Balancing homework and entrepreneurial ventures

Illustration by Marcus Jefferson

Being a full-time student is hard enough, but being a student entrepreneur adds an extra layer of stress. Many college students have a “side hustle” while they are in school for a few reasons: to aid in expenses, to build a portfolio or simply as a hobby.

Everyone’s journey is different, but most student entrepreneurs share some of the same characteristics, such as a strong passion for what they do and a strong support system. Although these students have found some success in their businesses, they do not have it all figured out, but that is only part of the journey.

From Serving Pancakes to Serving Looks

Coby Mack is a second-year student studying film and media. He began his photography business Macklenss in 2017 out of his house in Lawrenceville. He always had an affinity for photography, but he did not always have confidence in his work to start photographing people.

“I had a camera; I had bought all this equipment,” Mack said. “I just wasn’t doing anything; I really wasn’t inspired.”

To support Macklenss in its early days, Mack worked at IHOP and O’Charley’s to afford his camera equipment and materials for his photography sets. He has since quit both jobs.

“No more pancakes, no more holding those hot plates. It feels so good,” Mack said.

Mack shoots around the Atlanta campus, usually around Broad Street. He also shoots from a photography studio he built inside his home.

“My favorite spots are definitely anywhere around Aderhold. It gives me that real city vibe I like to sometimes capture,” Mack said. “There’s always so many fun little spots, so it’s like it never gets boring.”

Destined for the Explore Page

Mack uses his social media platforms only to promote Macklenss and to network with other upcoming photographers in the metro Atlanta area.

“I feel like my work is what it is because of social media. Without it, I feel like no one would see my stuff. I get inspiration from other photographers seeing the stuff they do on Instagram and Twitter; it fuels my creative drive,” Mack said. “Without social media, there would be no Macklenss.”

Mack recognized that he has come a long way since his first shoot in 2017.

“With each shoot that I’ve done, I feel like I’ve learned something new. Looking back on my old work, I really didn’t know anything. Now, I’m still learning stuff, but I know enough to get what I want done,” Mack said. “I love seeing it flourish [over] time. Now I’m seeing myself and I actually love the work I’m doing now.”

Mack says he finds a balance in managing his business and staying on top of his schoolwork by creating minute by minute daily itineraries for himself, including times for breaks.

“It’s all about balance, but it’s also about taking the time to breathe. Taking a mental break and just relaxing is really important,” Mack said.

Mack created a YouTube channel where he creates vlogs and films behind the scenes footage of the photoshoots he creates to further promote Macklenss.

Artist Gone Entrepreneur

Nathan Maina is a first-year student at Georgia State studying media entrepreneurship. He owns his own clothing brand SCHMUT.

Inspired by a friend in 2017, Maina started creating T-shirts, sweatshirts and stickers all with his original artwork on them.

Recently, Maina has tried to incorporate video editing, music and accessories into his brand. He has also investigated learning more about the business side of his brand.

“One of the hardest parts would be, ‘How can I not make [SCHMUT] just art-based?’ Maina said. “I wanted to know the business side; I have the art part down.”

Stage Fright

Maina began promoting his business by throwing the t-shirts he made onto stages of concerts he attended, with hopes someone would notice his talents.

He created a shirt depicting the members of alternative hip-hop group BROCKHAMPTON, inventing his own take on the band’s merchandise. After tossing the shirt on stage at the band’s 2018 show in Atlanta, frontman Kevin Abstract posted the shirt to his Twitter, giving Maina recognition for his work.

However, Maina quickly found that this method of exposure was not air-tight and proved to be quite stressful.

“I wasn’t enjoying myself the way I should’ve been,” Maina said.

Maina has since moved to social media to help him promote his business. Maina hopes to reach the point where he does not need social media as a marketing medium for SCHMUT but realized that it is not happening anytime soon.

SCHMUT’s success became a bit overwhelming, but the unwavering support of Maina’s friends turned collaborators allowed him to take some pressure off himself to effectively manage his business and succeed in school.

“I really started to value teamwork,” Maina said.

Maina hopes to continue the expansion of SCHMUT by using his degree to deepen his understanding of entrepreneurship while keeping his art skills polished.

“Learning moment by moment and being led by God, I try my best,” Maina said.

Social Media NFLuencer

Xavier White is a second-year student at Georgia State studying psychology. He started his brand, NFLuence, in 2019. The first half of the name stands for “Never Forgetting Loyalty,” while the last half is the influence of doing so.

White launched his brand on Instagram, and he keeps his followers up to date on releases and any other updates he has regarding his business via Instagram.

“I love fashion, and I love taking pictures, so I thought to myself, ‘I might as well model my own clothes the way I want,’” White said.

Many of White’s followers attend Georgia State, and every now and then, he sees someone on the street with an NFLuence shirt.

“The most rewarding part of owning my brand is going on campus and seeing people wearing my clothes,” White said.

A Piece of Advice

Jennifer Sherer is the director of the Entrepreneurship and Innovation Institute at Georgia State. She weighed in on the role of social media and how its use by entrepreneurs can expand their business.

“I think it [social media] has broadened the definition of entrepreneurship and enabled it by providing a new path for individuals to establish themselves as entrepreneurs regardless of background,” Sherer said.

The director of the ENI had a piece of advice to give to students who want to start their own business or already have.

“You don’t need to have it all figured out before you start something, but you need to be passionate, resourceful and motivated to work hard,” Sherer said. “And don’t underestimate the power of being part of a community of entrepreneurs.”