by Emeka C Anen
I moved to China when I was 21 years old.
In May 2010 I graduated from UNC Chapel Hill and that following June I touched down in Shanghai. I had never studied Mandarin before, I didn’t have a single friend on the continent, and I had no idea what I was doing. Yet, that’s exactly why it was important for me to go. I tried to find the most unconventional thing to do post-grad because I needed to see what I was made of. I needed to be uncomfortable. I needed to stretch myself, grow, and become a better me.
Moving to China didn’t make sense to anybody. “A black kid in China?!” Most of my friends and mentors thought I was losing it. China’s strict web policies regarding social media didn’t help either. Due to access restrictions I pretty much disappeared for ten months except for the occasional bizarre and abstract Facebook picture I’d post via VPN.
The class I volunteer co-taught at Fenfa Migrant School during my downtime while living in Shanghai.
Making Intentional Decisions
After I had my fill of researching, studying, exploring, and occasionally teaching, I felt as though I had sufficiently proved to myself that I could hang. I decided to return back to the States and accept a job offer I had deferred with a large health care focused management consulting firm. That was March 2011.
For the next three years I was able to crisscross the country on a weekly basis analyzing, understanding, and crafting solutions to address the complex problems facing some of the largest hospitals and health care systems in the country. I spent time living in Chicago, Washington, DC, Detroit, Houston, and New York. I was paid well to learn from executive level business leaders, to think critically about their business challenges, and to develop my own skill set to become a better leader. I enjoyed weekly free flights, corporate apartments, corporate cars, and a daily per diem I couldn’t fully spend if I tried. My friends called it adulthood on scholarship. During undergrad I studied Health Policy and Management and Business Admin, so this career move was a logical next step and everyone around me was happy. Life made sense.
But, by the completion of my second year at the firm, internally I had already noticed that something was wrong. I was beginning to feel too comfortable again and it was actually making me incredibly anxious. I began exploring other options. I contemplated switching to either do a different type of consulting work on the African continent, getting my MBA, or building a business with my brother around a problem we were both passionate about. I came extremely close to deciding to do each of the aforementioned but I ultimately decided to do the latter. Everybody thought I was crazy (again), but I decided to become an entrepreneur with my brother because I realized we needed to be uncomfortable. We needed to stretch ourselves, grow, and become better.
During the time I was deciding my next move, I became really good at attending MBA socials, not so good at actually enrolling.
During my third and final year at the firm, I barely slept. I saved as much money as possible. I increased my credit allowance. I studied aggressively. I built the foundation of my business, and then I left my job. That was March 2014. I then spent the next year couch surfing, burning through my frequent flyer miles, and strategically putting myself in positions and environments to aggressively scale the growth curve in order to launch and lead a successful technology business.
Launching a Business
Since launching our business in May of 2014, my brother and I, along with an amazingly talented and inspirational team of friends and mentors, have built a community of over 300,000 passionate community members. What started as a mobile app, is now THRONE, a rapidly growing and improving brand and digital experience. We’ve built an incredible team, attracted some prolific investors, and have grown the wisest and most inspirational team of mentors and advisors an entrepreneur could hope for. Today our mentors are leaders like Troy Carter, Jason Calacanis, Tina Sharkey, Richelle Parham, Jason Mayden, Liz Bacelar, William Crowder, Sanjay Sharma, Lo Toney, Tom Chikoore, Mark Cuban, and more. The same visionaries and thought-leaders that headline global conferences, have vocalized a humbling confidence in our ability to execute and have expressed a personal commitment to helping us continue to do great work. Our hard work is paying off; last week we were in TechCrunch and Top 50 in the app store.
Last week we were Top50 in the app store! A big update just released and there’s more on the way.
Our team already has some incredible things planned for 2016 and in time, I’m excited to share these plans with you. But for right now, we’re focused on growing. Specifically, I’m looking for a few brilliant and passionate people to join our team. We have a presence in both Los Angeles and New York. If you have a desire to be uncomfortable, if you want to stretch yourself, to grow, and to become a better you, consider applying here.
Because I represent an alarmingly underrepresented perspective in tech (hot topic these days) I’ve accepted a challenge from my mentors to be more open about my story and about my experiences. I am committing to building our company in public and to routinely sharing updates about our journey.
Hopefully you find this helpful; hopefully you find this motivating. I’m all about empowering my friends and I want you to feel the same way. I want you to feel confident leaning into uncomfortable situations. I want you to stretch, grow, and become a better you. I want you to feel like the world is your kingdom and that [the] THRONE is Yours.
Emeka C Anen is CEO and cofounder of THRONE, a startup building tools for the sneaker and streetwear community. He writes about Strategy, Tech, Entrepreneurship, and occasionally Sneakers and Streetwear.