Erin Mays and Kalyn Rozanski had unorthodox educations that led them both into the world of consulting. They founded Ebco together and haven’t looked back. They’re on the Unorthodox podcast to discuss Ebco, how their different backgrounds help them succeed together, the evolution of higher education, and what they’ve learned from failure.
Time-Stamped Show Notes
[00:00] Welcome and introduction to Erin Mays and Kalyn Rozanski.
[00:34] Mays’ unusual education combination and background.
[03:23] Rozanski’s unorthodox education and background.
[07:27] How their different backgrounds help them succeed.
[12:00] The evolution of higher education.
[16:11] How millennial buyers and trends are changing the game.
[17:47] Aha moments.
[20:12] Daily routines that contribute to their success.
[22:16] Learning from failure.
[24:32] Book recommendation.
[25:14] Unorthodox challenge.
[28:05] Contact information.
Erin Mays came out of UCLA with the unusual undergraduate combination of Anthropology and Design. The ability to make her own choices in college was beneficial to her. “When you’re in high school everything’s very prescribed, but when you get to college you can start deciding what interests you,” she says. “You start shaping your own trajectory.” When something doesn’t feel right, the ability to let it go and move in a direction that creates passion for you is important.
She wanted a field that combined Anthropology and Design, but had a hard time finding it. “So I searched around and found this career of design strategy, design research. (I) was really excited by it,” says Mays. She worked for an awesome product design firm for about six years before moving on to a much larger company, then moved from client consulting to internal consulting. When that move turned out to be a bad fit for her, she left and started Ebco with her business partner, Kalyn Rozanski.
From the time Kalyn Rozanski was in the eighth grade, getting into a top school was her priority. She structured herself so she could graduate in the top 10% of her class, taking honors and AP classes, and graduated with a 4.2 GPA. She could go anywhere she wanted. “What I found though is that I was really lacking passions for any of those traditional career paths,” says Rozanski. “They were very limited in their thinking, in my opinion. So I started looking at other types of schools and I found FIDM.” Rozanski completed her two year training and then signed on for a third year advanced program, in which she got to travel the world and work for real clients, including Torrid and Hot Topic. “It was a pretty exciting experience at that time in my life,” says Rozanski.
One of her instructors was a trend expert and taught Rozanski about looking at macro movements and doing research outside of the fashion industry. She was taught to think differently, be action-oriented, and make herself valuable to her job.
Combining Their Educations
Mays’ degree gives her and Rozanski a bit of clout and status, even when a project has little to do with her areas of study, while Rozanski’s experience in action-oriented environments impacts the entrepreneurial trial-and-error aspect of their business. Rozanski has been turned down for jobs that she was qualified for due to her lack of a traditional degree, however, there is a tipping point where experience does count for more than education. Combining the two has been good for Ebco.
“Ebco is a trend and innovation pipeline consultancy,” says Mays. “We work with large companies (in) all sorts of disciplines within these large companies to look at the macro trends, both inside and outside their category.” They help companies (e.g. P&G, Starbucks, Bertolli, Ragu, GSK, Tupperware and many more) understand what’s shifting in the world in both the business space and culturally so they can understand what products and services they need to deploy in their next generation. “It’s very consultative, it’s very research-based, it’s really exciting work, and we’ve been really fortunate to work with really amazing companies,” Mays says.
Mays recommends going straight to where you are comfortable. She and Rozanski had both worked with large companies and were comfortable with that, but decided to start small when they launched their own business. That wasn’t their strong suit. “As soon as we let that go and started working with the real large companies, we started seeing a lot of success,” she says.
The Evolution of Higher Education
Mays and Rozanski would love to work with a higher education company. The constantly shifting rules and regulations coupled with the changing trends of students who want to avoid crazy student loans or can’t have traditional schedules and need alternative experiences makes the field interesting. “This is an industry that’s ripe for innovation and to evolve a bit with consumers,” says Mays.
Recruitment for higher education is also a concern. Rozanksi wouldn’t have gone to FIDM if the FIDM representative hadn’t called and followed up with her. “I think the customer service points are really crucial, especially when someone’s making that big of an investment,” Rozanski says.
The educational needs of the students are also evolving. “They actually have a degree now in Social Media,” says Rozanksi. Exploring what the next generation degree offerings should be is huge.
For Mays, her aha moment came when she went internal in her previous job. It was such the wrong fit, so she decided to leave and start her own company in an area she was passionate about, in a space where people would respect her opinion, and in an environment where she could really be involved in what her future looked like. It was an unorthodox approach to her career and came highly unrecommended, but it has worked out well for her.
Rozanski felt like she was being held back at her previous job. She was passionate about trends, but the company had stopped pushing that as one of their services. “So I decided to start doing it on my own, started getting consulting jobs doing it, started building my own client base, and ultimately just realized that there was a huge market and a huge potential for it,” she says. “There’s no reason why, if you’re really passionate about something, that you can’t just go out and create it yourself.”
“All the tools are there,” Mays adds. “Sometimes you have to move money around a little bit or be smart about it, but everything’s there for you.”
Habits That Contribute to Success
“We check in with each other,” Mays says. They check on the status of the business, money, things they need to do that day, and things coming up on their schedules. “It keeps your brain going and keeps you on top of what you need to be doing.”
Each morning, Rozanski makes a list of ten outrageously good things that could happen to her that day. “It’s really just to change my mental state before the day,” she says. It keeps her energy high so when opportunities arise, she’s not in such a negative mental space that she can’t see it.
Learning from Failure
“We had a major fail in hiring someone,” says Mays. “We got really caught up in what she said she had to offer. Her personality was super infectious.” She turned out to be a pathological liar. “We learned a lot. Our interview process is much more serious, we have people who interview with us talk to more stakeholders, we check backgrounds a lot more thoroughly, we review work samples a lot more thoroughly.”
They’ve also stopped letting people dictate their process. They respect people who have been in the business for a long time, but it should be a mutual relationship. More experienced people tend to challenge them on their boundaries and process. “You just have to really stay true to yourself,” says Rozanski.
“It’s unorthodox just to do what other people say not to from the get-go,” Mays says. Her degree, leaving her job, and starting a business with children and while living in an expensive city was all unorthodox, but she did it. “If you really want to make something happen, the decision is most likely going to be unorthodox.”
“Anytime you think you should do something, you should really question that,” says Rozanski. Maybe you feel like you should go to a traditional school or get onto a traditional career path, but those are beliefs that are set during childhood and aren’t necessarily true. Challenge whether or not it’s true that you couldn’t get another type of job or that there are no jobs in your desired field.
Contact Mays and Rozanski
Do something unorthodox today!