Miss USA 2013 and the Vice President of a construction company, Erin and Tony have built a life on achieving their dreams. In their current venture, Erin and Tony are competing on ABC Family’s Startup U to fund their personal business pitches under the tutelage of businessman Tim Draper. The Startup U finale airs tonight at 5pm EST.
Besides your own startup, whose idea did you think was the most creative?
Tony: I think the most creative was Sharon [Winter]’s business, that was all about getting a peek inside the nightclubs before you’d actually go. It was cool because she actually had a working business approach before she even started at Draper U, so we actually got to see her product and play with it. I thought that was really cool!
Who do you think will win Tim Draper’s funding?
Tony: I guess you’ll have to watch the show on Thursday to find out! [Laughs].
What was it like studying at Draper U?
Erin: It was a great experience because it’s very immersive. You’re coming here from different states, different countries, and you’re very vulnerable because you don’t know what to expect, and you’re forced to do things that really push you out of your comfort zone. But, I think that’s what really allows you to be creative and try to bring different elements into your own business. If anyone were to consider coming here, especially if you’re at that point in your life where you’re unsure as far as the next step but you’re on the fence of I don’t know if I want to work for someone or if I want to create my own business, it’s great because you’re completely surrounded by people who are like-minded and are very innovative, and can offer a lot of advice in many different areas.
What was your first impression of Tim Draper when you first met him?
Erin: To be quite honest I thought he was a complete wacko in the best way possible! [Laughs]. I think that you have to have that kind of a personality in order to get everybody’s attention and to show people what it really does take in order to become an entrepreneur and to start your own business. What’s so great about him is he tries to make you think like a child and what I mean by that is just being able to be very observant and to open your eyes to things that you may have been blinded to for so long because of where you are or things that you may see in your life. He advised us to come here pretending you know nothing and that really allowed us to soak in everything and really change our perspectives of ourselves and our businesses.
Did you find it difficult competing as a couple?
Erin: Honestly, we’re a competitive couple to begin with [laughs]. I didn’t find it to be a disadvantage because I feel like we were able to push each other and because we were going in there with different businesses it was nice because I want to win, and Tony wants to win, but we’re also there as a support system to help each other because we weren’t working on the same business. I think it was definitely nice to have that built-in support but then, also, to have a competitiveness between the both of us.
Tony: The other challenge with that is as an entrepreneur, you spend a lot of time stressing out and worrying about hundreds of different things at once and it’s hard when we’re on different cycles, and we’re both stressed out at the same time, and both aggravated and opposing emotions. It definitely puts a little toll on a relationship. I guess you need a really strong bond.
Did you guys have a plan if one would get the funding and the other didn’t?
Erin: Honestly, for us, it’s a win/win regardless because if Tony is to get the funding then, for me, I can still work on my business but I know that I have to just be patient and be supportive with his. And, for mine, with or without funding, I knew that I could continue on with my business because it wasn’t as financially intensive as the idea that Tony came in with. We both were on the same page with that, and I think we’ll wait and see what happens this week. But, it’s definitely nice to have that knowledge of hey, if I win, great, and, if you win great. If none of us win, well then, hey, we’ve just got to start from square one and continue on.
Erin, what was it like punching and breaking the board?
Erin: To be honest, I was a little nervous only because I’m physically active, but I wasn’t convinced that I’d be able to snap it in the first try, and then sure enough I didn’t [laughs]. Going through this mental and physical out-of-body-experience of having a word written on the board that was holding us back and being able to bust through that, it was really exciting and I think having all the people in our class screaming and yelling and cheering for us really helped to push us and get us all through the board.
What was the hardest challenge in your opinion?
Erin: I think the hardest challenge was after we came back from survival week, we were given the task of having to write down our business plan in two hours. That was the point in which I went through this rollercoaster ride of, oh my gosh, I don’t know if I really want to continue on with my business. What am I doing? I don’t have a team yet. Personally, for me, that was the, oh my gosh I only have two weeks. I’ve got to figure out what I’m doing. So, I had a little bit of a breakdown.
Tony: My biggest challenge, by far, was trying to sell the bras and underwear in Union Square. A guy going up to a woman with a picture of a bra and trying to get her to sell it is the creepiest thing in the world [laughs]. It was very challenging.
Who was your favorite guest speaker and why?
Tony: My favorite speaker was one of the founders of Airbnb. Their story was just so amazing. Their company literally picked up because of cereal boxes they made that had political propaganda on it. We got to meet all these really amazing speakers that had the same backgrounds as all of us. They weren’t successful. They didn’t have any edge other than the fact that they had this desire to make it happen, networked as far as they possibly could, and just keep going despite what anybody else said.
Erin, which of Draper U’s leaders inspired you the most?
Erin: Honestly, I think, Charlie. Watching how he interacts with the students and how he really pushes us to the end of our limit but then is really there to help encourage us. He really is the epitome of a leader and he was able to really cater the whole seven weeks to everybody individually which is a very difficult task at hand as far as Draper University is concerned because you do have people from different cultures and different environments. He did a really great job of making sure everybody felt comfortable and that by the end of it everybody was confident enough to get up and pitch in front of everybody.
Other than Startup U, what’s your favorite ABC Family show?
Erin: I just started watching Pretty Little Liars. I just love it because a lot of my girlfriends watch it, and so I was really excited to watch Pretty Little Liars. But then we’ve also been watching Monica the Medium which I love! I love all the medium shows, so it was really nice to be able to watch somebody on ABC Family that’s starting out in the reality TV space and was trying to help people figure out different things in their lives.
If you could play yourself on another ABC Family show, who would it be and why?
Erin: That’s a hard one. Maybe Next Step Realty because Tony and I both lived in New York City, and I loved New York City in general. Being able to help people our age find real estate in New York City is extremely challenging. I would have loved to have been a part of that show as well because we’re familiar with the area, since we’ve lived there before, and I really do love all the shows that are out right now about real estate and seeing where all the cool places are that people are living and how much they’re going for. I would have loved that part of that.
Now that you both live in San Francisco, what’s your favorite thing about living there?
Erin: Definitely the weather! Coming from the east coast and not knowing what the weather was going to be like every three days was difficult but having beautiful weather every single day, for the most part, is definitely a plus.
Tony: My favorite thing about San Francisco, to be honest, is the people. It’s very friendly to entrepreneurs. That’s what really made this area grow and become what it is, is that openness to innovation. If I went anywhere else in the world and told somebody, hey, I want to build a robot that builds a 3D house, they’d look at me cross-eyed. Over here, when I tell people that, they look at me, and they try to think of three different ways that they can make it happen or connect me with somebody else who possibly may help me out. I think that’s what convinced us to move out here after Draper U.
If you could move anywhere in the world, besides San Francisco, where would you want to live and why?
Tony: We lived in Manhattan for a year, Erin and I, when she was Miss USA, and I loved living in New York City as well. Like they say, it’s the city that never sleeps. There’s just always commotion, and things to do. Honestly, I think between San Francisco and New York City, those are our two favorite places.
How collaborative was the program? Did you guys work together a lot with the other students or was it a lot of solo work?
Erin: It was a combination of both. What they did was when we first arrived they put us all into different teams. We had a lot of team challenges. It’s very difficult with five people who are control freaks to always try to find a balance of somebody that wants to be the leader and have other people tell you what to do. I think it’s extremely hard and difficult for people that aren’t accustomed to that. But, we did have a lot of time to work on our own businesses. The great thing about working in such an intimate environment is that you get to see different areas that people are stronger in and areas that people are weak in. For instance, if you needed a developer, or if you needed somebody that was great at design, you have them very accessible to you at any time during the day for the entire seven weeks and then some. Also, Draper, in general, is a huge ecosystem. Across the street they have some investment firms; they also have an accelerator going on, as well as a collaborative space for other businesses to work in. So, we had accessibility to that as well, which was extremely helpful for anybody that needed outside resources to have things right there at their fingertips.
How were you guys inspired to come up with your pitch ideas?
Tony: My inspiration actually came from my background. I worked my entire life in construction and when I was reading a book called Physics of the Future, the end of the book, the author writes about a construction worker in the future from now who gets called into work over the weekend because his robots are breaking down that work on underwater bridges. I always remembered hearing how robots will take over a lot of jobs humans do. I know the construction industry has a lot of inefficiencies so that’s why when I read that book I asked myself, hmm, how can I evolve the future of construction?
Erin: I struggle a lot with gifts that Tony was trying to provide for me. I was inspired by his suckiness at gift giving [laughs]. I realized that it is actually an issue that a lot of guys run into and especially being a woman and having somebody that maybe doesn’t know the best gift to buy for you, I think it was a very helpful business to have for those busy men that really, maybe, are great at planning dates but just aren’t really great at figuring out what to buy for the women in their life.
Did you guys find it difficult with the cameras around?
Erin: After about a week it was part of our every day. They did a very good job trying to be invisible. I think it was more like okay, we’re always on camera, and we always have a microphone so just always thinking about what if my grandma was to watch this, would she be disappointed.
Tony: Another thing that was difficult was the fact the program is very intense. You’re waking up in the morning, and you’re not stopping until late at night. Most of those are team activities and things unrelated to our business development. So, where do start to make considerable progress day after day, although most of our day is occupied with different team events and teachers and all that stuff? It’s very stressful.
What was the funniest thing that happened when you were on Startup U or at Draper U?
Erin: The funniest thing that happened was probably when we first met Tim, and he was scaling down the building and we all were cheering him on and screaming his name, and then he walked out the front door. We were just like what the heck is this guy doing. That was really funny. Then when he made us all jump into the pool with our clothes on. We’re looking at this guy like are you crazy? The water is like 50 degrees, and you’re going to make us jump in with our clothes on. It was funny and also just like what in the world [laughs].
What was the best advice you were ever given?
Erin: The best advice I was ever given was don’t worry about what other people think. It’s very hard, especially in this type of environment where you’re constantly getting feedback from people and, personally, being a people pleaser I saw myself trying to change my business so many times throughout my experience here because of what other people were saying. But, knowing exactly what you’re looking for and your goals are with your business and being able to stay true to that is what’s important. I think it’s a hard thing to do when you’re constantly hearing feedback from other people, but actually really hard to stay on track and really stick to what you want out of your company.
Tony: I think the thing is that especially with the feedback you have to be careful because it’s very important that you ask customers their feedback on the product but if you’re asking the wrong question and you’re getting the wrong answers, then you may be following feedback that’s not correct. If you really believe in something, no matter what anybody says, you continue forward with it.
Who did you learn the most from at Draper U?
Erin: I think we learned the most from the students, to be honest. People come in here with their businesses already situated; some people come in here with ideas. Some people come in here with absolutely no idea of what they want and the student to student teaching is one of the most valuable things that I took away because you have this network of people now for the rest of your experience. I learned a lot from other people, the experiences that they went through, the troubles that they had with their businesses and then being able to apply that to my own business was extremely helpful.