When you were 17, what did you want to be?
A doctor. Our high school did a mediocre job of career exploration. I did okay on the ACT, and pretty much everyone who got higher than a 27 on the ACT was told, "Oh, you should go into pre-med."
How did you decide to attend Nicholls State University?
It was the local university that everyone got into. I applied at midnight, November of my senior year, on a laptop really quickly. I got accepted, and then went to Scholars Night three months later, got a full ride and didn't think twice about it. I had to go somewhere that was paid for, and it was 20 minutes away from my parents' house so I could live at home if I needed to. There wasn't a lot of thought put into it. It's pretty typical for South Louisiana.
How did you choose your major?
I went into college in pre-med to be a doctor. I didn't put much thought into it. Freshman year I lived on campus and just partied. So my major was partying. And then I started doing my homework. In January of my second semester, I started talking to doctors, going on tours and stuff. I asked them about their experiences. And I thought, “I don’t want to do this for eight more years. I don't want to work 80 hours a week in residency in crappy hospitals.” So I pulled the plug, and I switched to marketing/sales second semester.
I’ve worked for oil field companies since I was 16 just doing warehouse work. South Louisiana oil field culture has nothing to do with competence. It has nothing to do with technology, nothing to do with branding. It's all relationship based, you know this person. And you see these people that make $150,000+ a year, and all they do is entertain clients. All they do is take people hunting, fishing, which is all I did growing up: hunt, fish, cook, go to camps, stuff like that. So I had this notion that if I got a sales degree, I'd jump on an oil field company with an undergrad and say, "I'll do sales for ya'll. Give me a budget to take people out to eat.” But sadly it doesn't work like that.
I wasn't super involved in high school, but when I got to college I joined a fraternity my second year, Sigma Alpha Epsilon. Nicholls was a lot different. There are no houses. There are no people getting alcohol poisoning. No hazing. Nothing like that. It's lot more productive, academic. It's a small school. Everyone knows you. All the teachers know you. You're not going to walk around school being a jackass. Our particular fraternity was very new and there were no bad habits. They were very involved in campus so when I got into that, it slingshotted me.
I loved it. I got to live on campus, recruit kids from all the local high schools, make an impact. I wasn't an all-star; I just did my organizations well, and if you do it right, it's a small enough pool of people that you can have a big impact. And once you get involved in one thing, it snowballs. So I got a lot more Nicholls pride during that time, that definitely helped.
How did you get from college to where you are now?
I decided to graduate early. I took summer school every summer for 18 hours for the next two or three summers, and I graduated in three and a half years after a major change. I rushed it. I graduated in 2011 with a degree in marketing and sales.
I had three horrible months of job-hunting, and then I got hired to do advertising for two newspapers and their websites. The “cool” thing about marketing majors is when a marketing job is posted, five people apply that day because it's a very common degree and everyone thinks they can do it, but nothing happens unless you have experience. And I had no experience outside my school involvement. All of my experience was volunteer and student organizations, which was great. I had managed 80 20-year-old dudes and the logistics and budgeting and fundraising [in my fraternity]. It's just as good as work experience, but it doesn't look as good on a resume. It was hard.
So, I got that job. I only had it for four months. The woman I replaced had a bunch of damaged accounts, so until I got $200,000 [in sales], I wouldn't make any commission. I would have been better off if they had given me no accounts and said, "Good luck." So I decided I had to do something besides the marketing/sales degree.
I started applying for grad school MBA programs, and I got accepted to Louisiana State University. I quit my job after four months, worked blue-collar labor for a summer to make money, and then I moved to Baton Rouge for two years.
The course wasn't hard; there were a lot of group projects. But that was my first exposure, besides the fraternity, to diverse people. Back home in South Louisiana, it's not diverse. I wasn’t meeting foreign people. It's very cookie-cutter. And if you're not cookie-cutter, you hide it. But our class at LSU was half international students, and that was great.
My concentration was management consulting, which was pretty much operations and business processes. I worked for a consulting firm while I was there that went into organizations and reviewed how they operate, mapped it out, and then mapped out future processes if you fix certain inefficiencies, stuff like that. It's not any crazy expertise; it's a third party perspective for the company to streamline. It's cool to become a subject matter expert temporarily. I don't know anything about nursing or whatever, but I just studied hard and interviewed people and figured things out.
So that was probably my first valuable job experience right there. I finished my MBA in 2014. I got hired in the fraud department for the Deepwater Horizon incident, to investigate fraudulent claims. My division was to investigate a category called subsistence, which is, if I used to fish to feed my family before the oil spill, the year after when the waters weren't open, I'm claiming that I had had to pay more money for food, so it's a lawsuit about food consumption. It's very gray.
No one else in the call department was actually from Louisiana and they didn't know fishing, didn't know fishing spots, didn't know the language. What's reasonable, what can you catch in day, what can you catch with. My bosses were all ex-FBI, high-profile people on BP's dime. I went in for the interview, and we talked about my experience with the consulting firm, but then they asked, "Okay, how many fish does it take to feed your family?" And I said, "It depends on the size. If it's 16 (pounds) or less, I think it would have to be..." I went off on the size, the rotations, where can you catch it. And they said, "Okay, you've pretty much got the job because nobody else knows this stuff.” It was cool because that was my hobby growing up.
So I helped write the metrics for what would constitute fraud. I did that for three months and then I started working with a software company making fraud protection software to flag a claim when it comes through. It was a little more complicated and technical. But for the most part, every case was different. I would probably catch and report at least $300,000 in fraud a week.
It was cool, but it was very volatile because there’s $22 billion at stake.
There’s an inevitable end too, and they couldn’t guarantee more than a year working. So right under the year mark, I got a job offer in New York to do a similar thing with Hurricane Sandy damage claims. So I got that offer, but they made me wait three or four more months, and then something else came up.
A family friend had started an investment company investing in technology start-ups, real estate development, and debt. I reached out and said, "If there's anything that you need, employee-wise…" So I got hired as the COO.
I did everything. I managed the office and the vendors. I did all the marketing, all the website stuff, accounting, pretty much everything except investment analysis. It was a small firm, six of us. It was great at first because I was handling all this money, and it was exposure to a world that I'd never seen.
I was there for two years, but it ended this past May. It was difficult, but for the best. And now I'm way busier than I've ever been, the happiest I've ever been. When I tell people I have a business degree, they think, "Oh, you want to own your own business." But I never wanted to do that. It seemed, not impossible, but out of reach until you're older. But now that’s exactly what I’m doing.
My roommate, Justin, and I have a lot of app ideas, and we like prototyping them for fun. Somebody found out we were doing that and asked, "Can you do that for us?" I use my business experience, and he uses his design experience, and we go back and forth on what you want, and we make a product that people can take to developers and say, “This is exactly what it has to look like.” And they can tell you this is exactly how much this will cost. It’s like a translation.
Our company is called The Monkey Mind. I manage the project and the developers, do all the content, the logistics, the research. Justin does the design and the functionality of the prototype. It saves a ton of money; we can do the feasibility test and then give you the product that you can get developed pretty cheaply and easily, and then you fundraise.
And [my friend], Kyle, and I have this drone company. There are three divisions. There's agriculture, where we have infrared cameras that can do health assessments on farms or golf courses. They can say, "Water more here. Water less here. Fertilize here." So, it's a chemical, water, and labor savings. And then there's thermal inspection, which is like pipeline integrity, wind turbine integrity, and any kind of precision structural zoom inspection. Then the third leg of it is doing land modeling. So traditional survey methods take a 10-man crew two weeks to get ground elevations and mapping, which would take Kyle and me like two hours with this drone that has a laser scanner that can 3D model the land and scan its elevation and GPS data. We ended up partnering with a team in Alabama with the equipment and the software for it, and with Nicholls, my undergrad, with their geomatics program.
We're not operating yet. We're still lining everything up. But it's gotten to the point now that we have drones we can operate for some of the products, so we're in the process now of formalizing everything for funding. And we have people that want to give us money, and we already have proposals out for big jobs. It's just a matter of structuring how we want to do it. We’ve spent enough time doing our homework so people are super excited. I'm so excited.
Looking back, what seems clear to you now?
Working remotely, working for myself is better for me. I’m learning to be flexible and productive. I always skipped school. I've never studied at a library. When I was in college, I went to 40% of classes, maybe. I hate physically being somewhere that I don't want to be. I can't do it. But doing this well helps me support the fact that I can do this on my own terms and it works. Your freedom is worth way more than any salary. Pick a career that gives you flexibility where you don't have to be physically with people all the time, because it's so much more rewarding.