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

As young professional women, we have read more Levo League articles than we can count and have watched all of the Office Hours videos. While watching Office Hours, which is a series of conversations with extraordinary leaders, we were fascinated not only with those being interviewed, but the woman doing most of the interviewing. Freyan Billimoria is the host of Office Hours and the Director of Strategic Partnerships at Levo League, and we had the pleasure of interviewing her for a Professional Spotlight.

Freyan has worked in luxury marketing, managed donor relations at Teach for America, and has been the Director of Development at The White House Project. Freyan now spends her time managing partnerships, engaging influencers and leaders, and producing and hosting Office Hours at Levo League. Freyan’s ambition, organization, and work ethic are truly inspiring. Read on to learn more about how Freyan has learned to be a leader, what a day in her busy life looks like, and her latest favorite books!

Name: Freyan Billimoria
Education: B.A. in Interdisciplinary Studies and English Minor from University of California, Berkeley
Follow: Levo.com / Twitter: @freyanfb / Instagram: @freyanfb

Carpe Juvenis: How do you define “Seizing Your Youth?”

Freyan Billimoria: Exploring your world, trying new things, and learning every day.

CJ: You created your own interdisciplinary major focused on globalization with a minor in English for your undergraduate degree. How did you determine what to study and why create your own major?

FB: I entered Berkeley interested in the impact of globalization, but every time I took a course – whether in political economics or development studies or English – I felt like I was missing a part of the story. In order to understand the full picture, I thought it was important to draw upon many disciplines. Plus, I always got to take classes I was passionate about!

CJ: You are the Director of Strategic Partnerships at Levo League. You also host and head production of the video series, Office Hours. What do your roles entail and what skills do your roles require?

FB: My role at Levo is a total mix of things – true startup style! I manage partnerships with corporate clients, from startups to Fortune 500s; help engage leaders and influencers as they get to know Levo; and produce and host interviews with folks like Natalie Morales and Ariel Foxman for Office Hours. This entails a lot of relationship management, the ability to oversee multiple projects, communication skills, a clear head under pressure, and a healthy dose of caffeine.

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CJ: You’ve done many interesting things throughout your career such as organizing concerts in college, luxury marketing, managing donor relations at Teach for America, and being the Director of Development at The White House Project. What have you learned from these experiences and how have they influenced you with your current job?

FB: The importance of working meaningfully with people has been a huge thread throughout every role I’ve had. I’ve really learned the power of forming authentic relationships rather than operating transactionally. This mentality has been hugely helpful whether rallying community support for expansion, raising funds, navigating internal teams, or interviewing experts.

CJ: One aspect of your job entails producing events. What advice would you give to a young person who is interested in event planning?

FB: Event planning is one of my favorite activities, both in my personal and professional life! I think it’s vital that you have the ability to think strategically about the big picture – What is the purpose of the event? What do you want people to get out of it? How should they feel? – and to get incredibly micro when it comes to the details. And, of course, never underestimate the power of feeding people!

CJ: In your various roles, leadership has been important. How have you learned to lead and what does it mean to be a leader?

FB: I think leadership is always an evolution: no one is born a leader, and no one is ever finished with the process. I see it as the ability to move other people to collectively work towards an objective, especially in the face of uncertainty and changing conditions.

CJ: What has been one of the most unexpectedly interesting parts of your career to date?

FB: My second role at Teach For America was working on a growth strategy team helping to launch new sites. The opportunity to deeply understand communities in places like Ohio, South Carolina, and Appalachia was incredibly exciting and rewarding. To say no two days were alike is an understatement – no two hours were alike! We developed relationships, formed partnerships with school districts and universities, raised funds, and changed laws – sometimes all in the same day!

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

FB: An average Monday starts with a quick breakfast of oatmeal with walnuts and dried cherries while powering through the news, emails… and, let’s be honest, my horoscope. Then it’s out the door I go. Once in our Union Square office, I set myself up with a cup of tea and dive in.

Mondays are chock full of meetings with our entire team, the editorial team, and occasionally the sales team. In between, I’m speaking with clients, working with our content team to plan for upcoming features, orchestrating future video shoots, navigating corporate requests, and wading my way through emails. In the evening, I head back to Brooklyn, where my partner and I convince ourselves to do a quick workout with varying degrees of success, and then give up and pour ourselves a glass of wine, sit down to dinner (favorites at the moment are homemade mushroom ramen and roasted eggplant with couscous and harissa), often with a friend dropping by. As it gets late, I close out a bit of work, take an old-lady constitutional around the neighborhood, and then it’s five minutes of (incredibly low-level) yoga before reading in bed.

CJ: What are your time management tips? How do you stay organized and efficient?

FB: I’m obsessed with email organization and my Google calendar. The only things that remain in my inbox are open items that require action – everything else is filed, whether it goes under a client’s name, or strategic planning.

My calendar is my baby – I believe in including everything you need time to do, from meetings and personal appointment to reminders and general “work time.” I color code so at a glance I have a sense of where my energy will go throughout the day.

CJ: What are your favorite books?

FB: So many! Latest favorites include Americanah, The Paying Guests, The Cuckoo’s Calling, and at long last, I finally read the entire Harry Potter series… and am so ready to start over again!

CJ: Any favorite news publications?

FB: The Week, The Daily Beast, NY Times, The New Yorker, NY Mag, and in very serious food news: Bon Appetit and Cherry Bombe.

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CJ: What is an area, either personal or professional, that you are working to improve in and how?

FB: Learning to say no! At Levo, we’re lucky enough to have a lot of opportunities come our way, and part of my role is knowing how to graciously decline when the match or timing isn’t right. The same is true in my personal life – I’m learning to say a big YES to things that excite me, and a guiltless no when I find them draining.

CJ: What is a cause or issue that you care about and why?

FB: Ensuring women have opportunities to succeed is close to my heart. At Levo, we’re working to offer women the connections and resources they need to build careers and lives they’re passionate about – in turn, creating happier, healthier outcome for all of us.

CJ: Having a loaded schedule can sometimes be overwhelming. What do you do when you’re having a bad day and need to unwind or reset?

FB: Some combination of walking around the neighborhood, shaking up a cocktail, planning an amazing Friday, and sleeping a whole bunch usually does the trick. The key is to get out of your head and remember that work is only one part of your life.

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

FB: It’s all going to work out. Maybe not how or when you think it will, but amazing things are always around the corner.

Freyan B Qs

Images by Freyan Billimoria