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Desiree Vargas Wrigley, Founder of Pearachute

Desiree Vargas Wrigley, Founder of Pearachute
At the time of recording, Desiree Vargas Wrigley was the President of the Young Entrepreneurs Academy and the founder of Pearachute, a company that helps parents and children drop into the best family activities in town.

At the time of recording, Desiree Vargas Wrigley was the President of the Young Entrepreneurs Academy and the founder of Pearachute, a company that helps parents and children drop into the best family activities in town.  Prior to launching Pearachute, Desiree co-founded GiveForward, the world’s leading crowd giving platform for people facing a major life event. Under her leadership, the company helped friends and family contribute nearly $160M to loved ones in need. After graduating from Yale, Desiree worked at the Kauffman Foundation as a specialist in entrepreneurship and at Arabella Philanthropic Investment Advisors.  Most recently, she taught New Venture Discovery at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management.  Desiree has been named Inc's 30 Under 30, Crain's 40 Under 40, one of Parents Magazine's Most Inspiring Moms, one of Forbes’ Women to Watch, and has appeared on Shark Tank, closing one of the largest deals on the show to date.  When not working, she enjoys spending time with her 2 young sons, stepdaughter, and crime-fighting husband.

Desiree joined me today to discuss when she started to feel the pull of entrepreneurship.  She shares with us when her initial idea went from kernel to a more serious pursuit. Desiree shares  some of the big challenges of her first venture, GiftForward. She talks about some of the lessons of working with the board of directors and how grateful she is for them.

“I really do believe that we are in a unique position to help feed the diversity pipeline that goes into innovation and entrepreneurship, and including computer science.”

- Desiree Vargas Wrigley

Today on Startups for Good we cover:

  • Knowing when to start on a company
  • Crowdfunding landscape before Kickstarter and GoFundMe
  • Understanding the differences between the venture capitalists and the customer
  • Knowing when to scale the business and when to sale
  • The experience of a Shark Tank pitch, deal and the aftermath
  • Mentoring and enriching the lives of young entrepreneurs

Connect with Desiree on LinkedIn, Instagram and Twitter

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Transcript

Miles

All right Desiree. Thank you for coming on Startups for Good. So excited to have you in interested in a conversation about a number of topics. You've been both a successful founder, a professor, and now teaching younger people how to be entrepreneurs through an organization. So I'm excited to hear about all that.

Desiree

Yeah, thank you so much for having me.

Miles

I'd love to start with where you feel like your entrepreneurial started, your entrepreneurial journey started. Was that with gift forward, or was that earlier?

Desiree

Yeah, it's interesting yet, historically, when I've thought about it, I always thought that entrepreneurship was never in my blood, that it was something that I kind of stumbled upon as a career path, in my first job at the Kauffman Foundation, where I saw, you know, 20 year olds creating businesses, and I thought, someday, if I get a good idea, you know, why not me? Why can't I try this, too? So, you know, that's how I've looked at my career. And then I had this kind of aha moment around Hurricane Katrina, when I thought that there should be a way for people to be able to give directly to people. And that was really the birth of my big idea. But I think if I'm really reflecting honestly, I think that the entrepreneurial mindset started way earlier. And I really think it's because at some point, in my young years, I think it was probably in middle school when I wanted to go on this church youth group trip. And so I had this problem where I couldn't afford to go, but I wanted to, and an adult gave me a solution, which was selling candy bars. And I think that was one of the first times I realized that when you have a problem, and you execute on a solution, you realize how powerful you are. And I think that was, honestly more the beginning of my entrepreneurial journey than anything else. So I know a lot of kids look back and say, Oh, yeah, I had a lemonade stand. And I always wanted to make money. I think that's part of it. But I think it's the bigger part is, when do you start to get those skill sets where you realize that you can create something out of nothing, and then go sell it. So I would say it probably started earlier. But the one that I can kind of hang my hat on for sure, as being one of the founders of one of the first crowdfunding platforms in the world, it was called Give Forward. The idea came to me in 2006, and that took me about 18 months to really get up the courage to just leap and start the business. So and we waited tables at night, and I worked on it during the day, and I found a co founder and built Yeah, one of the first peer to peer crowdfunding platforms in the world.

Miles

You talked about that sense of feeling powerful, and having the courage to take that leap. Can you bring us back to that moment? How did it feel like what was it that convinced you to go into working on it more seriously?

Desiree

You know, I'm sure it was my subconscious. But at the time, it felt pretty divine that I went on this kind of soul searching trip to Costa Rica, where I'm from, and I was uncertain about what I wanted to do. And it was a new relationship that I wasn't quite sure I was ready to make full time or lifelong commitment. And so I was just kind of in a moment of inquiry about my life. And I literally woke up to a voice in my head in the middle of the night that just said, Get Started. And I know, it's crazy. But I did, I jumped up, it was one in the morning, I wrote this little three page business plan. And I sent it to the Law Clinic at Northwestern because I knew that they had a small business development unit that the students helped kind of get you through the process of creating an LLC. And I got such a positive response from the professor who was running the program that I cut my trip short, came home to Chicago and started building. So.

Miles

So it really was this moment of inspiration that struck I've had them like that, where you just have to write down your idea, and you have to share it with other people. I'm, I'm really intrigued by something you said there, which is just start, which I think is wonderful advice for founders is start before you're ready.

Desiree

Yep. I know. There's so many people that say, you know, Ready, aim, fire, air. But I think that you just can't do that when you're a startup founder, I think you where you start is with the problem, right? And like what you want to do to solve it, figuring out the discovery phase then becomes how to solve it in the best way possible for customers and for the world. And so you do have to start, you don't have to necessarily quit your job and dive all the way in. And you know, that idea. It didn't just come to me in that moment, I had been thinking about this problem that I wanted to solve, which is that people couldn't give to people. But the solution kind of evolved over time as I saw, you know, a change jar in a convenience store and thought this should be happening online and people are fundraising for marathons online. Why aren't they fundraising for you know, their kids soccer Her team. It wasn't like this one thing that suddenly the light bulb went off. And I was given this great idea. It definitely was the inquiry of trying to solve a problem and thinking about the different facets of how that problem can be solved. And of course, now, you know, I know that that's kind of at the heart of the Lean Startup mentality. And definitely something that we taught at Kellogg, and it's something that I'm bringing to the Young Entrepreneurs Academy now is that, you know, an idea is one piece of it, but really doing the work to figure out what the problem is that you're solving and what what customers are hiring you to solve. And then building from there.

Miles

And when you understood the customers problem, I'm sure there was still a number of challenges for you along the way. Can you share what some of the biggest challenges were for Gift Forward as you built it?

Desiree

Yeah, well, the big challenge of being a startup in 2008, and there are so many, but one of them was no one was really funding social ventures at the time, it was barely a term, at least in the Chicago ecosystem. I'm sure it's different in Silicon Valley. But here, you know, everyone said, it looks like a nonprofit, it sounds like a nonprofit, it should probably be a nonprofit. And of course, the regulatory arm said this should not be a nonprofit. And so we found ourselves pretty stuck in that we just had to kind of bootstrap our way through the first couple of years, because there was no way that we were going to get funding. And that was, you know, a challenge and a blessing. At the same time, it forced us to be really efficient, to think about how we used every dollar and Ethan and I both worked really hard. And so we knew how committed we were because every night we were going to our kind of jobs that paid the bills. And then every day, we were working on this vision that we just believed so much needed to exist. And now, you know, in the This was before Kickstarter, this was before GoFundMe. And so it's hard to place our heads back into that time. But at the time, I just had so much conviction that this problem needed to be solved. And it was kind of willing to walk through walls for it. And then ultimately, we got really lucky an incubator started in Chicago, that later became part of TechStars. It was called Accelerate Labs. And the person who was doing the interviews was a man named Sammy Hagen, who you might know is founder of OkCupid, and later, CEO of Match.com, and now CEO of Shoprunner. But his assistant had just had this exact problem where her son was sick, she needed to raise money online, Sam created a blog with a PayPal button for her because that was hard to do back then. And he knew firsthand that you needed real tech savvy to be able to build something like this and that there was absolutely zero oversight. So, you know, I like to talk about kind of the intersection of luck being like opportunity meets preparation meets optimism. And I think that that was one of those moments where that happened for us.

Miles

And that was a real breakthrough for the company. I'm also intrigued by something you said around the regulator's believing that it shouldn't be a nonprofit, and I'm assuming that's a reference to the C three public charities not being allowed to direct money and create private benefit for an individual person. Right. Yes, exactly. And so the mentality of, but they shouldn't be for profit, because why? Because it's doing too much good for individuals, or what was the thinking? Do you know?

Desiree

So the, the early angels and the VCs that we talked to said, Why on earth would anyone ever give away money without a tax deduction. And I realized it was only talking to older white men who cared about the tax deduction. But when you talk to middle class Americans who actually do a lot of our individual giving across, you know, our philanthropic investments every year, that they most of them don't actually care that much about the tax deduction, and care even less when it's money going to their best friend's mom who's, you know, struggling with breast cancer. So I realized that that was the first time that I realized that VCs know a lot, but they often don't know your target market. And that is especially true if you are a woman founder or a person of color, Latinx because the investors for the most part, haven't experienced the same challenges that you know, kind of inherently from the experiences that you've had as an individual.

Miles

And those experiences you think, allowed you to see problems to see the future before other people did.

Desiree

Yeah, I think so. I mean, I grew up with a single mom who really struggled to pay the bills, my dad did not contribute, unfortunately. And I remember very vividly at one point, her saying I just wish someone would leave $300 in the mailbox, it would solve all of our problems this month. And, you know, it's a hard burden to share with a mom as a kid. But I realized now looking back that that's exactly what GiftForward did. When we first started, we sent checks that were surprised checks and some of them for you know, 10s of 1000s of dollars to people We're on the verge of bankruptcy. So I do think your personal perspective, that it's often so unique to what the funding community has experienced, gives you an advantage and understanding trends that are coming down the pike.

Miles

Yeah, every problem is an opportunity. When when you grew the business, you did get funding, let's fast forward. How did you think about continuing to scale it versus selling it? When you were making choices about that? How did you go about that?

Desiree

Yeah. So the first round of funding was a $500,000. Round, David Cohen, from TechStars, led it which was great, because it's such a wonderful seal of approval. And, you know, we, we extended that money for, I want to say, more than 24 months, we made, it lasts quite a long time. And we thought about not raising more money, because we were, you know, almost profitable, and just, you know, growing nicely, but we weren't growing fast enough. But then like right around that same time, a company called GoFundMe pivoted out of charity software into our category. And another company called Youcaring, launched and copied, like literally copied our fundraisers on their own platform really messing up our SEO. And so we started to feel like, okay, we have a small advantage. Now, because we've been around for a little bit like we should go out and raise a series A so around 2012, and companies about four and a half years old, and we raised $2 million, which was a very normal series, they back then. But obviously, it's it's small now. And that, of course, put us on no offense, but we kind of, you know, the rat race that is venture, right, like spin fast, grow fast at all cost. And so that really kind of changed our strategy. And I don't know that, looking back, if Ethan and I could do it again, if we would have raised that $2 million, I think we probably would have grown based on revenue instead, and continue to operate in some of the channels that were strategic for us that were great partnerships, that we ended up turning off because of, you know, having a very vocal board. So I think, you know, there's a lot of influence that when you're a first time founder, you don't exactly know how to manage up to your lead investors and your board. And I think I made some mistakes early on, that kind of kept us from growing as fast as we could have. And then, honestly, it's kind of hard to find a buyer for some of these social ventures. And at the time, no one was the clear winner. You know, the only clear winner actually was Kickstarter, and we weren't even close to their category. So it didn't feel like a buyer for us. We talked to a competitor indirect competitor in the nonprofit space, who didn't have the resources to buy us either. And then instead, we decided, Okay, well, let's go look for a strategic partner. And so we raised $4 million from Nationwide Insurance, to help expand the vision for the business to move beyond just crowdfunding to build something that was useful for everyone. Because the truth is, upper middle class and above, don't really need crowdfunding for the most part. And so we created this concept for additional ways to give, and that was moving in the right direction. But at the same time, there's a lot of kind of internal conflict with the company. And the Facebook algorithm change really affected our revenue. So it was kind of a combination of things that helped us not quite reach our potential.

Miles

Yeah, but you did help a lot of people along the way. And you, you're dwelling on some of the mistakes, which I appreciate. But there's a lot of success mixed in there, too.

Desiree

I want to admit, we did help people raise $200 million, and we grew it to 5 million a year in revenue. And I think one of my, like, favorite favorite things about what we did was that we built such a strong culture. And we still have a GiveForward alumni page that's active on Facebook that people are still contributing to and helping each other find jobs. And so even though it was a small company in the grand scheme of things, it was even just under 50 people, the impact that we had, I think was outsized. And I'm very, very proud of that.

Miles

That's wonderful. I'm very proud of when I've been able to build positive cultures in my startups as well. You talked about making the decision to take additional venture capital investment. And with that, setting the expectation for growth. And you're saying maybe you wouldn't have done that again. I also thought I heard you say that, as first time founder, you made some mistakes, mistakes that kept you from growing. And I was curious if those two were links or linked or those were separate thoughts that you had, and how the VC investment influenced the choices that you did make?

Desiree

Yeah, I mean, without being too negative about our lead investors. We Ethan and I were in a place where we just didn't know what we were doing when we were fundraising. And so we, I think I only did two in person pitches. And I got off the plane from the first one and got an offer, right as I landed. And so I was like, Well, if they hit this other number, which was the number we had in mind, then we should say yes, because they're a name brand VC. And, you know, I just didn't do enough diligence and backchannel referencing on what it was like to work with that team. And if I had, I think I would have discovered some of the things that created challenges for us later on. And one of the biggest challenges is that we launched gift forward as what GoFundMe has become, which is, you know, fundraise for anything platform. But where we got our early traction was in medical crowdfunding. And so when we went out to pitch, we talked about this one vertical being really strong, and then how we would, you know, spend more energy and time to open up into the other verticals. And what ended up happening was about eight months into getting funded, the board, or a lead investor was very, very much against us moving into any other verticals, or increasing our energy and effort around any other verticals. And so we did become very much defined as medical crowdfunding. And I do think there's value to kind of having a single thing that you do really well. But what I always struggled with was that if you have, you know, a little league team, that is fundraising for uniforms, and that coach gets cancer, they're going to use the same platform that they just had success with doing the uniforms, they're not going to come over to a different platform. And so I just didn't do a very good job of communicating that. And I think when I look back, I feel like I would have had more control over the vision, not in a dictatorial way. But in, you know, just high conviction way, that I probably would have made better choices for the company, and gone with those, as opposed to kind of constantly second guessing myself because of what was happening at the board level.

Miles

Right. And I think, as a first time founder, I remember being very influenced by people who seem to have done it before. And sometimes that can influence what you think is right. So I've certainly been in a situation that sounds somewhat similar.

Desiree

Yeah, absolutely. The great thing is that when you get a second chance at that you realize the mistakes that you made the first time around, you get to go so much faster, and you build better teams, and you build the environment that you want to work in. And so I feel so fortunate that a lot of the investors who believed in me the first time around with gift forward, came into parachute and helped launch the business with, you know, enough funding for us to really hit the ground running, running in a pretty crowded space.

Miles

So tell me more about that. How did you get started?

Desiree

Yeah, so, the story of going forward is what it is, but I'm still so you know, very proud of it. But it was time for me to go and spend my passion and energy somewhere else. And at the time, I was a mom to an 18 month old, an almost four year old, and then a 10 year old step daughter. And we just as a family really struggled to figure out what to do with the kids on the weekends, because my husband is a police officers. So I am solo taking the kids around. And we only had my daughter, my daughter every other weekend. So we couldn't sign her up for anything consistently. And you know, around the same time Classpass was starting to accelerate. And so I thought, this model makes so much sense in adult fitness, I think it should be able to work in the kids activity space too, especially when kids are young enough that they don't need progressive classes, right. So think of like wall climbing or some of the dropping music classes that little ones take. And so I was thinking about that. And then at the same time, an investor who I hadn't pitched forgive forward who gave me a hard time for not mentioning him actually reached out and said, Hey, you know, we're working on this in this incubator community. And we'd love for you to come in and talk to the team and see if there's any ideas you want to work on. And, you know, it's kind of still licking my wounds a little bit from a challenging first startup experience. And so I liked the idea of going into an environment where I had access to a full sales team and a full dev team and some strategic thinkers that would be in the room with me every day, just planning out the business. And so I came in, and the idea for parachute was already there in my brain so that it wasn't called that they helped me with that name. But it made sense to me, like drop into the fun, it just kind of all seemed to work. And I that was December of 2015. And then by January 12 of 2016. So you know three weeks later, we had a term sheet for $1.2 million. And we launched live online and I think in the App Store by February 15. So it was very, very fast. And we had an article in TechCrunch two weeks And then the next day Shark Tank called. And it was just like this kind of off to the races feel that was very, very different than the kind of slow grind. That was the early days of GiveForward. So it felt like something new and something exciting. You know, little did we know that classpass would go from being a darling in the investment community to being not a darling. And so that, that replicating that business model made early fundraising challenging after that initial capital. And so we really had to force ourselves to, like, think about how we're different and how we wanted to model the business differently, how we could get real margins. And we really did a wonderful job. And we took it from mostly negative margins, because everything was a loss leader in the beginning to 35% margins, and really built an incredible team and went from, you know, just a handful of activity providers in one market to being national and having 1000s of activity providers. So it was a really great business and really fun to run until COVID. So COVID is not a great business time for anyone, but especially for an in person kids activity marketplace. So we're in an interesting place right now.

Miles

What do you think the future of the business is you out, wait COVID or what's next?

Desiree

I mean, I do believe that the pendulum is going to swing back, right, and that people are going to want their children to be enriched in person with other children, I don't think that's going to happen in the next six months, or probably the next 12. So our, our name of the game right now is, is to stay alive, and to make sure that we're growing slowly, but intentionally with the partners that are going to be able to sustain this time period. And there are a lot of activity providers that are going to be able to stay alive, the ones that have, you know, moved over to virtual classes. So we do host those, the ones who have kind of, by their nature, more of social distance environment to begin with. And, you know, we're, we want to make sure that we're here for them when everything does come back, because before us, there is nothing. And even though we do have a few indirect competitors, there really isn't any kind of vertical search engine that helps parents connect with enrichment providers across the country. And we believe that busy parents deserve the habit. So we're gonna keep it going for as long as we possibly can.

Miles

Awesome. You mentioned that beginning it seemed to start faster, or in some ways be easier. And a part of that is because you had learned certain techniques. And it sounds like part of it was that people saw you as a proven entity that you knew capital sources, you knew other people who are willing to back the company. But I was wondering the extent to which it was about the trends that you were, quote, unquote, on trend, and that's why the media wanted to follow, or I'm wondering what you think the mix is of various factors?

Desiree

Yeah, no, it's a it's a good question. I think, in Chicago, it's a smaller community. And so I was one of the early women founders in our community. And I think that, you know, allowed me to build a reputation here. And I had great relationship with my relationships with my investors here. So I think a lot of it was just the time and commitment I put into our ecosystem as a mentor, as a teacher as a peer mentor. So I will say that that's part of it. Also, most businesses never make it to 5 million a year in revenue. So you know, I did build something that was real. And I think we did a good job of telling that story. And Ethan, my co founder was a tremendous storyteller and cheerleader for the business and for me, so I think he helped with that a lot. And he invested in parachute, which was great. But I also think that there's some part of that story that is true that I am good at seeing trends, as they're emerging, and finding ways to capitalize on them. That creates value for many stakeholders, because that is where my heart lies is in that intersection of kind of doing good for many stakeholders. And I think when you have that kind of starting place and sense of purpose, and you ride a wave that's starting to crest, then you can be off to the races. And then what you do with it after of course, is about execution. And sometimes luck, sometimes timing, right? You can't control a lot of things that are happening in the world. But the things that you can control, making sure that you can optimize those and continually reflect on if you're headed in the right direction with the right team, and if you have enough resources to get there.

Miles

Right. You also mentioned that Shark Tank gave you a call. Can you share more about the decision to go on it and then what the experience or business results were in the end? Yeah,

Desiree

So we got the phone call. And actually, I think we got an email first and a phone call maybe. And we were surprised that they were reaching out so early on, because we had no customers and no data. But we felt like it was an example of us being on trend. So we heard from them, and they said that they were also talking to some of our competitors, and, you know, asked us to come through the process, we would be the last kind of one of this kind of business that they would look at. And then you know, whether that's true or not, I don't know. But we did quickly go through the process, I think faster than a lot of people who do the, you know, the open call, and we just kept making it to the next round. So we're like, I guess we should do this. But we were nervous, because we were only in Chicago. And we thought, Okay, this is a national television show. And when it airs, most the country's not even going to be able to use the app. You know, maybe it'll help us get some investors. But why would you turn it down, everyone says it's such a great experience. So we went out we filmed got a deal on the show with Mark Cuban. And then the episode didn't air, it was winter of 2016, or the fall, I should say. So it was an election year, and our episode got bumped because of something with the election. And we were so bummed, we thought, Oh, this is you know, this was supposed to be the silver bullet. And then it didn't air. So we just thought it was one of those 30% that gets filmed but doesn't air. And then I got a LinkedIn message from another Shark Tank person who said that our episode had been leaked on Canadian Netflix. So we got a phone call from a lawyer very soon after that thing, your show is gonna air we just don't know when. And then they gave us three days notice before we were gonna air live. So in three days, we launched Washington, DC, Kansas City, and we got everything ready for our servers to be able to handle the traffic. And then we were on and it was exciting, you know, obviously the biggest traffic we'd ever had. And it did create a new floor for our traffic on the site, you know, the number we never really dipped below again. But if it unless it's a widget, or unless you're like an online, completely online tool where anyone can access you from anywhere, it is hard to fully capitalize on the opportunity. And so I can't say that it, you know, change the trajectory of the business, if anything, it kind of put a target on our back with some of our competitors. And I'm grateful that we did it, I learned a lot about how to pitch something in 90 seconds. And it has given us some easy conversations to have with activity providers. But it definitely didn't like turn us into a multimillion dollar business overnight.

Miles

Gotcha. Did you So overall, it sounds like you're glad you did it. Although not stellar business results.

Desiree

Yeah, I mean, I truly think if you have a product that you can sell, you should absolutely say yes. And do it every time. I think, you know, if you are a regionally based app that doesn't have a ton of funding, then I would say perhaps wait and see if they want you on a future episode. But it is a it's a cool club to be part of and people still recognize me and Walgreens. So I guess, you know, from a personal standpoint, it's it's a fun feather in my cap.

Miles

Yeah, even today with the new media landscape. There's nothing like being on TV to make you famous.

Desiree

At least for a few minutes, right.

Miles

Yeah, exactly. So you've recently taken a new job as president of the Young Entrepreneurs Academy, which you referenced a little bit earlier. Yeah. And I'd love to hear more about the organization. And what drew you to it?

Desiree

Yeah, absolutely. And, you know, I think careers are so interesting, right? Because you just never know where someone you met many years ago is going to come back into your life or the opportunities that are going to come because of some small conversation that you have. But I, the summer was realizing that I couldn't keep drawing a salary from parachute if I wanted it to extend as long as it needed to. And so talk to my board about going to go look for a different home for my, my passion and expertise and time. And they all completely understood. And you know, we're very supportive. I'm very fortunate there. And I was reflecting a lot about what was happening socially for us, as a country and for my city, Chicago, this summer and thinking about how, like, what can I do in the next phase in my career to make an impact on young people who have so much potential ahead of them, but don't necessarily have a pathway to that and that problem feels so big when you don't have any way to look. And I you know, maybe another divine intervention moment, but I suddenly got a LinkedIn message from a woman that I funded when I was at the Kauffman Foundation in 2005, who said that she has been working on the same program that's Young Entrepreneurs Academy and she would really love help bringing it kind of forward and expanding and growing more quickly. And that, given my experience building brands, and given my experience with technology, would I be interested in coming on board to help her. And so what it is, is it's a curriculum that we licensed mostly to chambers of commerce, actually. And it's great because it's a fundraising vehicle for communities. So, you know, a chamber of commerce will license our curriculum, it said, it can be as long as nine months, but it can be shortened to and it's three phases. Very similar to what we taught at Kellogg, actually. So it's a discovery phase called the big idea, then there's a launch phase, or sorry, pitch phase, and then the launch phase. And so students actually do graduate with these fully formed businesses that have EIN and bank accounts and the appropriate licensing and insurance if they need it. And what I love about it, what I loved about it, then when we funded it, and what I love about it now is that it really is about teaching the entrepreneurial mindset to students. And I think that that's one of the most powerful gifts that we can give this next generation, that when we think about the skills that make for incredible employees, definitely wonderful founders, and innovators, policymakers, artists, you know, it's having the ability to execute on a plan, it's being able to give and receive critical feedback, it's, you know, having moments of failure and having showing resilience and coming back and doing it again, it's learning from your mistakes, but it's also identifying opportunities for wins. That part of that journey happens so rarely for students in our current educational system, because most problem solving is theoretical, and it comes in the form of a paper or presentation. But very rarely does it come in the form of an actually executing on a solution. And so I thought back to my kind of 12 year old self for that, you know, church youth group trip and thinking about, you know, my daughter, who is 14, and looking at her life and thinking about all of the communities where we have students who, right now are just in front of a screen all day long, not getting to use their creative energy in a productive way. It just felt like such a perfect opportunity at the right time, kind of socially, culturally, for us to really accelerate the growth of this organization. And so I'm excited to come in and really, you know, amp up the energy around it and bring in a lot more funding and hopefully help us close a lot more chapters. And so the goal is to reach 1 million students by 2025. I think we can do it.

Miles

1 million, that's a lot. Tell me more about the focus of the type of entrepreneurship. Do you have a perspective as you're trading young people, you know, that most of them will start small businesses or any emphasis on high growth entrepreneurship? Or you looking at C three founders as well? How do you mix all those together in the same program?

Desiree

Yeah, it's a great question. And, and, you know, truly, I'm only about five weeks into this. So I can't give a full full understanding of how we go through the curriculum. But I can tell you that based on the students that just competed in our national Saunders competition, we had 36 students from 34 companies and organizations, several of them are nonprofits. And I was truly amazed by the quality of the pitches and how well thought through the businesses are even compared to many of the adult businesses that I've mentored and coached and taught. And I think that there's a real unique component to our curriculum, which is that we have people from the business community who are teaching these courses as volunteers. And they divide their responsibilities by the kind of three sections that I described earlier. And so the students get actually three very different perspectives on business formation. And then they all get individual mentors along the way. So it was kind of like a TechStars or something but but a longer period of time. And because of that, we're able to support you know, someone who has an idea for brick and mortar, although that was pretty hard to launch. But, you know, the kind of traditional smaller cupcake style business can can fit in here. And then we had someone with this really cool tech that it was built on Wix, I can't even believe he built on Wix, but basically, it changes any recipe and automatically converts the allergen for you into an alternative with the right proportions, which, you know, couldn't believe a 16 year old build that. And then we also have some amazing nonprofits or or for profit social ventures, and they've all found mentorship and support through our programs, which is, I think, a real testament to the the breadth that we are focusing on, where I think we have opportunity for growth is really in kind of creating an opportunity for, you know, hardware and you there's a bunch of different tracks. I think that we can have introduced that, I think will be exciting for students. And we can actually support it right now through the relationships that we have with incubators and colleges and universities. But I think there's even more that we can do and expanding our curriculum there. So I'm excited to eventually go in that direction.

Miles

me. How does your background having been a professor at the graduate level? Link or not with with teaching younger students on entrepreneurship?

Desiree

Great question. And I should correct that I was an adjunct. So not not a full professor. And I taught in the evening program, so I don't want to give myself too much credit. But I am.

Miles

I know that means a lot to academics, but to regular business people, you were a professor.

Desiree

thank you. I think so too. But then, you know, I, I didn't, I didn't get a PhD. So I just want to, you know, honor my friends in academia, who, who put in the extra time, I guess I got my PhD in Hard Knocks. Right? I think, you know, for me, the biggest difference is, I'm not actually teaching at YEA to be clear, I'm helping structure, the programming and our growth. But what I think the influence that I will bring to that to our curriculum, compared to teaching in the graduate program, is that most graduate students who are going through an entrepreneurship class are role playing entrepreneurship, right? Unless they're really there to start a business, which most aren't, honestly, they go through this, at least the first program, they are going to go back to their jobs at McKinsey, or Bain or wherever. And this is just like a little time for them to experiment with an idea. And it's great practice, and they should do it. So I don't mean that it's not valuable. But I think for me, the difference is that when you're doing the same kind of programming, education with a 15 year old, who no one in their family has gone to college before. And, you know, they thought that their best chance of a wonderful life was, you know, going to college and getting a business undergrad and going to work at a bank, and you suddenly opened their eyes to all the different things that they can do. It's just so so exciting in terms of what kind of long term impact we can have, both in business creation and just an innovation as a whole. And I really do believe that we are in a unique position to help feed the diversity pipeline that goes into innovation and entrepreneurship, and an including computer science. And I think, when you have a 16 year old young woman who is designing bracelets out of recycled glass, and she has to sell them and she goes and builds a Shopify page and learns just a little bit of HTML and CSS, then you know, it's a much easier entry point into how technology solves your problem, then that kind of intro to computer science, where you learn to build a calculator, but you have already got way more powerful calculator on your phone. So I think that, you know, for me, coming in earlier gives us a bigger opportunity for impact and for feeding the pipeline than doing it later.

Miles

Because you can influence people's self perception of what's even possible.

Desiree

Exactly, yeah. And you can introduce them to techniques and ways of thinking that they just might never be exposed to right. This entrepreneurial problem solving is, is addictive, and it's fun, but it's also something you can bring into any job that you take. And you will be a better employee a better boss, a better teammate, if you're coming in with enthusiasm the ability to communicate your idea, the ability to look at your stakeholders and see what's going to create the most value. And so I think that that the earlier we can teach students to do that, the better. And my hope is that they then have the confidence to eventually, you know, start businesses that they keep for a long time. The ones that they start when they're in YEA, some of them will keep them and some of them will go on to create more businesses and one of our students, it wasn't his business at YEA, but his second business he sold for $700 million. So we have some huge success stories in terms of the impact on students lives. And that I think, is one of the most exciting opportunities about what we're doing.

Miles

Wow, I love it. I think that's a great place to wrap up. I'm really appreciated that you came on the podcast. And one final question would be, how should people follow along with your work online if they want to?

Desiree

Thanks well, I'm probably most active these days on LinkedIn. So if you can find me Desiree Vargas Wrigley on LinkedIn, or I'm Desiree Chicago on Twitter, though not as active there, and I'm Parachute mom on Instagram.

Miles

Wonderful. Thank you so much.

Desiree

Thank you.