EXCLUSIVE : STARTUP U Scoop: Interview with Erin Brady

After a successful reign as the 2013 Miss USA, budding entrepreneur Erin Brady has chosen to tackle the world of Silicon Valley start-ups.  In the upcoming ABC Family Channel series STARTUP U, the series focuses on 10 young business developers as they immerse themselves in a seven-week program offered by Draper University.  With her own business idea “Romeo In A Box” set to launch with with some fine-tuning of the focus and financing, Erin Brady chose to join STARTUP U in order to hone her business skills and assess whether her product could be the next big thing in the start-up world of venture capitalism.

In an exclusive interview, Erin Brady talked about the rewards and challenges of participating in ABC Family’s STARTUP U and what the next step is in her journey to conquer corporate America.

What drew you to STARTUP U?  What sparked your interest in the show?
ERIN:  Actually, I recently transitioned coming off a year in New York City and being a part of Miss USA.  But I am actually a business person at heart, so I was really excited to have an opportunity where I could really focus on my business interests, and I thought, “What a better way to learn about starting your own business and being your own boss than surrounding yourself with like-minded people that think like you and being able to get connected with speakers that started these amazing companies?” So you kind of know what you are getting yourself into, but not what you’re really getting yourself into, and that was kind of the intriguing part of it.  

What was your goal? What did you hope to get out of the experience of being on STARTUP U?
ERIN:  To be honest, starting my own business, I had never really thought about actually going through the motions and doing it — especially coming from Connecticut.  Some people do it, but there is not many.  There is not much start-up energy around us because there everybody gets a degree and goes through school and then finds a job that they got their degree in.  So that was something that really intrigued me.  And I thought, “What if I can actually learn about starting your own business and developing the network that I need?” I was really just looking to get all of those tools for myself.  Really anything I get to do with “Romeo In A Box” would be exceptional, but I know it is really the second and third business that you start that tends to be the most successful and that you really just learn from by starting your first business, like kind of getting the lay of the land and learning what you need and what you don’t need.  So just getting to finish seven weeks of high-energy craft and pitching my idea and seeing the feedback that you get, that was my biggest objective.  

Did you appreciate the full-immersion experience of it or would you have preferred a more classroom instructional sort of set up?
ERIN:  Honestly, I don’t think it would have had the same effect if it had been in a classroom set up because a lot of it is hands-on and acting like a kid.  Being 27 years old, I’ve already gone through the classroom environment in college and with 4 years of real-world experience, it is actually hard to train your brain to rewind and act like a kid.  I mean, we sat in bean-bag chairs and heard from these very young speakers.  They really wanted us to get in this very creative, think-like-a-kid mindset, which when you are not used to that, it can be hard to get back into.  So I think being fully emersed in it, waking up in it every day where you have resources at your beck-and-call 24/7, like some people are very in marketing — you have all of that right at your disposal all of the time.  They have people who are alumni and people who are just coming in through the doors who are so anxious to help you.  So you can just say, “Hey, this is my idea” and you can then throw ideas back and forth.  That’s something I’m not used to. The collaborative environment is what I think is most effective.

The STARTUP U experience is 7 weeks.  Did you feel that is the right length of time to pick up the skills you were hoping to get or do you feel like it was too long a period?
ERIN:  No. The fact that it’s 7 days a week and you are going non-stop from 8:30 a.m. to sometimes 10:00 or 11:00 p.m. at night — and if you’re a night owl, you will see people working at 3:00 a.m. — it makes  you feel like you have known these people for a long time. But in the end, you think, “Wow, look at all the things we have done.”  It is pretty incredible to see how much you have changed and how much you have learned and the people that you can meet in such a short amount of time.  

In the show, you mention that it is a bit of a honeymoon for you and your husband.  Did it feel like a honeymoon or was it more work than you would have thought it was going to be?
ERIN:  (Laughs)  It was definitely more work than I would have thought.  Obviously, when you think of a honeymoon, you think of lying on a beach and going snorkeling with a pina colada.  My husband and I were just so crazy with the holidays after our wedding that we thought we would go maybe in the Springtime on our honeymoon, then this opportunity came up. So I thought, “Well, it’s not exactly what we were expecting, but I guess it is kind of our honeymoon — it’s a little getaway.”  But in the end, it was a lot of work.  We worked long hours.  It was really how much can you taken in in such a short amount of time.  I also think having my husband there with me was great.  I have been an entrepreneur my entire life and it was great to have him help — even though I’ve never really wanted help —  and it was nice at the end of the day to reflect and get his advice and talk about what was going on in my head and his head because were were on opposing teams.  So that made it very interesting =- kind of competing against one another, individually.  But at the end of the day, we were also our own team.  That was a cool spin on it.

Is that something you would recommend for all newly married couples:  to work together as a team when they first get married?
ERIN:  Yes, connectivity.  I think his parents were really concerned, like, “Oh my god, you are going to be together seven days a week and every hour.” But, for us, it was great because we learned a lot about each other.  Putting yourself into a crazy environment like that together can either be great or bad for your relationship, and for us, I thought it brought us together because we were both doing things that were so out of our comfort zone.  It was very new and we were doing it together.  I’m an extrovert, so I love people and I love to get out there and talking and being around people all the time; but Tony is a little bit more introverted.  So to watch his transformation and see him grow has been really cool.  I think being there to support each other and watching our transformations and growing as individuals was a neat situation.  

Looking at the show itself, how will the episodes go?  Will there be a specific training exercise each episode?
ERIN:  I’ve only seen the first episode, so I don’t know how everything will be shown.    But every week of the class was a different topic relative to starting your own business.  So I can envision that each week of the show is going to be focused on a specific topic, as well as focused on the challenges that we did as team, and the challenges of the individuals as we watched everyone’s progression while there.  I think the interesting thing is everyone came in at a different starting point — some people came in with their companies up and running for a year’s time and then there were people like myself where I literally had came up with an idea. But if something came up that is better or if I decide to change a little bit about my business over the course of the seven weeks, then I had the freedom to do that.  That was kind my take  on it.  It was really cool to see how everybody worked with their business depending on how far along they were when they entered the program.  So I think each episode will focus on the topic of the week and how everyone added that to their individual businesses.  

What part of the learning process was your favorite?
ERIN: I love public speaking and I love working in teams, and while I am a very independent person, being put into a group of people that I have never met — and you have to understand that we are all extremely similar in that we are all Type A, so very control-oriented and lacking that struggle to pick somebody to take that leadership role — so learning if something is not really your strength and really having to learn about the personalities of other people and how you have to tweak each other’s personalities to help them, that was something we had to learn.  I think that was the best part for me: being able to have these people as your friends — and adding them to your network of contacts has been really exciting.  There is no real monetary value to that.

Do you think you got out of the program what you were hoping to get out of it?
ERIN:  I do, honestly.  I went in there not really knowing what I was going to get out of it.  So that was the coolest part, because I never disappointed.  I was always excited every week with what I was able to do.  It is a roller-coaster ride of emotions.  Trying to develop a business within the timeframe and deadlines, it is difficult to cram all that in each week.  But I was very, very happy with the program. Looking back, you think, “If I only had a couple more weeks.”  You really develop a strong bond with everyone, and some are from all over the world and it’s hard to believe you may never see them again.  So thank god for social media!

What is your advice to someone who wanted to pursue this program?  What would you tell them that they should do to prepare beforehand?
ERIN:  Honestly, I would try to say to them to try and write as much down as you possibly can about what they are looking to do and the things that they need.  Because over the course of the seven weeks, like if you really need someone to help you with marketing or you need help doing your logo — just knowing the things that you need, you then have a better direction if a speaker comes in and if they are featured in marketing, then you know to go up to them and get their contact information and start a conversation, and a lot of times those people are able to content you to another two to five other people who can also assist you.  Having a checklist of items, so you can identify the things you are looking for and that you need.  But that said, also having an open mind.  These are people who can give you feedback.  So being receptive to change.  A lot of people go into it think their idea is the best idea that has ever happened.  Then you quickly learn that the people you are trying to sell your business to are not interested, or maybe they don’t have the same problem.  So I think being open-minded and okay with the feedback is also something very helpful. 

Of all the products, besides yours, that was showcased, whose was the most exciting and that you were interested in?
ERIN:  I have to say out of our cast, I loved Sharon’s idea.  It’s a photo box or photo booth that they put in clubs and restaurants so that you can get a little bit of a sneak peek at what is going on at the venue without having to leave your house.  For somebody like myself who loves the restaurant industry and who loves what is going on at night, being able to see that in the “now” versus watching a video is really cool.  Sharon had established her business for a bit before she came in and it was interesting to see her business and how she networks and goes into all these nightclubs and sells them her product.  It was cool to see. She was at a different point of her business and I actually learned a lot from her.

Beyond the show, what is next for you?
ERIN:  My husband and I are moving up to Palo Alto at the end of this summer, back to Silicon Valley.  I can’t really tell you too much more other than that, but we’re looking forward to being fully submerged in the tech industry and that whole world.  We still really have an interest in that niche and trying to really take off with what we started while we were at Draper University.  

You are technically part of the Millennial generation.  What do you find to be the biggest perk of that generation?
ERIN:  I think for me, specifically, I was around before the internet was really around.  So half of my life was spent with no cellphone, no internet and now I have an interesting outlook of what has happened in the past 15 years. I really think opportunities in life are now absolutely endless. The fact that you don’t even need a car thanks to companies like Uber and Lyft, that you can share a ride. Just watching that and looking at the younger generation, where that is all they know.  There are so many cool things you can do with your life — literally from a phone — and it makes your life so much easier and so much more efficient. I think we are very spoiled in that regard because we have so much right there at our fingertips.  Like, who could have ever thought we would be sharing cars to get from point A to point B?  It kind of makes you think, “If that person can do that, what is to prevent me from doing that?”  It really opens the eyes of this next generation — that they can achieve anything that they want to do if they really work hard and if they put their minds to it.  They can really do it.  There is nothing you can’t do because of the technology anymore.  

With those inspiring words encouraging not only the next generation, but all of us, be sure to tune in to see if Erin and her husband succeed in securing the venture capital money for their business, or who emerges as the ultimate winner in STARTUP U, be sure to catch the premiere on Tuesday, August 11th at 10:00 p.m. on ABC Family Channel.