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Daniel Newman, a 19-year-old student at USC, grew up in Beverly Hills and loves Southern California’s star tech company, Snap (formerly known as Snapchat).
Newman dreams of being a tech mogul in the image of Snapchat. He even launched a company that helped local businesses create geofilters.
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So when Snap’s famous founder, Evan Spiegel, came to USC and spoke to one of his classes, Newman was all over it.
Spiegel created Snapchat with his cofounders while he was still a student at Stanford just a few years ago, and earlier this year took it public in a whopping $33 billion IPO.
So Newman approached Spiegel after the talk, and to his surprise, Spiegel gave him his contact information and a few days later took his call.
They talked for about 30 minutes during which Spiegel gave him three pieces of career advice that has changed Newman’s aspirations, and quite possibly his life.
First, Speiegel told Newman to find an area of specialization, something you can do very well, and become the best at it.
He told Newman that for him, the “thing” was graphic design. He told Newman that while at Stanford, he became so good at graphic design that it later made it easier to him to master product design, Newman recounted. Spiegel also indicated that learning how to master something was later useful too, as he had to learn all sorts of things beyond design to become an effective CEO at Snap.
“The thing that really resonated with me was finding a specialty,” Newman said.
But mastering something is, on its own, not enough, Spiegel said. The second piece of advice Spiegel gave was to make sure that people know you are an expert — and that means finding creative ways to get yourself seen.
While the famously-secretive Spiegel didn’t open up to the teen about what Snapchat is working on, he did tell Newman about the favorite part of his job.
“He said that what makes him get up in the morning is being creative because that’s what he has fun doing … and then seeing Facebook copy it,” Newman recalls.
Newman also asked Spiegel his opinion about his geofilter company, called Geocasion, which has already been serving a few small business customers.
Spiegel disliked it, and that became his third bit of advice: Don’t build a company that is wholly reliant on another company.
“After speaking with him, I decided to end Geocasion (very ironic, I know) because it was too dependent on Snapchat,” Newman said.
Having shut down his business, Newman realized he had no real specialty. So he changed course. Instead of trying to run his own startup, he decided to become the person in the know of the LA college startup scene.
Newman upped his involvement in a student organization called TAMID, a group that matches US college kids with Israeli startups for mutual advice, internships, and the like. He and the TAMID team created a “Shark Tank” like event where students got to pitch to three VCs for prize money. Dozens of student-made startups participated, and over 500 people showed up to watch the live event.
And all of that helped Newman land a two-month internship at an Israeli VC firm, where he’s currently spending the summer.
Most importantly, the conversation with Spiegel encouraged Newman to put himself out there, approach people and try and make things happen.
“Evan showed me the value of taking initiative. Of all people in the world, I would’ve never expected the Evan Spiegel to respond to one of my emails, but he did. It’s almost as if when you least expect a response is when you actually get one.”
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