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Connection & Self-Understanding

 

I have multiple larger takeaways from the program. The first is to observe and think critically about the world around me. While I am only one person, the I&E classes have taught me how to have a practical impact and use my creativity to spark some change or solve some problem I am interested in. Another important takeaway was that there is no one right way to be an entrepreneur. Through the wide scope of courses I was able to take I learned about all different forms of entrepreneurship and what they look like. Third and finally, a huge takeaway was to not be afraid to fail. Starting with my introductory course, “Learning to Fail” and ending with the Capstone, a huge portion of it focused on normalizing failing. So often, people, including myself, are afraid of failing and that limits their abilities and aspirations. Throughout the certificate it was enforced that this is okay and encouraged.

The program impacted my overall learning experience at Duke as it provided me with practical experience when so many of my classes felt like they didn’t. It was so nice having projects, and thoughtful assignments instead of tests. We also looked at numerous real-world case studies which enforced many of the concepts we were learning.

My pathway evolved as I continued to tack on new experiences that related to the certificate. I started with a policy focus, however after exploring different opportunities in finance and technology, coupled with the keystone and capstone, I realized that having some focus on those aspects would be useful.

Experience Two

Description

For this experience, I worked as a staff writer for The Handle. The Handle is a weekly newsletter put out by college students to try and provide digestible content around technology and gaming for readers of all ages(but more specifically for college students). The goal was to write in a relatable way to make it easier for people of our generation to understand the nuances of both industries. My role was technically considered a staff writer; however, I was in frequent, almost day-to-day contact with both heads. I was responsible for helping brainstorm ideas, conduct research, formulate outlines, and eventually write and edit the fin

al newsletter. I also was a significant contributor to a Twitter giveaway which grew our followers and subscribers by almost 2x. I chose to pursue this experience as it combined many of my passions. I care about the technology, and gaming industry, so furthering my knowledge through research while networking and making connections in the industry seemed perfect. Lastly, I found the newsletter to be very relatable as it was something I read weekly even before I started writing.

 

Reflection

Artifact

The artifact I am choosing to include is a piece we did on the Bull and Bear Cases on NFT’s. As many know, NFT’s are a major hot topic at the moment, so we thought looking at both sides would be helpful for our audience. Personally, I really enjoyed looking at the bear cases as most of the media I consume is bull cases; however I know there are plenty of bears out there.

 

Edition 21: The Bull and Bear Cases For NFTs

Are NFTs a roulette wheel or legitimate investment?

Nov 8 Comment Share

The NFT world is closely tied into the sports betting world on a myriad of levels; similar risk profile, WAGMI (We all gonna make it) mentality, and most importantly an overlapping group of prominent early adapters. There are strong parallels regarding massive influx of capital and newfound mainstream prominence, yet both the sports betting and NFT world are in the top of the second inning in terms of market maturity. Crypto exchange FTX’s CEO Sam Bankman-Fried said that data shows sports fans are 2x more likely to know about crypto than non sports fans and avid sports fans are nearly 3x as likely.

This week, we’re going to cover our thoughts on the market and present both a bull and bear case. Spencer and our staff writer Daniel are taking the bull, while David is taking the bear.

Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs) are defined as unique and non-interchangeable units of data stored on a digital ledger. What does this mean? NFTs are tokens which can be used to represent anything, acting almost as a public certificate of authenticity and ownership.

Without further ado, let’s dive in.


The Bull Case

The public and transparent nature of the NFT market allows for a unique combination of digital ownership, scarcity, and credibility. Think of skins in Fortnite: millions of people pay to change their character’s outfit or accessories with no added benefit to gameplay in the battle royale behemoth. They provide clout, status, and make you feel good, showing that the traditional definition of “utility” in the economic sense may not be exhaustive! People pay thousands just to make their character in a virtual world look cooler. NFTs have the ability to offer so much more keeping a long-term view and investment thesis in mind, and the growth in adoption and popularity is reflected in Q3 NFT sales booming to $10.7 billion.

Let’s explore some different facets of NFTs and some projects innovating within each sphere.

Utility

A crucial element in the long term success of NFT’s is the utility they provide. At the end of the day, the strongest projects will provide utility to their token owners in the form of internal and external rewards. Value will extend beyond just the exclusivity of owning the NFT through exposure to experiences or opportunities, early access to products (or mint passes), IRL events, dividends, or airdrops to long term HODLers. The possibilities are endless, and creators and thinking of new ways to provide utility to holders on a daily basis. Think of the my player game mode in NBA 2K where, as you progress, you gain more VC (2K form of currency). With more VC, you are able to improve your player and unlock unique opportunities. With more blue chip companies getting involved and innovation occurring in real life and the metaverse, the ways for projects to deliver unique utility catering to consumers’ every wants and needs are exploding.

Now, in terms of individual utility, each project is finding their own path to connect and give their users the best experience possible. For NBA Topshot, they have had multiple events for completing specific challenges. These have included tickets and all access experiences to the NBA Finals, the NBA Draft, and opening night Bucks versus Nets in Milwaukee. They know their LOYAL fanbase cares about basketball, and would find enormous utility out of an experience like this. So, they reward the fandom and not just flippers looking to make a quick buck by providing unique collector experiences. Just last week, NBA Top Shot Collectors accessed an event in NYC where Top Shot partner Quavo performed. The plethora of investors and celebrities involved with Top Shot’s company Dapper Labs leaves us excited and curious where the collector opportunity will transition next. Will top Knicks moment holders have access to free tickets, merchandise, and memorabilia? The possibilities are endless.

Similarly, other projects have experimented with other methods. For example, Mutant Cats have created their own currency $FISH which can be earned by staking a Mutant Cat. The more $FISH one earns, the more fractional ownership they gain over the “Vault”. This is a way to reward holders with a form of passive income. Here is an article providing a bit more on the concept of staking with respect to NFTs. Finally, Zed Run, the premier NFT horse racing game has found a direct way to provide utility from champion horses by having entry fees on the races and through breeding. If one comes across a phenomenal male horse, they can collect winnings off not only races, but also stud fees (female horse owners paying to breed with the male, yes I know how crazy that sounds). Two top horses, Billion and Ducky Mallon have respectively made profits of 4.6122ETH and 8.9911ETH just off racing, that doesn’t include the enormous stud fees you can charge to obtain some of their prized blood. Here’s an interesting read on the utility of Zed Run.

DAOs

DAOs, or Decentralized Autonomous Organizations, are a newer phenomenon within NFTs providing users with opportunities to pursue expensive projects or investments by pooling money together and forming an organization. As Cooper Turley put it, “a DAO is an internet community with a shared bank account.” DAO’s range in mission, structure, roles, and funding depending on the end goal. Regardless, it garners a sense of community, and opens doors that an individual on their own could not achieve.

What makes DAOs so unique is the structure which strays from the typical hierarchy of a company. There isn’t a CEO, CFO, or CBO; instead DAOs are decentralized where they aren’t governed by one person or entity. The rules are coded into smart contracts on the blockchain and therefore they can’t be changed unless voted on by the members of the DAO. This gives every member an equal say in accordance to their shares of a DAO token and promotes unity among the group. There is also tremendous transparency within DAOs which is appealing to many. Nothing is done without the idea being pitched, discussed, and voted on by group members (usually in a Discord server).

Recently, they have drawn attention from famed personalities such as Mark Cuban, and prominent Venture Capital firms like Andreessen Horowitz (a16z). Cuban described them as, “the ultimate combination of capitalism and progressivism” while a16z has led multiple million dollar funding rounds around creating DAOs and supporting companies that build DAOs.

On a personal note, Spencer and I recently got involved in the Knights of Degen Community by minting three Knights apiece. The Knights community functions as a form of a DAO. As a perk of ownership we get to partake in votes to determine how to spend the “King’s Purse”. This could be whether or not we (as a group) want to acquire a new NFT, Top Shot Moment, or bet on Daniel Jones over rushing yards. Nothing is done without discussion, and a vote. Another recent development is the Knights acquired a Fan Controlled Football Team. So, we are now fractional owners of a professional sports franchise through a DAO!

The Metaverse

Shaan Puri describes the metaverse as the moment in time where our digital life is worth more to us than our physical life. Puri points out that every aspect of our life has been moving away from physical and toward digital over the last 20 years, including the following:

In Packy McCormick’s latest Not Boring Newsletter, he dove into Facebook’s rebrand as Meta and Mark Zuckerberg’s plans to “contribute to the open, interoperable Metaverse”.

In Zuckerberg’s interview with Ben Thompson, he explains his goals to increase the GDP of the metaverse as much as possible while maximizing the potential of individuals and corporations to leverage the creator economy through innovative experiences. Creators can utilize their platform to allow creators to own their data, royalties, and connect on-chain with their communities with full ownership and transparency. Meta owns one of the largest VR companies in the world, Oculus, and will push the boundaries forward to merge the future of the digital and physical worlds.

Meta’s announcement represents the tip of the iceberg for metaverse innovation and interactivity, with plenty of other use cases brewing including digital land, play-to-earn gaming, and more. Below is a cool visual encapsulating the many companies building toward the digital future (Source: Activate Consulting 2022 Tech & Media Outlook).

This past week, Nike announced new trademarks with intent to create and sell Nike-branded virtual items in the metaverse. The cross-section of institutional capital from brands with decades of proven staying power as well as the power of individual creation leaves me bullish on the future of the metaverse.

Web3 Creator Economy

Institutional celebrity status doesn’t hold the same weight as it does in real life. Fame, fortune, and notoriety are built through time in the market and organically built communities. Artists and collectors alike are publicly interacting across Twitter, Discord, and Telegram with all touch points of their ecosystem and, most importantly, their followers. The interconnection between common people and celebrities is made possible through the access social networks provide to the trailblazers of the NFT movement.

The creator economy is evolving from social media influencers utilizing Youtube and Instagram to create ad revenue to Web3 allowing for community ownership. The below thread from Li Jin captures this idea perfectly.

Creators can build communities and empower their stakeholders with secure, public contracts directly to consumers without the need to go through third parties. With the ability to connect with fans and customers, the Web3 creator economy is a building block for wide scale value creation and new forms of engagement for years to come.

What Will Survive?

While bullish on NFTs and the blockchain’s ability to unlock digital interaction and change the way we live our lives, we’d be naive to think most or event a reasonable fraction of projects will last. 99.99% of projects created in the space will likely cease to exist, much less thrive, in the next 5+ years. Most will fail. However, overlooking the industry as a whole demonstrates a lack of open-mindedness regarding the speed of technological innovation and adoption. Take a look at Web2, the stage of the internet where software and value were created at warp speed online in the past few decades. For every Snapchat, Airbnb, and Uber there are millions of apps and websites which fizzle out.

So what will last?

My theory on this is that lasting projects will be made up of historical projects and innovative companies delivering long term value through real-life utility and overwhelmingly strong communities. Let’s take a look at a few examples of each.

The below graphic includes a visualization of relevant crypto art’s timeline.

  • CryptoPunks
    • CryptoPunks by Larva Labs are 10,000 randomly generated 24×24 pixel 8-bit-style characters, released in 2017 and claimed for free
    • All-time there has been > $1.5 billion in sales volume
    • May 2020 — Christie’s auction sells a bundle of Punks for $16.9 million
    • Many celebrities and early crypto maxis don their Punk on Twitter as a symbol of brand identity, ranging from anonymous investors ingrained in the community (Punk 4156Punk 6529) to the likes of Odell Beckham Jr. and Jay-Z
    • Read more info on TechCrunch: The Cult of CryptoPunks
  • Historical Projects
    • Curio Cards
      • Curio Cards are the first art on NFT, consisting of a unique set of cards by a collection of artists (predates CryptoPunks)
      • October 2021 — Christie’s auction full set sold for $1.26 million
  • Individual artists: XCOPY, Beeple, etc.
    • XCOPY is an anonymous, London-based crypto art OG
      • Began minting NFTs on SuperRare in 2018
      • Known for flashing-style imagery, XCOPY has sold art for millions of dollars
    • Beeple
      • Beeple, or Mike Winkelmann, sold an NFT at Christie’s for $69 million
        • The piece consisted of 5000 NFTs he produced daily since May 1st, 2007
  • Generative Art

The Bear Case

David here to write the bear case. I usually am the more bearish of the two of us, to the point where Spencer has actually called me the “fun police”. I know NFTs are quite popular in the sports gambling community, and I know that NFTs really can make you life changingly rich. I’m not going to dispute that, but rather I am going to go through a few arguments in what I hope is an intellectually honest way about why I’m not as bullish on NFTs as the rest of the world seems to be.

I’m also not going to get into the different classes of NFTs, or address any of the non-systemic issues. Obviously, there will be creators who take money and run, hackings which result in stolen NFTs, and any other scam that could possibly be conceived. These are all very real, and very serious reasons to be wary of NFTs. Instead, I am going to be focusing on the inherent risk that comes from trading NFTs and the very real risks to value that exist in the NFT universe.

The main argument comes from an old professor of mine, John Geanakoplos, who taught me financial theory and who has an incredible paper / model on the leverage cycle and the importance of collateral. Luckily for all of you, I won’t be deriving the model and just focusing on a few key elements that I think map well to the phenomena we are seeing with NFTs. In Geanakoplos’ model, the price of an asset is determined by the marginal buyer on a scale of “very pessimistic” to “very optimistic”. The more optimistic the marginal buyer is, the higher the price of the asset. His paper looks at collateral requirements and how that affects the price of assets, but we can also use the price of crypto.

Generally, those who have been incredibly involved in crypto during its massive bull run are the same early adopters of NFTs. As the crypto bull market continues, these buyers have more wealth that they can then spend on NFTs, which they will as they are the biggest “optimistic” in the market (not getting involved with people who use bitcoin as collateral for lending, but also a real issue). In short, higher crypto prices drive up demand for NFTs by making the marginal buyer of NFTs more optimistic. Unfortunately, this means there is significant downside risk in the case of an exogenous shock where the price of NFTs and crypto falls rapidly. In this case, the early adopters will likely try to get out with some profit remaining. This means that the marginal buyer becomes less optimistic as the super optimists are forced to sell because of an exogenous shock in order to secure a profit. The increase in selling and the marginal buyer becoming less optimistic create a positive feedback loop that puts a negative pressure on the price with no clear bottom.

Now, the potential hole in this argument comes from long term holders that Spencer mentioned earlier. These are the people who would never sell, in theory. I have a few problems with this. The first is that utility ultimately still comes from consuming goods in the world. Consumption in the real world is still based on USD, which means that if there were to be a crippling shock in the crypto world, people would still flee to the dollar. The second is that the IRL events that Spencer mentioned come from the money made during positive times. Those are not free, when push comes to shove, those will be the first to go from NFT communities. Not only does this reduce the utility of owning the NFT, but it also creates an incentive to sell because it gives the appearance that insiders are not as confident in the pricing power of the token once they stop hosting the events and dealing the perks. This means that in the event of a large negative exogenous shock, I still see even the most long term holders selling at least part of their NFT holdings.

With that said, NFTs are prone to exogenous shocks for three key reasons in ways that other assets are not.

The first is that they are not priced in a stable currency, but rather in cryptocurrency. As a result, there are two sources of underlying volatility in NFTs, whereas in traditional assets there are only one. Arguments that cryptocurrencies are less volatile than the U.S. dollar, at this time, are not intellectually honest and should not be treated as such. These two sources of volatility increase the risk of a massive exogenous shock putting downward pressure on price.

The second is the nascent regulations in the entirety of the crypto industry. Right now, the financial authorities and Gary Gensler (SEC chair) are reviewing their authority and options to monitor cryptocurrency. As a result, there is a decent chance that these regulations will not be favorable to crypto, which could drive money out of currencies. This would drive down the price of NFTs that are priced in the cryptocurrencies that investors are fleeing from. Along these lines, NFTs have the potential to create two separate taxable events in transactions. First, when the NFT is sold after appreciation, the sale of property generates a taxable event. But, if marking to market, the underlying price of the currency has grown as well, that also represents a taxable event when they currency is sold. This double taxation increases the risk of liquidity issues.

The third issue is that with crypto, there is no lender of last resort. In the event that Coinbase, or another large cryptocurrency exchange faces a liquidity crisis, the Fed is not going to provide them with liquidity in the same way a traditional bank can survive a liquidity issue. The failure of a cryptocurrency exchange, for one reason or another, would force consumers to take massive haircuts, and seriously undercut trust both in the NFT market and in the broader crypto market as a whole.

These are more systematic issues with NFTs, although I’m sure I could give examples of people being on the wrong side of wash trading, pump and dumps and other associated scams that would also dampen my personal enthusiasm to buy NFTs. Further, I’ve never been an art guy which I suppose extends to NFTs as well, but I’m not as keen on the arguments that say a share of pixels is inherently less valuable than a 200 year old canvas with some paint on it. Happy to discuss these arguments and more. I know people have made a lot of money on NFTs and I know that they will likely be part of the ecosystem for a long time to come, I’m just pointing out that along the way, the inherent falls in price for NFTs are going to be much much sharper than I think a lot of people realize.

Experience One

Description

In this experience, I worked as an analyst under William Young at Windward Management. Windward Management is a search fund known as a single-engine private equity vehicle. I was responsible for sourcing and analyzing different companies. I was also responsible for conducting due diligence, outreach, modeling, and presentation work. As a result, I got to examine thousands of companies, understanding how their business models and value propositions differentiated. I chose to pursue this experience because I am interested in finance and figured a hands-on experience that would give me exposure to all different companies would be useful. I also beli

eved learning from a seasoned entrepreneur like William Young would help with mentorship and how to view certain companies.

Reflection

Artifact

The artifact I am including is a presentation slide I made for a prospective company. Unfortunately, will did not acquire this company; however, I did through diligence on the company to create a deal overview, thesis, and risks. This forced me to think critically and synthesize a large amount of information into a more concrete, easy-to-read slide.

Capstone

Description

The Discovery Capstone is focused on understanding how to create our own venture and how the world works around us. A large portion of the class was focused on why certain products exist and how they make money. We also looked at certain problems people struggle with. Engaging in these conversations forced me to think critically about the world around me.

Reflection

The most important thing I learned from this class is to think about the world around me. Many of the assignments forced me to think about my everyday experiences and encounters. It was something I’d never really done before but now continue to do so. I think this is a very useful practice for me as it has sparked many ideas out of me. The class also forced me to think about how to address a market. We learned what factors play into that and methods of determining if there is truly demand. Just because we think something is a good idea, does not mean there is necessarily demand for it or price consumers would be willing to pay. Lastly, a huge takeaway was understanding how past innovations had succeeded, and what the world looked like before them. For example, how different the world was without Airplanes and how the evolution of Airplanes changed so many industries.

Elective

I&E 261 Social Innovation

Description

This course provided an introduction to the emerging field of social innovation. We looked at different models for addressing social needs and the brains behind them. The course taught me different methods for innovative thought and the process behind having an idea and executing on it. On top of this, we learned a lot of new terminology which will be useful down the road. On the flip side, a focal point was also learning about failures within the social innovation space and some of the limitations which can hinder further growth and expansion.

 

Reflection

I took this course as Social Innovation directly relates to both policy and technology (two of the main components of my pathway). It also stood out to me as it connected to my major in Public Policy. I saw a significant overlap between the two and thought it would be uber-productive to find synergies between the two. So often, we are put in situations where we don’t have to make connections across disciplines. I thought that taking this course would force me to think big picture and how my major and certificate might overlap. I was also enrolled in the house course “Impact Investing” the same semester, so I figured the two classes would complement each other well. Again, trying to find similarities and overarching themes to walk away with. I also thought it would be beneficial to hear the different perspectives from Professor Nash versus a student in the house course. This was true as they brought different skills to the table, which improved my overall learning experience in both classes. I had also previously worked at a start-up doing pro bono consulting to help local businesses during Covid, so I thought taking a course on Social Innovation would be an excellent way to expand on my prior experience in a more academic setting.

The most important thing I learned in this class is how to imagine my framework for solving social issues. There were many examples of putting these tools to the test. Whether it was our cumulative problem analysis paper, design project presentation & prototype, or even our initial problem tree, my framework was molded through the course’s lessons, guest speakers, and readings. Another major takeaway was to observe my surroundings as there are opportunities all around me. That could be monitoring listservs or even keeping my eyes peeled in Durham, as there are ways ventures and organizations can be improved all over the place.

Keystone

Description:

This course taught me the fundamental skills to develop my own venture. It took us from square one in identifying a problem to learning how to market the venture and gain investors to looking over financial statements and evaluating work culture.

Reflection:

The quote by Scott Berkun, “Simply dedicate yourself to solving problems. It’s solving problems that matter,” perfectly epitomizes so many of the crucial lessons from this class. From this first day to my mentoring calls, this theme was emphasized. On the first call, I remember my mentor, Tim Scales, director of growth at American Underground, elaborating on the importance of understanding the problem you were trying to address and finding what the customer was looking for. The primary goal of marketing isn’t to find a way to sell products to the consumer, but instead constantly evolving and knowing what the customer is looking for(also seen as the solution to their problem).

So often, I’ve found myself in school answering problems but not necessarily solving them.  In this class, we were tasked with going the extra mile and applying our analysis. We weren’t charged with just summarizing every assignment, but instead, taking what we were given and coming up with our thoughts, ideas, and recommendations. On the first assignment (Swoop Case Summary), I remember one of the guiding questions asked us to answer how we thought they could improve their business and address the current challenges, particularly with covid. Fast forward to the end of the semester; we are working on Dr. John’s case slides, creating our own quantitative and qualitative analysis followed by a group recommendation. Before this class, I barely knew how to do any of this, but more importantly, I left with the skills to formulate my own opinion and think about the companies. We weren’t told a correct answer or one formula to do things but instead given a toolbox with the proper equipment for us to explore. Each case was different and unique and required us to solve another problem. Whether that was determining if an acquisition or expansion was the right decision or how to increase sales for a product, we were dealing with real-world companies and applying practical skills. Frequently I’d sit through classes wondering when I’d ever use this content again. In I&E 352, it was inherently obvious that the skills we were learning and the problem-solving mentality we were forced to deploy are applicable in any field.

An example from class that stood out to me was the Envirofit Case Study, which addressed a serious problem by creating environmentally friendly cookstoves for poor households in developing countries (particularly India). They saw a dangerous situation, Indoor Air Pollution (IAP), and wanted to alleviate this problem by reducing CO2 emissions through their durable and efficient cookstoves. This was a problem that had severe implications, and they were looking to solve it and make the world a safer place. When looking at their strategy, it was interesting to see where they failed and why their product was not initially successful. They had identified a need but not adequately marketed or distributed the product, henceforth the struggle. They had the proper validation that the product met a customer’s requirement; however, they did not fully understand the market or demand for the product in the community. Men were the ones who made most of the financial decisions in these villages, and the commodity did not appeal to them (they did not do a good enough job convincing them that they were solving a problem for them or that they had a problem in the first place).

Similarly, I think a best practice is continuous market testing and trial runs to determine demand and overall customer acceptance. For example, Lit Motors did a great job of having multiple rounds of testing to assess demand (showroom, festival, internet survey). Another best practice that was a focal point of this semester is failure and adaptability. So many innovators initially fail, so handling this, learning from mistakes, and adapting are essential characteristics of any innovator. In the Florida Air case, we saw how management did neither of these, leading to their demise.

Teamwork was a vital part of this course, which thrilled me as I always enjoy working in groups. Mainly, I thought it was unique that we got to work with the same individuals the whole semester. Typically, I find group projects seem somewhat transactional where you are working together for a week and then never speak again. However, here, we got to know our members, understand their strengths and weaknesses, and develop a sincere relationship. Before this class, I did not know either of my teammates, so we were starting at square 1 in terms of understanding each other’s backgrounds. For example, I had some small experience in quantitative analysis; in contrast, my teammate Zach had none, so we could discuss and collaborate on using this to our advantage. It also allowed me to lead a bit more in this section and put my knowledge and experience to the test. In the end, my favorite part was creating our recommendation, as it felt like the appropriate culmination following our qualitative and quantitative analysis. This was the part where we got to be creative and express our own beliefs and ideas. To me, this prompted our best discussions and where the group aspect was beneficial. Lastly, I was fortunate that everyone in the group was attentive and engaged. I know that not every group will be like this in the future, so determining how to get the best out of every member will be important (although I didn’t really need to here).

On top of this, one of my main discussion points with Tim surrounded leadership and working in group settings. While some innovators work alone, most of them have partners or teams, so understanding how to cultivate a group is a key aspect. Part of this is understanding who your team is and what they are good at. For example, if someone is self-motivated, you are best to let them be and accept that they will do whatever needs to be done. On the other hand, if you have skillful members that are a bit disorganized, you should spend more time monitoring them and keeping them on course. In the future, I think a lesson I can learn from this is always get to know my colleagues and coworkers on a deeper level, potentially outside of work. This is the best way to understand what motivates and drives them.

Throughout the case studies, we saw many examples of effective and ineffective teams. One that stood out to me was Rent the Runway. Specifically, a quote that resonated was when Hyman said, “I know I needed a partner whose skills would complement mine. I’m great at the strategic and marketing vision – coming up with ideas and selling them but executing on the details is not my strength. Jenny is very task-oriented, and I knew she would keep us on track. She’s also more risk-averse than I am, and I knew I could count on her to challenge ideas that were not fully through.” Despite neither having prior experience in the apparel business, their self-awareness and other skills allowed them to form this business. A big takeaway from this quote is to surround oneself with a group where you feel challenged and pushed. You don’t want to be surrounded by people who think exactly the same as you and agree with everything you say. Instead, you want people who create synergies with you, where 2+2= 5 based on the skillsets being combined.

In my opinion, an ethical culture for I&E is one where the customer’s best interests are in mind, and you are not solely looking for a profit. Fortunately, the world is moving in a direction where more and more innovators are looking to cooperate with ethical standards and innovations in the ESG space. People are starting to realize that money and profits aren’t the only objectives. An example in class where this was not the culture was Florida Air, in which there were conflicts within the team, explicitly surrounding Henry and the division of company shares. Despite having enough money, he thought given his qualifications, he was entitled to more shares, and it was a matter of principle. He was putting his interest ahead of the companies, and as a result, his work slacked off. This selfish mentality can lead to unethical companies and should be avoided. On the other hand, I think a good example was Envirofit. The company had clear goals of improving people’s lives at a cost-effective price. They were looking to improve health, education, and the livelihood of those in developing countries, not looking to make the most money possible. To me, ethical cultures are where the main goal is to change lives for the better of people who can’t necessarily do it on their own (in this case, getting rid of IAPS).

After finishing this course, I am positive it will have an impact on my life. Even though I only have one year of undergrad left, I know I will be tasked with working in a group on numerous projects. Being able to communicate, and express our ideas, then concisely put them into one PowerPoint, all while being virtual, was challenging at first, but throughout the semester became easier and easier; particularly once we gained a stronger repour. Moving forward, I feel I have the skills to jump ahead to those final stages in any group project, especially since hopefully next year will be in person. Following this theme, being concise, and putting together PowerPoint presentations is something I will have to do throughout my life. In school, at a job, wherever – understanding how to synthesize lots of information, taking out the big points, and concisely creating my analysis is something I worked hard at doing in this class. Another theme that I am leaving this class with is the importance of mentorship. Seeing firsthand through the cases, on top of speaking with my mentor, I now have a new appreciation for the value of mentorship. As I have learned, it is tough to accomplish anything significant by oneself, so having a support network and mentors to reach out to for guidance is particularly useful. You want to find people who have been in your footsteps before and can bring a wealth of knowledge and experience – after all, that is a great way to learn and grow. Finally, I take away from this class a heightened understanding of how to expand on a big idea once I have one. Whether that’s understanding the financials behind companies, developing a go-to-market plan, devising a profit formula, or creating an MVP for a lean startup, I am better equipped to be a more successful innovator and entrepreneur.

Artifacts:

Mentor Reflection 1:

Going into my first conversation with my mentor, Tim Scales, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I had researched Tim via LinkedIn and saw he had worked in industries where I lacked experience, and he was very passionate about the arts, where I also lacked experience. The same uncertainty came with my partner, Jacob Kraemer. I had never met him before, nor did I know anything about him. Fortunately, soon into the call, both of my concerns were quelled. Tim was incredibly approachable, friendly, and insightful; meanwhile, Jacob and I had partaken in similar past internships and are both interning at the same firm this summer. It was a great connection and friendship, and merely a week later, we were sitting at Alpaca discussing how we’d both ended up in this spot and how we envisioned our next twenty years playing out (to which neither a clue).

Throughout the call, a common theme Tim touched on was his frequent changing of jobs. While he stated that his time at American Undergrad was his longest, we all concurred how vital pursuing different interests and fields is in one’s development. In fact, one of his big pieces of advice was to have MANY interests and passions. This resonated with me as I am currently unsure of my professional trajectory. It was nice to hear how everyone agreed it was very acceptable to switch industries, firms, and positions without it being viewed as a “red flag” as it might have years ago. It was positive to hear how he had found a home at American Underground despite his passions and valued the work he was doing, which inspired him to stay.

Tim had previously worked in multiple marketing and sales roles, so most of our questions were focused on those industries.

A big takeaway and piece of advice was to listen to what people want as it is continually changing. He touched on the importance of marketing in having a sustainable business. To be successful, one must adapt, be flexible, and find a new way to provide a good or service the market is demanding. For example, the needs of consumers have taken a full 180 during the coronavirus pandemic. This was new to me, as before this call and course, I had always thought of marketing as trying to sell people on buying something – which I now know isn’t the case.

We also focused the conversation on tangible advice around becoming an entrepreneur with all of our underlying interests. Some of these included diversifying the group of mentors and peers you surround yourself with and always be willing to take a leap. These two stood out to me as I know they are both areas where I need to improve. I know I tend to surround myself with people who are similar to me and need to do a better job of pushing myself outside my comfort zone. In terms of taking a leap, I think my confidence has grown dramatically during my time at Duke (in large part to my experience in I&E 252 Learning to Fail). Unfortunately, due to New York City’s competitive environment (where I grew up) and Duke, I still have some fears of being wrong and afraid to try. I know these concepts are a work in progress, but hearing Tim emphasize them set off a spark in me that I’ll need to change my surroundings and mindset to fulfill my full potential.

Tim’s position at American Underground, also known as the south’s startup hub, is the Director of Growth. American Underground is an entrepreneurship accelerator located in Durham, NC. In his role, he is responsible for growing the American Underground name and platform to fellow entrepreneurs and the community. Their main customers are likely to be early-stage startups or solo entrepreneurs with the business model consisting of them renting out office space. While on the surface level, this sounds like a basic real estate renting company, Tim explained the unique value proposition that American Underground offers. They allow entrepreneurs to work within an environment with similar people, where they can get new resources and ideas from within. He used the term “strength in numbers” to explain the concept, which I think perfectly encapsulated the idea that the more eager, strong-minded entrepreneurs together, the better.

While he didn’t mention any direct setbacks or struggles, he did acknowledge a key in his career has been understanding where he lacks skills. Specifically, he said he knew he wouldn’t be a good web developer. Instead of letting this hold him back, he emphasized the importance of finding a team where everyone’s skills can be optimized (in this case, marketing and sales). Overall, my biggest takeaway from the call is to always keep an open mind and don’t rule out any potential opportunities. There are so many cool, impactful jobs out there that I can’t and won’t limit myself. Like Tim, I hope to take advantage of “one door opening when another closes.”

Mentor Reflection 2:

While reflecting on my first mentoring call, I knew my second one needed to be more personal, and I figured that was attainable given the one-on-one nature. I could cater to my specific curiosities and leverage Tim’s expertise to my advantage. He ended up having a wealth of knowledge, and I picked his brain on a deep level to help benefit my academic and career paths. We touched on two main verticals, although there were many sub-verticals in between. The first was around leadership and hierarchies in companies, and the second was around successful work habits. I thought both of these topics were particularly applicable to my academic and professional futures.

I think strong, effective leadership is the cornerstone of any successful company. There are many styles of leadership, and finding the right balance and approach is vital. Without proper leadership or guidance, any company (or even case slides) will crumble, and everyone’s maximum potential will not be reached. Given Tim’s background and experience, I figured he’d be a good person to talk with on improving as a leader and thrive in different settings (specifically as I get ready to start a career).

Tim explained they functioned in small teams with little hierarchy at American Underground and that leadership was diffused as a group responsibility. Everyone is responsible for their work, which leads to collective leadership. He also used the word “horizontal leadership,” which I found insightful referencing how all individuals were viewed as equal. Some positives included staying out of each other’s way and trusting one another. Despite this style, there was still a boss, and Tim explained how he managed to cultivate this sort of culture. He did things like giving employees the proper space and distance to work while also promoting collaboration in the group and never overstepping; however, still acting like the boss is making essential executive decisions where a boss is needed.

On top of this, he shared valuable insights which apply to me based on his experience. He mentioned how this structure first caused some tension. They didn’t have a rhythm with one another and were often competing. To solve this problem, they decided to develop clearer communication channels and outlined each day. He found this to be incredibly productive.

From his descriptions, there are many takeaways in which I can apply to my academics and career. First, I think it is important to understand the hierarchical structure. For example, in my I&E case study group, I want it to be a level playing field. However, this summer at my job, I am aware that it will likely be the polar opposite. I am sure I am going to work for a boss, who will have to work for a boss. The advice was still applicable as having fluid communication and setting up a “game plan” for each day is crucial to my success. Understanding people and how to function in a group is critical for any student and entrepreneur, and I believe this call did a great job of putting me on the right path to achieving both.

The second element of our conversation focused on successful work habits he developed throughout his college experience and career and how they could be applied to my life. The first suggestion he came up with was developing a positive work body cycle. For him, this meant being creative in the morning and emailing in the afternoon. This is an idea I had never thought of or focused on in my life. I go through the motions and work whenever I can, picking out moments to work without distractions. Based on this advice, I would like to find some fluidity for my work schedule, especially this summer when I work longer hours. For example, I know I work well in the morning, but after roughly 1:00 AM, my productivity completely drops. I will make it a goal to wake up earlier, be productive in the early hours when I am fresh, have more energy, and fewer distractions.

Another piece of advice he gave was to make the most out of not work hours. He said he is happiest and most successful when he can switch off his work side and value time off to stimulate his brain. He did acknowledge that this was somewhat unique to his job and that most entry-level jobs will not allow it; however, I can strive for it today and every day. I often find myself getting in a “slump” where work takes over my life, and I can’t focus on anything else. At this point, I don’t even do my best work and often get procrastinated, but I can’t focus because I feel omnipresent work. If I could just shut that feeling off, I think I’d enjoy my day-to-day life more and also be more productive. To do that, I need to block out times that I’ll dedicate to non-work-related stuff. For example, every Tuesday at some point I will play tennis or go for a run. Overall, Tim’s conversation was incredibly practical and useful for academic and professional careers, and I look forward to staying in touch with him!

Gateway Elective

I&E 252 – Learning to Fail

Description

This course focused on the importance of failing and resilience. Part of it was initially acknowledging the negative connotations towards failure. In so many circles, failure is looked at as a bad thing. This class opened my eyes to all of the positives and how it is a necessity in life. Weekly “failure challenges” pushed my creativity and ability to adapt to adverse circumstances. After the challenge, I’d write a reflection on major takeaways from the challenge and our class readings.

Reflection

I took this course for a host of reasons. To start, upperclassmen had recommended it to me due to its unique nature. They briefly mentioned the failure challenges, which sounded like something up my alley. I love challenges, and it sounded different than any other course I’d taken thus far. I’d also heard very positive things about Professor Dinin and Gould. They certainly lived up to their praise, as I found them to be two of the most engaging and thought-provoking professors. I still remember the constant probing they would do in response to answers from me and my classmates. They wouldn’t immediately accept our answers but instead ask why and force us to think more deeply and critically. I also chose this course because I was unsure of my pathway at the time. Given that I had various interests, I thought a well-rounded course would be helpful as my gateway elective. However, I did not want to limit myself or my pathway based on the gateway elective. Instead, I believed this course would be very applicable to multiple pathways, classes in school, and eventually the real world. Fortunately, my intuition was correct, as this was one of my favorite and most impactful courses throughout my whole Duke experience.

I took many things with me from this course; however, two that stand out are the resilience toolkit we received, and the second was the importance of working in a group. At the end of the semester, we were tasked with reflecting on what we’d learned in the course; this was called our “failure toolkit.” It was a collection of the lessons we’d learned. These ranged from talking to strangers, selling a pen, and using our imagination to bring a snowball to class. More importantly, these experiences taught me the importance of resiliency. I wasn’t always comfortable, but that is part of growing. One needs to step out of their comfort zone to persevere. However, I often found that to succeed in this class, we needed to first fail. This course also focused on collaboration and working in a group. It pushed me to be a better partner and teammate and appreciate and embrace other perspectives. To complete some of the challenges, we needed to bring out the best in one another, which I believe is an important takeaway. We also had to take one’s ideas and build on them. For example, if I struggled, I might turn to a peer for advice. I would hear their idea, which might spark something in my head. I found this environment to be perfect for me as it brought out a more curious and thoughtful side of me.

My Story

My name is Daniel Belfer, and I was born and raised in New York City along with my older brother and younger sister making me the one and only middle child! Before Duke, I went to Riverdale Country School in the Bronx, where I was a dual-sport varsity athlete, tour guide, Investment Club president, and Model UN member. When looking to further my education, Duke stood out to me for three main reasons. First, I have always tried to mold my path, and for that reason, I didn’t want to go to a school in the northeast (my whole family lives in the tri-state area, and my brother went to college in New York). Second, I was looking for a top-notch liberal arts education, where I could pursue my countless interests. Third and finally, I looked for a passionate, dynamic student body, which blew me away the second I witnessed the Cameron Crazies palpable energy.

At Duke, I am a public policy major, psychology minor, and am pursuing a certificate in innovation and entrepreneurship. I chose the public policy major as I thought it would give me the holistic education I was looking for, and its rigorous yet balanced core curriculum would prepare me to enter any field of work. To compliment that workload, I had a long-standing interest in psychology (I took classes in high school), which I hoped to expand on. I grew up in a very hectic, atypical family, so I used psychology as a means to try and understand them a bit better. At the same time, it also helps me understand people as a whole in a professional setting. In particular, a course such as abnormal psychology has helped me understand some of my younger sister’s challenges growing up. Lastly, I chose the I&E certificate because of its real-world applications and creative course offerings. Multiple electives immediately caught my eyes, and after speaking to some older mentors, I decided it was the right certificate for me.

My coursework in I&E fits into my long-term plans as it gives me a tool kit to approach problems and scenarios with a growth mindset. In learning to fail, I faced new challenges and overcame adversity and failure. I know whatever job I choose to pursue, albeit in the private, public, or nonprofit sector, I’ll need to deal with failure, and I know I’ll be better prepared from that class. I also know that I’ll want to work on different social projects at some point in my life. Through my time in social innovation, I improved my understanding of the social sectors and what goes into specific social ventures. In this class, I hope to gain more experience on the business side of innovation and entrepreneurship, whether it be learning to read financial statements or understanding how to market my products (or even myself); those are lifelong skills that can be applied to many fields.

One recent experience that overlapped with Innovation & Entrepreneurship was a seachfund I worked at this summer. It was called Windward Management, and I worked under a Duke graduate named William Young. My goal was to help him source different companies with the hope of eventually acquiring and running one. Through this process, I was able to see the countless steps needed to find and acquire a company while also observing the numerous failures. We went through thousands of companies and tried to follow as many leads as possible, eventually finding success. This semester I also worked in consulting for local Durham businesses helping them through Covid. This opened my eyes to the difficulties and hardships of running a company through a pandemic. The company is called Rem and Co, and I found it innovative how they saw a clear need and took advantage in forming this company to help local business.

My favorite leisure time activity is playing Golf. Growing up, I used to hate Golf as I thought it was incredibly dull. However, it was one of the few things I could do outdoors over the summer while socially distancing with my friends. I took lessons and tried to go to the driving range as much as possible. Now, at school, I have found it a great way to relieve stress and get out of my apartment. If I feel anxious about an exam or too couped up in my apartment, I know I can head to the WA for 30 minutes, hit balls, and return with a much clearer mind. Also, since I was only a beginner, it has pleased me to track my growth and set individual goals as I am a goal-oriented individual.

One thing people should know about me is that I went vegan over winter break. I wanted to challenge myself and test my ability to control temptation. Luckily, I learned I like other foods such as seitan, tofu, tempeh, and black bean burgers. Moving forward, I hope to have an impact given the resources at my disposal. I know many doors will be opened with a Duke degree, and I know I will take advantage of these and do my best to leave the earth in a better place. Specifically, I hope to impact climate change as that is an issue that affects everyone and will be the fight of our generation.

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