I'm obsessed with this idea of sawdust.
Somebody took something that had no value and brought value to it. Sawdust was worthless. People were paid to take it away! Then a factory worker decided to take leftover sawdust home. He made and sold particleboard, mulch and charcoal briquettes. He died a millionaire.
Today sawdust is sold for $2 to $5 per pound and is a billion dollar industry.
My vision as a student-entrepreneur was to take something I was carrying around with very little value and give it life. I could've coasted, checked out my senior year. Instead I began my senior year by launching MillPulse, a website that was, literally, the product of all the ‘sawdust’ from my first three high school years. Though MillPulse no longer exists today, more information about the venture can be found on my website.
My team - a CTO with a knack for video production and a COO with a political know-how beyond his years – launched it. I use the terms CTO and COO loosely. After all, my team were my classmates and best friends, Harrison and David, without whom MillPulse would look like any other website before the first dot-com bubble burst. But back to the sawdust.
I sat at my kitchen table on the first day of summer after junior year. This was it. I was going to make something special out of nothing. Sawdust baby, sawdust.
I realized that in three years at Noblesville High School I knew hundreds of teachers and thousands of students, or “Millers,” as we were called. I was the editor of the high school newspaper and had my finger on the pulse of our school’s culture.
I realized I could brand the NHS experience! By producing relevant, creative content that teachers like Mr. Assignmore and Ms. Anachronist were too old and out of touch to create, I influenced our student body and created positive change in our community. MillPulse was born.
But MillPulse was kept alive through social media. Just as time moved through the Triassic Period to the Jurassic, and dinosaurs underwent the most massive culture shift of their time (what’s that coming at us in the sky?), so too are we undergoing one of the most massive culture shifts of our time. We now live in the Scrolling Period. Take out your phone, put your index finger on the top of the screen and drag it down. That single motion has evolved the way we transact business, research information, and understand why Sally went to Mitch’s party last Saturday.
Just like a baby is born needing oxygen to breathe, so did MillPulse need social media. It was my organization’s oxygen, and it should be yours, too.
At the beginning of senior year, my team and I reached out to students through the MillPulse Snapchat, Vine, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and website. The order in which I listed those is the order in which our student body was the most responsive to our content (thank you, big data). With our audience in mind, we created content specific to each platform, storytelling around our high school’s culture. Around Christmas, MillPulse had a returning audience of roughly 700 students.
Then what? Positive change! MillPulse set a school record for fundraising -- $1,500.24 in less than two weeks. It could not have been done without our student body responding positively to the MillPulse brand and its messaging about the importance of supporting the Leukemia/Lymphoma Society through a Pennies for Patients fundraiser.
After the fundraiser, we maintained the momentum by launching the Miller Message campaign. Volunteers took Vine videos of students stating their ‘message.’ We heard everything from Bible verses to Wiz Khalifa lyrics! The videos were tweeted to our audience and catalogued on our website. Wouldn’t it be neat to watch your co-worker or best friend share her most meaningful message with the world? We thought so, too. And because each is under six seconds, students are able to watch tens or hundreds of student messages in a cool ten minutes. Now THAT’s the power of technology (and sawdust).
Following the fundraiser, the students behind MillPulse gained notoriety among the student body. Why stop with the MillPulse brand? Personal brand became the name of the game. All those pictures I had of accepting state science fair awards, spending time with my girlfriend, and being presented the Lilly Endowment Scholarship became sawdust gold for my personal brand. I started storytelling. Pictures, quotes, videos, audio files, and jokes brought my friends even closer. Newspapers began covering me. I had a spot on television for a mentoring nonprofit I began. I was asked to speak to groups of students about owning their education.
I had become completely transparent, so I was honest. I encouraged classmates to seize opportunities in, around and outside the classroom. Grades are no longer a measure of intellect. We live in an era where it has never been more disadvantageous to be fact smart. Jeopardy winners are out. Innovators are in. EQ's worth is greater than IQ. The innovative empathetic trumps the methodical manager. These words can hurt, especially teachers. But complacency kills, and if I was going to live my life transparently in exchange for my own brand, I was going to be honest doing it. And all the while, my MillPulse sawdust soared in users and popularity.
The advice I give entrepreneurs? Start something with your sawdust and stand out. Your personal brand will follow, and you will stand for a cause. Moreover, you’ll be recognized for your initiative by peers and investors. Don’t forget, Rome wasn’t built in a day. Likewise, merely pooling your sawdust into an innovative idea won’t yield results. You have to execute, day after day, on your brand.
Sure, having a salaried position is nice. But creating a brand from sawdust and executing on what you are most passionate about is a more fulfilling use of your talents and energies. Certainly, a salary guarantees stability and benefits. Executing on your sawdust guarantees you a fulfilling career, an interesting life and personal influence that can be leveraged for progress and assistance.
At the end of my high school career, I reflected on all the people we’d highlighted, teachers we’d ‘humanized,’ and stories we’d told – how lots of sawdust had come together, not to become particleboard, but, like particleboard, to be a cohesive “whole” from lots and lots of unique, individual parts. By ‘we,’ I mean MillPulse. Because, after all, if your brand isn’t as human as possible, who wants to interact with it?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
PETE FREEMAN IS A STUDENT-RESEARCHER FROM THE UNIVERSITY OF NOTRE DAME IN THE UNITED STATES. MR FREEMAN IS CURRENTLY ENGAGED IN A RESEARCH PROJECT MEASURING GENDER DISPARITIES IN SWISS ENTREPRENEURSHIP AND POLICIES AFFECTING THESE DISPARITIES. HIS RESEARCH WILL BE USED TO SUGGEST INITIATIVES FOR GREATER GENDER PARITY IN THE SWISS ENTREPRENEURSHIP SPACE. IF YOU ARE AN ENTREPRENEUR INTERESTED IN DEVOTING 15 MINUTES TOWARD THIS STUDY, PLEASE COMPLETE THIS BRIEF, ANONYMOUS SURVEY. SHOULD YOU HAVE ANY QUESTIONS MR FREEMAN CAN BE REACHED AT THE FOLLOWING ADDRESS PETEFREEMAN14@GMAIL.COM.