Founder Interview with Guiti Nabavi, co-founder of Startup Wonder

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Founder Interview with Guiti Nabavi, co-founder of Startup Wonder

Recently Guiti Nabavi from Startup Wonder was interviewed by Austin Rettinhouse, a recent graduate who has been a wonderful addition to our team. Below is his interview:

Austin: For starters, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me today. Would you mind briefly introducing yourself to acquaint readers with your work?

Guiti: Amongst other things, I am the Co-Founder of Startup Wonder—an educational, experiential-based program that aims to provide youth with an immersive, context-based approach to learning.

We work mostly with K-12 youth who have an idea. Most of our participants have some sort of interest in the tech industry or entrepreneurship, though many are still finding out what it is they really want to do. Our focus is to both teach and introduce young minds to technology and coding, as well as how to brainstorm and how to create a successful pitch.

That sounds great! In what ways does Startup Wonder provide youth with this unique and immersive experience? Are there seminars, or maybe courses offered?

Yes, we offer a summer camps at multiple Bay Area locations each year. Every year, we change the theme of our camp, along with the industry and which business case examples we follow. This year, we chose to approach a few problems within the fashion industry. Kids that have an interest in marketing their own t-shirt designs, for example, were taught for the first time what the process towards completion would be starting with initial brainstorming. Teaching youth to incorporate apps and coding skills into their pitch really does provide insight into the nature of technology and entrepreneurship. The tools—meaning the technology—are constantly changing. The business and entrepreneurial skills, however, will continue to aid their growth, and hopefully help them decide on a future career path.

What we really wanted participants to walk away with, however, is confidence in their ability to problem solve. Of course, these kids will also build charisma and come to better understand the cost value of coding, planning and decision making along the way.

You raise a good point when you mention that the tech industry is ever-changing. Do you often feel the need to change your approach to teaching as the industry evolves?

Well, I’ve always been sure to give a good amount of freedom to my students. What is most important isn’t always what the industry is demanding. Of course, you must consider what will sell and what the competition within the industry will look like. However, I am a firm believer that completion—the ability to see an idea through from start to finish—is more important than any lesson offered at university. If there is no passion, there is no staying power. So, even if the industry and how business is conducted are constantly changing, I feel that finding something you are truly passionate about is timeless, and that it will always withstand the “test of time”.

Without a doubt, I get the sense that you are very passionate about what you do. Can you speak at all on the passion of this up-and-coming generation of tech entrepreneurs?

Truthfully, our idea started as a “gifted program”. We originally assessed the potential of applicants based on things like test scores, proficiency in each area or G.P.A. We quickly realized that assessing these academic or technical skills said little, to nothing about the communicational or emotional intelligence that each youth possessed. In short, we learned that test scores don’t necessarily mean that a child is “gifted”, nor that they are capable of the level of problem solving required when approaching “the industry”.

Soon after, we decided to open our program to all youth. Our ideal participants will already have a problem that they want to solve when they come to our program. If they don’t, that’s fine, too. Of course, we are there to provide the tools necessary for success—which can include both creating an idea from scratch, as well as building onto a pre-existing idea.

This year, especially, our participants displayed the unmistakable drive that comes from having passion and a solid pitch. Essentially, at the end of each camp we hold a “pitch contest”, where participants are offered a reward for creating the strongest pitch. The winners at this year’s camp were a group of cross country runners that wanted to come up with a better shoe for runners like themselves. Was their product and proposed solution the best? That remains to be seen. But, the research and meaning behind their question shows in their proposed solution. Their dedication demonstrated an undeniable amount of hard work, which holds its own merit in the larger scheme of things. They had a legitimate interest in their product, and it motivated them to learn.

Where does your personal passion stem from?

I am an engineer and technologist by trade. When my children were in school, I decided to become a substitute teacher. When it came time to found my own startup, my assumption was that most kids aren’t motivated in a traditional K-12 environment. Students really shouldn’t have to wait for someone else to learn. Another assumption that I’ve held onto is that kids want to learn, and that everyone can benefit from knowing the basics.

In contrast, I found myself giving up more easily when I was young. I soon learned that I gave up easily because I was willing to give up. I wasn’t passionate about what I was working towards. In retrospect, I should have pursued what I was passionate about to begin with. This is why I’m so passionate when teaching students the other parameters of business—bringing together all aspects of the process without forgoing passion.

What would say has been your biggest surprise along this journey?

Customer service and delivering a great value to our customers is the most important thing for our business. We must balance offering superior value with controlling costs. Hiring technologists and coders is very costly. Even so, it is important to hire the best, train them extensively and then make sure to retain their service for as long as possible. Finding good customer service in itself is hard; and finding a balance between delivering great quality and keeping the program affordable is even more difficult. As our reputation grows, it seems that participants are starting to expect our camps to be led by the best-of-the-best. Of course, we would love to provide industry experts for our students. However, we also need to keep in mind the cost it takes to hire the best-of-the-best, and the value of their skills in comparison to others who are also capable of helping our participants excel. Perfecting this balance has been surprisingly more difficult than I expected, and has served as a very applicable business lesson along the way.

Do you have any advice for others facing similar obstacles?

YES, YES, YES! Anyone, particularly youth, should try and solve a problem they are passionate about. In the process, I also recommend writing a pitch deck for your proposed solution. Regardless of what you want to create, no matter what it is that you want to do, a GOOD pitch deck will help convince anyone to listen to you. Outlining what the problem is, if enough people care about your problem, if people are willing to compensate for a solution to your problem, what they would be willing to pay for your solution, and how you plan on convincing others that your solution is better than anyone else’s are all key.

The great thing for our youth is, this is exactly what Startup Wonder helps with! We’ve had industry professionals present at our camps, and I would honestly have no idea what their pitch deck was trying to convey.

What students and industry professionals alike need to remember is: motivation is key. If money is your main motivator—as it is for most people to some extent—then, really, 2 or 3 different things are motivating you. Decide which one of those 3 is worthiest of your time, because you WILL pour your time into creating a startup. This is where you can always rely on a strong pitch deck to lead the way. In the meantime, be prepared to embrace stagnation and take time to reflect when necessary. Investors primarily care about the feasibility of an idea, as well as the return on their investment. But, you can convince anyone, including investors, with your own motivation. No matter what it is that you’re trying to pitch, commit to selling all aspects of it with unwavering motivation and you can convince anyone that your pitch is foolproof—even yourself.

Any tentative plans that you’d like to share for the future?

I personally am interested in many things, and I’d really like to learn how to focus solely on one thing, or another. I can’t move on from my business yet until am 100% certain that it will be successful. But, yes, I am always thinking about the next thing.

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