I founded a company while at Northwestern, and it failed after a year and a half.
My co-founders and I dedicated a significant amount of our time over a year and a half working on a startup called Backlight. We had big dreams – we were going to use artificial intelligence to streamline resume (and hopefully, other text) optimization and make it accessible and affordable to anyone looking for a job. The career services industry had been stagnant for years: you need a one-on-one with an HR expert which will cost you $200 or more, otherwise you’re out of luck. It seemed like the perfect combination of a human touch with our great customer service and cutting-edge technology with our complex algorithm. Unfortunately, it wasn’t that simple and we shut down Backlight’s operations in April 2018.
Luckily for me, at The Garage failure is not only emphasized, but encouraged – for the right reasons. It is, after all, one of the best ways to learn. I failed on multiple occasions not only with Backlight, where I failed to properly manage my team and failed to do the right market research before diving in to this endeavor, but I also failed multiple times before founding Backlight.
But enough with the sob story, and on to some of the good stuff. Getting accepted as a Resident of The Garage was actually one of my biggest successes at Northwestern. My time working with the students, staff, mentors – basically everyone – at The Garage was overwhelmingly positive and one of the most meaningful experiences I’ve had in the last four years.
First off, I’d like to start with our mentors. Through The Garage, I’ve met dozens of fascinating people who are professionals, entrepreneurs, and students alike. The professionals who took the time out of their days to sit on our board of advisors and our mentors were all incredible people who taught our entire team a lot about life, what it means to be an entrepreneur, and how to find our own definitions of success. I’d like to specifically recognize the man who ran the fellowship program we were a part of, Billy Banks. Not only did he keep us accountable and help us grow as people and entrepreneurs, but he made a real, personal connection with every single student he interacted with. It is few and far between that you’ll find someone as honest, compassionate, and full of sage wisdom as Billy and this seems like a good time to thank him.
Building off that, the network of mentors, students, and people I’ve developed through The Garage is worth its weight in gold. I’ve met professionals who are successful entrepreneurs, lawyers, in the finance industry, and everything in between. Most of them have had a genuine interest in building relationships and offering their personal networks and advice for everyone at The Garage. The weekly Family Dinners give Garage Residents the opportunity to poke the brains of people in a wide variety of industries with a wide variety of insights.
Not only that, but working with the rest of the Backlight team taught me an incredible amount about handling interpersonal relationships, managing a team, business strategy, and also a lot about myself. I’ve made close friends, built my network, and gained priceless experience along the way. Even though my venture didn’t pan out as I wanted it to, I am a better person, leader, and teammate today due to my experience with Backlight in The Garage.
So with all that taken into account, if I had to go back do my Northwestern experience over again, I’d go back, start Backlight and work with The Garage every single time because failing might not be so bad after all.
Daniel was a Resident of The Garage, and is a graduate of the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences at Northwestern. After graduating in 2018, Daniel took a job as an Analyst at Tyree & D’Angelo Partners in the Chicago area.