most outside these walls, I always had a desire to bring my learning, found only outside of the classroom, back onto campus. This desire led to the creation of a series of clubs, organizations, products, and services that would come to define my impact on and off campus.

This mentality started as a college freshman, by wanting to help high school students understand hands-on entrepreneurship.

I joined the Lavin Entrepreneurship Program in Fall 2012 and discovered the world of entrepreneurship. Specifically, the mentality of hustling and getting things done beyond the classroom. Blown away by my learnings, I wanted to take what I learned at UW and bring it back to high school. In November 2012, I founded a non-profit called Innovii, which gave $20 micro-loans to teams of high school students in order for them to launch a micro-venture in 10 days. My team and I would go into schools and host workshops on how to start and launch micro-ventures with real money.

Here’s freshman-version-Justin explaining The Innovii Challenge in an embarrassing video.

We ended up growing Innovii across 4 school districts in Washington, reaching 150+ students. My team also made it to the Sweet 16 of the UW Business Plan Competition, as the only all undergraduate team and only non-profit.

Innovii began my foray into the world of educational products and services. This was my first example of taking what I learned “in the real world” and bringing it back to campus — except the “real world” was UW and “campus” was high school. Typical freshman.

Fast forward to Spring 2013, end of freshman year. I had just finished my first internship at an angel investing firm and learned tremendously from the Lavin program. But I saw a gap in the campus community.

While most of my growth came from the outside events and network that Lavin introduced me to, I saw hundreds of students who didn’t get into the Lavin Program but wanted to explore entrepreneurship. There wasn’t a community that anyone could join to meet other “entrepreneurially-curious” peers. This led to my co-founding of StartupUW, the premier entrepreneurship RSO at UW.

What started with just my friend Megh and I…

…grew to a core executive team of 14, with 50+ committee members, serving 2,000+ members across many departments on campus. Serving as Co-Founder & President, I took my experience and network from outside of UW and brought workshops, speakers, and community events back into campus.

StartupUW Fall Launch Night 2014

StartupUW became a platform for anyone, in any major or background, to immediately tap into the Seattle entrepreneurship scene. It still grows today, led by a new executive team and aspiring leaders.

Entering my Junior year, my self-taught background in software development and product design started maturing. I had interned at four companies at this point, in varying technology roles. Learning from these experiences outside of college coupled with my experience leading StartupUW, I came back to campus to lead the Lavin Entrepreneurship Program as President.

Lavin 2015 Cohort

As an 11-person exec team, we surpassed all previous year’s metrics in recruiting, outreach, and community engagement. The focus was to foster a stronger community of camaraderie and friendship. As a result, more student-founded startups came out of that cohort than ever before. Empowering students to explore technology and startups became my primary role.

But I couldn’t let the members have all the fun!

I wanted to take the experience I learned in product engineering, design, and management from internships to launch a service to improve the student experience. Particularly, alleviating the pain of cramming for difficult classes. This led to the co-founding of Aced, a student-to-student tutoring service that connected students who were struggling with a class to students who did well in that class; think “Uber for student tutors”.

My co-founder Ayush tabling at StartupUW’s Spring Showcase on the Quad

We launched in Fall 2015 with 140+ tutors, servicing hundreds of students on campus, with several thousand in revenue. Our exceptional customer satisfaction powered our word-of-mouth growth and soon, most students had heard of our service.

Being close to my customers — my peers — and hearing their pain, I grew more attuned to student needs. Alleviating academic struggles was just a small part of their problems. A deeper problem that plagues almost every student is the big hairy question:

“What do you want to do in life?”

In pursuit of helping people better answer this question, I launched (and currently run) two products. Frontier is a platform of online job simulations, that allow students to “test-drive professions” by seeing their work environment and getting hands-on experience with their type of problem solving / tasks. We’re currently building a simulation for being a User Experience Designer in collaboration with Google, Amazon, and Microsoft.

Check out our vision video for it here!

I’m also working on a service called Peervise, a peer-to-peer career coaching platform. At the time of publishing, we’ve had 56 session bookings within a week of launch.

Both of these services are ways I’m taking my experiences I’ve gained from the “real world” and trying to help students back on campus.

Even though in 137.304808 days I will leave the UW as a student, I will always continue to improve its community, students, and knowledge for the decades to come.

Update 8/28/17: Since writing this essay 9 months ago, both Peervise and Frontier sunsetted, although I’m always happy to chat with any student who’s curious about a career in entrepreneurship/technology.

Man, college was a fun time.