Female Disruptors: Ocean Ronquillo-Morgan of Geistwear On The Three Things You Need To Shake Up Your Industry
Celebrate the process. Entrepreneurship is a roller coaster with unexpected twists and turns. You have to enjoy the entire ride and not just the highs. Learn to adapt to survive the shake-ups, like the current pandemic. At Geistwear, COVID-19 allowed us to fully accelerate our direct-to-consumer business model and sell to people across the nation.
As a part of our series about women who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ocean Ronquillo-Morgan.
Ocean Ronquillo-Morgan is a three times founder and serial entrepreneur from Los Angeles, California. At age 23, she is the founder of Kaivent Media, co-founder of Geistwear, and a former Forbes Under 30 Scholar. She is also a full-time senior at the University of Southern California (USC).
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
My entrepreneurial flame ignited when I was 6. I had just received my first laptop. I came across an online game that required a membership subscription for $5 every month, and for some reason, I was too scared to ask my parents for money. Instead, a light bulb went off in my head, and I ended up creating a PayPal account (even though you were supposed to be at least 18 to do that). I learned how to launch websites that offered affiliate products, drive traffic to them, and earn a commission on every purchase. I also signed up for an online publishing service where I wrote tutorials on how to beat video games. I used search engine optimization (SEO) to get clicks on my articles. By the time I was 8, I’d get about $20 deposited into my PayPal every other week.
At the age of 14 and a freshman in high school, I started my first “official” business uploading gaming content. I partnered with the largest entertainment network at the time and had my dad sign the contract because I wasn’t old enough to. I stopped creating content before my senior year to focus on college admissions. Now, I’m wrapping up my last semester at USC, where I co-founded my second business (an e-commerce company), Geistwear, when I was 20 and started my third (a marketing agency), Kaivent Media, by age 22. After graduation, I’ll be working as a software engineer in Los Angeles at a Fortune 500 consulting company while balancing my companies.
Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?
My co-founder and I, Clara Diogo, didn’t have any prior credentials in fashion or e-commerce before we created our brand, Geistwear. Ironically, I was also the last person that anyone would think would start a clothing brand — I wore the same black hoodies and skinny jeans to class every day. But Clara and I knew how to interpret what’s going on in the world around us, tell a story about it, and tap into human psychology. To create loyal customers that love you beyond a transaction, you need to understand that people buy things because it makes us feel lasting, positive emotions. You’re rarely consciously aware of these emotions, but they’re intricately ingrained, driving your entire buying process from start to finish.
Our brand ethos at Geistwear is about using pop culture to commentate on societal issues and be a voice for the unheard. Over the years, we’ve sold out of multiple designs from our dorm rooms, released limited-time collections like a college admission scandals drop that used grunge and heavy metal imagery to repurpose negative press coverage into positive representation for students, a Coachella-inspired drop that sold out in the month that Coachella got canceled (for the first time), a Japanese-inspired “Katakana” drop to celebrate our multicultural roots, and a Black Lives Matter drop where we donated 100% of the proceeds to Black Lives Matter foundations. We don’t want to sell a commoditized product or be a generic place to buy random things. We want to cultivate a community for students, alumni, and fans to experience powerful identities and lifestyles that resonate heavily with them.
At Kaivent Media, we’re changing the way entrepreneurs work. I used to be just like my clients: I was overwhelmed, exhausted, and stressed out, trying to keep all the balls in the air while going to school full-time. But, the reality is, you’ll never grow your business into the business you want if you’re the only one that can make things happen. You become the major bottleneck. We help entrepreneurs stop trading their time for money and make sales in their sleep. We do this by packaging the meat of their services or offer into a “productized” service that can run entirely online. Then, we automate or delegate work like lead generation, customer support, content delivery, registration, and payment so they can focus on more high-level things. This creates leverage in their business so they can spend more time with their kids, take a year-long vacation, or even solve their cash flow issues.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
We incorporated Geistwear into a California LLC before we had significant traction. California taxes nearly eradicated all our profit in our first year. So… If you’re bootstrapping a business, I highly recommend not worrying about the legal stuff until you’re making money!
We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?
In 2018, the same year we launched Geistwear, I came across a community on Twitter called “Money Twitter.” It’s a hidden niche community of other entrepreneurs who are my age and even younger, running 6 and 7-figure brands and companies! I got connected with a sales closer and an agency owner through a few direct messages. I joined their accelerator program, which teaches you how to sign high-ticket clients and build a marketing agency, and a private Slack group to network with other students for accountability. They helped me craft an offer that my first client paid me $5,000 for. They got me connected with other industry titans. They served as a catalyst for learning to invest in myself. Since then, I’ve bought other programs from everything on Facebook Ads to building my personal brand.
In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?
Disrupting an industry is beneficial when you eliminate inefficiency caused by systems that have no incentive to change but would increase the overall productivity and convenience for humanity as a whole. Let’s take the financial industry, for example. If I want to send somebody a check, the money usually isn’t deposited until after 24 hours, and it certainly won’t clear on the weekends or holidays. I also can’t carry my account number with me if I switch banks. Superficially, this defies our 21st-century need for instant gratification, but it could also prevent someone from getting a meal or shelter that they desperately need to survive. Meanwhile, my friends and customers can pay me on PayPal, Venmo, or CashApp, and I can instantly transfer the amount in my account, even for a fee. I can also send somebody Bitcoin any time of the day, anywhere in the world, thanks to the blockchain. Now, we have non-fungible tokens (NFTs) that never disappear, authenticate the originals of digital work, and provide a system to pay artists and creatives directly while bypassing fees from middlemen. These inventions have applied immense pressure and competition on banks who previously had no incentive to upgrade their legacy infrastructure or reserved their best services for a small portion of society. To put it simply: it’s made finance more open and accessible for all.
However, disruptive technology can also create the opposite effect, like fostering a miserable society that destroys itself. Let’s explore the idea of human immortality, for example. I’ve been watching a noirish cyberpunk Netflix show called Altered Carbon. In the show, humans don’t have bodies — they have “sleeves” which are replaceable. Our memories, personality, and minds are transferred into digital information and downloaded into tiny hard drives called “stacks.” Stacks are installed in the back of our necks. As long as they don’t get destroyed, we can theoretically live for eternity. However, “re-sleeving”, or switching bodies, is expensive, especially if you want to grow clones and stay in the same body through multiple lifespans. We can see how such a system would further drive a wedge between the wealthy and “normal” citizens. The wealthy can increase their assets over centuries, while those that cannot use up their short lives and die. In this world, such disruption hasn’t helped everyone escape the effects of death — instead, it’s just made the rich richer, and “evil” people more untouchable. Such a power struggle could result in us destroying ourselves. Paradoxically, immortality could then lead to our extinction, and we can then say that death is once again inevitable and has always “withstood the test of time.”
Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.
- Celebrate the process. Entrepreneurship is a roller coaster with unexpected twists and turns. You have to enjoy the entire ride and not just the highs. Learn to adapt to survive the shake-ups, like the current pandemic. At Geistwear, COVID-19 allowed us to fully accelerate our direct-to-consumer business model and sell to people across the nation.
- Do things that don’t scale. Take Stripe for example. They needed a lot of users. The founders (the Collison brothers) would ask people in coffee shops to try out their beta version. If they said yes, they didn’t do what most founders do and follow-up in a few days — they immediately asked to use their laptops so they could create an account on the spot. It took them two years to get their first 100 customers, but now they’re a billion-dollar company. At Geistwear, Clara and I would engage with potential followers on Instagram for hours every day when we first launched our brand. This gave us about a dozen brand ambassadors with large social media followings and photoshoot opportunities during our pre-order stage. We would also stand outside for hours selling at pop-up shops and made thousands in sales and got great direct customer feedback.
- We only have one body. Take care of it. Younger people tend to be reckless with their health until they’re in the hospital or have a near-death experience. I used to have a similar mentality until I read stories about young, successful entrepreneurs who passed away after overdosing on social drugs. Scary stuff.
We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?
All my ventures have been within marketing thus far, but I do have an engineering background. I’ve been working on a mobile app for my senior capstone project. I’ve also been getting into philosophical discussions about my peers on sci-fi topics like immortality and commercial planetary travel. Who knows… I might try to pull an Elon Musk and build a few technology companies shortly soon. No matter what, I’ll always be driven by the volition that I don’t need to be “qualified” or ask for “approval” to start working on the idea I have.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by ‘women disruptors’ that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
Let me ask you this: when we think of a successful CEO of a major company, who do we envision? What do they look like? Chances are, you immediately thought of a white, older man. When we generally think about leadership and authority, most people in society tend to ascribe male attributes. They sound something like: “men are strong, enterprising leaders and women are caring nurturers.” This is called unconscious bias. It’s stereotypes and incomplete information we’ve built throughout our lives from the movies we watch, the stories we read, and the people we see.
Such unconscious bias is harmful. When a woman is elected to any high position of authority, like becoming vice president or elected to a presidential cabinet, she has her competency questioned on forums and social media. The women are challenged to “prove” their worthiness. I’ve never seen a male in a position of high authority be ruthlessly questioned like that before. So when people say: “Oh great, there’s a new woman CEO! But it’s 2021 — why do we need to announce her gender identity?” This is exactly why. It’s because we need more visibility and representation. Not just within negative contexts like that Theranos documentary The Inventor: Out For Blood In Silicon Valley, about Elizabeth Holmes, but for amazing women like Sara Blakely of Spanx, Whitney Wolfe Herd of Bumble, and other underrepresented BIPOC female entrepreneurs.
Do you have a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us?
The Third Door by Alex Banayan. Alex was a USC student (like me) who was trying to find his purpose. He discovers that there are three ways to success: waiting for it, having existing connections or wealth, or carving your own path. The entire premise of the book is him relentlessly pursuing the third option by trying to interview famous and successful people on how they got to where they are. I’ve never seen anyone deal with so much rejection (he got rejected by Warren Buffett multiple times). But he ends up scoring a major book deal, interviewing the most influential people in the world (like Bill Gates), and having a blast. It taught me that we have the power to design our opportunities through persistence and experimentation.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
Hopefully this article can inspire other women to speak up and share their story. It doesn’t have to be just on entrepreneurship. You deserve to tell your story, share your thoughts, and be heard.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Ask for forgiveness, not permission.” This comes from Tim Ferris’s book, the 4-Hour Work Week. I started “working” when I was 8 and getting $20 deposited into my PayPal every other week, even though I wasn’t old enough to have an account. I started a college apparel brand without “asking” my school to create designs and sell them to other students. I started a marketing agency before getting a degree. My favorite YouTuber, TheSyndicateProject, started recording gaming content in his childhood bedroom even though his dad would take away his Xbox and say he was wasting his time. Now, he makes a living traveling around the world, vlogging, and doing what he loves.
Overall, we’re accustomed to authority figures, like our parents, bosses or spouses, stopping us from doing something if we ask them for their permission. However, you’re much more likely to go forward with a decision than if you ask for a green light and put up with emotional resistance. Your “authority figures” will also be more reluctant to stop you if you’ve already got the ball rolling (and obviously, this applies to intended actions where the repercussions are not severe or irreversible). If you want to start a business by fronting 50% of your savings, don’t tell anyone. Wait until you have respectable numbers, and proudly show your profits to your family. That way, they can’t argue with success. Risk will be involved, but you get to keep your autonomy. It’s empowering. Hopefully, this encourages anyone that has been putting off a dream. Just go for it. Life is too short.
How can our readers follow you online?
I can be found on Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn!
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!