A Startup Detours…

Guest Post by Lakshya Datta, founder of Launchora

My name is Lakshya Datta. Some of you may remember me from the guest post I did for Tiffany a few weeks ago titled “The Allure of The Founder”.

The time, as I begin writing this, is about 2:06 AM on December 5, 2013. I arrived home in San Diego just a couple hours ago from San Francisco where I was visiting extended family. Tomorrow is my last teaching day at San Diego State University, before Final exams next week.

As usual, I began my day with going on the www.uscis.gov website and checking the status of my H1b Work Visa petition. I am an Indian citizen who has been in the United States since August 2007. I completed a Bachelors in Science degree in Management Science from University of California, San Diego in 2011. I’m currently living in the US on a work permit attached to my student visa (F1), which is expiring on December 31, 2013. That’s about 25 days away.

About 8 months ago, or 247 days ago to be specific since that is the number I count every day, I applied for the H1b visa through my startup, Launchora. I’m not going to get into the why-what-how here, but simply tell you where things are now.

Back to today. I woke up this morning and checked my visa status. When I had applied for the visa, the USCIS (the government entity that decides whether you get the visa or not) stated that they will provide me with a yes or no decision by September 30, 2013. On August 23, 2013  they informed my company that they need more paperwork as evidence to make the decision. My company and I complied. On October 7, 2013, they received the paperwork and stated that they will inform me (and Launchora) with a decision within 60 days. Those 60 days end this Friday, December 6, 2013.

This morning, just 2 days before the 60 days end, I checked my status and it was still in review. I exhaled and waited for the next day, the same thing I’ve been doing for the previous 246 days. When I reached home tonight, I checked my status again (about 30 minutes ago) and was informed that they have denied my visa application. The formal decision letter and the reasoning will be mailed to Launchora within 15 days.

Now, since I’ve only had about 30 minutes to process this, I have a few things fighting for thought and attention in my head. If you’d let me, I’d like to give you a breakdown of those thoughts in the order in which they were thought…

Okay, that happened

It was really a 50-50 chance buddy

Let’s figure out the alternatives

Maybe the USCIS system made a glitch and when I receive the actual letter it will be an approval

Probably not, the government doesn’t have glitches!

So what? Not getting to continue your career in the country you have spent age 17-24 isn’t the end of the world…

…Literally, there are more countries out there

Call your parents, be honest, be strong, be you, be better

Write it down and try to share your story, since that is what your idea and company represent

That pretty much brings us to this moment, right here. Here is what I can tell you – I will figure it out. Tomorrow (today, actually) will be the beginning of a new struggle. One I aim to face with all the strength I have.

Here’s another thing I can tell you. Actually this is more of a statement and a promise, because why not! The next time I write anything publicly (or, internet-ally) will be via Launchora – a platform I still envision to be a safe haven and outlet for any writer, any story. This company – this idea – has been my rock for the past 247 days (and many more before then) and it has yet to let me down. And with no barriers anymore – geographically at least – I am going to be Launchora’s rock and bring it to life, just as planned.

I’ll see you on another day, another way.

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Apply for BrightEyes’ 2014 Startup & Venture Capital Program

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A few students will be selected this school year to travel to San Francisco/Silicon Valley for 4-5 days, where they will have the opportunity to meet and network with UCSD alumni in the Startup and Venture Capital industry and take company tours. The program aims to help students develop their own career interests as well as provide them with the necessary tools and guidance to be successful. Additionally, we work closely with the students to help them obtain internships or full-time positions within the industry.

If you are a student entrepreneur or a student interested in joining a startup or breaking into the venture capital industry, we strongly encourage you to apply. Please see below for application deadlines.

BrightEyes Application Process:

1. Send Resumes to [Brighteyes.mentorship@gmail.com] by January 10th 12:00 PM (Optional: Cover Letter)

2. Written Assessment| January 31st

3. Phone Interviews | February 7th – February 14th

4. Final Applicants will be notified if chosen for program

Criteria:
+ Undergraduate UCSD Student

Please submit all resumes/cover letters to Brighteyes.mentorship@gmail.com. We look forward to reviewing your application.

+ Network with UCSD Alumni
+ Explore Opportunities in Venture Capital & Start Up
+ Take company tours in Silicon Valley and San Francisco

 

BrightEyes

BrightEyes is a program dedicated to providing students with an opportunity to experience a potential career and grow their knowledge and network in an industry.

Follow Up to “The Modern Woman – Standing Out”

Guest post from Jonathan Shan, Masters Candidate in Industrial-Organizational Psychology.

Follow Up to The Modern Woman – Standing Out 

My friend Tiffany and I were at a coffee shop back in late October and our conversation led to the discussion of how women in the workforce are stuck in a confidence/self-esteem bind, and how companies are faced with a spectrum of approaches ranging from passively and permissively allowing gender discrimination and inequality, to meeting the minimum effort in order to achieve legal coverage, to creating exclusive women events that may be polarizing by creating social in-groups/out-groups. Tiffany went ahead and blogged about how women can face the music here and asked me to do a follow-up piece here from an I/O Psychology perspective.

The Conformity Conundrum 

Conformity is described as simply the change in a person’s behavior or opinion as a result of external pressures. We mostly all face the same way when we’re going up an elevator, we typically sit in bleachers filled with our own basketball team fans, and we want to share similar feelings interests and much more. We are trying to fulfill our need for relatedness (within Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, our social and self-esteem/ego needs). That warm fuzzy feeling of belonging to something.

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From a personality theory framework, the Agreeableness trait within the Five Factor Model (AKA “The Big Five”) can best account for conformity, as the attributes associated with the high levels of agreeableness include being cooperative, likable, and trusting.

Within the workplace, conformity it is a dual edged sword where on one hand organizations want “team-players” who get along well within groups, and on the other hand being a conformist runs counter to American cultural values that celebrates the rugged individualist. If I cued: “non-conformist” you would probably think of MLK, Ghandi, Steve Jobs and anyone else you were ready to use for your SAT writing prompt. Great people who did extraordinary things because they didn’t conform, yet to what level can we reconcile and leverage our uniqueness within the workforce? Even Jobs’ tenure was fraught with controversy and diverging visions on the future of Apple, which at one point led to his ouster.

How can women find ways to manage the balance of not conforming to the good-ol’-boys club (System Justification Theory), and yet not be unfairly perceived as domineering, selfish, and overbearing?

Identity, Self-Esteem and Likeability 

Some people view the workplace as a stage where everyone is an actor playing a different role, while others view such an approach as a betrayal of the authentic self. Most people try to find the middle ground in establishing an identity that accommodates for the demands of the work climate yet expresses their personality. People who try to maintain a facade that runs counter to their personality may find that the amount of effort they have to do so is fatiguing (Ego Depletion Theory). What happens to your coworkers perceptions of you when they find out you are much different than who you made yourself out to be?

Identity is heavily mediated by self-esteem within the workplace. Self-esteem is important because having extremely low self-esteem leads to over-conformity and can result in poor responses to negative feedback, whereas moderate to high self-esteem leads to better coping and ability to take on challenges. Individuals within organizations that have a high level of emotional resilience will better be able to meet the challenges that arise.

As Tiffany states, likability should come secondary to self-esteem. Establish the self-esteem through content mastery, become the subject matter expert (the go-to person when questions come up).

Once you’ve demonstrated competence, show organizational-citizenship behaviors (such as helping others outside of your job description) and your colleagues will come to respect you more for what you can bring to the table.

When you know what needs to be done, find a source of drive. Sheryl Sandberg’s statement about taking ownership of work mirrors what  Salman Khan (Founder of Khan Academy) said in an interview when asked how to motivate students within an academic setting. This can be achieved through Job Characteristics Theory, which states that intrinsic motivation will occur when an individual has autonomy and a choice in determining the outcome, when the job is meaningful and the efforts matter to someone, and when there’s feedback provided to help guide them towards their goals.

Organizational Justice

Tiffany talked about how men respond negatively to women-only events and programs in the workplace, and this ties back to a larger debate over affirmative action, where companies have had to consider whether they should pursue the goal of correcting present iniquities or compensating past inequities  (Campbell, 1996) or a combination of the two. The biggest challenge is in implementing something that is exclusive to a certain group is the perception of organizational injustice.

Fair treatment of employees by organizations has important effects on individual employee attitudes, such as satisfaction and com- mitment, and on individual behaviors, such as absenteeism and citizenship behavior (Simons & Roberson as cited in Muchinsky, 2009), therefore creating programs that have good intentions may in the end foster a more counterproductive work environment. Here, stakeholders such as women should see that the company is in fact creating an environment that is equitable and offers equal pay and performance rewards irregardless of gender.

Action Questions

On conformity…

  • Commitment – Who do you want to be within the workplace? Are you willing to compromise your integrity or self-respect if they are challenged?
  • Accountability –  The best decision makers were those who cared about doing their best and had to explain their nonconformity to the people whose influence they resisted. Who do you answer to at the end of the day?
  • Communication – people should understand who you are, what your values are, where you draw the line. How can you make this clear to people without marginalizing yourself?

On self-esteem…

  • Identification – Can you identify the things holding you back?
  • Content Mastery – What do you need to establish competence to boost your belief in your abilities?
  • Support – Who can you draw strength from? Who can offer mentoring opportunities and provide you with help along the way?

On drive…

  • Purpose – Are you able to find meaning in your job and how it fits within the bigger company picture? Can you increase your skill set?
  • Autonomy – Does your manager/supervisor allow you a level of autonomy? Are you allowed to make some decisions on your own? What steps can you take to be granted such privileges?
  • Feedback – Are you getting constructive growth-oriented feedback?

More from Jonathan Shan here!

The Modern Woman – Standing Out

To fit in, we at times hide or downplay our strengths, creating a new identity for ourselves that is inferior to our true selves.  In the workplace, this is the reputation we give ourselves.  With many industries still male dominant, women struggle to establish a reputation that achieves both popularity and respect.  Women automatically place themselves in an inferior position when they attempt to “become one of the boys”.  I believe that by conforming to the interests of men and attempting to adopt the qualities that men value, women lose their identities and are actually unable to “fit in” further down their careers.  I define this as the “self-made glass ceiling”.  Rather, women should make an effort to stand out and prioritize respect not just likeability.

Observing some of the most successful women in this world, I’ve realized a defining quality that they all share: confidence in their abilities to lead, influence and succeed.  That they communicate their independence and embrace their own qualities and values enable them to defeat gender stereotypes and build a reputation around their potential to succeed and the work they produce.  In Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In she states that “owning one’s success is key to achieving more success” (44).  This further suggests that ownership of talent and capabilities is necessary for women to be able to set true expectations for themselves in the workplace.

First impressions in the workplace are defined by the expectations set for us by others and their belief in our ability to achieve.  Therefore, first impressions in our careers are more driven by perceived potential than likeability.  That said, women need to reveal their strengths and talents upon entering the workplace, rather than focusing solely on being well-liked.  Lean In discusses how confident women are more likely to be disliked and seen as selfish or difficult to work with; however, I believe likeability can evolve from respect for an individual’s passion, high quality of work and willingness to share knowledge.

Unavoidable company politics and likeability as a factor for career succession can make it difficult for women to overcome the pressure to fit in in a male dominated corporate culture.  Although many companies have initiated women’s programs intended to help create a community for women in the workplace, I believe that they have actually exacerbated the perception that women are promoted or retained because of diversity reasons and not qualification.  Many men actually respond negatively to women-only events and programs in the workplace, seeing them as a cult of feminists attacking men and campaigning for women promotions.  I think for women programs to be successful in the workplace they should exist at a junior level, such as sophomore internship programs.  They should exist as initial training programs rather than as a buffer throughout a woman’s career.  The more women that rely on companies to create opportunities for them, the farther away we are from establishing an equal gender environment.

I encourage all women to break the “self-made glass ceiling”.  Attention should be spent more on building up ourselves than gender debate.  To achieve this, drive with passion, surround yourself with smart people who constantly push and teach you (men and women), identify and act on leadership opportunities, own your achievements and just work hard.

“I do not wish women to have power over men; but over themselves.”

–Mary Wollstonecraft

BrightEyes on UCSD Campus

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BrightEyes is a mentorship program dedicated to providing students with an opportunity to experience potential careers and grow their knowledge and network in an industry. A few exceptional students will be selected each school year to travel to a city for four days, where they will have the opportunity to explore an industry by meeting with industry-leading companies and engaging with industry professionals.

The program aims to foster student career development by allowing the students to obtain necessary tools and guidance to be successful. Students can leverage the knowledge and network obtained on the trip to help achieve post-graduate employment and career mentorship. Additionally, BrightEyes continues to work closely with the students following the trip to help them obtain internships or full-time positions within the industry.

Learn more about BrightEyes here.

 

The Allure of Being a Founder

Guest Post from Lakshya Datta, founder and CEO of Launchora and a close friend of mine.

“If it’s a penny for your thoughts and you put in your two cents worth, then someone, somewhere is making a penny.”

— Steven Wright, Comedian

Opportunity is a horrible, beautiful, immortal creature. Many have seen it, but few were able to tame it. Those who have treated it right and with respect were introduced to opportunity’s sibling: success. I’m no expert (a necessary disclaimer before I pretend to talk like one), but I believe many entrepreneurs fail because they try to find success before recognizing the right opportunity. I can’t speak to what kind of entrepreneur I am, mostly since I’m still in the process of finding out myself.

I have been working on my first startup, Launchora, for about a year now. Just stating that time period as a fact makes me cringe. One year is a long time which seems even longer when you spend every waking minute working on the same idea over and over again until it starts to demand ownership of your life. I would like to make excuses for why it’s been a year and I still don’t have a finished product, but instead I’d like to tell you about why I am still optimistic about my – and by extension my company’s – uncertain future.

In Time

Before an idea can blossom into a working product, it must learn to be okay with being just an idea. We have the privilege of living in a self-updating world, so there is no excuse to create a product that doesn’t learn to become better over time. For example, while the core idea behind Launchora was solidified back in September 2012, I am constantly recognizing, adding, and deleting various paths the idea could take. Knowing that the time I’ve spent working on Launchora was well spent not only gives me comfort when facing uncertainty, but it also helps me see how far the idea has come from day 1 or even day 360. Sure, some days are just plain wasteful where there is barely a flicker in the light bulb, but it’s those days that make the productive and eventful days seem better.

The World Outside 

My first attempt at entrepreneurship wasn’t without its external setbacks. My biggest enemy has been one that doesn’t seem to know or care about me, nor does it give me any special consideration. But this external entity has somehow been instrumental in all decisions I’ve had to make as a first-time CEO, so I guess I can’t bad mouth it too much. Actually, I don’t intend to bad mouth it at all because this entity happens to still have me in its grasp. As an Indian citizen, it hasn’t been easy to build a company while also dealing with “you need a visa to even breathe here” systems. What seems like just one problem over time has adopted all other problems and made them its subsidiaries. Everything is under its control: strategy, fund raising, fund allocation, and even unnecessary expenses. Just one example: having a startup find the resources to pay its CEO (me) a six figure salary. Why you ask? The official answer: Because it’s a requirement. The real answer: payroll taxes. So if starting a company on its own wasn’t hard enough, restrictions should surely be appreciated by the creative minds of tomorrow who just tried to explore an opportunity.

But just because I have had some roadblocks doesn’t call for blame-throwing. As I write this, my future to work in this country is still uncertain, or at most limited to two scenarios –

Scenario A: I get to work on Launchora – still with many expensive restrictions – for at least the next 3 years.

Scenario B: I leave the US by the end of 2013 – after spending the last 6 years of my life here – with no guarantee of return. Oh, and no reimbursements.

While I may sound frustrated, I am actually much calmer outside of the written form. I’ve known the risks the entire time. I made the decision to start a company in the US. I made the decision to fulfill all requirements that the system dictated. I am a voluntary prisoner – living in a box I helped create. And I don’t regret it. Because the day I start to regret my actions and decisions is the day I’ll start to doubt my instinct. And what is an entrepreneur without instinct?

That brings me to my third and final segment…

Just Because

I chose to become an entrepreneur. I chose to leave a paying job and a promising career and embark on a journey with no guide or reference. Sure, some people may say this path isn’t a choice – that it was a calling or the only path for them. Those people may be right, but even they had to still make a choice to jump into this fog, even just as a formality.

For me the decision was easy, but I still made it a hard decision by taking my time to be sure. I was 22 when the idea for Launchora came to me, and I spent about 3 months before making it official. The problem wasn’t the idea – I had full faith in Launchora’s potential. The problem was letting go of a future already waiting for you. For a twenty-something, faith is a dangerous currency – one only accepted by your conscience. Even worse is the curse of optimistic thinking – a weapon many bear but rarely use. So in the end, when the decision came to finally make the jump into the fog, I found myself having only one reason to do so: “Just because I want to.” I am driven by an unrelenting sense of ambition – that is my self-inflicted curse.

Knowing the future can be overrated. I don’t know mine at all and I am still able to find happiness in my life. My instincts had led me to this point, and we’ve grown fond of each other over time. Whatever happens next, I am certain that one day my bet will pay off, and opportunity will finally introduce me to success.

The Mentorship Opportunity

“If you’re looking for an opportunity, you’re really looking for a person.”

–Reid Hoffman

Behind every successful person is a mentor.  A mentor can be a friend, family member, athletic coach, acquaintance or even a stranger.  But not all of these types of mentors are easily found.  Many overlook the importance of career mentors.  As students enter their first job or internship, they will discover that their professors’ syllabus did not cover e-mail etiquette, company politics, dress codes, politically-correct communication and industry-specific jargons, professional branding, importance of culture fit over work, career development tactics, etc.  The result of this lack of career guidance is what I call The Mentorship Opportunity.

The Mentorship Opportunity encompasses a number of initiatives that aims to connect a professional with a student or a professional with another professional who is looking to advance his or her career or transition into a new industry.  Companies that are doing this include Everwise and Clarity.

Everwise uses an indvidiual’s LinkedIn profile and a personalized questionnaire to pair an individual with a volunteer executive from a company with complementary skills.

Clarity helps connect mentors and individuals via phone calls. The mentor can either choose to talk for free or set a price for their time, and Clarity lets them either keep that money or donate it to a charity of their choice.

The challenge for these mentoring services is that they require constantly active users from both the mentor side and the mentee side.  Profitability is highly reliant on volume and user activity.  Inactivity from either the mentor or mentee of any of these services would result in a potential loss of users and impact the service’s credibility.  There is also the fear of one time users who sign on and are inactive after trial.  Finally, colleges are beginning to realize the power of the online alumni network and the demand for mentorship among their students and have started their own Free alumni network and mentoring platforms, questioning the sustainability of these independent mentorship service providers.  And as we all know, connecting with an alumnus is much easier than connecting with a stranger.  The opportunity lies in providing colleges with branded platforms and support features to help colleges grow their online community and reconnect with its alumni.  Additionally, an online alumni community complements the increase of educational offerings and resources online.

I am proud to say that my college UC San Diego has recently launched its own UC San Diego Alumni Advisor Network.  The Alumni Advisor Network was created through Evisors.com, an online mentorship platform.  Evisors University Solutions allows colleges to create a customized, branded platform for their students to connect with their alumni as well as alumni to connect with other alumni.  Students are able to search alumni by industry, employer, geography, services, languages and years of experience, and request and receive mock interviews, resume critiques and informational interviews from alumni.  Evisors also offers career webinars that typically cover an industry overview, how to land jobs in the industry and how to succeed on the job.  Evisors is trusted by over 50 universities.

In my junior and senior year of college, I struggled to reach the resources and individuals who would help me break into my first job.  Access to the professional world was limited on campus.  I was told by some professors that their advice may no longer be applicable because industries and recruiting processes have evolved.  They, too, advised that I reach out to current industry professionals.  It took a trip to New York and Los Angeles as well as numerous phone calls, e-mails and even handwritten letters to find the mentors who would reveal to me another world with a whole set of new rules.  My new mentors provided me with a new understanding and perspective on my industry of interest and offered me valuable advice as to where to start and how to enter.  These conversations and my network prove to be instrumental in my career.

I am excited that UCSD has taken on this initiative to help students in their next steps and is creating an online community that will bring together its alumni.

Go Tritons!