Professional SpotlightSpotlight

The life of an entrepreneur can be stressful, overwhelming, and busy. It can wear you out, and it’s important to make time for your personal life. Abhay Jain, the co-founder of SoundScope, a mobile platform that allows people to choose their night out based on the music they love, knows how brutal the life of an entrepreneur can be. Earning a B.S. in Bio-Business and Psychology from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University and later receiving his JD from Duke University School of Law and an MBA from Duke University (The Fuqua School of Business), Abhay is no stranger to academia, hard work, and constant learning.

With one more year left in grad school, Abhay came up with the idea for SoundScope and utilized his professors, classmates, and classes to further his business plan and hone his idea. Now he works on his startup full-time in New York City and works hard to make his idea a reality. We’re excited to introduce you to this smart and ambitious entrepreneur – read on to learn more about how he decided what to major in at Virginia Tech, how he managed to earn both a JD and MBA, and which books and resources he finds most useful.

Name: Abhay Jain
Education: B.S. in Bio-Business and Psychology from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech); JD from Duke University School of Law; MBA in Business Administration from Duke University – The Fuqua School of Business
Follow: SoundScope.com / @SoundScopeNYC / / @JainAbhayk

Carpe Juvenis: How do you define ‘Seizing Your Youth’?

AJ:  “Seizing your youth” means taking the time to learn about yourself. For me it meant traveling, living in new cities, meeting interesting people, and taking every opportunity that came my way. If you don’t know what you want, try and figure out what you don’t want.

CJ: You majored in Bio-Business and minored in Psychology at Virginia Tech. How did you decide what to major and minor in?

AJ: I was an “undecided major” when I first got into Virginia Tech. When my dad and I went into the academic affairs office he said, “You are at a tech school.  Why don’t you go pre-med until you find something better?” In hindsight, it was a smart move from my dad to lure me into becoming a doctor because I was far too lazy to venture to the other side of campus to change my major. Instead, I just added things that interested me. I thought psychology and consumer behavior were interesting so I took the classes I liked.  Plus, this girl I was crushing on was a psych minor, so that was also a draw. Ha. Before I knew it, I had completed the prerequisites for a dual major and a minor.

In retrospect, I’d like to say I was super methodical in my course selection but I knew my learning style — I just couldn’t excel at coursework I didn’t enjoy.

CJ: You also received your JD / MBA from Duke University Law School and the Fuqua School of Business. What led you to your decision to go back to school to receive these two degrees?

AJ: A bit of serendipity, I suppose. I spent every summer of college traveling and experiencing potential careers. One summer, I worked at a few hospitals across Southeast Asia. No matter how much time I spent with the doctors, I was far more enthralled by the work of the hospital manager. Similarly, I spent a summer at the Department of Justice in D.C. and found the ability to impact organizational change exciting. As you can imagine, finding a legal or managerial job with a pre-med degree is not that easy. So, I leveraged my “pre-med knowledge” to get a job at a, then, fledgling pharmaceutical startup. A great learning experience — I got laid-off after 12 weeks. Fortunately, it was 2008, the markets were tanking and I had seen the warning signs. So, I spent my spare time studying for the LSAT and applying to schools. Within weeks of my forced vacation I had an acceptance letter in my hand, a bargaining chip for other job opportunities, and a modicum of respect from my parents.

CJ: A JD / MBA combination is an interesting way to learn about law and business. What was your experience doing a JD /MBA program like? What does the workload entail, what would a day in your life look like, and how did you manage the stress of earning those degrees?

AJ: The learning Duke provided me was truly life-changing! I went from multiple-choice tests to writing and arguing 50-page papers. The JD helped me sharpen my mind in terms of spotting issues, resolving conflicts, and persuading others of my point of view. The MBA restored my quant skills and brought a piece of practical applicability to my academic pursuits as well as strong Rolodex of Duke Alums.

That being said, the JD was a steel-toed boot to the face. Imagine: being surrounded by some of the smartest and most stressed people you know competing academically in an area you know nothing about, going from the world of black-and-white certainty to shades gray and uncertainty, and reading dense legal jargon for five hours a night and being harassed by former politicians and litigators in a room full of 100 peers yearning to outwit you. It was punishment for six months until I finally got the hang of it. Once I understood the system, however, I really enjoyed the thought and learning involved.

Business school on the other hand was dramatically different education. It was a mix of overzealous networking, excel, calculus, calendar invites, and theme parties. To be perfectly honest, I was a bit burnt out from academia at the time and couldn’t stand lots of my overeager peers for a couple months. However, my last year as it all came together I truly enjoyed both realms of the education and savored the life-long friendships I made at both schools.

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CJ: After graduation, you founded SoundScope, a mobile platform that allows people to choose their night out based on the music they love. How did this idea come about and what were your steps for making it a reality?

AJ: During my grad school experience, I had the opportunity to work in various roles in cities around the country. My favorite of which was New York. My summer in finance in New York meant I had very limited time to go out. I always had a passion for music and going out and wanted to make the right decision since my time was limited. I wondered why there were so many amazing things happening in NYC but no way for people to find them?!?

Luckily, I had one year left in grad school so I used my concept for every major class assignment. Thus, I got to use the skills and expertise of my peers and professors to better hone the idea, build a business plan, and connect to people that could help execute.

CJ: What have been the greatest lessons you’ve learned in starting your own business?

AJ:  People are the most important element of any business — I can’t emphasis this enough. Find people that are smarter than you that are reliable and hire them.

CJ: Every day in your life must look different depending on your projects and the time of year, but what does a Monday look like for you?

AJ: Get up and try to make it into to the gym early. Make a list of all my objectives for the week and what we missed last week.  Get into the office at 9:30. Catch up on emails. Go through what the rest of the team is working on during lunch and then back-to-back meetings ranging from financials to sponsorships.

CJ: What should a young adult who wants to be an entrepreneur do now to set him or herself up for success?

AJ: Dive in and seek out mentors.  Experience is the best education for an entrepreneur — intern any and everywhere, test out ideas through an MVP, and talk to potential customers. In your spare time, seek out other entrepreneurs to learn from.

CJ: What are some books, resources, and websites that have influenced you – either personally or professionally (or both)?

AJ:  Finding mentors IRL is not always easy. Initially, the web was the best way for me to learn from “mentors.” I really love the Stanford e-corner. They have a weekly SoundCloud segment from successful entrepreneurs that helped me think through tough problems and figure out where I wanted to take SoundScope. Also, Guy Kawasaki’s “The Art of the Start” is a good crash course on the current state of startups.

CJ: When you’re not working on SoundScope, how do you like to spend your time?

AJ: Thanks to my iPhone I am technically always working. But whenever I unplug I love traveling, cooking, and listening to good music.

CJ: What are you working to improve upon – either personally or professionally – and how are you doing so?

AJ: I am trying very hard to build a stronger wall between my personal and professional life. Running a startup can be brutal.  It is an emotional roller-coaster that can really wear you out. I am working on keeping more of an even keel and not letting SoundScope pervade things I appreciate personally — whether it’s spending time with friends, going to the gym, or just sleeping.

CJ: What advice would you give your 20-year-old self?

AJ:  Life and people around you have a way of convincing you that you need to follow a certain trajectory — as in you need to figure out your career by 25, get married by 27, buy a house by 30, and pop out 2.5 kids by 35. Life is short. Do what makes you happy. Everything else will fall in place.

Abhay Jain Qs

Images by Carpe Juvenis

Professional SpotlightSpotlight

Ever since I found out about Birchbox, a monthly subscription beauty sample box, I have been hooked. When I had the opportunity to interview one of the co-founders, Hayley Barna, I jumped at it. Hayley Barna and her business partner, Katia Beauchamp, are inspiring women who have taken the beauty industry by storm. Ambitious, down-to-Earth, and capable, Hayley is not only a lot of fun to talk to, but she is also generous with her advice and knowledge. After years of consulting and working in the corporate world, Hayley made the leap and started her own company (Birchbox), which continues to see amazing success. Read on to learn about how Hayley got to where she is today, her thoughts about business school, and the advice she has for her 20-year-0ld self. You’re going to love and admire her as much as we do!

Name: Hayley Barna
Age: 30
Education: B.A. in Economics from Harvard University; MBA in Business Administration from Harvard Business School
Follow: Hayley’s Twitter / Birchbox

Carpe Juvenis: How do you define ‘Seizing Your Youth’?

Hayley Barna: I don’t know if I think about it as my youth or just seizing every day and making the most of every hour, every week, every year. Starting Birchbox, for example, there was a lot we didn’t know that actually helped us have the ambition to think “we can do this!” I think a lot of that was about being young and not being jaded.

CJ: You attended Harvard University and majored in Economics. How did you determine what to study?

HB: I went to Harvard thinking I was going to be a science major or an engineer. I did science research in high school and I was very into it. I took computer science and economics my first semester of college. I thought the classes were so cool and I loved it, but computer science was not very applied and it didn’t have a lot to do with people. Economics was the mix between left brain and right brain. I took microeconomics first, which was about people, decisions, and real world practicality. I fell in love with economics and stuck with that. I also started taking psychology classes. It was the behavioral aspect of economics that I really focused on.

CJ: How did you make the decision to go to Harvard Business School and what were your biggest takeaways?

HB: I applied to business school three years after graduating college. One of the reasons I wanted to go to business school was, first of all, everyone I had ever met who went to business school loved it. I heard 100% positive ratings. I also realized that I had a lot more to learn. I love learning, so I was excited about the possibility of going back to school.

I really liked being a consultant, but I did go into business school expecting to change careers because I wanted to get closer to the customer. Being a consultant, you work for people who are working for people. You put together PowerPoint documents but you don’t really get to see the results. I was hoping to make the leap away from professional services and more towards direct impact. I thought that consumer internet or consumer businesses would be a good place for me to land.

CJ: What advice would you give to someone who is considering going to business school?

HB: Business school is amazing. It’s also very expensive and it is two years of your life. If you already know what you want to do and have a clear path towards getting there, then maybe business school isn’t right for you. If you need to learn more about yourself and explore or want to go into a field where an MBA is a requirement, then business school is amazing. Do it.

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CJ: What skills did you have that were useful in starting Birchbox, and what do you wish you had known before taking the leap?

HB: I ask a lot of questions and I want to know why. I don’t accept the status quo and that was a big part of Katia and me coming up with the idea for Birchbox and believing that there was a better way to buy beauty online. That was a muscle that I had exercised.

My early career was as a strategy consultant at Bain & Company. In that job I learned a good mix of analytical skill sets, such as structuring a problem and knowing when it was important to have data behind things. I also learned the soft skills that come with business, such as being able to ask the right questions and package an idea to have it be accepted and get people on board with something.

CJ: What advice do you have for teenagers and young adults interested in starting their own business?

HB: Start having business conversations. If there is a business that you are interested in, such as sports, talk to someone in your life who is a business person about the business of sports. How do you make money? What are the costs? Get used to having your brain work like that. It’s most fun to learn about running a business when you’re thinking about a topic that you’re passionate about.

Work exposure is also a very important first step for a young person. Try a lot of things. I interned at so many different places and a lot of my experience was to cross off that experience as an option. I interned at a hedge fund and realized that finance was not for me. Thank goodness I figured that out early.

CJ: How do you balance running the New York and Europe offices?

HB: It’s really different. When we went from having one office to multiple offices, it was a really big change. Part of it was just getting comfortable that we wouldn’t be able to see and know about everything that was happening. We try to travel there as much as possible, usually about every six weeks. We have three offices in Europe so we try to go to two countries at a time with every trip. We also stay in touch through email and regular phone calls. It’s so different but really fun.

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CJ: How do you keep yourself motivated? What drives you forward?

HB: This is really simple but I am motivated by ideas and impact, and in particular, making people happy. The product of Birchbox is very simple when you think about it – samples in a box that arrives monthly, editorial content, and a place to shop.

The most motivating thing about my job is when I hear customers talk about what they feel when they get a Birchbox and how it makes them smile or connect with their family or friends who live across the country. That is extremely motivating. Getting your Birchbox is a real world experience that creates connections even though we’re an internet company and sell products online.

CJ: Is there anything you did as a young adult that greatly influenced you?

HB: I was a science geek in high school and doing independent science research was a helpful skill. It gave me the confidence to know that I could not only ask questions but I could also test things and find answers and iterate on it. It gave me confidence that I could be 17-years-old and contribute to science.

My family was also an influence. My family has a family business and I was exposed to those types of conversations at the dinner table my whole life. Those business conversations get soaked in somehow.

CJ: What does a day in your life look like?

HB: Every day is different. We started Birchbox three and a half years ago, and my job has fundamentally changed at least six times along the way. I get up early and try to work out before work because you never know what is going to happen later in the day. I try to do 7am workout classes and get to work by 8:30am. We have offices in Europe, so I often have phone calls with our Europe teams earlier in the morning.

Throughout the day a lot of my job is management. I check in with my direct reports to make sure everything is flowing well. I have very little sit-at-my-desk time. As co-founders, Katia and I set the strategy and make sure that the strategy is being communicated. I’ll work on monthly recaps of the business or agendas for off-sites and what is going to happen next.

CJ: How do you set personal and professional goals?

HB: I don’t have a very formal goal-setting process. I just have a lot of self-motivation. For the business we set all kinds of goals. They should be made on many different timeframes. Here we have monthly goals, quarterly goals, and annual goals. It’s also important to set five year goals.

If I had time to do that for my life, I would do it the same way. I would think about where I want to be in five years and move backwards from there. That would be fun because there’s no right answer.

CJ: What advice would you give your 20-year-old self?

HB: I give this advice to every age of my past self. Don’t take things too seriously. Don’t worry too much about your next step. Don’t think that your next step is going to dictate the rest of your life. A lot of people when they are 20-years-old think that the job they get after college is going to be their career for the next 60 years. It’s not. Don’t overthink it. Just make sure that it is something you enjoy and that you’ll learn from and go from there.

Hayley Barna Qs