Professional SpotlightSpotlight

We met Marla Beck on a rainy day in downtown Seattle. As Founder and President of Andelcare, one of the Seattle region’s most recognized and award-winning home care agencies, Marla is one busy woman. However, when we sat down to chat with her about why she started Andelcare, how she learned the ins and outs of business, and advice she has for youth, she was generous with her time and wisdom. Marla is passionate about helping others, caring for loved ones, and traveling the world. Read on to learn about how Marla seizes her youth, the greatest lessons she’s learned from running her own business, and the greatest moment of her career so far…

Name: Marla Beck
Age: 56
Education: Business and Accounting degree from the University of Washington
Follow: Andelcare / Twitter

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

Marla Beck: Doing things that bring me passion and that I enjoy. I’m pretty spontaneous. Even if it’s just watching a bug crawl across the patio – just because you’re an adult doesn’t mean you can’t do things you enjoyed doing as a kid. I try to enjoy the moment.

CJ: What school did you attend for undergrad and how did you determine what to study?

MB: I went to the University of Washington (UW) because I almost go into the Naval Academy and wanted to major in International Relations, but the economy was really bad. I didn’t get an eyesight waiver, so I couldn’t go. I went to the UW because it was close. I didn’t know what I wanted to do but I was highly motivated not to live at home. I noticed that people getting jobs were the business and accounting majors, so I became an accounting major. Accounting is a great skill to have and it’s very practical.

Marla Beck 5

CJ: You started your career as a Certified Public Accountant (CPA). What was your first job out of undergrad?

MB: Auditing for Arthur Anderson. At the time it was a big accounting firm. It was not very exciting and you look at spreadsheets all day. I made sure that things added up on the spreadsheets. I only did that for a year, and then I moved onto tax.

CJ: You are the Founder and President of Andelcare, a premium home care agency providing companionship, homemaking, personal care, nursing services, hospice care, nurse advocacy, and care management. What motivated you to start Andelcare?

MB: I started Andelcare because I was at a point in my life where I wanted to try something different. My business acquaintance also wanted to start a company so we looked into senior care, which was just starting out. I think I got to where I’m at now because I learned to delegate things that I’m not good at. I couldn’t have grown without my team. Starting my company was a gamble and a little out of character, but I just needed to do something different.

CJ: How did you learn the business skills you needed to run your company?

MB: I went to classes. I joined an organization where you pay to get trained. I learned more about business framework, business plans, and procedures manuals, and I went to every seminar and webinar. I basically learned as I went. I had the business side down with the accounting background, but there was still a lot to learn.

I also belong to the Women’s President’s Organization, and I asked a lot of questions. I was working seven days a week with no time off. The main thing was that if I provided the best possible care for senior citizens, that’s the goal. Remember that and work backwards.

Marla Beck 2

CJ: What does your role as President entail?

MB: I delegate as much as possible because I don’t want it to be all about me. In case something happens to me the company can keep going. I still deal with the high level finances, and other smaller tasks, such as renewing the liability insurance. A job for a leader is to be more of the visionary and the cheerleader. I make sure my staff knows that I appreciate them, and I also want them to grow in their jobs. I do marketing and finance, but a lot of it is making sure the ship is on a path.

CJ: What are the greatest lessons you have learned from running your own company?

MB: Ask a lot of questions and don’t be afraid to admit when you don’t know something. When you run your own company, you have to do some soul searching and realize your strengths and weaknesses. I have more perspective about things and try not to take things so personally.

It was also really important for me to find a support group. Find your posse that you can exchange ideas with. I found that with the Women’s President’s Organization.

I’ve also learned to be grateful for what I have. If I’m having a bad day, then I try to remember that in an hour it’ll be better. Focus on the positive.

CJ: What are some ways young people can become better leaders?

MB: Watching who the leaders are in your life and deciding what’s working and what makes you feel good and bad about them being the leader – those are important things to note. Read leadership books and attend seminars. Leadership is also human nature. People like to work for people that they like and trust.

As a leader, you still have to get your job done, but if you let your people know that you trust them and are letting them make their own decisions, that’s great. Set clear goals and provide the freedom for people to find the best way to do their job. Let people know that if they need help, they will have support.

Marla Beck 1

CJ: How do you stay organized?

MB: I multitask a lot. I wish I could say I wrote everything down, but a lot of it is in my mind. I’m better organized because I delegate everything. To guard your time, you have to be laser focused and determine what’s important and what isn’t. My Outlook calendar keeps me the most organized, and it syncs to my phone which is convenient.

CJ: You are also the former President of the Fred Hutch Magnolia Guild, which benefits Fred Hutch’s mission to eliminate cancer and related diseases as causes of human suffering and death. Can you tell us more about that?

MB: We help raise money for Fred Hutch cancer research. We bring treats to the cancer patients and help with the Chef’s Dinner event that is put on every year. We’ve raised almost a million dollars for research.

CJ: What should a teenager or young adult who wants to run their own company do now to set themselves up for success?

MB: Work for as many companies as you can. You’ll learn a lot working for someone else. Try to do everything in the company and ask a lot of questions. Work in the industry that you’re interested in.

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

MB: The first thing I start my day with is coffee. Some days I’ll workout in the morning. Then I’m in front of my computer checking my emails and calendar. Sometimes I’ll have speaking engagements, meetings, or office work. It really varies and my days are a lot freer than they used to be.

Marla Beck Quick Qs

CJ: What is the best moment of your career so far?

MB: Getting recognized for being a woman business owner and having my mom there. I was named the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Washington State Business Person of the Year in 2012. My mom is supportive and the hard work paid off. As a woman business owner, I can still do it my way and still be successful and be recognized for it. Having my mom, friends, and staff there was so exciting.

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

MB: Try to enjoy the ride a little more and don’t be so self-critical. A lot of stuff that seems important in your twenties really isn’t. I also would’ve started asking more questions at a younger age. It would’ve been nice to have an older person or mentor to show me the ropes.

Image: Carpe Juvenis

Professional SpotlightSpotlight

Jane Park – the founder and CEO of one of the fastest growing beauty brands, Julep – is no stranger to seizing her youth. After studying Public Policy and International Affairs at Princeton and then heading off to law school at Yale, Jane has always been a hard worker. After working as a consultant and at Starbucks, she then took a leap of faith to start Julep, a beauty company that tests new products on a community of monthly subscribers before it is mass-produced. Not only is this a smart strategy, but the products are quality. From nail polish to skin care products to makeup tools to hair care, Julep has your beauty necessities covered.

After having worked in both corporate and start-up settings, Jane is a pro when it comes to running her own business and getting things done. We are seriously inspired by her ability to multi-task, her passion for learning, and her advice to not be so hard on ourselves. She’s also generous with her time and advice. Jane is a true business and beauty rockstar, and we’re thrilled to share her story with you!

Name: Jane Park
Age: 43
Education: Public Policy and International Affairs at Princeton University; Doctor of Law (JD) at Yale University
Follow: Twitter / Julep

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

Jane Park: Seizing your youth is about finding the joy in things and having enthusiasm for the daily parts of your life.

CJ: You majored in Public Policy and International Affairs at Princeton. How did you determine what to study?

JP: Public Policy and International Affairs was the major that enabled me to take courses in the broadest number of areas. I could take politics, economics, East Asian studies, and anthropology. It was an awesome non-major in a way.

CJ: After college you went to law school at Yale University. How did you decide to go to law school right after graduating from college and what was your experience like?

JP: I actually didn’t plan to go to law school right away. I applied as a backup idea. I wanted to go to India to work for an organization called Seva Mandir. When I told my parents my plans, they freaked out. I ended up applying to law school and planned on saying that I was going to defer as a way to get around actually having to go. In the end, my parents guilted me into going to law school. I had never seen them cry before!

CJ: What did you learn from law school that helps you as an entrepreneur?

JP: I learned the value of thinking through things and looking at situations from different angles. When you are creating legal documents, you have to think about what the future might hold and look at things from different perspectives. That’s probably the most valuable thing.

a

CJ: If you could make the decision about whether to go to law school again, would you still go?

JP: If you are thinking about a career like law, you should spend a day with a lawyer and see if you like what he or she is doing with the day. A lot of legal work is actually not with people. It’s just paperwork and it’s not interactive with people, so it is a different kind of environment. Law school was super fun, intellectually rigorous, and we dealt with interesting problems and constitutional issues, but when you graduate, you aren’t on the Supreme Court right away. You are locked away in a room with boxes and boxes of paper.

CJ: After law school, you worked as a consultant and then at Starbucks. Please tell us about your experience working at Starbucks and your major learning experiences.

JP: It was great to learn about how brands are executed at Starbucks. We got to understand how you take a brand and make thousands of people who are trying to bring that to life meaningful to people. Seeing how that operated at scale was really interesting. It was all about people, as well.

One of the best weeks of that job was when I got to work in the stores. I realized how hard it is to be a barista. You think you can mark a cup, but it’s really hard to have a line of people and to remember how to put all of the ingredients in the right order. I finally ended up just cleaning the bathroom because it was something I couldn’t screw up.

CJ: You left your job at Starbucks to start Julep. Were there any skills you wish you had known before starting your own company?

JP: The thing about being an entrepreneur is that every situation is different so the most important thing is to have versatility and flexibility. The best thing to do to prepare is to really work with a lot of different people and figure out how they see the world and how you can influence them. At the end of the day, all an entrepreneur is doing is influencing your investors to believe in your dream and you’re influencing your team to come join you. In order to make that happen, it’s really an intellectual and emotional decision. You have to know how you view the world and understand how others view the world so you can communicate compellingly.

c

CJ: How do you set goals?

JP: A lot of the times there are a lot of complex big picture dreams. We want to be a multi-billion dollar global beauty company. Life is just a series of days put together. I can do anything for a day and then do that one day at a time.

CJ: Starting and running a company is no easy feat and you are challenged on a daily basis. What do you do when you are unsure of something and experience self-doubt?

JP: I’m pretty transparent with people about things that I am unsure of so they know what I am grappling with and I try to ask for help. In almost every circumstance that I’ve used the words, “I need your help,” I’ve gotten the help. The thing to remember is that you’re not alone. If you start thinking about who you can ask for help, you can come up with a list or find people who will help you with the list. If you’re sitting alone curled up on your bathroom floor, there’s no one who can help you or no one who knows that you need their help.

CJ: You’ve worked in both corporate and startup settings. What advice do you have for a young person to thrive in those two cultures?

JP: Forget about the fact that it’s about you and how you are graded. It was true of me, too. For my first job, I wanted to do a great job. At the consulting firm I worked at, we were graded every three months on our projects so you really wanted to get the good grade. At the end of the day I realized that even in that context, the most important thing to focus on is how we are helping the clients and how you have impact. If you focus on making a real difference, everything else will follow. If you focus on how you are viewed and how your boss thinks of you or your promotion, nothing good comes out of that situation.

Figure out what the company’s goals are, and if you can’t see that far ahead, then figure out what your boss’s goals are. When you’re a junior in a company, you want to make a difference and have a voice, but that’s all “I” “I” “I.” Think about how you can be helpful and most useful. To get a promotion, it’s not about influencing your boss. It’s about influencing your boss’s boss.

CJ: Why did you decide to start Julep in Seattle?

JP: I decided to live in Seattle because of the city itself. I have two kids and Seattle is a great city to live in with kids. What’s great about Seattle is that there is quite an entrepreneurial network and there is also a strong venture capital community. Seattle is the perfect city because you’re close enough to venture capital to get financed but far enough away from the competitive environment every day.

CJ: What is your typical day like at Julep?

JP: There really isn’t a typical day. Today I had a couple of phone calls with prospective investors that were back-to-back. I made my kids chocolate chip pancakes for Valentine’s Day. I saw my kids off to school and made more calls from home. I came into the office and had a team meeting to address inventory questions.

julep nail polishes

CJ: What has been the best moment of your career?

JP: One of them was when we did our pop-up store in New York. Meeting the maven customers face-to-face was amazing. There were women in tears who expressed their love for their monthly boxes. The level of emotional engagement has been amazing.

CJ: What advice would you give teenagers or young adults who are interested in being entrepreneurs?

JP: The number one question you have to ask yourself is “how do you deal with failure?” There are moments of failure every day and month. If you are somebody who always strives for perfection, this is not a good life for you because it’s really hard to achieve and hard to get there. Whether it is sports or doing something you are uncomfortable with, see how you handle those situations and how you progress. Being mentally strong is an important characteristic to have.

CJ: What motivates you in your everyday life?

JP: For me it’s all about learning. I want to always be learning about people and how to do better. If you want to be better tomorrow than you are today, quantify things in your life. Count and write things down. Whether it is exercise or in a business, if you can count it and measure it, you can make a difference. Instead of having a loose goal, measure it in some way. If you want to write a business plan, how many pages a day are you going to write? How many phone calls a day are you going to make? Break it down into something that’s measurable and you can have success.

CJ: What is the best advice you have every received?

JP: In every context you have to find your own voice and find yourself. When I started working, I had never worked in an office before and I thought there was a certain way I had to be. I was playing the role of a lawyer and wasn’t really being me. There’s no way you can be successful if you’re not being yourself in that context.

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

JP: My overall mantra is to be forgiving when you make a mistake. Learn the lesson and move on. There is no benefit of raking yourself over the coals or rethinking again and again about how you could have done things differently. Of course there is always a better way to do things. If you’re frustrated and banging your head against the wall, it’s because you have an unrealistic expectation of what you should have been able to do. There is a lot of wasted energy on being too hard on ourselves.

Jane Park Qs

EducationSkills

“A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.” – Lao Tzu

As someone who has both led and been led, I have found this quote to be true in every situation.

The thing is, many leaders believe their job is to “tell” their team what to do, and to create and stick to their vision.

While it is important as a leader to have a strong vision and communicate it clearly, it is also important to keep open ears and an open mind, allowing team members to creatively and collaboratively contribute their own thoughts to the group vision. Inflexibly telling everyone what to do is a waste of the unique mind power each team member possesses.

Instead, I’ve compiled, from my experiences, six ways to ensure open communication and creative collaboration, and they’re pretty easy:

1. Make your team a communication “safe space.”

Be sure to actively listen, encouraging input and questions. This means showing appreciation for ideas, even when they aren’t great. This will keep team members unafraid to contribute potentially stellar ideas and ask important questions. Never talk at, always talk with. Remember, your leadership position should never have you on a pedestal.

I was training as a host at a restaurant. During a weekend night when we were absolutely slammed, the manager welcomed all of my questions. Because of that, the next night when we were even busier, I was able to handle the finicky crowd gracefully on my own, much more so than if I’d been afraid to ask her questions in the moment the night before. As a result, she was able to pick up the slack for a brand new server, keeping the customers much happier. Be patient and welcome all communication from your group, even if you’re stressed. It will pay off.

2. Provide continuous feedback (positively).

Show your team members you hear them and see what they’re accomplishing. Sometimes, people can be blind to our own strengths. Pointing them out can give members the confidence to take those strengths and run (a win for you). Be sure to also share things you expect them to improve, letting them know you believe they can do it and providing suggestions as to how they can.

I worked at a PR agency under a great CEO. When I got strong media placement results, he would take the time to stop by my desk and let me know he saw I’d been getting good results that week, and to keep it up. It kept me intrinsically motivated to keep improving my results.

3. Ask for your own feedback.

Good leaders must not be afraid to hear criticism. Anonymous surveys are good for receiving candid answers about this. Ask questions that will lead to honest and productive answers.

Honestly taking feedback into consideration creates a level of trust and mutual respect between you and your team. It also allows you to improve yourself as a leader and a person.

The best professor I’ve ever had checked in several times throughout the semester with anonymous surveys, and also asked for feedback on the fly if he felt something was off. He used it to improve his teaching methods, resulting in higher student test scores and retained knowledge.

4. Hold everyone accountable (yourself included).

When people are assigned tasks, tell them their deadlines and when you will check in with them. Then, do it by asking about their current progress and next steps. I’ve liked doing this via email and during team meetings. Just be sure everyone knows they’ll be asked about it during meetings so they don’t feel put on the spot, and can address concerns with you beforehand.

Update everyone on your own activity, too, so that they also know you’re all in it together. Set examples by meeting your own deadlines.

As the director of my university’s Children’s Miracle Network dance marathon, I often met one on one with team members to discuss individual progress and determine where we could tweak or add things. I created Google docs with each member’s proposed timeline, which we edited together as the year progressed. I also set aside about five minutes to begin our meetings by providing updates on my own activity. It kept us on track in exceeding our main goals.

5. Remember your team members are humans.

This sounds obvious, but it’s important; people will make mistakes. They’ll encounter personal roadblocks that drain them. Be sure to show interest in these things. If someone’s performance has dropped, don’t assume anything. Ask if they’re ok and listen to their concerns. Be sure also to recognize what motivates or discourages your teammates individually, as different people respond to different things in different ways.

In high school, my basketball coaches saw I’d been playing poorly for several games in a row. Instead of getting harder on me, they pulled me into their office after practice to ask me what was going on. They came to find out a personal stressor had been weighing me down; they showed their constant support and understanding. I was back to normal within a few games. They recognized that, while other teammates responded better to tougher love, I responded well to more gentle feedback.

6. No micro-managing!

Offer your help and provide advice, but trust your team to complete their tasks. They may mess up, but it’s better than keeping them from improving and learning. They also may do things their own way, which could turn out to be better than yours!

As the director of our dance marathon, we ran into some roadblocks with corporate sponsorship. We needed about $6,000 in less than two weeks, which my faculty director could have easily secured on her own. Instead, she put the trust in me to do it. I ended up applying for and securing all of the funding and grants we needed, and gained tremendous confidence in the process. She likely had a plan B on hold, but she let me grow and learn through the process.

In the end, your and your teammates’ personal and professional growth should be just as important as the project results. Don’t forget that you’re all teammates, regardless of titles, and that happy people do the best work!

What tips do you have for quality leadership? Any stories about good or bad leaders you’ve encountered?

Image: D I, Flickr

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.

b

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.

1

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

Professional SpotlightSpotlight

We can say with complete confidence that Adam Braun is one of the most inspiring people you will ever meet. He is passionate about his work, speaks with enthusiasm about his travels and the lessons he has learned, and his hunger for making the world a better place is contagious. Adam worked at a consulting company after graduating from Brown University, but he soon realized his passions lay elsewhere. During a trip abroad, Adam asked a young boy in India what he wanted most in the world. His answer: “A pencil.” As Adam continued to travel, he handed out more pens and pencils and realized the power of a school supply that most people wouldn’t typically think twice about. Pencils of Promise was born in 2008, and as of this writing, 170 schools have been built in countries such as Laos, Ghana, and Guatemala.

In his years of experience starting, building, and growing Pencils of Promise, Adam managed to find time to write a book about the lessons he has learned along the way. All of the book’s proceeds will go towards helping build schools and to support Pencils of Promise. We had the incredible pleasure of speaking with Adam about his career and personal experiences, how he got to where he is today, and to speak more about his upcoming book, The Promise of a Pencil: How an Ordinary Person Can Create Extraordinary Change, which will be released on March 18. 

Name: Adam Braun
Age: 30
Education: Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) in Economics, Sociology, and Public & Private Sector Organizations from Brown University
Follow: Pencils of Promise / PoP Twitter / Adam Braun’s Twitter / Personal Website / Order The Promise of a Pencil

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

Adam Braun: I define seizing your youth as living each day as if you only have one shot at an experience that can come out of that unique moment. The most powerful element of youth is that young people don’t know yet what’s impossible, and through that they’re willing to try things that others will claim can’t be done. Seizing your youth is trying out things that speak to your inner voice and absolute truths and pursuing them with the honesty and integrity that you believe they deserve.

CJ: You attended Brown University and majored in Economics, Sociology, and Public & Private Sector Organizations. Why did you choose to study these topics?

AB: I went to college thinking that I was going to major in Economics because I wanted to work on Wall Street, and Psychology because I took it in high school and I’ve always been drawn to the way that people make decisions and in particular, how you can influence groups and how you can ultimately catalyze movements.

What I realized in my first semester when I took psychology was that it was incredibly biology-based. I wasn’t as interested in the biology aspect but instead was interested in the humanity element, which turned out to be Sociology. That resulted in me majoring in Economics and Sociology.

I didn’t want to write a 100-page thesis so I figured that if I could do a triple major then I wouldn’t need to write a thesis paper as well. The third major, Public and Private Sector Organizations, was actually about entrepreneurship and how you build a business. I took courses on leadership and organizational management, knowing that I wanted to one day run my own organization. The three of them seemed like a great fit.

b

CJ: You left your job at Bain & Company to start Pencils of Promise (PoP) when you were 25-years-old. What skills did you have that were useful in starting Pencils of Promise, and what do you wish you had known before taking the leap?

AB: Though my time at Bain, I developed a set of hard skills that I think are really important early on. That included building financial models, creating impressive and persuasive presentations, and understanding how organizational turnover and retention happens. In my childhood I spent a lot of time doing entrepreneurial things and lot of entrepreneurs fall into this trap of believing that they are the only one who can accomplish something, especially the higher level responsibilities, so you take it all on yourself.

From my time at Bain & Company, I learned that it’s more important to train the people below you and invest in the next person so that they can ideally do your job just as well, if not better, than you can. That allows you to take on higher level responsibilities. I never would have taken that approach if I hadn’t witnessed and experienced it firsthand from my time at Bain. More than anything, Bain gave me a foundation upon which I felt comfortable to build a business.

What I wish I had known was that there is no such thing as the ‘big single win.’ I think early on I had this inherent belief that all the little wins were suddenly going to give me one opportunity and that one opportunity was going to springboard us to a place where we were huge. In reality, there’s no such thing as a ‘big single win’ that changes absolutely everything. It really is a series of 10,000 small, medium, and large wins that create organizational longevity.

CJ: Your book, The Promise of a Pencil: How an Ordinary Person Can Create Extraordinary Change, comes out in March 2014. The book is your memoir of your experience leaving your finance job to start Pencils of Promise. What is one of the greatest lessons you’ve learned from starting PoP?

AB: The book was written in a style that should enable any reader to not only get inspired by the story itself, but to take his or her own extraordinary journey as well. I really wanted to write something that was a how-to, but framed around this idea that storytelling provides a hook for people because we all want to read, write, and tell great stories.

Each chapter is titled with a mantra, and there are 30 mantras in total. Those mantras collectively create the blueprint for any person to go from ordinary to extraordinary. One of the mantras that I would describe as my greatest learning lesson is called ‘Vulnerability is Vital’. It’s about the one thing that scared me most, asking people for money, which I did not do for the first three and a half years in the organization. When I admitted openly to the people that had the most confidence in me, who are oftentimes the scariest people to show your weakness to, which in my case was my Board of Directors, it was incredible to see how they invested in and rallied around me.

When I finally faced that fear head-on, the results weren’t as bad as I had feared all along. What I learned coming out of it is that the scariest or the hardest part of your day is the thing you should do first. I find that if I have 25 emails in my inbox, I probably do the 10 easiest ones, the 10 medium ones, and I leave the five hardest ones and justify that I’ll do it another time.

In acknowledging how important your vulnerability is, what I realized is that I should start each day with the hardest things and make sure I get it done. I don’t let myself leave the office until I’ve taken care of that challenging element. Ultimately, that one challenging thing is more important for your long-term success than the 10 easy things you did first.

CJ: What was the book writing process like?

AB: It was actually really fun. I wrote the entire manuscript while traveling in the course of three months. I worked with a co-writer, who was wonderful. She had written five books before and she was really more of a writing partner than anything else, helping me craft the stories and lessons I wanted to share. She would take a first cut at some and I would take a first cut at others, but ultimately every single word in the book is mine. It was really enjoyable to reflect on how this path happened and distill it down to the 30 most important lessons that I could share with others.

book

CJ: You wrote a blog post for when you turned 30 about setting ambitious goals, chasing them, and then moving the finish line off into the distance. How often do you set goals for yourself?

AB: There are small goals and big goals. I have small goals every single day, and whether I’m consciously admitting or not, I have a goal every day. For the bigger goals, the older you get the longer the horizons you look at. I used to set goals that were in that week or month, and they would be pretty big goals. Now most of my goals are really framed around a year or three years. I try not to set goals any longer than three years because the world is going to change so much in that time that whatever goal I set will become obsolete. Most of my goals are within the next year.

CJ: What advice do you have for teenagers and young adults interested in starting a non-profit organization?

AB: The first thing I would say is that the role of Founder has been mythologized and celebrated in our culture a bit too much. It’s really important to understand that you can have just as big of an impact if you aren’t the founder but you find a great organization that you believe in and work for and are able to channel your energies and efforts into that organization. I didn’t start Pencils of Promise until I was turning 25, but I had been working with non-profits since I was a teenager.

It’s really important to learn from a mentor that you completely and wholeheartedly believe in to see how an organization is built. Building a non-profit is such an uphill battle and you are going to hear ‘no’ more than you hear ‘yes,’ and you have to believe that what you are doing is right.

One, I would advise to work for someone or an organization that you really believe in and two, in the process of doing that, figure out what your greatest sense of purpose or passion is, the thing that makes you most come alive. Thirdly, start with small goals and have really ambitious goals in the distance.

ab speaking

CJ: What is the best moment of your career so far?

AB: The best moment in my career was when I sat my grandmother down and I showed her the photos of our very first school, which was dedicated to her and she didn’t know. When I showed her the kids and the structure and the photo of the school sign, she saw her name on it. That was the best and most emotional moment of my career. It’s one of the reasons why I believe so much in Pencils of Promise because I know now what it does for children in the developing world, but also the capacity that it has to unite families here, as well. If I could enable that same experience for every single grandchild or child, then I think we will be able to unite a lot of families and educate a lot of children.

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

AB: I spend about half of my day meeting with individuals, partners, foundations, and brands that are interested in Pencils of Promise. I try to further the mission, so I spend at least half of my time external in terms of the meetings. About a quarter of my day is spent with our staff, going through everything from our long- and short-term planning to working on the branding elements of the website, and then the last quarter of my day I try to spend working on things that happen in the moment. I’ll see a link online that will give me an idea and I’ll share it with somebody internally or externally. I always try and keep a quarter of my day free, though it doesn’t happen all that often.

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

AB: The advice I would give my 20-year-old self is that as much as you feel both lost and found at the same time, keep pushing as hard as you are pushing in both directions. I love the quote: “Not all who wander are lost.” I started traveling when I was 21 and I spent a lot of time from age 21 to 26 traveling.

A lot of that period was spent in a state of exploration without knowing exactly why I was doing something or where I was going to be. There’s a bit of fear that comes from not knowing what comes next, but there is also a lot of beauty and freedom and creativity that comes out of that. I would say keep pushing as hard as you’re pushing both in the directions of lost and found.

Adam Braun Questions