Younger me

4 Years Have Come and Passed. What’s Changed?

For most, college is transitory. But I wonder if my own transition has finished.

4 years.

By May 5, 2018, I will have been at Georgia Tech for 4 academic years.

For most, college is a place for people to get to one place to another. Scruffy high schooler to slightly more sure college graduate. Unemployed to employed. Learner to learned.

Objectively, college has been almost nothing but good for me. New hobbies. New friendships. New revelations. New perspectives. From an outsider’s perspective, everything looks good to go. I hear it all the time from both friends and family.

“Can’t wait to hear all the great things you’re up to”

“You’re going to kill it in the future”

“No matter what you do, I know you will succeed”

“Don’t forget us when you become famous”

The truth is, I haven’t figured it out. I don’t know what I’m going to do next. I don’t know what I’m passionate about enough to cast aside all reason and logic to pursue it. There’s a constant feeling of lost opportunity within me as I’m about to graduate, yet there simultaneously exists an overwhelming feeling of readiness, an urge to just leave the world I’ve spent 4 years in and truly see if I’m ready to fly yet. It’s been there for months, if not years.

Most people can’t believe that I don’t have it all figured out. To understand why, you’ll have to understand me a little more.

I traded star glasses for sun glasses later

I grew up in Rockmart, a rural town in northwest Georgia. The kid right here? That’s me. Yes, my obsession with obstructive eyewear started at a young age.

My parents are entrepreneurs. They owned a bunch of restaurants, which is where I pretty much spent most of my time growing up. Working at the restaurants, being dropped off there after school, eating my meals there, hanging out there. I was the restaurant kid, the one that no one quite understood.

I went to a school called Darlington for most of my childhood. It’s a college prep boarding school. I didn’t board, though — I was a Day student. I spent most of my life hanging out with well-off kids who all knew each other, had grown up with each other, and spent all of their time with each other. The teachers were nice. The education was good. The facilities were excellent.

But it wasn’t a community I could be myself in. I never quite fit in with anyone. Not the kids who all lived on Horseleg road. Not the nerds. Not the intense athletes. Not the Chinese boarding students. Not any group at all. I made a few friends here and there (you know who you are), and that was it.

So, it was with great relief that I graduated high school and moved to Georgia Tech.

I spent the better part of my first year at Tech being in awe of the other students. My greatest achievement in life was joining the Varsity team of my high school tennis team. There were kids here who had invented patent-pending mosquito repellent to ward off insects with the Zika virus.

All the things people know me for today, I knew nothing about then. I didn’t know what the word “startup” even meant. Venture capital sounded like a term for money used to fund expeditions into far off lands. I had never had an internship before, nor did I know how important they were to a well-rounded college education. I had never been a part of any big clubs or organizations, nor had I led anything of the sort. My idea of entrepreneurship was opening up a restaurant like my parents or selling something in stores.

Knowing nothing didn’t stop me, though. I started off that first year in college joining random clubs, sitting at people’s tables at dinner, turning around in my desk in class to talk to people behind me, and going to parties where I knew no one at all. I even started a casual group of people making Youtube videos.

The amateur filmmaking squad

I wanted the college experience that I imagined in my head so badly. I wanted to be like the people who had a “squad”, the people who went out to brunch on Sundays, the people who got internships and worked at their dream jobs making a ton of money while enjoying life, the people who spent every day doing something other than just classes.

That’s probably how I ended up joining my business fraternity, AKPsi. I pledged there in the spring of my freshman year, and now I can’t imagine college without the people there.

My bros at Yellow Rose, our semi-formal in the spring

On the side, I got caught up with the internship craze at Georgia Tech. That’s how I ended that first year with a summer internship at AT&T.

One of my many selfies at work

It wasn’t what I expected.

The work was…pretty boring, actually. Lots of Excel sheets, Word documents. I spent the first week or two just watching HR safety videos, leadership webinars, and other random content my manager pushed at me.

My team was actually pretty nice, trying to find projects for me that I’d enjoy and learn from. But, it just wasn’t for me.

I actually had a lot of free time. That’s how I ended up starting my own business, being a finalist at a national film festival in Hollywood, and organizing a business hackathon.

That business hackathon, 3 Day Startup, ended up being one of the most important points in my life. There, we taught kids how to start companies on a weekend. For me, it taught me that starting a business wasn’t just limited to restaurants and stores, there was a whole culture of surrounding “startups” and entrepreneurship, and that I loved being in that type of environment.

The 3 Day Startup team. They were and still are cool people.

After 3 Day Startup, I realized that I never wanted to work for a big company after college. I wanted to be an entrepreneur, and my business, Elevate Media, was a part of that. But I wanted to know more. I wanted to learn how they worked, the important people, the trends, and more. To do that, I reasoned, I had to go where the “startups” were: Silicon Valley.

My incredibly vague goal during my second year at Georgia Tech was to “get into startups”. I joined this weird organization called Startup Exchange because it was a community of entrepreneurial people and I had met one kid I really liked. I started going to hackathons because all of my CS friends were going and that’s what a lot of “startup people” did. I started this Medium blog to better my writing. Through it all, I found out that there was a whole other side to college I hadn’t really experienced to date. There were some people at Tech working on some really cool things, and I wanted to be a part of it.

Startup Exchange 2016–2017

Then, through people at Startup Exchange and luck, I ended up with possibly the best summer experience I could have had then: the TEC Fellowship.

The summer of 2016 was a massive learning experience. I learned about marketing at the startup I worked for, UXPin. I learned about startups, venture capital, and more from True Ventures. I learned about the awesome things in Silicon Valley, and the truly terrible things in Silicon Valley. I became a partner at Contrary Capital, a decentralized university-focused VC firm. Those couple of months were completely dedicated to learning and meeting new people. To that end, on a whim I started a Slack community for interns in the Bay Area that ended up having over 2000 people in it by summer’s end. I organized a lot of dinners and meetups through the Slack.

So much happened during that summer. I finally met people that truly made me feel like I was part of a community. I met people from different universities, countries, and walks of life. I got a chance to get to know my incredible TEC Fellowship class, who I can never thank enough for the summer that I had.

We fellow human beings.

I came into my junior year ready to take on the world. I was fully enconsced with Startup Exchange as its Co-Director, I was actively trying to help my university entrepreneur ecosystem with Contrary Capital, I got ready to go full-time into Elevate Media with my friend, co-founder, and co-a-lot-of-other-things Wesley.

Later, during the summer of 2017, Wesley and I did just that, building the company to nearly 6 figures in revenue within several months from virtually nothing and working with some pretty cool clients. We even hired people for the first time, which was a pretty weird experience. We learned a lot.

The quintessential founders pic (and the only really good picture of me and Wesley)

Then, over the next year, something internal happened and things began to feel very, very wrong.

I can’t actually complain about the things I’ve done in college. I enjoyed most of them too much for that. I know a lot of people in the world who would stare at me incredulously if I suggested otherwise.

In the fall of 2017, things didn’t feel right. I wasn’t as excited about my involvements on campus as I had used to. Business was slowing down since Wesley and I had to take classes again. I began to think a lot more about my future after graduation. Suddenly, I wasn’t so sure of the path I had set myself upon anymore. After doing a lot of thinking, those thoughts that had arisen over the course of this past year manifested themselves into these realizations I now understand:

  • Building the university entrepreneurship ecosystem at Georgia Tech through Startup Exchange and Contrary Capital has been instrumental to my college experience. I’ve met some really cool people along the way. But I’ve gotten antsy over the years, and I’ve realized that it’s time I focus less on building up entrepreneurs and building my own journey as an entrepreneur more.
  • Adding to that, I learned that marketing and videography alone aren’t what I’m truly passionate about. It’s been a lot of fun, a big learning experience, but Wesley and I are ready to find something else to work on (though we’ll probably keep running Elevate Media after college). I’m particularly passionate about education, and that’s what I’m looking to be involved in some way, shape, or form.
  • College is a period of time where people soak up lots of knowledge, go to a bunch of places, and meet many different people. We spend years picking up new skills, honing our talents, and building our networks. And for what? To go work at a big bank? To write code for a food delivery app? To work in IT? We’ve spent so long at these amazing institutions, yet everything we build goes to what I consider less than noble goals. I’ve realized that I want to dedicate my efforts and talent to solving bigger problems in the world.

That’s how I’ve ended up where I am today. I came to college searching for people and a community that would finally accept me. Now, I’m about to leave college still on a search for meaning.

As I said in the beginning, I haven’t quite yet found what I’m looking for yet. I’ve found a really vague direction, and I’m worried that I won’t be able to solidify it before the end of college. I’m scared that, once I leave this place I’ve finally found that I’m able to call a home away from home, I won’t have the support I used to have and I’ll be alone again.

Truth be told, I don’t know what to expect after graduation in May. I fully intend on spending the next several months hanging with friends, using the resources of my university (like the slide in our giant pool that I still haven’t gone on), running my current business, and figuring out what’s next in life. Odds are, it’ll be startup-related.

Now, you know.


-Atlanta, 2018

Me in San Francisco (photo creds to Stephen Song)

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