When climbing the hill like roads to the Goldman School of Policy, the location of my Technology Entrepreneurship class, I couldn’t help but focus on my excitement, so much that the irregularity in my breath didn’t even bother me.
For the first class, I arrived 15 minutes early. I was so excited, and contrary to popular thinking, I was actually looking forward to a 3 hour class on Friday afternoon. I quickly learned that Professor Naeem Zafar is the wittiest, most knowledgeable and thought-provoking professor you will ever meet — he will give it to you like it is, while motivating you to go achieve the impossible.
We were given homework to come to class prepared with ideas for companies we want to start, and I thought — I haven’t attended a single class, and I already have to do what takes people years to do. I remember spending every moment that week thinking of problems and noting them down, such as having to wait at traffic signals, getting a portion that was WAY too big at a restaurant, and having to wait in line to be seated at my favorite Thai restaurant. To me, these seemed like trivial problems, but hey, they were problems.
When I presented these ideas to a small group of students from the class, the sheepish smiles on their faces and the “relatable!” looks on their faces told me these definitely are problems we should address. I was elected to pitch my idea in front of the class, and I remember the sense of achievement and accomplishment I felt — all around the room, students seemed eager to work with me in some capacity or another, related to the problems I presented, and agreed with my solution: a peak normalisation algorithm applicable to the restaurant industry. Immediately after the class, I was able to make so many new friends, all on the basis of a mutual passion for entrepreneurship and wanting to make change in the world. That’s what I loved most about this class — everyone, regardless of skill set, regardless of major, just had one goal: to do something meaningful.
The next class, Professor Zafar started off with, “You can’t always be comfortable in your life; it won’t get you anywhere.”
This was a difficult concept to grasp for someone who loves having a plan for literally everything. This thought only lasted 3 milliseconds, because before I knew it, we had a feedback sheet on our idea lying right in front of me — “pivot needed.”
I remember feeling anxious, stressed, and confused, because suddenly, we had to switch our idea completely. The restaurant market was saturated with so many solutions, so we needed to discover our own niche — in the area of parking. So now there was a new use case, new research that needed to be done, and most importantly, a new focus, one that was in the Bay Area. I wasn’t so familiar with the Bay Area, but motivated by Professor Zafar, we took this on as a challenge, to create a proper executive summary and business plan for ParkIt — a driveway parking application.
After 3 days of discussion, my newly formed team and I shifted gears to using the same peak normalisation algorithm we used for restaurants in parking. Why? First, because parking is a much, much bigger and more urgent problem, but second, because Professor Zafar always encouraged pivoting and being welcome to changes.
That wasn’t it for the hurdles — just when we got the hang of working efficiently together, the shelter in place order was announced and UC Berkeley suspended face-to-face classes. This meant that all our discussions now had to be online — imagine having five undergraduate students find mutual times in their timetables!
We knew ParkIt had to be different. There are so many solutions already out there, but our app is special because it uses algorithms to determine prices, and uses home driveways as parking spots. I’ve definitely never searched up car-related things this many times in my life, but it was all worth it because this project not only gave me the opportunity to be out of my comfort zone and create a real company project, but to also make new life-long friends.
Most importantly, all of us united in spite of our differing majors — all working toward the same goal of creating a standalone business. As much as I enjoyed this experience, I really wish that classes were face-to-face, so all of us could create so many more memories working together, inspiring each other, and of course, joking with each other. Initially, I remember our fun-filled meetings one hour before class right outside our classroom — we would work efficiently, assigning tasks to each individual and then cross-checking to incorporate everyone’s feedback. Ultimately, these meetings had to be translated to Zoom calls, but nonetheless, the fun never ended! We went from sneaky moves like taking a screenshot from a GTA game for the perfect driveway picture, to laughing silently with our mouths covered on the Zoom call when we all thought of our inside jokes. I wouldn’t trade this learning experience for anything!
ParkIt is a project I’ll never be able to forget, and Professor Zafar’s teaching style is something I can definitely never forget, even if I tried.