Mike Radparvar is the co-founder of Holstee, a lifestyle design company that offers a place for mindful shoppers to find meaningful products. Mike, along with his brother Dave and their partner Fabian, started Holstee in May 2009. That summer, they wrote the Holstee Manifesto as a side project – it has now been viewed over 50 million times online. Mike answers my questions about college, the start-up life, and becoming indispensable.
MK: How did Holstee get started?
MR: My brother, our partner Fabian, and I started doing it part-time as a side project at first, with the simple idea that it would be cool to have a pocket on the side of a t-shirt. We thought, “If we are going to make shirts, we want to do it using a way that is environmentally responsible.” So, we researched how to use recyclable materials, and without promoting it, the t-shirts sold out pretty quickly. Eventually, people outside our friends and family started buying them. Our intention was never really to start a full-time business. But, a few months later, Dave and I were talking about “What If” scenarios. We had jobs that were great in many respects, but felt that it was important for us to do something that really matched our values, something we were passionate about. So we thought, “Well, we don’t really have much to lose.” I think anyone can be an entrepreneur at any age.
MK: What are the challenges of working on a new venture?
MR: The lines are very blurry. My work and personal emails all go to the same account. The professional becomes personal. But when you decide to become part of a new venture, you have to want that. I joke around that “work comes to life and life comes to work.” I think it’s great because if you love what you are doing, it doesn’t feel like work. I wake up every day excited.
MK: Tell me a bit about your college experience.
MR: When I was in school, I tended to be quite active in student government and other campus organizations. I always felt like my time was so limited and I never wanted to miss out on anything. My college (Quinnipiac) was one of those schools where you could start anything you wanted to if you just asked and made the effort. I met a lot of people there who I still keep in touch with from a business perspective. One of my first entrepreneurial ventures was called QU Books, which started while I was still in college. We realized that the college bookstore was ripping students off, so we basically created a social network for people to exchange books online. This was before the huge wave of ecommerce, and even before Facebook was around, so it was a very new and unique idea.
MK: What do you think makes someone indispensible?
MR: A company is all about the leaders who lead it. If you walk into a company and you feel negative energy, nine of out ten times it comes from the top. Similarly, when you walk into a new company and everyone looks happy and relaxed, that’s likely also coming from the top. Leadership radiates, and people around those leaders will react to that. Leaders really make or break a company.
MK: What advice do you have for current students?
MR: Don’t study something just because you think you should study it. Study what you are genuinely interested in. With the exception of becoming a doctor or going into some fields of science, you can go into any job with any degree- it just really depends on the person. What you learn in school should be something that interests you and makes you a better person. Once you find your passion, you’ll learn everything you need to learn.
MK: Any advice for how to make internship and career decisions?
MR: Many times, the culture and the environment of a job matters more than the actual industry. When choosing a job for the first time, ask yourself, “Is this a company I would be proud to work for?” Walk around if you can. Talk to people who work at the company and see what the environment is like. You’ll get a sense of whether the environment is lively, or everyone is just glued to their computer screens. At the end of the day, you are spending a ton of time at work, so make sure it’s a place you are excited to be at.
MK: How should students market themselves?
MR: Having an active presence online is super important. You want to have some control over what comes up when people Google your name online. Write a blog, or have an active Twitter page. When people look to hire you, many will go online to find more information. People can tell a lot about the kind of person you are based on your blog. Make sure your social media pages are accurate documentations of your life and who you are. Be active in the social networking spaces. Having a big digital footprint also tells potential employers that you are technologically savvy, that you have your own ideas and are willing to express them in your own unique way and how engaging and informed you are. They are all indicators of who you are and how you work. It’s just going to get more and more important, so manage your online presence.
MK: If you could pinpoint three characteristics of successful people, what would they be?
MR: The first is perseverance, without question. You have to be willing to stick it out through the hard times. The second is optimism- especially if you are starting your own company. You need to be able to find the light in every situation. The third is also to balance the optimism with realism. Make sure you are working with people who keep you grounded. Make sure you keep yourself in check. Hope for the best and plan for the worst, whether you are working for yourself or at a company.
MK: What’s your advice for budding entrepreneurs?
MR: Just try it. Just do it. Even if it’s part time, do part of it, do some of it. Take whatever steps you can, because starting is the hardest part. Keep taking steps toward what you want, no matter how small they may be initially.
Melissa is the Marketing Director at Baking for Good, an online bakery that donates 15% of the proceeds from every sale to a charity of the customer’s choice. Previously, she was an Associate Brand Manager at Time, Inc. working on brand extension projects for numerous publications including: Sports Illustrated Swimsuit, People, MLB, NFL and National Geographic. Melissa has a passion for magazines, writing, traveling and of course, the NY Jets. To find out more, read her blog, follow her on Twitter and connect on LinkedIn.