Cronkite alumni discuss entrepreneurship at first Must See Monday of semester

Neetu Rao (second left) talks about her experiences in entrepreneurship at Cronkite’s Must See Monday panel.
From left to right, Retha Hill, Arielle Hurst, Brandon Quester and Daniel Zayas listen to her. (Sophie Blaylock/DD)

Three Walter Cronkite School alumni shared stories Monday night about their successes and failures in entrepreneurial ventures at the first Must See Monday of the semester.

Arielle Hurst, Brandon Quester and Daniel Zayas each spoke about their different experiences in entrepreneurship — and each of the stories had their share of failures. But Neetu Rao, venture manager of ASU’s Edson Initiative and the fourth member of the panel, said setbacks are an important part of building a business.

“Fail faster,” Rao said. “You want to learn from failures and learn what you need to move on.”

Hurst, a marketing coordinator at software company Axosoft, said she became interested in entrepreneurship as a junior at ASU when a friend asked her to join a start-up company as a graphic designer.

After that company fell apart, Hurst created a new idea for a company when she took a class taught by Retha Hill, who served as the moderator for the discussion. Hill is the executive director of the Digital Innovation and Entrepreneurship Lab at the Cronkite School.

Hurst worked on her idea through the semester, and the company was selected as a finalist for the Edson program. She said she hoped the Edson program would be her “golden ticket,” but she made a mistake in preparing for the final presentation.

“Instead of looking forward, I stewed on my idea and second-guessed it,” Hurst said. She blamed her second-guessing for not being awarded a grant from the program.

Brandon Quester, executive director of the Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting, did win a $5,000 Edson grant while at ASU for his photo slideshow program dubbed “Journopix.” The software simplifies the process of importing pictures and “spits out an HTML code that is easy to copy and paste for sharing.”

Quester said he initially disliked the thought of entrepreneurship. He said he thought of himself as a journalist and just “wanted to take pictures and hold people accountable.”

But since his experience with Journopix, Quester started another venture — the Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting. He said he saw the need for an organization to provide investigative and accountability journalism in Arizona because of the deep staff cuts newsrooms across the state were sustaining.

Daniel Zayas founded a guide to downtown Phoenix called, which he said grew from an original idea of creating a housing guide for the area. He said he wanted other people to be interested in historical preservation, local businesses and things that define downtown Phoenix, such as the bike share.

This is not the first idea Zayas has had for a business, and he said the failures of his past ventures have helped him hone in on better ideas.

“I have failed so many times, and that is the process I have gone through,” Zayas said.

One of the biggest lessons Zayas said he learned is to have a target audience in mind when creating a business.

“It’s more difficult to market to a broad audience,” he said.

“Your answer can’t be ‘my market is everybody,’” Zayas said. “You want your business to be successful and sustainable.”

Hill guided Zayas, Quester and Hurst as a professor when they attended the Cronkite School, and said she watched them develop into entrepreneurs.

“It’s exhilarating to watch the light bulb go off,” Hill said. “They go through this method of talking and interacting with others and getting more confident. And, at times, you see the confidence go up and down.”

She said an entrepreneur’s job takes people through various ups and downs, but, if anything, “embracing entrepreneurship” is about accepting failure and success.

“The best time to fail is in class,” Hill said. “This is the time to try. Don’t be afraid.”

Editor’s Note: Panelist Daniel Zayas is a former Downtown Devil managing editor. He did not contribute to the reporting or editing of this story.

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