Normally I write my blog posts on Thursday and Friday, but I write this as I sit here on Wednesday on my way to the Growth Conference in Dallas to receive my award as Entrepreneur Magazine’s College Entrepreneur of 2012. These are all genuine feelings of mine prior to the conference and I will promise you that this has not been changed since Wednesday to you reading this right now.
The amount of things running through my mind is unbelievable. On the one hand, I am so beyond proud to represent so many different groups and people with this unbelievable people. There will be upwards of 500 people, staring at me and focusing on me for about 10 minutes. All attention on me. I am showing my video submission and giving a 3-5 minute speech when I accept the award. I am so excited to be able to represent Star Toilet Paper, Duke University, Rye Brook, my friends, the young entrepreneur community, and the myriad of other group I am a member of.
Just prior to writing this, I wrote my speech. Again. For at least the 10th time. I have given a ton of speeches in my life, whether that is to my high school class or an elevator pitch to hundreds of people at Duke. But never have I been able to speak about something so passionate of mine to people the likes of Barbara Corcoran, Erika Napoletano, Jason Fells… and had them listen to me just so I can tell them about something I love. Of course I am thrilled to be able to do this, but nervous at the same time. I am not nervous of messing up. After all, I am simply saying thank you and telling them (in addition to the hundreds of other Dallas entrepreneurs, members of Entrepreneur Magazine, UPS, and others) about Star Toilet Paper. But for some reason, I cannot shake the butterflies I have in my stomach as I prepare to give this speech. I guess we will just have to wait and see how it goes. I would say that the excitement-to-nerves ratio is at about 80:20 right now, sure to fluctuate within the next 18 hours.
Beyond this business jargon, what else am I excited for? Well I am just 19 years old, and I am getting flown to Dallas for two nights with two nights of hotel, all paid for both my brother and myself. I am speaking to hundreds of people who will be looking at me as someone who they admire, even if only for a brief moment. And I will be awarded with an unbelievably prestigious award that I could not have imagined receiving in my dreams. But don’t get me wrong, I am just an ordinary 19-year-old. I still stop my blog posts for a quick inning of play in the 9 Innings Baseball app on my phone while I listen to Roses by Outkast – nothing like some late 90s and early 2000s music. This is what I love about being an entrepreneur. I get to do something I love, be myself, and meet amazing people along the way. How does that sound in the life of a 19-year-old?
What am I expecting from the conference? I am not sure. What do I hope to get out of it? I hope to meet some really freaking cool people and I hope to be able to not only spread the Star Toilet Paper mantra of disruption, but the entrepreneurial mindset of innovation as a whole. In talking to various people about entrepreneurship, I always tell them that being an entrepreneur is not a job. It is a mindset. A mindset where you can always find an innovate solution to a problem that you see in life. And that “problem” is often not one that too many other people can see.
…Flashforward – it is now 11 PM Dallas time and I am waking up in 5.5 hours to get on my flight back to North Carolina. And I can honestly say that I had the most surreal, humbling, unbelievable day I have had in my life. The Growth Conference held by Entrepreneur Magazine and sponsored by the UPS Store is amazing for everyone that attends, let alone a 19-year-old being called an inspiration by 750 other people.
We will start in the morning, when Jordan and I got to the Dallas Convention Center where it was being held and very well could have been the first people there. We walked around, loved all the photos that were there and were beyond excited for the day. At that point, though, we had no idea what to expect. 7:30-8:30 AM was registration and schmoozing time and there were a few people who came up to us saying, “hey saw your toilet paper it is so cool!” and we thought that was awesome.
Around 9 AM, Barbara Corcoran came on to deliver her keynote speech. I was beyond excited, having no idea what to expect not only from her speech, but questions popping up in my head like, “What was the ballroom going to look like? Who would I be sitting at a table with? Would I get to meet anyone cool?” Little did I realize they day that was about to come. Barbara of course delivered an unbelieveble speech, highlighting the fun and quirkiness that is necessary in maintaining any successful business while ascertaining that it is of course essential to have some sort of ego and self-confidence to start that business.
Everyone loved her keynote, and after, I wanted to see if I would get a chance to meet with her. I rushed over to the side of the stage, just to find out that at least 30 people had beat me to it. However, a little birdie (who I made sure to thank very much) told me where I could have some 1-on-1 time with her. And so I went there. And I got it. And she loved the idea. She gave me her business card and she even signed a roll – how cool?!
After some down time walking around to the different breakout sessions, seeing the likes of Erika Napoletano, Grant Cardone, and Jason Falls, I headed upstairs for my walkthrough of the awards ceremony. Who was I with? Limor Fried (the Entrepreneur of 2012 with Adafruit), Jason Lucash (Emerging Entrepreneur of 2012 with OrigAudio), Amy Cosper (editor in chief of Entrepreneur Magazine), Tim Davis (President of the UPS Store), Lisa Murray (VP of Marketing for Entrepreneur Magazine), and Mike Ludlum (VP of Entrepreneur Magazine). We did our walkthrough and it was beyond cool, getting a chance to connect with these people who said congratulations to me.
Fast forward through lunch, where we all sat at the same table and were able to connect on a more personal level, and it was time for me to give my speech to the 750+ people staring straight at me. Jason asked me if I was nervous and I pretended not to be, but then told him of course – I haven’t spoken to more than 30 or 40 people more than 1 time, let alone this many people all looking to me for advice! Tim Davis did an amazing introduction, we watched the 3-4 minute pitch video I submitted, and I walked onto the stage. I felt like I was a celebrity, with the lights on, the cameras flashing, accepting a BIG check for $5,000 and getting a cool, new trophy (for those of you who know me well, you know I love trophies), standing in between Amy and Tim.
And then it was my turn. I started my speech and once I got into it, it was smooth sailing. People actually laughed at my jokes, which is a first for me, and I was able to tell our story and how I came to be at that point. That’s all it was, just me telling our story – how hard can that be? After my speech, I was sure to thank plenty of people, including my friends, our supporters, my family, mom, dad, and of course, Jordan. Finally, I had to thank Entrepreneur Magazine and the UPS Store and finished with, “And of course, remember – Don’t Rush, Look Before You Flush!”
After the same thing happened with Jason and Limor, and they killed their speeches as well, we got to do a photo op with all of us. Now that was pretty freakin’ cool. After that, I had some people come up to me saying congratulations and one person even asked for my autograph! Now it seems like I just have to work on that signature…
After trying to take it all in and how surreal it actually was, we headed downstairs for cocktail hour for some more schmoozing. And after my speech, I could not move without someone saying something nice about the company or me or having a question for me. I literally felt like a celebrity. People wanting pictures, wanting my business card, and just wanting to get the chance to talk to me. No matter who they were, of course I was open to it! A 19-year-old who is getting asked for advice? I don’t think this is going to happen much more – but looks like we will have to wait and see! I must have given out 40-50 business cards to people wanting to connect, which is amazing in it of itself. I was able to connect with some amazingly passionate people and was so glad to have the opportunity.
After schmoozing and thanking the amazing people of Entrepreneur Magazine and the UPS Store who put the whole Growth Conference together, it was time for Jordan and I to head back up to the room to relax for a little bit. We then headed over to the sports bar to grab some food with Jason Falls, Erika Napoletano, Jason Lucash, OrigAudio co-founder Mike Syzmcak, and a few others. It was unbelievable to connect with these people on such a personal level, we must have been at dinner for 3 hours just chatting about everything you could imagine. They all do some amazing things and I am really looking forward to staying in touch with them.
I am sitting here now, reflecting on what was truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and trying to put it into words. It is an extremely humbling experience and one that I will remember and cherish forever. The people I met, the connections I made, and the experience overall was just unbelievable. Before I finish, I have to say thank you to Jordan, who was by my side all day as a videographer, photographer, and true jack of all trades. Not only today, but everyday, could not be possible without you. We took a ton of pictures that we will upload to our Facebook page, so be sure to follow there as well. Keep your eyes open as well for more updates as we bring them in.