When I’m sitting in the car, walking, or just plain bored, I like to put in my earbuds for some quick entertainment. But other than the occasional comedy routine or fantasy football commentary, I rarely stray from playing music. So I was surprised when a podcast, let alone one by NPR, became one of my go-to listens during my free time.
Mr. Davey, my high school economics teacher, first introduced me to How I Built This, a podcast where Guy Raz interviews successful entrepreneurs. Over the next four years, I occasionally tuned into the podcast, but it wasn’t until my senior year of college that I transitioned from casual listener to something much more.
With one semester remaining before graduating from Hopkins, I didn’t have a job lined up after school, I couldn’t decide if I should quit the baseball team, and I honestly had no idea what to do next in my life. To help distract and guide me, I looked to my old friend, Guy Raz, and obsessively listened to him interview countless entrepreneurs, dreaming that I would one day be the one getting interviewed. Everywhere I went, I would plug in my headphones and learn about the history of Yerba Mate, how Paypal was initially a cryptography company, or why Jeff Lawson ordered everything from a Taco Bell to market Twilio.
I loved the constant nuggets of wisdom I would receive from these episodes, ranging from corny motivational lines about following your dreams, to practical advice on how to grow a working team. There was one line, however, that struck me the most, as it was so obvious but felt so profound. In one episode, Emmett Shear, founder of Twitch, described to Guy what his friend pointed out to him when they were students at Yale. His friend claimed that, because they were in college, “We have better access to intellectual capital today than we ever will in the future, at a lower opportunity cost, so we should take advantage of that…which means we should start a company.”
It was the first time listening to How I Built This that I felt it necessary to take action. I had one semester left at one of the greatest academic institutions in the world and I needed to take advantage of the network and resources available to me.
Not long after, I decided to attend an open house event hosted by FastForward U (FFU), the center for entrepreneurship at Johns Hopkins University. Although the free pizza may have slightly influenced my decision to go, I wanted to see if Emmett’s friend was onto something. Powering through my shyness, I quickly realized that the FFU network includes not only some of the smartest and most interesting people in the world, but some of the kindest and most encouraging people I’ve ever met.
That weekend, I reached out to two close friends (and incredible programmers) that I’ve always wanted to team up with—Justin N., ’23 and Brady U., a student at Montana State. As aspiring engineers, we discussed problems we saw in the world and potential solutions to them. We had no clue what we were going to build yet—just that we wanted to create something together.
Brady suggested an idea that allows people to share travel content online in a fun, simple, and customizable way. He threw out the name EscapeGoat, and although I was skeptical at first, it stuck. My girlfriend, Zoe R., ’23, surprised me by designing a logo and we were off to the races.
The remainder of my time at Hopkins was everything I could have hoped for as an aspiring entrepreneur. Our team participated in Spark (FFU’s entry-level accelerator), HopStart (Hopkins’ pitch competition), and I was able to join FFU’s second-annual Summer Accelerator. We were given constant feedback to build on our momentum and received close mentorship from the FFU staff (shout out to Sephora Saint-Armand, Paul Davidson, Josh Ambrose, and Elena DeBold), Baltimore-based entrepreneur Derek Battle (co-founder of Flave), and many others. We met hundreds of fellow entrepreneurs, pitched our concept to several judges, and made significant strides in building our product.
A memory I find myself continually looking back on, though, was an event FFU hosted with Jeff Raider, A&S ’03, SAIS ’04, co-founder of billion-dollar brands Warby Parker and Harry’s but, more importantly, a Hopkins alumnus. Jeff talked about his life story and how he built these massive companies. Not only did he start his entrepreneurial journey at school, he did it with his closest friends. Better yet, they’re still as close today as ever.
I’ve been discouraged when people advise me to never start a business with my friends. But when I think about Jeff’s story, and the advice that Emmett Shear shared on How I Built This, I’m excited about entrepreneurship because I can do it with my friends. In fact, I’ve made many more friends along the way.
Now that I’ve graduated and left Baltimore, I’m glad I took Emmett Shear’s friend’s advice. I was able to begin EscapeGoat as a Hopkins student and I’m excited to see where it goes. And, hopefully, it’ll continue to bring me closer to the amazing friends I made at Hopkins.