One of the biggest questions twentysomethings ask themselves is: “What do I want to be when I grow up?” For some of us, the answer changes numerous times between the ages of twenty to thirty. We find ourselves in a career we never would have imagined, but somehow seems to be a perfect fit.
Brittany is no different. She is a twentysomething in a self-defined “transitional season.” Heading up her high school yearbook, she always excelled in writing, so she assumed that is what she enjoyed most about journalism.
“I love interviewing people, I love writing, I love putting together the stories,” she explained. “But once I got into college, I realized the big thing that was missing was the art.”
So she began searching for a major that had both components – words and visuals. Originally, she focused on magazine work, but soon realized graphic design was where she needed to be.
“I was able to fully pursue the art side and the writing side with graphic design,” Brittany said. “Which even flowered into photojournalism, photography, a love for video and anything visual and tangible.”
Brittany landed her dream job at a top design firm in Atlanta with a global reach, Son & Sons. She did a six-month fellowship with them as a junior designer after graduating. “It was an intensive time of learning and studying and doing for real clients,” she said.
She is now a full-time designer at Matchstic, one of Atlanta’s premiere brand houses and design firms.
On the side, Brittany does freelance design work. While most people come home from work and relax, her version of relaxing is a different kind of creativity. Companies hire her as a designer or brand consultant, and she loves the creative freedom this gives. Loving the responsibility of re-doing a companies’ brand identity, Brittany feels like she can bloom and communicate through these projects, putting all she learns from her full-time job into action.
Aware of how much she has yet to learn, Brittany is completely satisfied with where she is right now. She wants her twenties to be spent learning, growing and finding mentors in the design industry.
One reason Brittany pursued working at Matchstic, a smaller firm over a huge corporate agency, and the reason why she does freelance design work as her creative outlet, is because she likes wearing multiple hats. She says the best advice she received from a mentor in college was that if you want to be multi-skilled, you should consider going somewhere smaller so you can wear more hats. Since she loves all things creative, is an extrovert, and always likes to be busy, this lifestyle is perfect for her.
Graphic Designer • 22 • Atlanta, GA
What originally sparked the idea to start LSTN?
We actually started the company to fund Starkey Hearing Foundation. It wasn’t an afterthought. I had been interested in social enterprise for a while, buying products like Warby Parker glasses and TOMS shoes. One day I saw a video on YouTube about a woman my age hearing for the first time. I found out there are 360 million people just like this with hearing loss. My life has always revolved around music, so I couldn’t imagine what that would be like. It made me wonder if there was an organization out there supporting hearing restoration, so I did some research and found Starkey. At the time, I was working at a record label and did not personally have money to give to them. So I started a company to contribute to their goal of changing the world through sound. Music is the greatest thing in the world – everyone should be able to experience it. In order to change the world, our product had to be cool, and people had to want it – and what’s cooler than headphones right now? We made them out of reclaimed wood because not only does it make them stand out from the pack, they sound amazing as well.
Was becoming an entrepreneur always a part of your life plan?
Being an entrepreneur was always in my DNA. When I was a kid, I’d sit in my room for hours and think about ideas and inventions. However, music was my biggest passion so I jumped right into that industry at 16, working at music venues, retailers and record labels for over 10 years. I never really bothered with school, rather putting my time into reading as many business books as possible, watching as many videos, following as many entrepreneur blogs as I could, researching how to start and run companies, learning how to build websites.
How has LSTN grown since its beginning in 2012?
From idea to company, from apartment to office, from a dream to helping 10,000+ people hear for the first time. At the end of 2012, LSTN was still just prototypes being sold on our site. Now our products are in retailers that I love such as Nordstrom and Whole Foods. We’ve been able to partner with brands that we’re fans of such as TOMS, Movember, Hudson and Spotify. It’s been an incredible learning experience. We’ve been able to travel all over the States, to Asia, South America, and are leaving for the UK and Africa in a week. Very proud of what we’ve built in a small amount of time.
What’s been your number one tool or strategy for growing your company to this point?
Hiring great people who share the desire to build a better life for themselves and others.
Where do you get inspiration from personally and professionally?
Personally I look up to entrepreneurs and companies with forward thinking ideas to make the world a more connected and better place, such as Tesla, Virgin, Facebook, charity:water. LSTN’s mission is to change the world through the power of music. We’re not just another headphone company, we are permanently changing lives with every product we sell. That inspires us every day to do better and grow bigger, so we can help more people connect with others.
Do you find that your age (being a twentysomething) helps, hinders or doesn’t affect you being a successful business owner?
Definitely helps. We may not be as experienced as others, as no one at our company has ever worked in electronics. However it allows us to go in and look at things from a fresh perspective than if we had known everything about the industry. We aren’t jaded, we’re excited to go to work every day and learn new things, travel to new places, meet new people.
What does the future look like for you and for LSTN?
Growing our U.S. distribution and launching internationally are our core focuses. This year we are launching in Japan, South Korea, Australia, and working on deals for a few other territories. We want to be a global brand. For me, I want to gain as many amazing life experiences as I can through music, giving back and entrepreneurship.
At the end of every interview, we ask the same question: If you had a big group of your peers (twentysomethings) in a room, what is one piece of advice you would to give them?
Stop doing what others want you to do. Stop being afraid of whatever you are apprehensive about and take the steps to follow your dreams. Life isn’t a dress rehearsal.
Check out LSTN Headphones at lstnheadphones.com
Founder of LSTN Headphones • 28 • Los Angeles, CA
Have you ever had an amazing idea? Perhaps, you’ve dreamed of starting a company that will ignite your passions and utilize your talents while also providing a sustainable income. Or, maybe you’ve considered starting a non-profit that would serve as the solution to the social issue that has gripped your heart and kept you up at night.
A blog. A start-up. An invention. A book club. A clothing line. An app.
We all want to do something, make something or start something.
There’s not a short supply of ideas among twentysomethings, but what about the execution of those ideas? That’s the question 26 year old Charlton asked as he noticed a pattern with his visionary peers.
“My friends would share with me these amazing ideas they had, like launching a new start-up,” Charlton explained, “But, two or three months later, you would ask them about how it was going and either they had not moved forward with it yet or had given up entirely.”
As Charlton began to question and challenge these friends, he found that many had quit their dreams within a year because they lacked the resources and relationships to make their ideas happen.
Charlton, along with eight of his college buddies, formed an accountability group called “The Vision Police.” The group began to meet on a monthly basis to introduce ideas, ask questions, give updates and connect networks. Their maxim was simple, No Lonely Leaders, and their goal was simple - to hold each other accountable for their goals and ideas.
In November 2012, the group launched HiveATL, a quarterly gathering created to give people support from concept to launch. Less than a year later, the Hive team is making connections and bringing people together based on their founding model.
“A guy attended who was suffering from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. He dreamed of shooting a documentary about his condition to bring more awareness to it,” Charlton explains. “While attending a Hive Gathering, he met a videographer who had just completed a cross-country documentary.”
The conversation between the two inspired a Kickstarter campaign with a $12,000 goal. However, the campaign ended up raising over $17,000 and the documentary is now in production.
By holding people accountable for their biggest goals, craziest ideas, and greatest passions, Charlton and the Hive team have cultivated a community of innovators.
When asked to share a piece of advice to his twentysomething peers, Charlton didn’t hesitate to respond, “Just do stuff,” he said. “Too often we focus on the opportunities we lack and on the things we don’t have at our age. We complain about not having the right job out of college, or not making enough money…don’t complain, just make things better.”
The next Hive ATL Gathering is May 13, 2014! Click here to register today!
Photo credit: Stephens Hiland
Founder, Hive ATL • 26 • Atlanta, GA
Every twentysomething has a great idea brewing inside him or her. But for whatever reason, whether it’s lack of time, money, or ambition, these ideas don’t always come to fruition. However, 24-year-old Luke has great insight on how to make your thought become a reality.
Luke describes himself as “enormously passionate about actualizing good ideas.” After founding more than four thriving start-ups, it’s fair to say Luke is really good at just that – making ideas become a reality.
Luke was about to enter his twenties when his childhood love for space turned into something much greater. He came across an old NASA paper that spoke about building a base on the moon by using plastic bags filled with moon dust because that was a cheap and easy way. “Is there a way to use this same idea in other environments that are resource constrained?” Luke wondered. He thought immediately about disaster relief locations and areas with limited resources that were lacking efficient supply chains for building small housing structures.
At 19, Luke convinced his parents to let him build a prototype in their backyard. After realizing his idea worked and it would be a cost-efficient process to replicate in other parts of the world, EarthBag was born.
The earthquake in Haiti happened shortly thereafter and Earthbag received sponsorship from the Clinton Global Initiative, Delta Social Innovation Fund, and Habitat for Humanity – raising $200,000 collectively. In 2012, Luke and his team spent a lot of time building prototypes in Haiti. Their last build had cut costs by 40% – an incredible result for small housing in developing countries.
After college graduation, Luke attended Imperial College London as a Marshall Scholar and compled an MSc in Innovation, Entrepreneurship, and Management. While in London, he was inspired to start another company. “I was traveling so much and constantly having issues with my electronics dying,” Luke explained. Out of his frustration with the lack of options available for recharging batteries on-the-go, emerged his idea for a wearable battery company, which integrates batteries into our daily lives by utilizing places that were once wasted space. Wear Watt will provide power to people on the go and in turn, will raise awareness and investment for rural electrification projects throughout the world, a cause that Luke is very passionate about.
Luke’s team launched on Kickstarter a couple months ago with their first product called Outpost, a tablet sleeve with a built-in battery pack that can charge any of your electronics. They are working on a partnership with the UN Foundation to create a joint campaign around energy poverty issues. “We see electricity as the fundamental good that advances technology and advances society,” Luke said. “There are 1.5 billion people today in the world who don’t have access to electricity, and we want to create a product that’s targeting the very top end of the market to funnel electricity back into the bottom end of the market.”
While working to launch Wear Watt, Luke simultaneously started another energy software company. In the seventeen states in the United States where energy is deregulated, one shops for energy like shopping for a cable provider. This can be difficult if one does not know where to look, so Luke and his team built a Kayak-like platform for electricity shopping. WattBuy has launched in Pennsylvania, and almost immediately afterwards, had an offer to be bought out. Luke and his team are considering the offer because they would be able to expand to other states with deregulated energy markets, but are still weighing their options.
Luke’s advice to twentysomethings who want to launch an idea is, “Don’t let other people tell you no. It has far less to do with initial intelligence or the strength of an idea, but it has pretty much everything to do with taking that first step and committing 100% to something.”
In our twenties, we realize the cost of basic life, and, sometimes, it’s a rude awakening. Mom and Dad aren’t buying the paper towels and toilet paper anymore, and we realize that life is…expensive. But we also become grateful for having the opportunity to have our basic needs met, especially since so many people around the world don’t have the same luxury. Developing countries are filled with “lack” – lack of water, sustainable food systems, and adequate resources to provide for everyone. Although monthly bills can be a stressor, our twenties are a time when we start to realize just how lucky we truly are.
This attitude of gratitude pushes many twentysomethings towards giving back to others. Many of us find our calling to help those in need with a cause we find near and dear to our hearts, whether it be hunger, poverty, child welfare, etc. Trevor, 23, is one of those twentysomethings and he decided to improve the education of not only those in his community, but for people around the world.
Two years ago, Trevor started TeachTwice, a social venture that educates children and their communities through stories and the exchange of culture. The concept is simple – a single book, written by authors from a developing country, provides parents in the global marketplace stories to read to their children, and gives financial support to schools in the country where the book originated. “I really believe education drives the economy which drives development,” Trevor says.
With a team of like-minded student volunteers, Trevor began TeachTwice with the mission of improving education systems in developing countries and exposing U.S. students to different cultures. They have already published two books, from Uganda and South Africa. And they hope to be a model to other nonprofits worldwide.
Through his work with TeachTwice, Trevor hopes to demonstrate to other organizations how to be more business savvy and sustainable. He stands behind the belief that even when TeachTwice is not making a lot of money, they are still accomplishing great things with their business model by employing writers and illustrators who are making an impact on the industry, economy, and education of their country.
Trevor and the team have recently realized the importance of distribution channels in order to reach as many markets as possible. They are currently selling books domestically and using any profit to integrate the books into the education systems of the originating countries. Right now, they are exploring the many ways to sell books in America, despite a dying publishing industry, through online book space like Amazon to physical space like local bookstores, schools, and libraries.
And their hard work is paying off. TeachTwice has been featured on the local news, they’ve signed a significant contract for distribution, and have formed a partnership with Nashville’s Public Library system.
Since graduating in 2012, Trevor, looking for not only a steady income but also a way to continue doing what he cared about, turned down a consulting job for a part-time opportunity to work with the Vanderbilt Center for Neuroscience Drug Discovery. This job allowed him to work with TeachTwice as much as he needed. The Center, knowing Trevor, “really understood TeachTwice and supported it,” he explained, and they let him work as many or few hours as he needed to in order to continue to support his organization.
As fate would have it, Trevor’s work at the Vanderbilt Center led him down another career path. He realized the importance of what the Center was doing – creating drugs and making huge strides forward in medicine for diseases such as Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, and Schizophrenia. After being inspired by this work, he felt like he could add more value to the Center by giving them his marketing and business skills he gained through leading TeachTwice. Since most of the employees are researchers, they had not put the time into thinking about how to market themselves and become more business savvy. Trevor pitched himself for a new Business and Marketing position – and the Director created it for him.
One of Trevor’s favorite one-liners to give when people ask for advice is, “I think success is in constantly moving forward.” For example, there were months when nothing would happen for TeachTwice, and then ten wonderful things would happen within one week. Trevor believes that if you pursue what you’re passionate about and focus on doing what you love, things will move forward for you.
Now more than ever, twentysomethings are picking up and spending days, weeks, months, and even years in a country that is not their own. The travel bug affects people of all ages, but international travel in your twenties can help shape who you are and who you will be in years to come.
Alyssa, originally from Ohio, knew she wanted to work with children, specifically in developing communities. During her junior year at Vanderbilt, she studied abroad in Cape Town, South Africa where she participated in a service-learning program. Alyssa chose to teach in Manenberg, a township of Cape Town known for its violence, drug problems, and child abuse, and previously known as the “gang capital of the world” – a bit different than Ohio.
With so many issues surrounding the children in that community, Alyssa created an innovative program for the group of five to seven year olds she worked with. The best way for children to understand different ideas is through stories. So Alyssa decided to utilize a technique called bibliotherapy, which uses children’s literature as a form of therapy.
Alyssa loved watching the children unpack their issues through reading various stories, and she fell in love with learning about the education systems and community development in Cape Town. Something clicked with her there – and she knew she wanted to “connect what I really care about to make a difference in communities that I care about” in the future.
When Alyssa graduated, she took a teaching job in Nashville Public Schools to be close to her family and meet the great needs in the domestic school system, despite an ongoing itch to work internationally. A few months in, she ended up getting into Vanderbilt’s International Education Policy Master’s program, and has spent the past two years studying what she loves.
During her Master’ studies, Alyssa was fortunate enough to return to Africa two more times. She had connected with a local doctor in Uganda who worked with a network of preschools surrounding his village. Alyssa started working on a curriculum for the preschools while in Nashville, and then traveled to Uganda the next summer to help on the ground-level with teacher training, curriculum development, and evaluation for their funders.
She was also able to procure another internship in South Africa and ended up creating a teacher development framework for a province. Her experience working with the higher-level vision of a system, looking at issues and trying to manipulate resources, was just as wonderful as her time spent doing grassroots level work.
During her second year of graduate work, Alyssa began to take more business and finance classes, with the mindset that they would be a good foundation for working in the nonprofit world. She learned more about the concept of social enterprise and applying a for-profit model to a for-good mission. Still intending to move back to Africa, she got involved with a start-up company working in the education system, and then was soon connected with Trevor, founder of TeachTwice and a friend from Vanderbilt. While the old friends caught up, conversations continued about her taking a larger role in TeachTwice, and the position evolved into Alyssa becoming the new Director.
Alyssa’s advice to anyone in their twenties is to live your passion. “At the end of the day, if you’re doing something that you’re passionate about, you will be much more successful at it, and create an amazing reputation for yourself,” Alyssa says. “Generally the world needs passionate people who aren’t going to get burnt out doing something that they’re not passionate about,” she says. “Who knows? You could and should end up being paid well for your skills and passion in the end.”