As an entrepreneur, it can be difficult to find useful resources to help grow your business. Many days are full of trial and error and spent thinking, what can I do to make my business successful? This is where Irving Torres steps in. As founder of Young and CEO, Irving empowers entrepreneurs and provides free resources and tools to help entrepreneurs succeed and make their dreams a reality. When you sign up for the Young and CEO newsletter, you receive lots of information about books to be reading, smart articles from around the web, and tools that will help you advance.
Irving is passionate about helping others succeed, and he goes above and beyond to answer a question or provide more information. Start-up life is nothing new to Irving as he was heavily involved in starting organizations and businesses in college. For those interested in starting a business, club, or organization – in or out of school – Irving shares the lessons he learned and what he experienced along the way. From balancing school and business to taking the time to travel and explore and always being hungry for knowledge and information, Irving is seizing his youth and making the most of every minute of every day. When there’s a lot to see, do, and accomplish, there’s no time to waste.
Carpe Juvenis: How do you define “Seizing Your Youth”?
Irving Torres: To me seizing your youth is all about realizing that no matter who you are, you can take everything that has been given to you and modify it, break it down, and create new things for other people to use. As Steve Jobs famously said, “When you grow up you tend to get told the world is the way it is and your life is just to live your life inside the world. Try not to bash into the walls too much. Try to have a nice family, have fun, save a little money. That’s a very limited life. Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact: Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you and you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use. Once you learn that, you will never be the same again”. This is what ‘seizing your youth’ means to me. Realizing that you have more power than you thought possible and realizing that you are in the driver’s seat of your life and not the standards set by the people of the world.
CJ: You attended Pomona College and majored in Media Studies. How did you determine what to study?
IT: It was a pretty tough decision that’s for sure. I have always been a curious mind so I was undecided for a few years. I took everything from Chemistry to Psychology, Calculus, and Economics. I loved learning different skills and making friends in various disciplines. I finally settled on Media Studies after I took an intro to Digital Media course and fell in love with the intersection of technology, media, music, film, and art. Even with Media Studies I was all over the place and took a bit of film history, art, drawing, graphic design, advanced film, and theory.
I finished off my senior year by taking two Entrepreneurship courses and that’s when it all came together for me. I realized that I was a creative, a maker. I had accumulated a whole arsenal of tools to use in creating something like a business. It was thanks to all of this exploring that I landed with Media Studies and I couldn’t have been happier. My advice for current college students is to not be afraid to explore outside of your comfort zones. It was in the process of nearly failing microeconomics that I learned what I was truly passionate about.
CJ: When you were in college, you founded Pomona Ventures, which inspires students to take risks and tackle real world problems. How did you go about raising capital for this organization?
IT: The journey was a tough one for sure. We were met with many obstacles because there had never been an entrepreneurship organization on campus so administration had no guidelines or funding set aside for us. We had to think creatively. Nevertheless, we were aware of a few advantages we had. 1. We were college students and we knew that we could get away with a lot. Mentors would (in theory) flock to us and alumni would be supportive because we were still young. 2. We did extensive research on entrepreneurship courses and programs at other college campuses (we wanted to be able to explain how far behind we were). 3. I was pretty darn good at talking to people and maintaining professional relationships (known in the business world as ‘networking’) as well as marketing.
Based on these strengths, we first partnered up with the alumni gifts department to be able to tap into the alumni network directly without interference. They wanted to get alumni in Silicon Valley involved in the college once more and we wanted donors and mentors so it was a win-win for us both. We then drafted up an entire program proposal complete with events, competitions, budgets, and info graphics. My roommate did most of the work on that one. I then coded a website, designed a logo, put the messaging together, and got a ‘pitch deck’ type of presentation together to make sure we were clear on everything. We then interviewed a few first-years who were interested in joining the team because we knew that we wanted to keep this going beyond our graduation the following year.
At this point it was show time. During all of this chaos we were able to set up a meeting with a dozen prominent Pomona College alumni involved in entrepreneurship. Pomona paid for the executive team to fly up to San Jose and have dinner with them. Our goal was to get them interested enough for them to give donations and/or get involved. We walked into that restaurant with spiral bound proposals for each alumni, awesome energy, and incredible passion that we had about this idea to help others discover entrepreneurship and receive resources and support. The dinner was well over four hours and we managed to convince them that we were up to the challenge. The alumni started to pledge on the spot and a few weeks later we had a sizable amount of funding in the bank. The whole process took about three months but the funding was crucial in throwing events and educating the student population.
CJ: Any tips for starting an organization while balancing school?
IT: Just do it. College is the best time to try something new. The risk of starting a business is little to none and there is a ton of support from professors, family, and friends. My first business in college was DJ-ing. It wasn’t a big deal but I was getting paid pretty well for three hour gigs at different college events and off campus events. More importantly however was the fact that I was having a blast! I think that in the past people had to choose between college or business but with the advances in technology and the increase in resources it is now possible to do both and excel.
Make sure to be flexible about whatever you build (pivoting when needed is crucial) and also make sure to fail fast if necessary. It’s better to realize something is not going as planned and quitting while it’s early in order to learn as much as possible and create something else. Use the anonymity of the Internet to test ideas and products without spending a dime. I’d suggest reading The Lean Startup by Eric Ries. There might be times when you feel stressed because of the workload you have. I’ve dealt with that. I had an on-campus job as an R.A., worked on my business, and was a full-time student. My advice? Make sure to keep your calendar well organized and make sure you set some time aside to go to the gym, eat healthy (not rushed), and to take a breather. These things help out a ton and can boost up your mental state if done regularly. Lastly, don’t be afraid to delegate tasks. This is something I struggled with because I was a perfectionist but I learned to work with my teams (work, school, & business) in order to balance my workload and still be successful.
CJ: After graduating from college you founded Young and CEO, an entrepreneurship organization that supercharges entrepreneurs with free resources and powerful tools. What inspired you to start Young and CEO?
IT: To answer this I have to go back a little and tell you how I got to be where I am. My whole life I was taught to pursue a certain path and check different boxes in order to be successful. As a first generation Chicano there were two paths in my mind. One path led to an easy life of conformity where I would amount to nothing and probably stay in the same neighborhood and father children at a young age. The other path was one of hard work and dedication but it included education and ‘success’. I could be someone. I picked the latter. With my eye set on the prize I put my foot forward and became a 4.0 student, captain of the lacrosse team, member of the honor society, and eventually got a full ride to a university of my choice thanks to the Gates Millennium Scholarship through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Once I started college I followed this arbitrary path to ‘success’ and continued off checking boxes. I finished all of my college general requirements by my first year, became a manager at my on-campus job, got a wonderful girlfriend, and began to think about my ‘career’. All good so far. It was around this time that I was introduced to entrepreneurship. I had never even heard of that word. It took me a while to realize it was pretty much the same thing as business but with a sexier ring to it and more about us as generation-y. It was an interesting and fascinating world for me.
Pomona College paid for a trip for me to attend an entrepreneurship summit in New York City with the Kairos Society. It was on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange during one of the events that it hit me. Here I was, the Chicano kid from the urban sprawl in San Diego on the New York Stock Exchange trade floor having drinks with mentors like the CEO of Cisco and the founder of Electronic Arts. Everyone there was around my age and they were creating things, solving problems, and having an awesome time doing it. This was what I wanted to do, I realized. Why is this not a viable career path? Why was it that I had to find this organization to meet people who pushed me to create something and solve global problems? Why had it taken me 20 years to learn about entrepreneurship and more importantly that I, Irving Torres from City Heights and son of a single mother, could create something to change the world for the better. I had checked off all the boxes up to this point. I had taken the Myers-Briggs test, I had been to the career center, I was attending one of the best institutions in the world.
Everyone told me to get a career in teaching, higher education, or management consulting. These were safe bets and had stable salaries. No one had told me I could change the very fabric of what we accept as a life. Don’t get me wrong, I knew I could but no one had ever sat me down and said, “Hey look, someone else created the ‘path’ to ‘success’ you are on. This whole, ‘go to school, go to college, get a good job, and start a family’, you don’t have to follow this. You can create your own path”. The important thing I know is that you have the power to do as you please. It was with this mentality that I decided to help others discover this very thing. I believe the world would be a better place if people at the very least realized this.
I think that the world we live in is full of problems but we also have a ton of incredibly intelligent and passionate people. With Young And CEO I send out a monthly newsletter full of info on events like the Kairos Society, Starting Bloc, the Thiel Fellowship and more so that others can discover the power within. I include a book summary and review every month on powerful books that could change the very way you think and solve problems. I also write articles and send tools, news, and send any resources that could help entrepreneurs succeed. I want the young entrepreneurs (and the old) out there to realize the potential they have in changing the world.
CJ: You are the Creative Director at Young and CEO. What does your role as Creative Director entail?
IT: I run the day-to-day operations and work on delivering the best content via our monthly newsletters. This means I am always digesting books, content, and networking with others to grow our organization. I embrace my creativity and unconventional methods of doing business hence the title. The thing that drives me the most however is the ability to connect with and help other entrepreneurs around the world.
I’ve personally connected with a few of these entrepreneurs and it’s amazing to see what they are up to. I met Collette, a female racer who is doing some great work in the bay and inspiring women to get involved in entrepreneurship. Fabio is an Italian entrepreneur who is starting a crowd-funding site for students and has built a great team. I’ve also connected with Jason, an entrepreneur here in the U.S. who sold his last name to a tech start-up and just recently released a book. Meeting other innovators is the best way to learn new things and the best way to collaborate. This is why I am trying so hard to create this entrepreneurship community.
CJ: When starting Young and CEO, what skills did you have that were useful, and what do you wish you had known before taking the leap?
IT: A lot of the skills I learned on my own throughout the years were extremely helpful when launching Young And CEO. I picked up graphic design my freshman year of college and had been operating a small logo design business for random organizations and school clubs. This helps me have a good sense of design when it comes to my website, newsletters, and logos. I also learned photography, videography, web design, and business from several courses I attended, blogs I frequented, and books I read. All of these allowed me to do 100% of the stuff in-house and with great ease.
The legal aspect of launching an LLC I learned on the job when I hired a lawyer to help me incorporate the business. The experiences in launching organizations in college were very helpful but definitely not the same. I made a few mistakes but they helped me learn a ton. Going into it with little preparation was actually the best thing I have ever done because it allowed the business to evolve along with me.
CJ: You were a Growth Hacker at Strikingly. What does it mean to be a Growth Hacker?
IT: A Growth Hacker is the new VP of Marketing at tech companies. During the rise of tech start-ups in Silicon Valley, founders had to find creative and efficient ways to catch up to the big companies. There was little to no capital to spend and a huge market to reach so many started ‘hacking’ the system. The founders of Hotmail for example, found that adding a signature with a link to sign up for their service at the bottom of every e-mail in circulation would allow them to advertise and grow their service organically (it worked).
Some start-ups created viral videos and gained an enormous following for little to no cost. Big companies started to realize that a lot of these little guys were growing at alarming rates because start-ups had Growth Hackers (a mixture of computer coder, marketer, and entrepreneur). This is what I am and it allows me to use my entire arsenal of weapons to help Strikingly succeed. I basically focus on reaching as many potential users out there in the most creative ways possible. It is an exhilarating thing to do.
CJ: You are currently writing a book. What is your book about, and what does your book writing process look like?
IT: The book I am writing is a collection of stories that will help entrepreneurs realize the power within. I’m including experiences, things I’ve heard from travelling and living on the Vegas strip for a few months, and amazing stories I have learned. After reading a ton of great books like Think Like A Freak and David and Goliath I found that stories are the most effective and entertaining way to teach. I don’t really have a set process. I write when I feel inspired and I think this is the best way to go about because I want every single page to be passionate, honest, and raw. Stay tuned for more information via my monthly newsletter.
CJ: Between working, traveling, writing, and maintaining a social life, how do you manage your time?
IT: I’ve become really good at prioritizing tasks and getting ‘in the zone’. I usually keep a running list of to-dos and keep a log of my goals. Getting in ‘the zone’ takes practice but I can speed up the process by a mix of different activities. I like to stay active, I’m always hydrating, and I try to eat healthy. By consistently doing this I have no problem sitting down for hours a day and hashing out work while listening to some good music.
CJ: What does a day in your life look like?
IT: The great thing about my life at this point is that every day is really different.You will probably find me mountain biking around, at a meet-up, reading a book, or exploring some new part of the world.Right now I am at Strikingly in Shanghai so I usually work and play at the office and then I head out for some good food or to explore the city.
CJ: What advice do you have for teenagers and young adults interested in being entrepreneurs?
IT: Read a lot of good books, tinker with technology, and get a good education so that you can get a good feel of how the world works and then go for it. Don’t hold back.Try something new and ask for guidance and mentorship but don’t let others dictate what you do. Remember that you are in charge. Take this time to experiment with business and use all of the tools that many of us entrepreneurs didn’t have available. I didn’t get on-line until I was in middle school.
CJ: When you aren’t growth hacking and growing Young and CEO, how do you like to spend your time?
IT: I like to be spontaneous. Sometimes I go out with no agenda and find something to do. I definitely read a ton and watch TED talks it feeds my knowledge thirstiness. I go biking or running, and I like to go out with friends. One big hobby of mine is photography. I was actually considering getting into commercial or travel photography at some point and who knows? I just might.
CJ: What motivates you?
IT: I think the drive to create something good for this world and inspire others to do the same is my main source of motivation. I really do believe that the world would be a better place with innovation. Just recently I saw how a man created a trash collecting water wheel in Baltimore and placed it in the inner harbor. This water-powered machine picks up tons of trash every month. Without his idea this wouldn’t have been possible and all it took was the courage to believe that he could make a difference.
CJ: What advice would you give your 15-year-old self?
IT: I don’t think I would. I feel very happy with the path I took and I think the butterfly effect might just ruin something. If I had to I would remind myself to make time to get to know people, never forget where I came from, and to under promise and over deliver.
Images by Irving Torres