Students are often reminded that the greatest benefit of being in college isn’t just higher education, but rather the networking opportunities available — but what about students who aren’t brave enough to seek them out? That’s why Ruiqi Li and Ana Sofía Garay decided to start “Unconventional Hustlers,” a podcast dedicated to introducing young people to a variety of different professions through honest conversations with industry leaders.
Li, a junior pursuing a bachelor’s in the business of cinematic arts and a master’s in applied economics and econometrics, and Garay, a senior majoring in international relations and global business, both come from international backgrounds, originally from Beijing and Nicaragua, respectively. They first met as part of the international relations fraternity, Delta Phi Epsilon and became closer last spring when they and two mutual friends began an essay coaching business for international high school students hoping to enter universities in the United States.
The inspiration to create “Unconventional Hustlers” came from reflecting on their own experiences with mentorship in high school and wanting to increase students’ ability to network.
“Honestly, I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for the help of my mentors in high school,” Garay said. “I grew up in Silicon Valley, where everyone is connected to everyone. They emphasize networking so much, so that was the main reason why I wanted to start the podcast because it will also help us to get connected with other people that we would otherwise not be connected to.”
When they realized their shared interest in networking with vastly different industries, Li and Garay wanted to start a podcast that would not only help them discover what they wanted to do after graduation, but also connect young people who may not have the courage to reach out with experienced professionals with the information as well.
“[Networking] opens you up to a lot of different opportunities,” Garay said. “I’m a really curious person, and I keep telling my friends about what I learned from different people, so one day I was like, ‘Why can’t I put this on a platform so that more people can benefit from this?’”
Another mission of the “Unconventional Hustlers” podcast, Li said, is to let listeners know that they do not have to limit their future career paths to what they are studying in college, and should be more open-minded about their options.
“I’m a Marshall student and it’s really easy to get stuck in the traditional mindset of wanting to go into the ABC — the accounting, banking and consulting — routes, especially if you’re a business major,” Li said. “We wanted [people to] understand [that] they’re not stuck, even if you’re a business major, you don’t have to go into one of those routes. If you are an economics major, you don’t have to go into economic consulting; if you’re a bio major, you don’t have to be pre-med. You can be unconventional; you can be yourself, and here are all the different things that you can do and how you can do it.”
The target audience for “Unconventional Hustlers” includes people ages 16 to 25. Li and Garay said they hope to provide mentorship to high school students who are still discovering their career interests.
“Especially high school seniors — a lot of students don’t really know what they want to do or what they want to study. They just choose whatever. They’re still trying to figure that out, and this podcast is not just for college students; it’s also for high school students to give them an idea of what different options they have,” Garay said.
Li and Garay launched the first episode of “Unconventional Hustlers” on April 6, featuring guest Alana Karen, a director at Google and author of the book, “The Adventures of Women in Tech: How We Got Here and Why We Stay,” in which they discussed women in positions of corporate power.
“Women in tech are a minority,” Li said. “There are some women on the top and there’s a lot of women on the bottom, but there’s not a lot of women in the middle management so, it’s like, how do you get up there? There’s not a lot of people to look up to like in middle management and that’s something that we brought up in our first episode.”
Something valuable Li said she learned from Karen’s book is how to react to challenges and unforeseen situations.
“It’s like what Alana wrote in her book — you’re always in thrive mode or crisis mode. You switch between the two of those. Sometimes you’re thriving right now, but maybe later today, you’ll be in a crisis,” Li said.
A crisis Li and Garay faced was delaying the launch of their podcast as they waited for Apple to approve it. Looking back, they realized it gave them more time to organize their intern team and prepare more diverse episodes featuring speakers from different industries.
Cal Poly Pomona senior Matthew Enriquez, the marketing manager intern responsible for coordinating social media posts and building Unconventional Hustlers’ online presence, said he particularly enjoyed listening to the interview with Amit Garg, a venture capitalist in Silicon Valley.
“I used to be a big fan of [‘Silicon Valley’] … and actually hearing his advice for what makes a good founder to start a good company was really inspirational,” Enriquez said. “I think the biggest piece of advice is that there is no one direct path that you can see immediately … As long as you have a positive attitude and that ability to hustle, honestly, you’re going to be fine.”
Though Enriquez said he did not previously have experience with podcasting, he was motivated to intern with “Unconventional Hustlers” because of their unique mission that benefits many young people entering the job market in similar positions as himself.
“Something I struggled with for a while as well was finding a mentor in an industry that I wanted to be in to seek advice from,” Enriquez said. “So I think it’s a great idea for a podcast especially because [people] may not have someone they can turn to and hear someone’s story about the path they took, and I think it creates some reassurance.”
In the future, Li and Garay hope to invite industry gurus from foreign countries since almost 20% of their current listener audience is international, Garay said. Because both Li and Garay are bilingual in Mandarin Chinese and Spanish, respectively, they are also considering holding future podcast episodes in other languages to expand the accessibility of mentorship in their podcast to non-English speakers. Enriquez also hopes to increase listener engagement by introducing a way for listeners to submit questions and to potentially hold live recordings in the future.
Garay cites her habit of not being afraid to reach out for help as the reason why the “Unconventional Hustlers” podcast was able to get off the ground. She built the intern team by emailing around 50 professors from nearby universities offering internship positions, and found industry experts by constantly reaching out to people on LinkedIn and keeping the contacts of guest lecturers and other distant network connections.
“The answer is always going to be no if you don’t ask for it,” Garay said. “This semester is my last semester at USC … so I told myself, most importantly, that this semester is gonna be about getting out of my comfort zone and [have] no regrets. So, this is one of the things that I’m doing in order to get out of my comfort zone. I sometimes get nervous when I speak with guests or like other people that are higher up. So, this is a way for me to get out of my comfort zone and to be more confident.”
Li said she also wants to remind listeners to be confident in pursuing their aspirations and being open to unconventional opportunities.
“What I want to tell other people is, don’t be afraid to make your idea into a reality because three months ago, this was just an idea in my head that I had,” Li said. “Now it’s very much a reality and I kind of can’t believe that we have a team; we’re launching. And I think just do what you want to do and don’t be afraid of it because there’s really not much to lose.”