April 27, 2016

Episode 52 – Sarah Kunst

Let’s talk about early beginnings, more in your younger years…where exactly were you born?

I’m from a small town in Michigan. Growing up outside of a city and working on a farm as a child was a great way to experience a very different way of life than my adult adventures in NYC and San Francisco. If you can, everyone should live in areas that represent how most Americans live. Walking a mile in someone else’s shoes is a great way to get a good understanding of how similar we all are.

What are some things that inspired you and helped you get to where you are today from your childhood?

Intelligent and motivation are mainly innate traits that supportive adults in my life were cultivating. I always loved art, travel, and clothing and I learned from an early age that the only way to have those things in my life was to work hard at things that I was good at and that paid well. So my 6th-grade subscription to Vogue and my mail order Delias’ are probably two of the more unconventional things I credit with my success!

How did your parents impact you?

My parents taught me the value of honesty and hard work early. They also spent hours shuttling me to dance lessons and supporting my academic and work goals. Having supportive parents who make time to help you achieve your goals is probably one of the most critical components to success later in life. Sadly, not every kid has that advantage so now whenever I can be of help or support kids who don’t have that family support, I dive in and do whatever I can.

Moving onto college, what were some significant moments in your years at TCU and Michigan State?

College was a blast, but more than any classes or lectures, I learned the importance of working smart. Instead of taking an hourly minimum wage job at the local mall, I became a campus ambassador for major brands, repping up to 4 brands at a time during the same hours in the student union and making far more that way than I ever could have worked just one job. That experience also opened doors for internships and employment later in life, so while I spent more nights and weekends working than some of my friends, it paid off in spades and taught me how to identify high leverage jobs in my adult life as well.

Was there any issue of accessibility or resources that you came across? Anything that put you down?

Due to hard-won rights like Title 9, many colleges in the US now offer an incredibly egalitarian experience regardless of race or gender. I was lucky to have such an experience and hope that someday workplaces can follow suit. Women and minorities are well represented on most college campuses and even in college majors like STEM. This is a vast and hopeful advancement, and it’s sad that we haven’t yet seen the same happen after graduation in the workplace.

What do you think about the low numbers of people of color in tech?

One of the most critical watchwords in this discussion is Parity. If the population of women is 50%, but the percentage of women on public company boards is 19%, we have to question why that 31% gulf exists very critically. When the rate of minorities with STEM degrees is half that of the percentage of minorities who are hired into STEM roles, we have to question that. Our world needs decision makers who reflect our population and from politics to the C-suite to engineers; we do not see that parity. Until we do, we need to keep questioning those in charge and not accepting excuses. There are so many qualified women and people of color in this country and world that to be ok with companies that purport to be the smartest, most innovative and most valuable in the world but can’t find any of them to recruit just doesn’t work. The best and brightest companies should indeed be able to see the fantastic talent available.

What do you see for the future of people of diversity in tech, do you think the numbers will grow?

Like many career fields, the welcome mat has not been rolled out for women and people of color in tech. However, the dedicated work of activists like Rev. Jesse Jackson and Tracy Chou has led the way to a future that can be far more diverse than the past. That’s hopeful and keeping the momentum going is crucial.

What is the benefit of having people of color in technology? Is it just a matter of making the numbers right?

What’s the benefit of having the smartest group of people solving problems that impact every person on the planet, from clean energy and global warming to cars and food on demand and everything in between? If you can choose from the entire pool of candidates for a job instead of just a tiny, narrow sliver of applications which happen to be wearing a particular color shirt, will the final candidate be more likely to do the job well? Diversity drives success in business; this is a proven fact. I live for success, and I’m genuinely suspicious of anyone running a tech company who chooses to forgo more success to preserve a homogeneous workplace instead.

What is the best way to bring an idea to life?

Start. Everything is hard, and everyone has the same number of hours in the day as Beyonce. The only way to achieve anything or make anything happen is to take the first step, then another, then another until you are well on the way to your goal.

Why do you keep waking up every day, what motivates you every day?

I wake up because I’m lucky enough to be alive. That’s why we all wake-up, it’s what we do once awake that justifies or makes a mockery of that gift. I’m motivated by my goals in business and life and by the knowledge that I’ve been given the opportunity to help people I care about while building a company I love.

What do future generations need to know to succeed as you have? What advice do you have for the next generation?

Work hard, get as smart as you can, help as many people as you can, make as much money as you can and do it all while facing the truth head-on. Don’t run from hardship or challenges you meet but don’t let them overcome you.

Let’s talk about Proday. How did the idea come about and what stage is the company at? When can we expect a release?

Proday.co is a personal training fitness app that lets anyone workout alongside professional athletes anytime, anywhere. We are live in the app store, download it and try one of our free exercises here. It’s a fantastic way to connect with world-class athletes and see how they train, eat and live as well as get an excellent workout and reach new levels of fitness.

Bradley Miles

Student at Columbia University. Co-founder of Columbia Venture Partners.

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