“Robert Heinlein said specialization is for insects. Be as much of a renaissance man as possible.”
Skyler Kanegi wants you to know who he is, and if you have any doubt about that just look here, and here, and here, and here, and over there. If there is any online or social media venue where his smiling face isn’t found, let me know. I asked him about this extreme level of online visibility and his answer was simple, “If you know how, you can find all this information online anyway. So why not make it easy?” (He’s an MIS major at the McCombs School, so go figure.)
Besides, Kanegi has grand plans, entrepreneurial plans, and he desires connections with others who share similar dreams. When I mentioned Gary Hoover, the Kelleher Center’s Entrepreneur in Residence, his eyes brightened. Kanegi and Hoover have already connected; both share an insatiable curiosity about the interplay between culture and business. Both believe business is an enterprise for people with broad interests and goals that stretch beyond profitability.
That Kanegi is a second-year undergraduate student doesn’t moderate his perspective or enthusiasm. This is a young man with full-bore intentions and a work ethic to match. I was fascinated to listen as he talked about the life of a young entrepreneur.
David Wenger: I notice you’re very transparent online. You’ve got your website, you’ve got your resume, and you’ve got all your social media identities. What prompted you to take that approach?
Skyler Kanegi: I’m an MIS major, so I’ve studied a lot of information systems and technology and I realize that a lot of this information is available anyway. For other people it’s going to be available all over the internet, you just find it in pieces. I do searches on people and I find information about them pretty easily, and this is just a way for me to consolidate everything into one place.
Building your own brand is very important. An associate of mine is the CMO of Brand-Yourself.com and they’re doing some pretty exciting things over there. What I’m trying to do with my site is brand it myself, and I want this to be the first thing that pops up whenever people Google me. Basically to be able to control what people see about me, because they’re going to find information about me anyway. If I put it all in one place I can make the first impression for people and it’s a way to create your brand online.
SK: I definitely want to make an impact on anyone, from other entrepreneurs that I meet, to associates, recruiters, or anybody who goes to my site. It makes me stand out on the web next to other people who wouldn’t necessarily have a site with all their information on it. It’s just a way to differentiate and create a unique brand that sticks with people.
DW: You’re in your second year here at UT Austin, and I get the impression you came here already having some entrepreneurial interests, is that correct?
SK: That is true. I started my first company when I was 16. It was a non-profit art magazine. I’d been the chief editor of the school’s magazine and the school had this policy where as the chief editor I could edit any work that people sent in. I could just change it. And I didn’t think that was fair for the artists because we weren’t respecting their artistic license and their creativity. I talked to the sponsor about this and we came to a disagreement about whether or not it was right to respect the artist’s original creation. So I went ahead and started this alternative magazine for people in the community, and it ended up growing into this global magazine. This was my first experience creating a website. For the first issue we ended up getting submissions from six countries, and we printed 60 copies of the magazine, by hand, and sold those in the community. We gave the artists more exposure and respected their artistic creativity.
SK: Right absolutely. Our magazine ended up growing into a nonprofit organization because we really wanted to help out artists, and after a while I realized you can’t just publish artists in order to help them grow, you really have to work with them, have workshops, be more proactive about their development process, working with the technical aspect of art, making them better at the creation of art. So when we grew it into a nonprofit art organization our focus ended up being elsewhere, and the magazine right now is on a bit of a hiatus. That’s one of the main reasons I wanted to contact Rainey because she definitely has grown a successful art magazine, and during our re-launch I would like to have her feedback on changes we would have to make.
DW: You’ve got a section on your website that has art and some of the creative writing you’ve done. How does your interest in art and business come together?
SK: Business is an art. It’s not the same type of art as writing, poetry or drawing but in business you have to write business plans and write papers and it’s still writing. It’s a different type of writing, but being strong as a writer is very useful in business. I really like business and I really like art, just in different ways. It’s not that I prefer one over the other, they’re very different but there are areas where they do mesh. For example, creating a social organization like Artist of Tomorrow that embraces the art but also requires business knowledge in order to become sustainable and grow as a business.
DW: Tell me about that organization.
SK: Our mission statement is to foster art in a sense that you have artists who major in fine arts and then they spend their lives doing art, but aside from that small percentage of people, you have all these other people who are majoring in business or engineering or natural science who may be artists. They do it as a hobby, but they don’t really do it professionally and we definitely want to foster that. We want to encourage people to express themselves creatively, even if they’re not fine arts majors, because art is a way for us to express ourselves and have a voice, to be heard in a creative way. We’re helping non-traditional artists express themselves.
The magazine helps give them exposure, whether you’re a fine arts major or somebody who just…you like to write poetry and it’s something that you feel people should read, then you should submit it and we’ll print it and let people read what you have to say.
SK: We’re also doing this project called The Underground. The Underground is a collaborative art project in a sense that people are doing community based art and murals and getting their art out in public places. For example, the “Hi, How are You” frog down on Guadalupe. We’re trying to get more of that and Austin’s a really great place for that.
So we have a group of students who have just registered as a UT organization, who are going to be focused on creating public art. Just doing community art, murals, putting stuff up on bulletin boards, getting art out there so that it’s very visible. I don’t want art to become this thing that you have to go to museums to see. Visual art is very alive and there’s a lot of art out there that people aren’t exposed to, so bring that out into the public and it enriches people’s lives.
We’re starting a chapter here, and then we’re going to be starting chapters in other cities as well. The Underground has grown into a large project that is going to branch out all over the United States, and we have a presence in about 20 countries, so I’m going to talk with some of our representatives there about doing projects such as The Underground over there.
SK: A lot of people might disagree with me but I think that art, no matter the skill of the artist, is worthy of people’s consideration. Just because you read something that may not be the best piece of writing, or you see something that may not be the best piece of visual art, doesn’t mean that the artist wasn’t trying to express something. That’s the heart of Artist of Tomorrow, getting at the expression and also helping people grow their technical abilities so that they can channel their expression more efficiently.
DW: I’d be interested to hear your perspective on how the ability to write correlates with your ability to analyze business strategy.
SK: I think there’s a correlation but not really causation. Both of these are very left brained tasks so writing is something that you need your left brain to do and a lot of categorization analysis…it’s very logical. I personally am a very left brain person. I did visual art for a while but I just couldn’t do it anymore because I couldn’t think like a right brain person. And so I ended up focusing on literature and then doing business as well because they’re both very left brained tasks and that’s how I see it.
DW: How do you maintain balance?
SK: I try to focus on one thing at a time. That’s really the only process you can take. If you have a long list of things you need to get done, you’ve just got to prioritize what’s due first, what matters most, what’s going to be done most efficiently and quickly. For example if you have a variety of projects due on one day you might prioritize and do the ones that are smaller first so that you can get as many out of the way as possible, and then do the long project last so you’ve managed to finish all the smaller projects and maybe half of the long one. It’s just a matter of taking them down one at a time.
DW: What’s a typical work/study day for you?
SK: I’m up at campus usually at least 12 hours, maybe 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. This whole week I’ve gotten home at about 10:00 p.m. and after that I will generally be working on some projects that I have on the side, and then homework that I have to do. So in terms of the number of hours, anywhere from 12 to 18. While I’m on campus I go to my classes and in between I oftentimes meet with people or work on projects with my laptop. I just try to make it mesh as well as possible and get it done. I answer emails on the bus, and that’s the only time I can answer emails. It’s interesting, always on the move.
DW: Of all the ventures you’re engaged in, what has the most likelihood to turn into something that will continue on after you leave the school?
SK: I definitely think Artist of Tomorrow has the most potential because it’s already creating a lot of social change. It’s very diverse, because we have so many projects underneath the umbrella of the organization. What’s great is that we have a lot of people already working with us as volunteers. That’s probably the biggest reason I think it will continue on because there is an interest in it.
People are passionate about art, and the great thing about a nonprofit is the people you have on board realize they’re not there for money. They’re volunteers. They’re there because they’re passionate about it and that’s very different in a for-profit because sometimes you’ll get people who pretend to be passionate about the company but they really just want money. That’s how you corrupt your company’s culture.
SK: It’s important to have a varied set of skills. On the surface it seems like being a writer isn’t really connected to being a business professional but you should try to pursue as many different areas of interest as possible, and if you have hobbies that are not related to your major, you shouldn’t be afraid to also do those.
I know business majors who are very active within theatre groups, and people who can balance their hobbies with their major and their professional lives. It makes you a more competitive individual for companies, because they can see you have a diverse skill set, and you’re good at thinking from different angles. That means you’re more valuable in a lot of different situations, and you can adapt to different industries and positions. Having a lot of hobbies is enjoyable, and then later on it makes you a more valuable hire. Or if you’re going to start your own venture it gives you the skill set to do that successfully.
Robert Heinlein, one of my favorite writers, has a quote that starts with “Specialization is for insects.” You should be as much of a renaissance man as possible.
Kanegi’s list of most influential courses he has taken so far:
SOC 308. Poverty and Social Policy in the United States
PHL 325L. Business, Ethics, and Public Policy
Doggett’s MAN 385.24 Entrepreneurial Growth is also fantastic
LIN S306. Introduction to the Study of Language has been useful because we are in the process of developing NLP software.
It’s really about finding interesting classes that apply to your field, as well as classes like philosophy that expand your perspective.