Interview by Howie Rhee. Published August 25, 2014.
When I was at Duke, I was initially a Mechanical Engineering major and later switched my major to Mathematics with a focus on Logic. I took a lot of logic courses along with a lot of markets and management studies, entrepreneurship and leadership courses. I organized the Beaufort student leadership retreat. I was also in the Alpha Omicron Pi sorority and was also the Few Quad President my senior year. I worked as a tutor for the student athletes and tutored in Spanish, math and physics.
You worked at Marakon as a consultant after graduating. Tell us about that experience.
Management consulting is a great career path for people who don’t have a business degree and really want to learn by “drinking from a fire hose” about different aspects of business. I worked on things from retail strategy for one of the biggest companies in the world to financial and marketing strategy for the bird flu drug. I had all sorts of projects in different industries like building materials and aerospace and defense. While I was gaining all this experience, I felt I had to get my MBA to understand the broader disciplines in an academic setting to apply them.
You worked as a Venture Capital Intern at the Illinois Innovation Accelerator Fund (i2A), and from many students we've met, having a VC internship can be a great learning experience. Was it for you?
Absolutely! My number one learning experience as an entrepreneur was that I got to see entrepreneurs pitching for money to Venture capitalists. Some entrepreneurs are not excited about their business and I feel if you’re not excited about your business, how do you expect others to get excited about it? It taught me to show my passion when I’m talking about my business to my potential investors.
CleanBeeBaby in June 2010. Tell us the story of how it got started.
CleanBeeBaby is an eco-friendly cleaning service for strollers and car seats that partners a different neighborhood retailer or preschool every day. I created CleanBeeBaby to help busy moms. I saw firsthand when my sister had her first child how busy life can get and how easy it is to not have time for cleaning baby products. She worried about the cleanliness of her baby products, and had an especially hard time with the car seat. It was such a hassle to get it in and out of the car, disassemble it, wash it, wait at home with the baby for hours while it air dried, and then drive back to the police station to have a safety technician ensure the proper re-installation. The stroller was no easier with all of the nooks and crannies where ickiness would accumulate. She is one of the many reasons why I am passionate about helping moms save time and frustration by leaving the hard stuff to the professionals!
In July 2011, CleanBeeBaby got mentioned in Nicole Richie's blog. I understand there's a story there about how a Duke connection was important. What's the story?
I’ve been really involved in the fundraiser for Duke for my fifth reunion and every other year. I was also the president of the Duke club in Northern California. I got to meet a lot of people in the alumni and annual fund offices. They were having an event at Dodger Stadium in Tom Hanks’ private box, for high net worth alumni, which I was clearly not, but they had extra space so I received a courtesy invitation just before the event, since I had done a lot of prior volunteer work. Through that I met someone whose sister worked in the baby industry who introduced me to Mick Jagger’s daughter who founded a charity which collected used baby gear. Nicole Richie was on the board of that organization. They ended up featuring me on Nicole Richie’s blog. All this stemmed back to being a good Duke University citizen.
The company has done well and you have been in business for a couple years. Tell us what your business is like these days. As CEO of CleanBeeBaby, tell us what types of things your role entails. What are you responsible for? What do you spend your time on, and who is your target customer?
Now that I’ve raised money and have a management team, I spend less time managing the finance, marketing execution and operational items. I get to focus more on fundraising and larger strategic goals and expansion. My target customer is the busy mom who has little time to get her baby gear cleaned.
In addition to CleanBeeBaby, since February 2011, you work at Roll Global as a Consulting Manager. You also worked with Roll as a consultant for the FIJI Water company in 2008. Talk about your relationship with Roll and how that fits in with being a CEO of a startup company.
I learned a lot about people and managing my projects
As you reflect back on the years since you've started, what are some of the things you've learned that you wished you'd known when you were still at Duke as an undergrad?
Your Duke network is really important in your career and the number of contacts I’ve been able to make through the Duke Alumni community has not only find investors, but press opportunities and partnerships. Make sure to spend as much time as you can meeting people from a variety of different social circles and make an active effort to stay involved.
For students that are thinking of starting a company, but thinking about getting work experience first, how would you help them analyze that decision?
When you run a business, you have to do a lot of hiring and firing. It’s important to find the right people for your team because it can be quite expensive to have turnover when you’re a small business. If you can learn basic management techniques on dealing with different personalities and backgrounds on somebody else’s time then leverage that experience when you start your own business, it will give you the leg up. From a boot strapping perspective, being able to work full-time and start your business on the side until it gets to a critical point where you are comfortable making the jump and can live off your savings for a while. That’s what I did and I felt like it gave me the runway to reinvest cash back in the business instead of having to pay myself to live.
A lot of students get stuck on the idea they need to do something incredibly high tech like create the next Google or Facebook. And a lot of them think they need to keep their idea a secret. They might look at a business like yours and say "it's not a technology innovation" and say "if I tell someone my idea, why don't they just steal it and do it themselves?" How do you advise students that are thinking in this way?
My philosophy is very similar to some of the big tech investors, which is: if you have a great idea, shout it from the roof tops because ideas are a dime a dozen, it’s execution that is one in a million. It’s so much harder to get an idea off the ground. The more people you tell about your idea, the more connections, ideas and feedback you’re going to get about it to make it even better.
Tell us what it’s like to live in Los Angeles. What’s the vibe like out there for a young alum?
I love Los Angeles, the weather can’t be beat! When I first moved to California, I didn’t really know anybody, so I spent a lot of time getting involved in the Duke Alumni Club. I was able to meet people from my own grade at Duke that I didn’t know before.
Anything else you would like to share with students?
Summer internships play a really important role in getting a full-time job. I interned at NASA, which was different from what everyone else was doing. This internship required me to take a semester off school instead of studying abroad. Having NASA on my resume differentiated me from the rest of the crowd. Spending effort and time to land a solid internship will give you a leg up when you go into full-time recruiting.