The advent of the internet and technology has made owning a business easier than ever. Online businesses have grown into a norm – for better or for worse. Among this tide, student entrepreneurs stand out most clearly. Roar Culture Writer Sayali Marathe sat down with Ashwath Naraynan, 19, CEO and Co-Founder of Culture Media Co. to understand what it is like to be a student entrepreneur in the United States of America, where 14% of the population is either running or starting a business. Here’s what we found:
Sayali: Where did the idea for Culture Media Co. stem from?
Ashwath: After I graduated high school, I worked full-time at a digital marketing agency, where I learnt the ins and outs of marketing. When I got to the United States to start my degree at George Washington University, I started working with a lot of nonprofits and social impact organisations. Whilst working with these organisations, I realised there was a lack of social media presence among them, and also surprisingly, a budget for social media. They were spending too much time on social media, but it wasn’t very effective. So, I decided to use my social media skills to help these organisations, and I found that Culture Media Co. was the way to do that. So, in a nutshell, the idea came out of working in marketing for the last two years.
S: That sounds fascinating, but it must be difficult to manage it using your skills, alone. How have you been running the logistical side of the company? As young people, it must be difficult to convince students to help nonprofits rather than focusing on their life at uni.
A: I have one Co-Founder, Ethan Somers, two team members, two community managers, and we’re currently adding a seventh person. The secret to our growing team is the driving factor among young people and Gen-Zs, in general, is to do social good. That’s a trend you see among anyone under the age of 25. We’ve really tapped into that drive of young people through our Instagram, which is how we’ve managed to recruit so many young people to join us. At the same time, Somers is an Instagram influencer, so he has a huge following and that’s another way we recruit. Lastly, being uni students we’re always able to network around campus and recruit like-minded people who are passionate about doing good.
S: Was it difficult to start your own company at such a young age?
A: Well, I guess I always had the idea for something like Culture Media Co. but before, I never had a Co-Founder to pursue it with. Over the course of the last summer, the idea kind of just fell into place when Somers and I sat down, and I realised he knows what he’s doing and that he’d be a perfect fit for the role of Co-Founder. I had worked with him before during various projects such as March for Lives, where he’d been the Communications Manager for DC, and I was the Communications Manager for the George Washington chapter. We managed to strike a balance between professional and social communication, and then Culture Media Co. was born.
S: Coming to the point of balance between professional and social, how do you manage to keep a balance between working, doing uni work, and socialising? I can imagine that it must be difficult.
A: I think it’s really important to schedule – I schedule to the minute, almost. But, I also have a good boundary between my professional and personal life. I have classes on Mondays and Wednesdays and so, I have the other days to do work. I usually schedule all my days in a way that I can do work during the weekdays and Saturdays, and then on Sundays, I only focus on studying. The importance of scheduling and knowing what to do every hour of the day has really helped me, in that regard.
S: Knowing that you might have to dedicate a few days to uni, exclusively, has it been harder for you to recruit clients since you’re so young?
A: Honestly? No. Mainly because, one of our value propositions is that we help clients reach younger people, so who better to help them do that than young people? We’ve noticed with all our clients that they’re a youth-facing company and so, they want young people and they encourage us to help them out. It’s not been difficult at all, I’d say it’s been much easier to reach out to clients as young people. But, obviously, there’s a lot of times when we’re in meetings and I’m the youngest person there and it gets slightly weird. However, with my current clients, that’s never been an issue and they’ve never looked down upon me for being young – they’ve always taken me seriously.
S: What is your advice for budding student entrepreneurs? Many times, students can’t act on a business idea because they think university or education might be stopping them from doing that.
A: I guess the way to go about that problem is to ask yourself whether there’s an actual problem you’re trying to solve. There’s a lot of scenarios where people start companies just to start a company, not to solve a real problem. So, you have to evaluate what problem you’re trying to solve, and if there are other people trying to solve the problem in a more efficient manner. Everyone wants to be a founder, but not everyone should be one because then there are too many people to solve one problem and everyone’s getting in each other’s way. That being said, my other advice would be just to do it. You might spend too much time thinking about things and you’d rather start something and then figure it out on the way rather than wasting time on thinking too much and making things perfect.
S: What’s the future looking like for Culture Media Co.? You’ve been up and running for 6 months, and you’re clearly making some great strides.
A: In terms of graphics for Instagram, we’ve hired a new designer – we’re going to upgrade from our regular Instagram posts to storytelling new stories. This includes a cartoon-type graphic for each team member in our organisation. We’re going to make these cartoons our brand image to showcase that we’re professional but also youth-led and confident in our stance. We’re also working on the 25 under 25 list, which is the social entrepreneur list, in the United States. With this, we want to feature young people and showcase them. Part of the prize for being in the list is 15 hours of design consultation, or strategy or social media strategy with us. We have also applied to GW’s New Venture competition, which is going to take up a lot of our time this semester. Lastly, we’re already making plans on how to take our operations into other parts of the country since we, as students lose accommodation over the summer. For now, we don’t have any plans to take the organisation international, but we’re definitely looking into expanding it across the United States.
To learn more about Culture Media Co. find them on Instagram @culturemediaco.