In this narrative, Abigail Griggs describes her experience competing at a business startup company, and how that experience influenced her current perceptions on education. One aspect of this narrative that inspired conversation among the editors was the tone of this piece– we all agreed that there was a strong tone of confidence in the work. What effect did the tone have on you as a reader? What strategies can you use to mimic the strengths of this work? What strategies can you use to amplify your own voice in narratives?
My dad is the CEO of his own startup company, a successful company at that. Naturally, I love spending time with my dad, and that was a childhood conflict since it seemed that my dad had more time invested in business trips than at home. So a good portion of my father-daughter bonding was spent on business trips, in business meetings, going to business parties, etc. Being raised around people while they’re in their “business-man” mode shaped the way I interact with people today. I ended up being an unknowing introvert raised to be an extrovert (which was a blessing and a curse). Now I’m a conscious introvert who can act extroverted whenever I find it necessary*.
There’s a specific event that my dad attends every year to mentor young entrepreneurs on how to follow their dreams by making their own startup companies. Was this an event I would’ve attended on my own? No. Did my dad make it sound like the coolest thing ever? Of course.
The first Startup Weekend Louisville I went to was just for my own observation. I watched nervous adults sweat and stutter their ideas to other adults. I then watched the very same adults judge on which ideas were the best, then everyone decided which idea they wanted to make real and they would form a group. A ruthless process comparable to The Hunger Games, in my opinion. The group would then have the weekend to turn this idea into something real, a tangible product or service that was now their own startup company and could eventually make a profit. When the end of the weekend finally rolled around, their startups would be judge by successful CEO’s like my dad. The top three startups are chosen and rewarded. A full weekend of high stress, anxiety, and social interaction is the definition of my own personal hell. Did I do it anyways when the next Startup Weekend rolled around? Obviously.
When I first told my dad I wanted to actually attend a Startup Weekend, he told me that I could as long as I presented a pitch, since it was an optional part of Startup Weekend. So I plotted and planed an idea for a company that was an app, which could easily define the complicated words we tend to find in our food ingredients label. Essentially, I wanted everyone to have the ability to know exactly what was in their food, why it was there, and what those ingredients did to their body. This app particularly targeted those with allergies, health or diet related food restrictions, and diabetes (which is a lot of people). I wrote and rehearsed my pitch to my dad’s coworkers. They gave the clever idea of using the sugar-laced sweet treat known as Snowballs in my pitch as an example of a food label that was completely undecipherable. The day finally approached where I gave my pitch. I was 17 at the time, the only high schooler at the event. I had to take a few personal time-outs before my pitch just to physically collect myself. I had as much confidence as I did experience when it came to giving pitches, but I still hauled myself in front of the crowd and acted as though I was selling them gold. I even ended the pitch with me throwing some crumpled up Snowballs and proclaiming “IF YOU’RE WITH ME, THEN THESE FOOD LABELS WILL HAVE A SNOWBALLS CHANCE IN HELL!” (which made me a real crowd pleaser).
I ended forming a rag-tag group of amazing people. We had the most diverse group at the event, but we were still one of the smaller groups. Together, we went through the blood, sweat, and tears of making my startup real. Most of us were completely unexperienced when it came to having the skills needed to build a company. The only skill set we had in our group was a developer. After the first day, I had two mentors tell me that I was wasting my time, one of which was my dad and I was so over-stressed at the time that I still can’t even recall the conversation. After a well-needed pep talk from two of my group members, I was able to pull myself together and lead my group through the rest of the weekend. This was the first time in my life where adults saw me as another adult and expected me to make tough decisions. Of course, many people were surprised by my age, but it never held a bias in anyone’s eyes. I had to make choices that not everyone agreed with; I had to learn that I couldn’t always play the good-cop role. This was the first time I had to tell people that their ideas are valuable, but I wasn’t going to use their specific idea at the time because I didn’t think it wasn’t in the best interest of my startup. Startup Weekend pushed me to my limits and put me through an overwhelming amount of highs and lows. Was it all worth it? Well, yeah, my group won.
I considered myself a fairly adventurous person, but nothing beats the adrenaline high that I got from winning startup weekend. The judges praised me for being so young and still doing so well, I got news articles written about me, and my dad’s business friends still ask about me and my app to this day. Did my startup become the real deal? Not so much, and I blame my lack of marketing skills. I still ended up walking away from Startup Weekend with something more than the next million dollar company. I left igniting an untouched drive that still burns in me today. As I mentioned earlier, I am an introvert raised as an extrovert. I didn’t truly know I was an introvert until few months after Startup Weekend. I took one of those quizzes that tells you if you’re more introverted or extroverted, I expected to be somewhere in the middle, but it turned out I was way more introverted than I expected to be. I ended up reading into it more and was able to verify again that I was way more introverted than extroverted. Learning this help to explain a lot for me, like why social situations can feel so intense for me, why I hate group work, and why I tend to seclude myself when I’m faced with emotional or stressful situations. I learned that I don’t need social interaction to fuel me, I can thrive when I’m on my own. This completely changed how I perceived the world around me, I had gone my whole life thinking I was a people person when the truth was I was a very talented people pleaser. I also realized that I had gone about my education all wrong. I found that I do so much better when I can learn through lectures or through visuals, that my study time needs to also be my chill time, and that I can do all my readings as longs I don’t procrastinate (I used to blame never getting readings done because I was such a slow reader). So how would me going to and wining Startup Weekend Louisville change anything regarding my education? Learning that I was an introvert made me want to seclude myself and push away people because I thought they wouldn’t be helpful to me. Startup Weekend showed me that I still needed people to be successful. I wouldn’t have been able to win without my team. I couldn’t have been able to learn everything I learned when it comes to people and business if I didn’t force the interactions between me and other people. My introverted self was pushed to my limits and that showed me how I can push myself to greater limits in school to better my learning.
* This is also known as the Free-Trait Theory. The Free-Trait Theory is when a person changes their personality to match the social situation that they’re in, we’re all acting to the role we play in the society we feel that we’re in.)