Summer after Regionals
Unfortunately Deniz wasn’t able to make it and arrived during the intermission right before the judges announced us winning. We celebrated briefly until we went home. It was only 1200 bucks but we thought we might as well try and actually sell some smoothies instead of just simply talking about it. We end up presenting at the Future Works expo in the Verizon building but that was cake compared to Regionals. We gladly accepted second place since first place was won by a 10 year old. Hey, if i had public speaking like her when I was 10, you’d bet I’d win too. Good for her.
Jon and I met up later to debrief, or really glory gloat. We beat out over 5,000 people. We deserved to do a victory dance. It was then that we carefully inspected the 1200 check and realized that we have and will probably have the only check that NFTE will ever give with the word entrepreneurship spelled incorrectly.
Right before the summer, Jon and I got invited to go to Harvard business school for a mock case study. It was Merrill Lynch ‘s Growing Up CEO program. I wrote a little about it here. They pick the fastest growing 500 companies and invite them for a ridiculous program of networking and stuff. They also have a program for young people. It ends in a dinner reception and all that. The highlight of it was listening to Professor Chip Heath talk about his book, Made to Stick. He goes through various reasons why certain ideas ‘stick’. What was hilarious was that he was scheduled to speak right after lunch while everyone was groggy. Too bad for those that missed it because his lecture and his book was probably one of the best I’ve ever read. Michael Porter also lectured on Corporate Social Responsibility for about and hour and a half during another lunch. I think most people fell asleep because he was talking way too fast and the camera man was just in his face the whole time. What I did take away from him was the line “businesses have to earn the right to service customers via CSR”. I thought that was pretty powerful because all this time the only reasoning behind business was supply and demand. This would later become very useful for me and Jon during our SAGE competition. Afterwards was the case study analysis. We were given a Google case study and an actual HBS Professor ran through it with us. We had some of the MBA students help guide us but at the end of it when it came to discussion, either the other people were too shy or what not, but Jon and I were the only ones speaking. The afternoon session was a lot better. Our case study was Sir Arthur Flour an ESOP company. It was actually a lot better than the early afternoon one because it was with the CEOs of the inner city companies, not with just people our age. I was also very surprised because the CEO and founder of the most case study company was sitting in the back . He got up after our discussion to respond! I ended up being the only person in the young group who raised their hand for a question to him, asking him if he thought that an ESOP program gave his company a competitive advantage. The professor later complimented me on how it was a great question. My experience and memory at HBS was amazing and I’d later return the next year as an alumni. I think it added to a cumulative experience as, later Congers TA, I remember saying to myself, if I’d ever go to get my MBA, it would be HBS not for the name but for its instruction.
Another program was meeting Randall Pinkett, one of the season winners of the Apprentice, a Rhodes Scholar, and someone who graduated with a bunch of degrees. He was there to promote his own book, Campus CEO, as well as to provide some inspiration to us. It was interesting listening to him and how he said it was a duty and privilege to talk to young aspiring entrepreneurs, etc. But when we lined up to get his book signed, Jon asked him if it was OK to just shadow him for a day, since you know, he was so committed to young entrepreneurs and all that. He said he was very busy. Jon then asked if a lunch or private meeting was ok. Nope. Then Jon asked if he could just have 15 minutes of his time. His secretary then had to usher us out. Jon ended by asking for his business card, he didn’t even look up to acknowledge him. It was here that I experienced how some people, no matter how much they preach the good word, is only actually do it for the show. When we ended at the dinner reception Porter gave the ending speech. I lost a bit of respect for him because he got up and said something along the lines of how he was also committed to young people, etc. Perhaps he was referring to something else and I was too busy enjoying the perfectly cooked steak with cherry tomatoes and basil vinaigrette topped with flakes of vanilla, but he mentioned all that he did for us when all I saw was that he just gave us a booth to sell our products in the lobby reception area. Again, I gained some very valuable life experience on the words and actions of the rich and powerful. The program wasn’t all that bad. We got to stay at a 5 start hotel for free with food and all included for 3 days. I had a chance to talk to Omar more, who I would later learn Web Development from. I also met Mark, a lawyer from KPMG, who later became my first customer when I sold Powerpoint presentations. I got to meet the then mayors of Newark, Boston and Atlanta, the small business administrator of the Bloomberg administration, go through 2 case studies with actual HBS professors, all in all, it was a great experience.
That summer, I interned at the Y with the Kene who actually sent me to NFTE to work with Arnie. We also tried to sell some smoothies. Interning for Arnie was interesting. We would always go to meet interesting people, have meals and meet up with interesting alumni, and always have these activities that didn’t really seem too interconnected but were. For my personal development, I helped him enter in over 400 business card contacts. While that was not the most mentally stimulating task, by the end of it, I did learn what the best kinds of business card layout was. Otherwise, we went to a Hispanic Chamber of Commerce event at the Grand Hyatt, hosted an alumni event at NYU, and attended various meetings with a whole slew of people. I also had my first hand in teaching some of the course material. One NFTE teacher needed an alumni and Arnie sent me. This was when I met Stephen, who I later taught two classes for. Stephen was probably one of the most enthusiastic NFTE teachers I ever met. He just knew how to connect with young people like me, sometimes I’d say, better than Kene. When FutureWorks was later brought to my school and Stephen was at the Kickoff, he had a whole table full of people listening to him when his only prop was a few snickers bars. This was when every other table had t-shirts and trinkets and giveaways and a whole lot of other Garbage.
Another event that highlighted my internship was going to a luncheon with Mike Caslin who was the then CEO of NFTE. The luncheon was on the same day as Stephens’s students’ final presentations. I felt bad that I couldn’t see them as there was a bit of pride in saying I did at least teach two classes. I knew they were in good hands regardless. The details for the luncheon was at some restaurant and I only remembered that one of the reasons I was chosen to go was having something to do with Asians. I know that sounds terribly racist but when the CEO was talking to me, my mind was in a bit of awe and shock. I guess I just wasn’t used to being talked to as an equal by someone of that position. I soon learned that the meal was with 李学海. It was only when I got home and asked my mom who this person was did she go WTF, how did you end up eating lunch with this guy. There was also two pretty senior level people from HSBC and a bunch of other Asian people I had no idea why they were there. In fact why Mike and NFTE was there was another mystery. I think Mike was there to try and get donations or develop political capital for NFTE because李学海was the commissioner of the President’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. I’m not sure. Most of my meal consisted of talking to this nice tiger mom who made lots or references to her son and daughter and me and NFTE. Apparently her daughter was a NFTE teacher who worked for the white house? Not too sure. Most of what I remember was eating sharkfin, sea cucumber the size of a bicep, and a crab that had the shell of a orchestral gong. It was a feast of good food. Mike would sometimes ask me in a whisper what certain types of food were before he took a morsel. I guess he was trying to be safe as well.
Selling at the Y was another adventure. Getting up at 5.30 to get to the Y, buying massive pounds of fruit, cutting edge and slicing. We bought two semi industrial blenders and went to a business wholesale Jetro, to get some supplies. What was great was using the Y’s nonprofit ID because then we got all of our stuff tax free. Kene had to practically interrogate a fruit stand guy to get it out of him. Jetro would later be the place I went to for the school store. The first day selling was a mess. It was disorganized; the cash register wasn’t working, no sense of structure or order. Everything was everywhere. And then it reached a tipping point where I just said fuck it. It was like someone hit me with a bat behind the head and all the organization that I learned at Mr. Li’s had suddenly kicked in. Break everything down, work from one direction to another, consolidate and systematize. The next few weeks were all simple but powerful learning lessons for me. Have clear, indisputable signage or else people will think it’s free. Make sure to actually count the register before hand to know how much cash you begin the day with. Etc, etc. I later realized that that was the moment when I would mark the difference between talking about operating a business and actually operating one. That was when my respect for the corporate world, the business books, the consultants, the business plans, etc all shifted towards entrepreneurship and the actual process of doing. That was also when I subconsciously started to notice the difference between the theory and the practice of entrepreneurship. The full extent of this would hit me later but looking back, that was probably a pivotal moment.
Jon and I were later informed of some interesting news. This year would be the first year that nfte had a national sponsor, so for us, we would be the inaugural contestants for a national competition. When the news hit Jon and I, I think the both of us were a bit shocked… And then we decided that we were going to win nationals as well.