Follow Friday + Nicki's Personal Updates: Week of March 16, 2013 – A Reflection on Startup Life

I don’t talk about it much on the blog, but making the transition from medical student to startup CEO has been…well, quite honestly, the ride of my life.

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My life changed on April 4, 2012, when I was a finalist in the University of Pittsburgh Katz School of Business Randall Family Big Idea Competition. (I’m the Asian girl in the brownish suit, far left).

After that, I had $20,000 to invest in FutureDerm and the development of our products. I thought I was on top of the world, until I was invited to apply for AlphaLab, one of Pittsburgh’s top business incubators (ranked 15th in the nation). I honestly never expected to get in. But then I made it through the first interview, and then the second. Then I received the pivotal phone call, in which I literally screamed into the director’s ear (sorry, Jim). And that was that.

I took a leave of absence from medical school, which they generously extended another 12 months this December.

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AlphaLab was, quite honestly, the experience of my life. I’ve always been a little different: very goal-oriented, a bibliophile, but also rather creative. Most of the time, I’d rather spend my nights in with my boyfriend or read alone. Don’t get me wrong, I have plenty of friends and several close friends, but I’m not someone who enjoys group settings often, and certainly not someone who seeks out groups.

But AlphaLab was the time of my life. I finally met people who were my mix of driven and creative, hardworking and outspoken, just as much forward-thinking as off the beaten path. I thrived during those twenty weeks. I learned more about business than I ever knew possible. And, moreover, I came out of my shell a lot. I learned how to sell, how to pitch, and how to recruit. I remember walking down the street one day last summer and being so happy, thinking, “I’m 27, and these are some of the best days of my life. I know I’m always going to look back on right here, right now.”

FutureDerm is a real start-up company. We started out as a blog, but thanks to dedicated readers like you, we were able to turn into a startup company. And now I’m living my own dream, developing our own line of innovative products. Our FutureDerm Time-Release Retinol 0.5 is just the beginning. We’ve been hard at work, formulating our CE Caffeic Serum and the sunscreen…and a few other tricks up our sleeve as well. Which are TBA, but exciting nevertheless.

Sometimes life is just so good. But I’ve learned how to see the bigger picture. When I was 22, I went through a long string of hardships that included my mother’s cancer diagnosis (she is now in remission), a car accident, a marriage annulment, a bout with mono followed by a subsequent bout of sore throat, an emergency surgery, and a chronic thyroid illness…all while in medical school. I thought back then my life was going to end, or never get better. And, quite honestly, it took a good three years before I saw my way through the clouds, and another two before my life really turned around. But here we are.

I think my life thus far has taught me three major lessons, which I will share with you, just in case it helps someone else out there. First, no matter how dark your days seem, or for how long it has been going on, you have to have hope. I read recently that optimism is written into our genes in order to cultivate perseverance, which was necessary as our ancestors were evolving in order to thrive through super-harsh environmental conditions. We need to realize our lives are cyclical, and no matter how far “the dip” is or how long it lasts, it always does turn around if we are willing to open our eyes, ears, and hearts and accept it. It’s as much a part of human life as eating, breathing, and sleeping.

Second, I’ve learned how to be grateful for all I have while I work for all that I want. I’m still very future-oriented (and the CEO of FutureDerm, oh!, bad pun), but I’ve discovered contentment. It’s distinct from the ecstatic nature of joy, or the fleeting feeling of happiness. But it’s always there, deep within, so long as I am doing what I feel is right and stay in line with my morals and dreams and ambitions. Sometimes stressful situations can take me out of it, but meditation and journaling take me right back.

Third, I’ve realized how to let go. I’m an intense person, and I tend to go for everything all in. But sometimes we hold onto our dreams so tightly that we can’t feel them anymore. And whether you believe in God or not, I do like the quote that says when things don’t work out, it means that God has a better plan for us. (Scientists would probably say that the genes we express in given situations make us more or less fit for success in that given situation, and a failure merely indicates we have a higher probability of success elsewhere that is a better match for the genes we are capable of expressing in that given situation). But whether spiritual or scientific, I will say this: Life is good. I’ve been living my dreams, starting this company, giving a TEDx talk, meeting fascinating people, learning amazing things. But at the same time, I have learned how to let go of stringent plans, and how to let life in. And I can honestly say, I’m very content.

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by Nicki Zevola

4 thoughts on “Follow Friday + Nicki's Personal Updates: Week of March 16, 2013 – A Reflection on Startup Life

  1. priscilla says:

    Wow, what a ride you’ve had! So happy that you have had such a great variety of success at such a young age!! Ive always loved your blog and know your company will continue to grow as long as you are behind it. Im helping my boyfriend with a small startup as well (www.innovativecareusa.com) and reading about your business strategies and successes has been very inspiring!!

  2. Lisa says:

    I stumbled upon your site about a year ago and I have thoroughly enjoyed the literature reviewed scientific aspect you offer your readers. Not to leave out, your site has saved me $$ on skin care products. At 24 years old, and just now figuring things out, thank you for being a great role model.Your words of advice are taken to heart; also I am happy to hear your mother is doing better and that you have more plans to keep all of your skinfanatics beautiful;) It’s refreshing to hear someone else has had to struggle to get to where they are today. Sometimes it seems like it’s just one thing after the next, but you are right- thinking long term does help out. I hope I find the inner strength to perservere through my masters and follow the one dream I have had as a kid, to become a dermatologist. I know it will be difficult, I will probably see more rounds of rejection letters than acceptance ones; but I too am thinking long term. Thank you for sharing your brain, life and passion with us! The dermatologists that have treated me, have not been as knowledgeable on the subjects you cover here. Much love from NC~

  3. sesame says:

    Hi Nicki!

    Congratulations! It’s so great to see you live out your dreams and to have your own products. It sounds really exciting!

    All the best and thanks for the link love too! :)

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