I always wanted to start a company. And once I saw the power of the internet, I wanted to start an internet company. But I didn’t know if it was possible.
When I was in school, there weren’t any entrepreneurship classes or programs. Even in college, I don’t remember anyone talking about starting companies. I graduated from college in 2006, so Facebook was a platform that we used on campus. But the idea that we could start an internet company that could impact the world wasn’t talked about. Everyone was downloading music for free, and I think we all somehow thought that one day the endless supply of free music would go away. The authorities would take over. Just like we weren’t allowed to cite Wikipedia as a legitimate source in a school paper, nothing on the internet was legitimized yet.
After I graduated, I was completely lost. I spent all of my time and energy trying to graduate on time to avoid more school loans that I never thought about a career. Originally I went to college thinking I would go to law school immediately after graduating, but I already felt the overwhelming debt burden before graduating, and I read about the increasing number of law school grads without job opportunities. I also didn’t want to decide my professional fate at the age of twenty-two. I wanted to try my hand at starting a company. But I didn’t know if it was possible.
So I searched in bookstores for answers. Almost every day. One day I came across a book called “Founders at Work” by Jessica Livingston. I didn’t have much money, so I think I just read the book in the bookstore. I remember that she interviewed a lot of men about starting internet companies. I thought to myself, “that sounds like the exact thing I want to do with my life.” And I remember something in the book about starting a class or program in Boston for people that want to start internet companies. And I thought, “probably for MIT or Stanford grads.” Not for a girl from Pittsburgh. I put the book back on the shelf.
I went to networking events – every networking event I could find. Men in suits hit on me occasionally. I thought to myself, “I want to start a company, not find a date.” Again, I felt lost.
I spent so much time in bookstores that I ended up working for a bookstore chain for four years. During that time, I heard about a local accelerator program for internet companies called AlphaLab run by Innovation Works. That sounded really interesting. But I reminded myself that I had a Political Science degree and worked at a bookstore. I put the idea out of my head.
Around the time Borders books closed, I realized working for a bookstore chain was not a longterm solution to my aimless professional existence. I quit and started blogging about the power of the internet and social media. I applied to a few local startups, not knowing how to frame my “expertise” in the job interview. Some companies did not respond. Some companies interviewed me for customer service type roles. I cringe when I think about those interviews. I was so nervous, and I didn’t get the job, anywhere.
Next thing I knew, I was offered a job at an education company. I needed the money. The people seemed nice. I took the job. Many days I sat in my car at lunchtime reading tweets. I followed people in the startup world. I didn’t really talk to them, but I followed them. And one day I came across something called “Startup Weekend Pittsburgh.” I signed up immediately. I didn’t even have to think about it. Someone was putting on an event where you start companies, and I could sign up. HOLY S#&%, I thought to myself.
Since then, I’ve participated in four Startup Weekend Pittsburgh events. I was on the first place team at two events. I was on the second place team at one event. And I’m a proud AlphaLab alum.
I don’t know how to explain what Startup Weekend means to me. This is the first time I’m really sharing my experience on the internet, and obviously I’m simplifying it for the sake of brevity. But this post is to say that I don’t feel lost anymore. Startup Weekend showed me a way. It showed me that a girl from Pittsburgh with a Political Science degree and a confusing work history can start an internet company – several, actually.
It’s not to say that it’s easy, because it’s not. There are new challenges every day. But it’s possible. I want you to know that it’s possible.
If you buy a ticket to participate at Startup Weekend Pittsburgh Women, I will do everything in my power to instill in you the idea that anything is possible, and the Startup Weekend Pittsburgh community is here to help you make it happen. Please join us if you have a dream of starting a company.