The following is a message from Christopher Kieran, describing his own unique path after graduating from Vassar and offering advice for like-minded entrepreneurs. Kieran graduated from Vassar College in 2006 with BA in Religion. He is currently CEO of Zokos, described as a “kickstarter for dinner parties”, which he founded in May 2011 while completing a Master of Environmental Management at Yale University.
I took a somewhat unusual path into entrepreneurship. Today I’m the CEO of a web startup in New York City called zokos, bringing people together over food. Our site helps people pool money together, collaborate, and get inspired to host great parties and gatherings of all sorts. TIME recently called it “Kickstarter for parties.”
I was a religion major at Vassar and wouldn’t have guessed I’d wind up running a company, certainly not a web company. After graduation I moved to Brooklyn and got a magazine job with McGraw-Hill. After a year I moved to Philly and took a job with a Quaker non-profit housing and social services agency where I developed food security programs and started building community gardens. I spent a year at the Yale Divinity School reading Dante and then two years at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies preparing for a career in corporate environmental responsibility, greening business operations, and lifecycle assessment.
My goals were evolving constantly through my mid-twenties and that was exciting to me. Some of the decisions I made didn’t seem to make sense, but I used my instinct and chose what felt right. It was actually a student group in grad school that sprung me into the career I’m in now. I joined a vegetarian dinner party cooperative where everyone took turns hosting. It was a nightmare to organize, so I got a group of friends together to build a website for it. Today, ten percent (and growing) of Yale’s graduate and professional students use that site to organize vegetarian dinner parties and brunches. Most of them aren’t even vegetarian. Really I think it’s more about the people than it is about the food. Two months ago we launched the new zokos.com on that premise. People love coming together over food and I believe the web’s power to facilitate collaboration can make those experiences easier, better, and more frequent than ever.
Vassar students learn early that there isn’t always a straight and clear path through life. And if there is, maybe it’s not the best or most interesting path for us. Many of the friends I made at Vassar are especially capable of understanding what makes them tick. We grab opportunities that don’t always make sense to others, but which lead us to weird and wonderful places. Call it a skill or a philosophy–it’s hugely important in entrepreneurship. When you’re building a company from the ground up, you’re operating under extreme uncertainty. You need a keen eye for noticing when something you love isn’t working out right. You’ll need to change course many times without getting discouraged or feeling lost. There is no straight and narrow path to follow. So for those who never wanted to follow a straight path in the first place, it’s a big advantage that shouldn’t be lost on you. Embrace it and do something ridiculous.
Contact Chris at Chris@zokos.com.