Category Archives: Entrepreneurship

How My Visit to the White House Was Exciting and Eye Opening

Our company, MakerSquare, was invited to the White House and I had the privilege of being one of the team members to go. The experience was  amazing, exciting, and eye opening.

The point of this post is to share my experience and to answer a few of the questions my friends and family have posed: how did this happen, who attended, what was discussed, and what was it like. I may go off on a couple tangents.

Thanks to all the positive people in my life. I posted this exact line on Facebook and I thought I would reiterate. All through my life I have had the chance to meet really great people. Lately, I have come to appreciate the positive people in particular even more. In the hour following the news, “Shaan, we got invited to the White House by the CTO of the United States of America,” I decided to call some of my family and friends. I eventually started calling some people. These people that I called were the first people I could think of and it’s because these individuals were always positive with me and they always had faith. I would love to recognize them (there are others, so I apologize for forgetting): my parents (Kirit and Nita), my brother Niket, Monica Novales, Savrut Pandya. Danielle Davis, Ms. Kathy Boller, Priti Patel, Nihar D. Shah, Niketa Shah-Patel, Kyle Blasco, Vikas Gandhi, Gourang Mehta, Raj Patel, Sunny Vempati, Ishan Dahal, Austin Hughey, Paul O’Brien, Brian Dainton, and Vicki Patel. These individuals are not people I regularly speak to, but I just feel like they are always positive and I think it’s awesome.

How did this happen? The leaders of the US Veteran’s Affairs and the CTO of the United States among others did research over the most effective forms of education. Also, with the increased demand for technical skills, the research determined that some of the best education for veterans could be provided by “Accelerated Learning Programs” or ALPs. The senior advisor to the CTO then reached out to the schools they deemed the best, which included MakerSquare.

Who attended? There were 30 plus people in the room. In attendance, we had 5 other schools like ours with representatives (Hackbright Academy, Hack Reactor, Dev Bootcamp, Wyncode, Flatiron School), we had some government officials (former Google exec and recently appointed CTO of the US, veteran affairs’ leads, Deputy Secretary), other companies that support technology education (Coursera), and large corporations (IBM, UPS, HP, UST Global). Other than the US government, MakerSquare had the largest presence with four attendees: Harsh Patel (fellow co-founder), Amanda Contreras (our Austin lead), Jason Watson (Air Force Veteran and MakerSquare alumni), and myself.

What was the discussion? The meeting was a Roundtable Discussion at the White House on providing effective education for veterans. The table was not round. And we were not at the White House; instead, they put us in the shed. Just kidding! They did tell us it was at the White House, but we met at a building next door: the Eisenhower Executive Office Building (EEOB). The discussion was awesome. Everyone was trying to learn more about one another and the topics they were uninformed on. What was my favorite part? Cracking some jokes/comments. An VP at IBM mentioned to the extent of “how can we trust these ALPs and what if they are no good after we financially support them?” Our response: “for starters, you should talk to your team in Austin because you have already given us a positive review and agreed to pay us for internal training of your staff. Second, if our Yelp reviews drop below 4.9, you can stop funding us.” And the crowd cracked a few laughs and smiles.

What was it like? This was probably, so far, one of the coolest experiences of my professional career. To fly to DC on a whim from Las Vegas, because you have a meeting at the White House. It’s pretty amazing; who woulda thought?! To be in a room with corporate executives and the CTO of the United States of America. Again, amazing. Lastly, to leave a meeting with 30 other people having multiple people recognize that your tone of fury was simply passion to make a difference. I had the chance to be one of the most vocal people in the room. It’s hard to explain all the excitement and emotions running through my head, but just like any other day, I am happy.

Are we wasting our money by paying taxes? Maybe, but not entirely. It was great to see a former executive that lead a team at Google (Google[x]) that builds self driving cars and Google Glass to be leading our country as the CTO. The government has smart people; however, the government is over 200 years old, so there are a lot of questionable people and questionable processes that still need improvement. They seem to be facing the same problems a 200 year old company would face.

All in all, it was a great experience and it was eye opening to be in the same room as the leaders of our country.

Feedback/questions. What else would you like me to answer? If you had a chance to be working for the White House, what changes would you want to make to our country? Do you like that I make these posts? What do you like/dislike?

Step One to Working at a Startup, It Takes Two Hours a Week

Let’s imagine you are convinced you want to get involved with a startup or become an entrepreneur; now, how do you actually get started? So far, I have written a blog about why the tech/startup culture is amazing and I shared a couple stories of how two individuals were able to get involved with a startup. Since then, a number of people have asked me more tactical questions. How do I actually get started? What do I do if I have a job and I need money? What do I do if I just finished medical school, I am in residency, and I have a shit ton of loans? This post is directed at you if you are convinced that startups and entrepreneurs are interesting. This is for you if you would like to be an entrepreneur or work at an exciting startup, but you just don’t know how. You want to know some reasonable next steps, because you think I am crazy for saying you should quit your job.

For starters, I don’t think I am crazy; I am just trying to think differently.

Are you currently really busy because you work a corporate job at (Aon, PwC, Capital One, GE, Accenture, Deloitte, etc.) or you are in medical school or post-medical school residency (in West Virginia, at Thomas Jefferson, or in ophthalmology in San Francisco)? I have a simple first step to getting you closer to this goal of becoming an entrepreneur or working for a cool startup. The first step is to spend a couple hours a week helping a startup. If you want to work for a particular startup, ask if you can volunteer to help them for a couple hours a week. On the contrary, you should not ask a startup to pay you to do something you have no experience with. Imagine you want to be a tennis coach for a friend because you used to play tennis in high school. Now imagine demanding your friend to pay you $20 an hour for you to coach him or her. Your friend may consider paying you the $20 an hour, but I can tell you that your friend will be more likely to pay you $20 a lesson if you provide five free lessons first. Similarly, you should consider providing free help to a startup and then eventually ask for pay. Try it for a 100 days and see what happens; I imagine you’ll get pretty good at helping startups.

 

There are some people I know that have already taken the first step: Rajvi Vakil, Neil Desai, Rushi Talati, Umang Desai, Ashish Patel, Nish Hansoti, Andrew Watts, and Geeta Bharathi. I will share a brief story for each of these people; I hope you are inspired by them.

  • Rajvi Vakil, a full-time financial analyst at Aon.
    • With the time Rajvi has outside of work, she decided to help Plannr, a service that can assist you with event planning. Plannr was simply an idea a developer (Sunny Vempati) came up with a few months ago, but has turned into a startup with some traction. Rajvi has vital experience in the space, so she decided to volunteer her expertise. Her expertise comes from planning bachelorette parties, hosting yearly potluck-styled Thanksgiving get togethers, and organizing her Dad’s birthday party.
    • I expect Rajvi to transition to a full-time career at a different startup in the near future, while she continues to work for Plannr. Within 6 months, I am hoping she can go full-time with Plannr.
  • Neil Desai, recent graduate of the University of Illinois and a full-time consultant at Accenture.
    • After I wrote my last post about getting involved with startups, Neil reached out to me. I asked him if he had any interest in technology or education. He said he was interested in both. Neil is now a part-time volunteer consultant for MakerSquare. He is helping create and execute on our full-ride scholarship for prospective students that are financially less fortunate. I am hopeful he will help us land a partnership with Google, Women Who Code, or Ms. Tech.
  • Umang Desai and Ashish Patel, two lawyers who decided to quit their job and start their own law firm, Desai & Patel, LLP.
    • For starters, they quit their job to start their own law firm; I guess they are crazy.
    • They both continue to support MakerSquare by helping us read through NDA agreements, researched how MakerSquare is related to Obama’s agenda so we could get him to stop by our office while he was in town (we ended up on Obama’s approved list), and various other items.
    • I also do my best to help them with what I can: ideas for website development, improving their online presence through Linkedin, and providing introductions to my network.
    • I expect their law firm to continue to grow and I look forward to working with them.
  • Nish Hansoti, former employee of Guggenheim partners and prospective full-time University of Chicago Booth MBA school student.
    • You can hear more about his story in my last post, but he is currently helping us with our investor relations and serving as an interim CFO.
    • I would like him to join MakerSquare full-time, because I am confident it will benefit his professional career, his life, and my life.
    • I also calculated joining MakerSquare will put Nish in a better financial position compared to going to Booth MBA. My analysis involved an Excel comparison of Nish choosing to work for MakerSquare for 3 years versus going to MBA school and working a $175k job for a year. Financially, he comes out on top if he chooses MakerSquare (send me an email if you want to see the Excel analysis). Other factors include MBA school providing a network versus MakerSquare which would provide a CFO role of potential a multi-million dollar valued company—DevBootcamp, our ~equal competitor, was purchased by Kaplan for $35 to $50 million.
  • Andrew Watts, a college student at the University of Texas.
    • Andrew reached out to me about sponsoring his business fraternity. We talked a handful of times about sponsorship, but eventually planned a speaker panel where I would be the keynote speaker in front of 400+ people (holy shit!). This will be happening on September 25th.
    • Recently, due to all the awesome work Andrew has done, I have offered him an internship where he will be a campus ambassador for MakerSquare and also help me speak at Universities around the country (likely schools in the near future include the University of Illinois and Northwestern Kellogg MBA).
  • Geeta Bharathi, a sophomore at the University of Illinois
    • Geeta is my ‘brother’ as we say in our business fraternity, Alpha Kappa Psi. Geeta chose to do a job shadow of MakerSquare. I enjoyed her professionalism and the two write ups she did for MakerSquare after the job shadow. I decided to offer Geeta a summer internship a few days after the job shadow and she ended up accepting.
    • Geeta is awesome and she is helping with a variety of important items at MakerSquare: finding important student and employer quotes so we could close a deal with Udacity and AT&T to provide our curriculum globally, writing blog posts about our students’ experience, and securing Facebook WIFI as a sponsor for AlumConf 2015 (a conference for alum of programs like MakerSquare around the country).

Now that you are (ideally) inspired, here are some next steps for you all.

  1. Ask your friends who are at startups how you can help. Below are some people that I know that can use some help.
    1. Sunny Vempati with Plannr, a startup that focuses on helping people and companies plan events: baby showers, conferences (AlumConf 2015), friends’ reunions (#campreunion), etc. Email gang@yourplannr.com.
    2. Umang Desai and Ashish Patel with Desai & Patel, LLP, a law firm that provides law stuff. Look at their website. I am currently helping them random suggestions on their online presence (i.e. Linkedin), the design of their website (I hate their fonts), and any thoughts I have getting a company started. Email udesai@dp-legal.com or apatel@dp-legal.com.
    3. Shaan Shah with MakerSquare and other endeavors. MakerSquare is a company that focuses on providing the best educational experience, ever. Currently, MakerSquare provides one of the best experiences to learn to code through three month classes. Be ready for the future: MakerSquare University. Who knows, maybe we’ll teach sports once I am done here: http://mks.io/shaan100. Email opportunities@makersquare.com.
      1. Get involved with MakerSquare. Current projects include Shivani Patel getting us on Shark Tank, Arpit Parikh finding additional speaking engagements, and Ravi Talati and Bhavin Patel with video production.
      2. Help me help less financially fortunate people with the the Nirmam Fellowship.
  2. Go to local meetups and find interesting startups. In most cities, you can find a variety of startups. Go to one a month. Visit www.meetup.com.
  3. Make a list of startups you find interesting. It will help to keep this organized in a spreadsheet, so you can share it with friends and they can help you get introductions. Include:
    1. The name of the company
    2. Why you find the company interesting
    3. How you can potentially add value Here is an example Google Spreadsheet you should create.

After reading all that, I hope you can focus your efforts on what you want.

  • Do you want to be drunkard? Well then, keep drinking and going out twice a week.
  • Do you want to be a professional TV critic? Keep watching 7 different television series’ each month.
  • Do you want to be a food connoisseur? Be sure to try a every restaurant in your city.
  • Do you want to be as good as me at dancing? 🙂 Dance every day: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=daC2EPUh22w
  • Do you want to be an athlete? Play sports every day. http://mks.io/shaan100
  • Do you want to learn to code? Get started doing free online coursework and then join #thenewfuture with Parag: MakerSquare.

Do you want to work at a startup or be an entrepreneur? Well then, get to work. Go help a startup.

Tagged , , , , , ,

How To Get Involved With Entrepreneurship and Startups

In the past two years, I have constantly encouraged almost everyone I know to work for a startup or become an entrepreneur. In observing the journey of a variety of people, including myself, I have realized a common pattern: a focus on adding value.

One of my favorite entrepreneur professors at the University of Illinois (my alma mater, as they say), said networking should be about “how you can add value to others” (Dr. John Clarke). I believe this practice of adding value to others and adding value to startups is the formula to getting involved with entrepreneurship and startups.

I want to share how this practice of adding value has led to a variety of accomplishments: (1) becoming a thought leader on state regulation over private education, (2) becoming a writer for topics like the importance of women in tech, (3) assisting with investment strategy for a startup with a multi-million dollar valuation, and (4) starting a company that had a million plus in revenue in just one year, and (5) leading a company that continues to have the ability to give people a new opportunity or new beginning. Below are three stories of how adding value…

Led to becoming a thought leader on state regulation over private education

Back in early 2013 when we started MakerSquare, we hired Joseph to help us part-time. We (Ravi, Shehzan, Harsh, and myself) particularly needed help building a bunch of Ikea furniture for our school and our townhouse for students. Since the start, Joseph has been amazing at helping in any way that he can. He has built a shit ton of Ikea furniture. In May of 2014, as we were launching MakerSquare San Francisco, we even flew Joseph out to help us set up the office. In addition to the labor work, Joseph has been managing our HR (payroll, onboard processing, employment contracts) and ensuring compliance with state regulation (TWC in Texas & BPPE in California). The past two months I have been meeting regularly with seven other tech education schools about the imminent pressure of this potentially restrictive state regulation. As a group, we have been working with state legislators to put language into the regulation which enables more schools like ours to train and place valuable tech talent. In the end, we all must comply with the regulation as is. As we have worked through similar regulation for 10 months in Texas, Harsh and I offered to share our insight and experience. As we (Harsh and I) did not particularly work though all the processing required for Texas’s TWC regulation, we consulted Joseph, who can be recognized as a thought leader on state regulation over private education. He could easily offer his services as a consultant to the 60+ other schools like ours still working through similar regulation. Joseph is currently a prospective senior at the University of Texas. Yes, Joseph is a boss (and a child)! How did he become a boss? He added value. He built Ikea furniture and continuously listened and executed.

Led to becoming a writer and assisting with investment strategy for a startup with a potential multi-million dollar valuation

Nish is currently at MakerSquare writing content for MakerSquare’s PR and our blog; he also directly supports me with our investment strategy. About a year ago, as Nish was working full-time in finance at Guggenheim, Nish expressed his interest in volunteering his time to help me with MakerSquare in any way that he could. I was well aware of how smart he was, so I knew he would be extremely helpful. I consulted him as I managed our accounting and finances. We also concluded that he could help us write content. In our first two months of operation, Nish wrote two awesome articles (The Programming Revolution and The Need for Women in Tech). His article helped us get a class with a 50/50 male to female divide. I believe to this day MakerSquare is alone in accomplishing this gender diversity feat! More recently, Nish quit his position at Guggenheim in preparation for his MBA at University of Chicago’s Booth program. Initially he planned to enjoy his summer learning to play golf, working out, and drinking enough beers. At the same time, he expressed his interest to help again in any way he could. On June 24th, 2014, the news of Kaplan purchasing one of our ~equal competitors, Dev Bootcamp went live on the Wall Street Journal (based on speculation, the estimated purchase price is between $30-$80 million). I was thrilled.  I reached out to Nish, because I knew he follows m&a activity and a variety of investments. He provided me with valuable insight. From there, we continued to talk and he volunteered 30+ hours a week to help with writing more content and MakerSquare’s investment strategy. After three weeks, I expressed my interest in giving him an offer. Nish is now working full-time for MakerSquare until he starts school at Booth. My conclusion here: provide value to others or ‘network’ and awesome things will follow, maybe even a job offer to work with your friends.

Led to starting a company that had (1) a million plus in revenue in one year and (2) the ability to give people a new opportunity

When I learned to develop software a few years back, I had the chance to work on an social web application that would connect kids learning English in developing countries like Cambodia and Honduras . I had a chance to do this because Adam was leading the development of this app for Global Playground while I was at Starter League. I did not get paid for this opportunity, but I worked on it in the evenings after work. Now, a few years later, I continue to maintain this relationship with Adam and he is now working for a complimentary company, Udacity, as a curriculum director. I look forward to seeing how MakerSquare will help Udacity as they provide tech nano degree (The New York Times).

My motivation to start MakerSquare was to provide others with the same opportunity I was presented to learn to code when I graduated college. Looking back at our progress since the start, I strongly believe the reason we are where we are is because we focused on providing the best opportunity we could for our students: personable interview process, a constantly evolving curriculum, teachers who cared, and help to land a new career. I hope we continue to ‘network’ with our students and continue to provide value in the form of an opportunity. Lastly, the one thing I have enjoyed the most is encouraging my closest friends from my childhood and college to chase something bigger. A couple of my roommates from U of I (Illinois) have already taken MakerSquare and they are happy about their new opportunities: Tejas is a developer for Lou Malnati’s in Chicago and Neil is living in my apartment in SF, making Angular apps, and finding his next career.  More recently, my friend Parag was questioning his career path for the past few months. After reading my last blog post, he was pushed to his limit and he decided to make the leap. Read about his inspiring story titled “The Beginning” on his new blog.

Takeaway

Have you ever wanted to be an entrepreneur or work for a cool start up? Take two weeks of unpaid time off and add value to a startup. Another option: spend your week nights and weekends (not drinking, attending baby showers, sleeping 12 hours, or going to weddings and start volunteering your time at a startup). If you really want to go after what you love, quit your job. If I like you, I will loan you money for a month and try to start a company. What’s the worst that can happen? You will probably go back to your current life (at least you tried). Also, you will now owe me some interest on that loan. GO ADD VALUE!!!

Special Thanks

Monika NarayenRavi Talati, Ravi Parikh, and Neil Mithipati for providing feedback. Ben White and Nick McDonnough because I wanted to write about how they follow this concept of adding value, but the blog got too long. Geeta, a college sophomore at U of I, for being a pleasant surprise in her ability to add value in just a one day job shadow, which resulted in summer internship offer!

 

Tagged , ,

3 Reasons Why the Tech and Startup Scenes are Amazing

A lot of entrepreneurs and developers are really passionate. Entrepreneurs usually can’t go a conversation without talking about their start up idea. Software developers can usually talk your ear off about some technology they are using and you have no idea what they are talking about (i.e. “WTF is JavaScript?!”). Why is that? Why are these people so excited about what they do? I believe these people truly love what they do and they love being in the tech and startup scene. It makes sense to me; it is amazing.

During my senior year of college, I had a random idea about creating a web platform for students to interact with other students in the same classes. This startup idea introduced me to the concept of entrepreneurship. I began talking to more professors and going to a variety of events around entrepreneurship. Ever since, I have been chasing entrepreneurship. The chase led me to learning web/software development and getting involved in technology. I now run MakerSquare, a 22 person company in Austin and San Francisco that trains adults to be full-time software developers through in-person training. This journey from college to MakerSquare has allowed me to recognize that the technology and startup culture is very unique. I consistently attempt to persuade some of my close friends (Zahid LodhiaNikki Desai, Priti Patel, and Parag Dadhaniya) who work in Corporate America to give this culture a shot. I believe it’s like nothing else. Below I have listed all the reasons why I think this culture or scene is amazing.

1. People are very helpful. In 2012, I paid $8,000 to take a program in Chicago to learn how to build web applications. The program provided me with a mentor. This mentor was a senior developer who volunteered his time every week to help me with my code. I paid $8,000 a semester to attend the University of Illinois as an accounting and finance major. No professor in accounting or finance was openly volunteering 1 hour a week to give me 1 on 1 attention. After I graduated from the coding program and eventually started working full-time as a developer, my mentor continued to volunteer his time to help me. I had a brief stint at Ernst & Young and I can’t imagine trying to find someone from another accounting firm (i.e. a senior accountant from Deloitte) to help me become a better accountant for an hour a week. Developers and entrepreneurs legitimately want to help other prospective developers and entrepreneurs reach their goals. Our company MakerSquare continues to thrive, because our students get help from mentors and we get help from advisors.

2. People are chasing dreams, not money. At MakerSquare, our curriculum is project-based. In an effort to make our students projects more meaningful, I started a program that we eventually titled Coding for a Cause. The program is designed to take interesting web application ideas that support a good cause and have our students work on them for free as projects. In running this program and MakerSquare in general, I have had the chance to interact with hundreds of developers and entrepreneurs. I can say with confidence that most of these people are chasing their dreams and not money. One aspiring entrepreneur shared that his dream was to give more low income students access to SAT preparatory classes. He was blessed to be born into a wealthy family, so he had the opportunity to prepare for the SATs and be admitted to a recognizable University. His goal was to build a web application that provided free interactive lessons to prepare for the SATs. He wanted this application to be free for all low income students, so they can have the same opportunity he did. I had the pleasure of allowing him to join our Coding for a Cause program and now Prepify is providing free SAT prep for low income students around the country. I have numerous stories that are similar, but I don’t want to go on and on (for example, Connect2Good provides non-profits an easier way to receive donations from people and corporations giving away extra resources like desks, computers, chairs, etc.)

3. The environment encourages you to reach your potential. When I was in college, I was surrounded by people that were aspiring to work at the top consulting firms and investment banks. Most students would be proud that they could drop a lot of jargon like 5x EBITDA, cash is king, and market cap. At times, I did not have a complete understanding of these concepts. However, I did not feel comfortable asking, “why is cash king in a business?” The question seemed too ‘simple’ that I was scared I would feel stupid or inferior. When I am learning how to code or when anyone in the tech community is helping someone to learn how to code, everyone constantly encourages the learner to ask as many questions as possible. Learning to code has taught me, along with so many others, to continue to ask questions until everything makes sense. This concept of never settling until you have a full understanding has translated to everything I want to learn. I always ask questions until it completely makes sense. And now, I believe I have such a deeper understanding of entrepreneurship, technology, and startups. I might even have the opportunity to be a keynote speaker for a 350 person event at the University of Texas. I thank this community I have been referencing for allowing me to aspire for such exciting goals.

For all the people who have seen me along this journey of becoming a computer guy (as my brother used to call me) and an entrepreneur or anyone that may have randomly ended up reading this post, I encourage you to give the tech and startup scene a shot. I swear you will think it’s amazing as well.