Interview by Howie Rhee. Published August 15, 2014.
Well, before coming to law school in 2008, I was living in New York and pursuing an acting career. While I was working steady, it wasn't the life I wanted to lead--I couldn't see a way to ever stop waiting tables, to have a family, etc. The only thing that ever interested me as much as acting was the law; it absolutely fascinated me. I didn't want to come to Duke originally, only applying because they seemed interested in me. But I came down to Admitted Students Weekend and knew Duke was the place for me. I fell in love with the school and the area. How could you not? Of course, after I got my JD I stayed for the LLM in Law and Entrepreneurship instead of going the firm route. I didn't end up practicing law, but I wouldn't change a day of the experience.
What was your goal, career wise, upon leaving the program?
Coming into law school, I figured I'd litigate--after all, I was an actor at heart! But as I went through the JD, I began to realize that the classes that really excited me were the business law classes, not the ones preparing you for trial practice. I also didn't want to be the tiniest cog in the biggest machine. Because of that, the LLM came along at the perfect time. I met a bunch of people in the Triangle startup community, I learned a ton, and I think it set me up to be successful. I wanted what I did to matter. I wanted to build something.
How'd you get connected to your current startup?
Through a DukeGEN event! Last year, I was coming off an unsuccessful startup, and so I was hitting the streets, taking meetings and networking. So of course I went to the DukeGEN event, and there I met Aaron Dinin, who did his undergraduate work at Duke and was back in the Triangle with his startup, RocketBolt. RocketBolt was about to begin the Fall 2013 program at The Startup Factory, and at the time it was just Aaron and his co-founder, Matt Hofstadt. So it was what I was looking for: a talented but small team, who needed a lot of help in a lot of areas... not because they didn't know what they were doing, but because they DID know.
The cliche I keep hearing is that "a startup is like a marriage." Well, I joined RocketBolt through a process that was very much like dating--Aaron and I exchanged cards at the DukeGEN event, and then he emailed me and we got coffee at Mad Hatter. We liked each other enough to move into a trial period, they liked my work, and the rest is history.
RocketBolt. And about your role there.
Online customer acquisition is fundamentally broken. Websites spend money on advertising to generate leads and drive traffic to their website, and they set up email marketing to nurture those leads and convert them to customers. But the overwhelming majority of the website's traffic leaves the website without converting into customers, or even giving the business a way to keep in touch. Because the business didn't activate these leads by capturing contact information, they're wasting money on both advertising and nurturing. Until now, good lead activation optimization has only been within reach of larger companies who can afford developers and experienced teams poring over analytics and A/B testing data to make slow, incremental steps toward better conversion. But with RocketBolt, creating and testing new lead activation funnels takes just minutes instead of weeks, and can be done by anyone - no coding skills required.
I'm no developer, so they don't let me near the technical stuff. But I'm involved in pretty much every other part of the business - customer acquisition, strategy, business development... every day is a new challenge, which is exactly what I was looking for!
What did you wish you had known when you were a student, that you know now?
Nothing. I don't say that to be funny; I'm glad that, because I didn't know things, I've had struggles and failures and uncertainty. It's shaped the entrepreneur (and person) I've become.
Anything else you'd like to share with Duke students and alumni?
Use the Duke network! It's filled with people you want to know, who can help you, and who want to help you. Get out there and meet people; you'll be glad you did. And when that network gives you a leg up, and helps you become successful, remember where you came from and pay it forward. My favorite entrepreneurial quote is "a rising tide lifts all boats." That's how I see the Duke community, and I'd like to think it'll always be that way.