Pursuing His Entrepreneurial Dreams
Student Success Story
The alumnus discusses the skills that have helped him launch startups, develop an tenacious business drive, and balance his passions of school, community, and entrepreneurship.
As an undergraduate student at Harvard Extension School, Arora was a busy guy. While taking classes, he helped two start-ups gain traction and began plans on a nonprofit. He organized TEDx events, served on the Harvard Graduate Council, and chaired the Harvard Leadership Conference.
Arora is no less busy these days, as chief marketing officer of Splitzee and managing partner at Impact CoLab. In this Q&A he shares how his Extension School experience prepared him for his new business ventures.
How is your degree helping you meet your goals?
My degree has given me the tools and branding that I need to pursue my dreams. I recently launched two startups. I am also extremely passionate about giving back to the community, which led me to develop a skeleton outline for a nonprofit that I will be launching at some point.
How are your startup companies progressing?
My first startup, Splitzee, is growing and is doing well. My second startup, Kabaccha Shoes, raised $417,000 on Kickstarter and we are growing it to scale now. The nonprofit is in the works but is taking a back seat in my life right now. With two startups and business school on the horizon, my life is jam-packed with things to do!
What was your biggest obstacle in launching the startups, and how did you move past it?
There wasn’t one big obstacle that stuck out for me. It's the combination of all the little obstacles that need to be overcome that I think is the hardest part. Building a team, finding the proper target market, funding the early stages, creating all the fundamentals needed for a startup (validating proof of concept, proof of sale, coming up with a coherent go-to market strategy and customer acquisition strategy, and so forth) and much more.
After all the planning and strategy creation, the hurdles that you cannot prepare for are the ones you don’t see coming. Being adaptable, flexible, and having the ability to evolve over time without losing momentum is, in my mind, the key to making the transition from a startup to a successful business.
Where are you from originally? Did you live in Boston while working on your degree?
That a trick question for me. I was born in India, spent a few years in the UK, then five years in Virginia, five years in Florida, and now five years in Boston.
I took all of my classes in person at the Extension School as I really wanted the in-class experience with my peers and professors.
How has your travel experience served you in the business world?
Living in three different countries and three different states over a span of 20 years has taught me a lot about interpersonal communication. Constantly adapting to my environment, dealing with different personality types, and always working on honing my communication skills has shaped me into the person I am today. Everything from my teamwork skills to my presentation skills have been refined due to the places I have lived.
Can you describe a challenging experience while you were at the Extension School?
A challenging experience for me was how to make the most out of my time at Harvard. School and academia is great, but Harvard has so much more to offer once you become a degree candidate.
For me, it was finding the proper time balance to dedicate to student leadership activities, my career growth, and school, as the Extension School offered so much in all three of these areas.
I truly took advantage of the Office of Career Services (OCS), Harvard Extension Student Association, and every other resource that was available to me as a student at the time. Most students come to Harvard and just take classes and leave; I believe that it is almost a crime to do only that.
How was the OCS helpful to you while you were here?
Assistant Director Linda Spencer, Associate Dean Suzanne Spreadbury, and the entire OCS team are amazing. They host some of the best workshops on résumé building and networking—and in my mind, an Extension student who does not go to these free workshops is missing out on such a big value of being a degree candidate. [See Career Services.]
How did your Extension School experience prepare you for the business world?
Being the student body president from 2012 to 2014, serving on the Harvard Graduate Council from 2012 to 2014, and serving as chair of the 2013 Harvard Leadership Conference really showed me firsthand the meaning of teamwork and the inner workings of team dynamics.
That translated into me refining my interpersonal, communication, and leadership skills, which have served me very well in the startup world. Also, I graduated with a 3.9 GPA, so the art of balancing different aspects of life for me were tested while at school as well.
What were your responsibilities as the appointed chair of the Harvard Leadership Conference?
For me, this was the pinnacle of my Harvard experience. As the chair, I pitched the conference to gain support to every single dean’s office (all 12) at Harvard. I also met President Faust and folks at the offices of the provost and marshal to gain support and funding.
I then recruited an executive team of six people, and an overall support team of 40 more students from across Harvard. This event took eight months of planning and had some of the top leaders in academia, corporate, and government sectors come and host workshops. President Faust even recorded a video greeting for our conference.
What advice would you give to new entrepreneurs?
Take the leap knowing that there is a tough, tough road ahead. Ninety-nine percent of all startups will fail, but you have to see through the bottom of the pit to get to that 1 percent.
Most entrepreneurs think that they are ready for the obstacles and the roller coaster ride, but when faced with the bottom of the pit and the darkness of launching a company, most people quit. Stick through it. I can promise from experience that those who do stick it out learn and adapt—and they succeed.