One Year Out

This post was originally posted on The Huffington Post.

It has been just over a year since I made the jump with Shaila (my cofounder) and started Enstitute. We’ve had a hell of a year. We’ve done a lot of things right. We’ve done even more things wrong. We’ve laughed, fought, hugged it out, and shopped at Costco more than I can begin to describe. Most importantly, I’ve learned a lot this year. Here are my biggest take aways:

1.    You need a stomach of steel.

 When Marc Andreessen referred to startups as “roller coasters,” he was being nice. Startups are the most gut wrenching, bipolar, emotional mind tricks you will ever experience. Today is a good day. Yesterday sucked. A couple months ago, Enstitute almost never happened. Now we’re looking at national expansion. It’s impossible to prepare yourself for what is going to happen. The best you can do is promise yourself never to quit and surround yourself with people who will listen to you complain and celebrate your successes (wins?).

 2.    You know if something works really quickly.

It becomes apparent very quickly when what you are doing isn’t working and needs to be tweaked, overhauled, or dumped. It is also really easy to get tunnel vision and keep hacking away on something even though it’s not the best use of resources. It is important to set timelines and measurable goals of that timeline to make sure you are constantly utilizing your resources properly. If something doesn’t work, move on. The next thing might.

3.    It is okay to be wrong.

I am wrong all the time and that is okay. When you are wrong, you learn. What is most important is that you are someone who can accept being wrong, learn from it, and move on. It is important to work with people who can and will tell you when you are making a wrong decision.

 4.    You always have time for friends and family.

No matter how busy you are, make times for those that you love. It doesn’t have to be a lot of time, but don’t let your personal relationships suffer. It’s not worth it and you will work better when you are fulfilled across all areas of your life. If you have a significant other, commit time every week to spend with them. There are times when you need to be “heads down”, but you always have to come up for air.

5.    Ask for help; people want to give it.

People are awesome. They want to help you. They want to spread the word, test your product, intro you to people, etc. They also want you to respect their time, brain, and relationships. Do not be afraid to ask for help, but also be generous with your time. Help others and they will help you. Rising tides carry all boats.

6.    Teams are EVERYTHING.

Amen. People say this all the time, and I am going to repeat it once more, having a TEAM IS EVERYTHING. Shaila is my exact opposite—in skills, temperament, decision-making processes, outlook, etc. She is also the best person I have ever partnered with and one of my best friends. Enstitute would have never happened without her. When we brought on our first hire, Katie, we found someone who has the traditional education experience we are lacking but was a perfect culture and personality fit. We thought to hire her right away, but still brought her on as an intern to make sure it was right. By testing before buying, we were able to see that she was passionate and willing to take the risk while testing to make sure she could do the job.

7.    Celebrate small successes.

No matter how small, make sure to recognize the wins and successes you and your team have. This can be done over a drink, via email, or with small rewards to your team. Celebrating small successes keeps everyone motivated and makes sure people feel appreciated.

8.    Take time to think .

Sometimes, you just need to think. Set aside time to strategize, plan, and think big. I have a running email draft that I update weekly with goals, running projects, long-term plans, and dreams. It is good to stay focused on short term goals but it helps me to spend an hour a week putting my big and long term ideas down. I often do this on subway rides or while traveling.

9.     Everything takes longer than you think.

Timelines are important. Realistic ones are more important. Everything big we have done has taken longer than I thought. Managing big deadlines has taught me to set realistic expectations for my team and myself to deliver a polished, well-executed product.

2012 taught me a lot. I expect 2013 to teach me even more as Enstitute grows and expands. For now, time to take my lessons learned and put them to work.

A Backpacker’s Story – Dinner With Drake Baer

I’m honored to write about this week’s dinner guest, Drake Baer. His visit felt very different from most – Drake enraptured each of the 11 fellows listening at the dinner table. Drake has a keen way of telling stories – magical stories, in fact – that I’ll humbly attempt to re-create in my own words. As an accomplished contributor to Fast Company, Drake has a unique perspective on writing. It has developed through and benefited from his backpacking in Prague after college and ending up in Seoul after two years exploring, not only the wilderness, but also himself. Drake shared his compelling story with the fellows, marking this dinner as one of the most inspiring and bizarre dinners in Enstitute history.

“You have to have a healthy relationship with your own ignorance”

I heard Drake explain as I sat down for dinner. He began to elaborate further, and explained that we have to accept the fact that we’re all inherently ignorant, especially at the beginning of a process (usually a goal). We can’t help it. For example, while writing this blog, I sat down bitterly aware of how horrid my first draft really was. I was OK with that. If I were to trick myself into thinking that because I can’t write a finished piece in one sitting that I’m a bad writer, then I would simply not write at all. Drake provided great examples of how ignorance can play into success.

For example, Drake mentioned Jeremy Stoppleman and his process of building Yelp from a five person team to a multimillion dollar publicly traded entity. Stoppleman started Yelp with the idea that reviews for restaurants would best spread by word of mouth. Not until 2007, nearly three years after Yelp launched in 2004, did Stoppleman consider allowing users to write reviews and comments on the site without a prompt generated by Yelp. Had Stoppleman known that Yelp wasn’t going to be a success at first, he may have never started the $137 million publicly traded local directory service (with social networking and user reviews) that Yelp is today.

One tremendous example of ignorance stands out in my life: I moved to New York City after high school, not to go to college, but instead, to be part of the first class of Enstitute. Keep in mind that Enstitute was “E[nstitute]” back then, and it was very different from the Enstitute I know now. At E[nstitute], on move-in day on a sunny, breezy afternoon in September, there was no guarantee of a thriving program filled with valuable connections and mentors. There was no guarantee of anything, really; there was no guarantee of the program existing. Nevertheless, I decided it would be most valuable for me to convince my parents that this was a truly remarkable once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. My parents were convinced, so we packed the car, drove to New York City, and I (ignorantly, mind you) moved into what would be Enstitute and called it my new home. That is the most valuable decision I’ve made in my life, and it took a considerable amount of ignorance to get there.

Drake conveyed our need to accept the fact that we aren’t perfect; we’re all irrational human beings after all. We need to embrace our ignorance at times by using it as a catalyst to achieve our goals. Whether this goal is to write a story, start a company, or build the world’s largest tower of doughnuts, we all need to embrace our ignorance and use it to our advantage. After all, we’re gonna need it.

This brings me to another valuable mantra of Bear’s, discovered while conversing with a middle-aged Frenchman:

“Making decisions is not just choosing one thing; making decisions is the process of not choosing millions of others.”

When I heard Drake explain this, I immediately put down my fork and stopped eating. “Damn,” I thought to myself. “This guy’s legit.”

Making decisions is no easy task, and we’re bombarded with hundreds, even thousands of them every day. Decision making is a skill that I’m constantly looking to improve.

When I think about eliminating options in the decision making process, I’m reminded of a sculptor. I do not see the greedy sculptor who won’t stop creating, but the diligent sculptor who constantly chips away the unnecessary until he’s left with a beautiful, simple piece of artwork. That’s what the decision making process is, after all: chipping away the unnecessary and deciding what you really need or want.

“Business is really fast and government is really slow”

I heard this and began to choke on my red potatoes. This time, he’s really made a point.

Think about it. Government, and large institutions for that matter, can’t keep up with business. Products that empower the people will inevitably come first – it comes down to the fact that people will simply no longer rely on larger institutions because smaller, and more agile alternatives will exist. If government, bureaucracy, and large industries are cruise-ships, then small businesses are sail boats made of match sticks: although fragile, these lightweight businesses are more agile, risk averse, and prone to reacting faster to changes in the current marketplace.

“I’m most interested about how people and personalities affect a product.”

This strongly resonates with me. I’m lucky enough to work with a brilliant team at Betterment, and with that comes being able to observe how brilliance translates into a tangible product. With almost 30 team members, Betterment has created a product with its own personality, and has grown to $130,000,000 assets under management while doing so – all while enlightening one user at a time.

I look at this as a reminder that selling a product for profit is the old business, creating a product that touches its customers through emotion is the new. It’s a reminder to constantly think about how businesses and products make people feel, and finally, recognize that we’re making stuff for humans. We’re making stuff for these terribly indecisive and irrational beings that I’ve been telling you about.

Drake never exactly told me why he chose Prague after college. He mentioned something about the melancholic atmosphere: “All of the gorgeous people, crying into their beers… I wanted that,” he explained. And I think I understand. Maybe one of these days, I can end up in Prague as well, beer in hand, tears aflow.

This post was written by Connor Lee who is apprenticing with Jon Stein at Betterment. You can visit his blog here:

My Enstitute Experience

Honestly, before I came across Enstitute, the idea of not going to college had never crossed my mind. I was planning to do what most high school graduates do…go to college. I’m sure the experience would have been great, but what would I have really gotten out of it?

Let’s look at college for what it is: an investment. I would be paying over $100K for four years of schooling to get a business degree that more than 358,000 people got last year. In theory, you receive a degree to get a job, but that is much more difficult than it used to be.

The main reason is that your typical graduate doesn’t have the skills necessary to join the workforce, making him a less desirable hire compared to someone who has work experience. The truth is that a bachelor’s degree is not what it used to be 20 years ago. Many employers feel that having hands-on experience and the skills that develop with that experience makes a person more marketable, rather than the diploma. When you walk across the stage to receive that diploma you are telling everyone that you have successfully sat through lectures, scored well enough on tests, and are now ready to go out and get busy learning how to apply four years of book smarts.

To me, the beautiful thing about Enstitute is that it perfectly blends learning and application of knowledge. In high school, I would always ask myself, “When will I ever use this?” That’s not the case with Enstitute. Much of what I learn is useful and immediately applicable. Knowing that every day’s lessons are useful makes learning a completely different experience. It is actually enjoyable, meaningful, and motivating.

It’s hard to believe that I am only 6 months into the program. I have learned so much and I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything else. I truly think that Enstitute is the future of higher education and I am so excited to be a part of it.

Trusting Where Your Inspiration Leads You

I’m left with the necessities — backpack, clothes, laptop — and no agenda whatsoever. After spending an evening on Hipmunk looking at international flights, I’ve decided that I want to spend time in India. I’m not exactly sure for how long, what I want to do, or where I want to go. I do know, however, that I want to be as far removed from my comfort zone as possible. I tell a friend about my plans and he can’t possibly understand why I’d want to travel there. Poverty. Crowdedness. Dirtiness. Why India? The negatives, as he sees them, are part of the allure for me. I want to experience a world different from what I’ve known and is familiar.

I’ve always gravitated toward experiential learning. Experiential learning, one’s best teacher, has taken on many shapes and forms throughout my life. At age 12 it meant traveling to Ohio for a week-long jiu-jitsu training intensive, in which I trained side by side with Olympic medalists. At age 17 it meant deciding to enroll in University of Michigan’s nursing school program to get the exposure and experience of being in the hospital setting, before pursuing med school and my aspirations of becoming a doctor.  At age 18 it meant accidentally starting my first business and accidentally discovering my passion.

By summer 2012, I decided the next chapter of my life would be one of two options. I envisioned freeing myself of unnecessary possessions, booking an international flight, and spending the next six months traveling in India, Nepal, and Tibet. I wanted to immerse myself in a myriad of cultures, cross paths with locals and other travelers, and let my experience teach me about the world. The other option involved moving across the country, the fourth state I’d be living in within three years, to work hands on with respected leaders of the New York City tech community. I’d be building on my entrepreneurial foundation and be fulfilling an obsession. Though the choices seemed so different, I imagine I’d be learning many of the same lessons in Asia: getting comfortable being uncomfortable, taking initiative, and adapting to the unexpected.

Two distinct choices. Two heuristic approaches to learning. I was thrilled to be in a win-win situation.

Musings of A VC over Dinner

While Nikhil Kalghatgi might be ‘spitting term sheets like they’re going out of style’ on a daily basis, he stopped by for an incredibly candid, fun, and humbling dinner.

Nikhil is a NYC venture capitalist at Softbank Capital (portfolio ranges from Associated Content to Zynga). The venture capital world is notorious for being a ‘learn by doing’ structured industry that encourages mentor/mentee relationships. Nikhil shared a few tips and tricks from the VC world with us:

What’s a salary to a startup – can you please remind me?

Upon entering the startup world, Nikhil asked to be paid exclusively in intros and deal flow – the currency of the startup world. He understood the value of one hundred introductions a month and was aware of the potential of human relationships.

Don’t become somebody that I used to know.

If you’re not sending 50+ emails a day, you’re doing something wrong. You must value relationships over everything else. Nikhil claims that he still sucks at it, but is constantly reaching out to friends to keep relationships warm. It’s never worth writing someone off. He personally guarantees a response to EVERY email as stated on his blog (

I’ll bring my friends, you bring your friends, and we can all be friends.

Actively review your network, group connections, and record details (kids’ names, birthdays, pets, etc.). There is no single address book to rule them all – Nikhil uses Google docs like a fiend as well as apps such as Brewster and Contactually to manage his connections. He ranks relationships on a scale of 1-5 to know where people stand. Share your network to grow it and add value. Take workcations with friends and become better friends.

Rolling in the deep.

Invest in people > statistics. Every venture fund breaks their rules/investment thesis for something that’s really sexy. Nikhil stated the importance of delivering on your promises – if you commit to a company; you need to carry out the deal.

The tech world lives and dies by whispers, not bangs.

It’s easy to spend money but hard to make money in venture capital. Companies are bought, not sold. Venture capital highlights Nikhil’s strengths (trust-building, honesty) and hides his weaknesses (being somewhat ADD). Clear communication is integral to solid relationships and good decision-making. The venture capital business is all about trust. Honesty is the best policy.

Go play a video game.

Have fun. After a dinner full of sharing stories, lessons on VC’s, managing relationships, family, and Indian accents, we challenged Nikhil to a game of N64 Super Smash Brothers with $100 on the line. He won and dropped the controller on his way out. Like a boss.

Dealing with Sunk Costs: A Dinner with Black Ocean

At a recent Enstitute dinner with Oliver Ripley, Dickon Waterfield, and Miguel Calderon of Black Ocean, one of the fellows asked the trio what their biggest learning experience had been to date. Dickon replied “sunk cost fallacy.” The three of them explained a dilemma in which they had to choose between cutting off funding to a struggling portfolio company, which would lose them their initial investment, and keeping the cash flowing in hopes that the company would persevere and bring long-term profitability. This tough choice made the team realize how difficult it was to detach their emotions from a company they had been with from the start. Absorbing their initial loss and cutting off future cash would open up the opportunity to find new investments that could make back that loss. On the other hand, they had invested their passion for building a business into this company and letting it fail would cost them emotionally.

This story helped me internalize the importance of emotional awareness when facing a dilemma. The Black Ocean team loves to build, grow, and expand businesses and communities from the ground up. While they naturally want to see each business mature into a self-sufficient, profitable company, they also need to rationally assess the likelihood of success along the way. Their day-to-day involvement with people and their work is intense and rewarding. As a result, letting a business go can disappoint their co-workers, other stakeholders, and even themselves.

I had a very different experience when faced with my own sunk cost dilemma of staying in college or joining Enstitute. My parents had paid two years of expensive college tuition, and I felt peer and family pressure to conform to the typical four years of study.  However, when deciding to stay or to leave, I did not fall into the sunk cost fallacy. I couldn’t stay simply to “justify” spent dollars or meet the expectations of people around me. I wasn’t passionate or emotionally invested in college. I had to leave.

It’s not surprising that the Black Ocean guys found their decision extremely difficult given how fully vested they were in the company, while I had an easy decision because I wasn’t fully vested in my college education. After just four months with the Enstitute and Thrillist communities, nothing could convince me to leave. My monetary investment is zero and my personal investment is huge. It’s better for me because I’m more self-aware and devoted to investing heavily in my passions every day.


School Cliff: Learning That Doesn’t Suck

School Cliff: Learning That Doesn’t Suck by Katie Vander Ark was originally published on 


A college prof called yesterday. He said, “College sucks.” He’s taking a couple courses as a humbling market research project. He found dated content and tools and disengaged students. I said, “If you want to see disengagement, you should try a high school algebra course.”

Brandon Busteed, the Executive Director of Gallup Education wrote afascinating piece for the Gallup blog where he discusses that there may be something far more important to this country right now then the fiscal cliff and that is what he called the “school cliff.”

The poll mentioned in his blog shows the decline in student engagement, specifically by stifling learning environments and the “overzealous focus” of standardized tests. The poll also states that this is the time that students show high entrepreneurial spirit.

The solution to disengaged students is people, policies, pathways, and tools.

The Future Project models a human capital solution to the engagement problem. “The Future Project is a national experiment in education reinvention out to turn ordinary high schools into Future Schools, where students become passionate, innovative, and entrepreneurial — and turn their dreams into action, left, and right,” said Future Project CEO Andrew Magino.

The policy solution, outlined for K-12 by Digital Learning Now!, is a high-tech, show-what-you-know system where student have more ownership over learning and progress as they demonstrate mastery.

At Enstitute we are creating an example of a new pathway to careers—an apprenticeship model to entrepreneurship with wrap around learning opportunities. We think high school students should have exposure to entrepreneurship and access to alternative pathways to careers. Enstitute is aligned and was founded on the theory that not everyone learns the same way and should be encouraged to follow an educational pathway that best suites them.

And finally, students should have full time access to online learning resources and blended learning experiences from high school to work. Next gen pathways will combine new tools with real work experiences—on the job learning, mentorship and a personalized playlist of online curriculum.

Given more student apprenticeship opportunities, this could also be the way that many companies recruit and develop talent.

The disengagement issue is a national problem for the US education system and economy. Our schools and universities bear little resemblance to life and work in the real world. We need to mobilize people, reshape policy, form new pathways, and use new tools to create new schools. As Brandon Busteed suggests, let’s please attempt to overhaul our education system before we go over “the school cliff.”

From Ordinary to Extraordinary: Transformational Leadership

Living in NYC and constantly interacting with entrepreneurs, VCs, and thought leaders has provided me with the opportunity to witness great leadership through executive decisions, intelligent conversations, out-of-the-box thinking, and unparalleled vision, amongst other things.

The practical education I’m getting from working alongside an entrepreneur can only be learned by getting your hands dirty, diving into new projects, owning them, and getting shit done.

To me, leadership is demonstrated by doing ordinary tasks extraordinarily well to achieve a greater impact.

That is what Robert Mulhall did.

Robert was a chartered accountant at PriceWaterhouse Coopers (PWC). Following his passion to make a positive impact in the world, he switched careers to social enterprise in overseas development to address issues such as poverty, disease, inequality, war, and abuse.

We were lucky to have Robert at Enstitute last week.
He introduced the concept of transformational leadership which is based on:

1. the ethos of service,

2. an awareness of need, and

3. an intent of being ‘good for all’, rather than a subset of the population.

In caring for the needs of all, transformational leaders seek cooperation to go out and make a positive difference in the world by overcoming adversity and adapting to change.

Robert outlined three types of energies used to harness various situations depending on what is needed.

Sloth energy – slow and heavy (used for sleeping, relaxing, etc.)

Tiger energy – uplifting and motivational (used for playing sports, etc.)

Swan energy – calm and focused (used for brainstorming and a particularly frustrating group task of lowering a plastic rod to the ground with 11 people only using our fingers – it’s more difficult than it sounds!)

By recognizing the type of energy needed for a task, you are able to complete it more efficiently and with greater clarity. Spend your time wisely in the new year!

Bits of Life, Learning and Working at Bitly

During the past month and a half at E[nstitute], I have experienced more than I could’ve possibly imagined. Looking back, the two weeks of boot camp definitely set the pace for the next two years of our apprenticeships through back-to-back projects to event planning on $100 budgets—all with unexpected issues and changes popping up left and right. What hit me the hardest, however, was not the workload or fast-paced environment, but rather the sudden passing of my grandmother just one week into boot camp.  That experience alone opened my eyes to the true nature of uncertainty and taught me not only how to grieve but how to balance family and work at the same time.
Being a firm believer that from every negative event, whether it be tragedy or failure, there is a positive lesson to be learned and growth to be made, I can say that all of my experiences during boot camp have in one way or another prepared me for my apprenticeship under Hilary Mason at Bitly From the past three weeks of  my apprenticeship, I have learned many things about myself and the environment around me. For example, I’ve realized I work best when I have a deep and full understanding of what is going on at a company. At Bitly specifically, I noticed that my lack of knowledge about the enterprise-facing product limited my creativity in developing a platform marketing strategy and so I made it a priority to sit in on a sales demo.  In addition, after my first few days of work, it quickly became apparent that there was a huge learning curve for me on the data science team in order to develop in python and be able to contribute value to the rest of my incredibly intelligent coworkers—many of who held PhDs in a number of areas.  However, after attending a Tech@NYU event and listening to Cindy Gallop, the founder of, say that in order to disrupt an industry or change the world you must be willing to disrupt yourself, I realized that I needed to be comfortable with embracing uncomfortable situations, which in my case was the daunting task of getting good at Python in a short period of time.

After accepting my lack of experience with data, I realized there was no longer anything stopping me from making up for it by closing the gap from what I knew today and what I needed to know tomorrow.  Increased self-awareness and the simple act of acknowledging where I fell short served as the source of my motivation, and since then I’ve realized that I learn best under the pressure of performance expectations set by both Hilary and E[nstitute] as well as myself.  Fortunately, Hilary has been really great at helping me reach those expectations by not only giving me challenging tasks but also inviting me to high-level events where I can meet and learn from people like Todd Park, the Chief Technology Officer of the United States.

So, it is the prospect of new experiences like the ones mentioned above that excites me the most about the next two years I spend at E[nstitute]—and what a journey that will be.

Applications Have Opened!

Enstitute Enlists Support of The Kauffman Foundation and Opens New Applications  

Expands Education Program to Include Digital Media/Advertising & Non-Profit/ Social Good

NEW YORK, NYEnstitute, the startup apprenticeship based higher education program, announced today their expansion into Digital Media/Advertising and Non-Profits/Social Good with the launch of applications for their next class of fellows. With the research support of the Kauffman Foundation, Enstitute’s second class will nearly triple in size with plans to expand the program nationwide by 2014.

Launched in early 2012, the first class of fellows have completed their first four months on the job under some of NYC’s top technology entrepreneurs including Hilary Mason of Bitly, and Ben Lerer of Thrillist. Enstitute fellows pair real-world, on the job, experience with an online curriculum of foundational courses curated through partnerships with Tree House and Skillshare and MOOCs from Harvard, Stanford, MIT, and Coursera.


“We’re offering students another option for higher education that has a stronger focus on practicality and skills but a commitment to creating well-rounded and educated generation,” says Kane Sarhan, Co-Founder of Enstitute. “By sourcing top-tier educational content that is available online and through partnerships, as well as pairing it with apprenticeship-based learning, we are able to provide our fellows with the best of both worlds.”
Research and program development for the new class is being done in collaboration with The Kauffman Foundation. The Kauffman Foundation is regarded as, “one of the largest foundations in the United States—or as the world’s largest foundation devoted to entrepreneurship,” and has been featured everywhere from Fast Company to the The Examiner. Dane Stangler, Director of Research at The Kauffmann Foundation says, “Enstitute is an innovative way to address major shortcomings in American education and how we prepare people to participate in the entrepreneurial economy. We’re excited and proud to be involved.”


In 2013, Enstitute and the Kauffmann Foundation will be releasing reports concerning our fellows’ growth and the importance of supplemental curriculum in correlation with on the job experiences.

Applications will be open from December 4th – February 15th. You can learn more about the application and program by visiting:


About Enstitute
Enstitute, a 501(c)(3) non-profit, is implementing a new low-cost model of higher education. With an apprenticeship-based “Learn by Doing” approach that pairs students with their interests, Enstitute is turning startups and small businesses into classrooms. Enstitute works with the best entrepreneurs and innovators to educate tomorrow’s workforce, revitalize economies, and transform lives through entrepreneurship focused education.


Dinner with Scott Belsky

Dinner with Scott Belsky- Co-Founder of Behance, an online platform that helps connect artists and designers to companies while showcasing their work effectively and efficiently.

As we bombard Scott with question after question- rendering him unable to bring his fork to his face more than a handful of times- he delivers what this fellow believes to be some of the most practical knowledge we’ve been given by a guest speaker thus far. 

I’ve broken down our night into a five main points from Scott followed by how they relate back to concepts we’ve been learning at E[nstitute].

*One thing to note, I’m a huge fan of witty/inspirational quotes. I believe if someone said it right the first time, then you should use it. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel…and you can totally quote me on that;-).

1. Hire based on initiative, not solely their experience.

Your resume doesn’t need to state “this is my GPA”. It needs to show “This is what the hell I’ve done with my life. These are my accomplishments”.  Acing a multiple- choice test vs. executing a product launch. You tell me which is more impressive to a potential employer. 

2. Networking has now been replaced by a new, improved idea: sharing.

You scratch my back, I scratch your back. We’ve been told countless times in this program to make it a habit of getting on LinkedIn to see if we can help make useful connections for others in our network. People like people who help them out, and will be more willing to return the favor.

3. The best indicator of future initiative is past initiative.

Ties in perfectly with a concept I was taught in Psych 101: The single best predictor of future behavior is…you guessed it- past behavior.  A person who is proactive now will mostly likely be so once hired, and vice-versa.

4. “Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration”. – Thomas Jefferson

A decent idea with perfect execution will beat a brilliant idea with average execution, every time.

5. Don’t raise money until you’re in love with what you’re doing.

“It’s like getting all your wedding gifts right after your first day. Suddenly, you have to make it work”. We’ve also been told time and time again about how getting money early on to fund your idea is awesome… About as awesome as having a ticking time bomb strapped to your chest. Investors expect results, and if you don’t deliver in a timely fashion, you’re more likely to do something you don’t necessarily want to do in order to maintain that funding. Bootstrap, bootstrap, bootstrap.

He also gave us some insight around the key components of the Behance organization, as well as a key feature behind the scenes- the “appreciation” system.

Behance organization

–       Promotes Meritocracy -opportunity & rewards based on contributions, not seniority

–       Create an environment where people can challenge the status quo. Question things that don’t make sense- sometimes things are done a certain way simply because that’s the way they’ve always been done.  The majority of systems in the world are in need of a renaissance.

–       Speak up! Everyone in an organization has an opinion that should be valued. Scott is not a fan of having “leaders” in groups, except to make final decisions.

Behance Artist rating system

–       Creative meritocracy– pairing the best talent w/ the best opportunity through an weighted appreciation system. Foursquare doesn’t focus solely on how high or low you rate a place, but instead how many times you go back. Things often get rated highly or low for the wrong reasons. Your art may have received 100 likes on Facebook. Awesome! But what does that really mean? Behance has a way to quantify their data.

–       Behance also uses specific metrics to balance quality as well as quantity of appreciations to help undiscovered artists and talent rise to the top alongside the design giants from top companies like Google, Twitter, etc.

As the evening came to a close, Scott signed off with the following message:

“If you want something you’ve never had, you must be willing to do something you’ve never done.”

Don’t be afraid to take chances, try something new and not follow a “traditional pathway”. So what are you waiting for?

We’re Looking for Interns!

What we are looking for:

We are looking for a go-getter with an entrepreneurial spirit. You led every club in high school and started initiatives in your hometown. Sitting in a classroom is not quite the answer for you because you prefer to learn by doing. An ideal addition to our team shares our passion to change the higher education space and wants to help us grow over the next year.

Available Internships: 

Become an ambassador to the community for E[nstitute]
Manage social media channels
Research fundraising best practices
Manage communication with the community including our advisors, ambassadors, and entrepreneurs

Assist with curriculum deployment & assessment
Research and implement human capital development tools
Program research & reporting on program progress
Recruitment coordination with prospective students and entrepreneurs

We are looking for students, recent graduates or unschoolers to start in late October. You will work 2-3 days a week and we are flexible with the days and times. Please only apply if you are a NYC resident currently.

What you get:
-Free Lunch, daily
-Potential college credit
-Access to networking and learning events with top NYC entrepreneurs and tech startups
-Access to our network to help you achieve your goals

About Enstitute: 
Enstitute is shaking up education by offering one of the first alternative education programs for students that are unsatisfied with rudimentary learning or have entrepreneurial inclinations. Enstitute creates community and support for young professionals looking to learn and refine their interests in real-world environments. The two-year apprenticeship program places Fellows with top entrepreneurs and provides over 300 mentors and advisors for fellows to engage with.

How to apply:
Send us 250 words about yourself, which internship you are interested in and links to your social media, blogs, and/or websites to hello (at) enstituteu dot com

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Catching Up With Weezie

Nine months ago I would have never guessed that I would be living in New York City and apprenticing for Sascha Lewis, the entrepreneur who co-founded Flavorpill, a creative and well-regarded events and media production company. I couldn’t have conceived that I’d be residing in an amazing loft in the financial district with ten other young doers and thinkers. But here I am, two weeks into E[nstitute] and I’m coming to realize that yes, this really is my life for the next two years.

I left college a year and nine months ago after wrestling with several conflicting feelings about the college experience. Although I had several amazing teachers, made great friends, and had been given access to great resources, I felt that, first and foremost, it wasn’t worth the price-tag and the amount of debt I was getting myself into with risky job prospects on the horizon. I also found myself feeling a lack of real world relevancy in what I was learning. I consider myself to be an entrepreneurial thinker, and the way school was structured just wasn’t entirely allowing for this way of learning and doing.

Before I moved forward in school, I decided to take time off and explore how else I could learn what I needed for what I wanted to do in the world. I traveled, volunteered, and worked in the US and in Europe. I attended various conferences and workshops relating to topics like redesigning systems, social entrepreneurship, and sustainable development. I started The Eduventurist Project, in which I interviewed dozens of people about the changing landscape of learning and working in our digital, globalized, and connected society. This time off turned into leaving college altogether for the time being, as I realized that I was gaining a lot more from my learning experiences outside of formal higher education at this point in my life.

That’s when I came across E[nstitute]. I found a link to it through Facebook, and knew I had to apply. It was the perfect blend between college and “The Real World,” and incorporated the positive elements of each. I’ve spent the past 20 months exploring how new learning programs can prepare students for the world of the future, and E[nstitute] understood these needs as well. In E[nstitute] I would have a community of peers to live and learn with as well as a community to work with at Flavorpill. I would have mentorship from someone who I believe embodies the characteristics of a leader and creative visionary.  I would participate in programming and events with some of the top players in the New York tech and start-up community. I was so grateful and excited to be accepted and before I knew it, on a plane to New York at the beginning of September.

After meeting everyone and getting a tour of the E[nstitute] Headquarters, it was time to begin bootcamp. The other fellows and I spent the next two weeks unlearning many things we had been taught in traditional school that were not conducive to being entrepreneurial or even working in the real-life start-up community. We were given tasks that had us tackling ambiguity, navigating group communication and feedback, brainstorming and generating creative ideas, and learning the ins and outs of web design and digital communication. We received emails daily from a fictional entrepreneur, assigning us tasks like writing up talking points for a New York Times interview, or even designing a new pitch deck for our companies. In addition to these tasks, we hosted various guest speakers who spoke on topics ranging from creating a good organizational culture to how technology intersects with democratic and civic efforts.

We are now on week three of our apprenticeships, and forming new skills and habits every day. In my role at Flavorpill, I am exposed to critical new areas for my entrepreneurial development, such as sales. I listen closely to the sales team meetings and conversations with clients in order to observe the art of negotiation and partnership building. In my first week I gained insight into large-scale event organizing when I worked to organize a fundraiser that utilized new digital technologies such as Square as part of Flavorpill’s Yoga in the Park event, which drew over 500 people. But I have also been enabled to further exercise and build upon my existing skills and knowledge set of social enterprise as Social Impact Program Manager. From working on office sustainability practices and a new employee volunteer program, to talking with potential social impact curators for Flavorpill’s new site, I’ve been fully immersed in this effort. Having Sascha as a boss and mentor has been extremely helpful. He is always giving me feedback and input on who to learn from and how to get things done. I can’t wait to see how much more I will learn in the coming months, and I find it amazing what I’ve already learned in the first few weeks of this incredibly exciting learning venture.

My First Term Paper

My first mistake comes in the form of realizing a big difference between college and the real world. A rude awakening found me just two days into my apprenticeship. On my second day at Holstee, I was assigned my first real task: competitor research. My first thought was “Hell yeah! How official does that sound?!” So I got to work…

I constructed a word document, averaging about one page per competitor. If there was public information about the competiton, it was in this document. I hated numbers in high school and for most of college, so papers were my thing! And this paper…was beautiful. Hyperlinks all over, headers, footers, charts, graphs, the works. Hell, I almost cited the whole thing but couldn’t decide between MLA or APA. It was much more than they asked for.  I even came across two other potential competitors during my research and added them to the document. I was very proud of my work. That would soon change.

Due to a miscommunication, one of my colleagues had previously completed the same task. Twenty minutes before I was to present my work, we exchanged documents and the wind was immediately taken from my sails.  His was an excel sheet, with three columns of information, summing up almost my entire paper into the raw facts and data. He had also found the same two additional competitors that I had “discovered” (much like Christopher Columbus).  His info was obviously easier to work with and manage.

While struggling with how I could have possibly went wrong, I had an epiphany. I was still stuck in college mode- aka “theoretical mode”. Instead of gathering information for my bosses to use effectively, I was writing a paper for my professor to mark up with a red pen. I wasn’t thinking functionality, I was thinking grades, and my heart was set on an A+.  I lost sight of the actual purposeof what I was creating, and it therefore had almost no practical use.

So I have a proposal for college (And yes, from now on I will be referring to the group of institutions as if they were one person that I have the ability to address). Stop making students simply write papers. Between Wikipedia and kids who write papers for money, (those kids should be entrepreneurs, they just don’t know it yet!) writing a paper is mostly busy-work anymore. Knowledge is abundant.  Application however is not.  Assignments where students write a lesson plan and teach their cohorts about a topic would be way more beneficial and useful, and not just to the student who is doing the teaching. Perhaps the mere act of having material presented by someone who is more “on their level” would peak curiosity and help other students process the information more effectively.

Eight years of spitting out papers using an assembly line method came to an immediate halt just one week into the real world of work. I can only imagine what other techniques and information that I “know” will be disrupted on the rest of my journey.