When A University Professor Told Me To Give Up

When I first set out to formulate Before Elixir I reached out to a professor at UT, Austin. Let’s call him Dr. Andy…because that’s his actual name and I tell it how it is. 

I had just moved to Austin from Manhattan and was connected to Dr. Andy through a colleague from the New York City startup community. My colleague told me Dr. Andy was an advocate of entrepreneurship and that he also happened to specialize in biochemistry. I thought this was great because at the time I was searching for a biochemist to join my team. I thought Dr. Andy might be able to help me find a biochemist grad student at UT with an entrepreneurial spirit who was looking for an interesting project. Boy was I in for a surprise…

"...your best bet is to move on, quickly, to something you know about." - Professor Andy

I sent Dr. Andy a friendly introduction telling him about my background and that I wanted to make a drink that prevented people from flushing red when they consume alcohol. I shared with him that I won a startup competition by validating my idea, and that I had an investor lined up to fund R&D on my drink. I explained that I was looking for a biochemist to join my team and asked if he could recommend any students who would be interested in working on such a project.

Dr. Andy responded with three short sentences. In one he stated, “…you have a concept, but not a method.” There was not a single “hello” in his message.

In the startup world, you can’t take things too personally so I didn’t focus on how curt or skeptical he was but responded by providing more information about the research I had done to reassure him I had done my due diligence. After all, I’m a stranger asking this guy for help. Of course he wants to make sure I’m not wasting his time. Totally fair game. 

Dr. Andy’s second reply was even shorter than the first, a whopping two sentences (he still didn’t say hello) and he actually started to lecture me. He stated matter-of-factly that the product I wanted to create “will require FDA approval and run into the 100s of millions (if not billions) of dollars. I do not see an easy route forward for you that does not involve far more capital than you likely have access to,” he said. 

I was pretty taken aback because I had not asked this guy for advice on how to create my drink or FDA consulting. I had simply asked him if he knew of students who would be interested in working on this project with me. 

What’s ironic here is that I went to Rutgers Business School. If you are familiar with that institution you’ll know that it’s known for its heavy focus on the pharmaceutical industry. All the top pharma companies recruit from RBS. I had even interviewed with Johnson & Johnson earlier that year so Dr. Andy was preaching to the choir here. This guy had no idea who he was dealing with.

I assured Dr. Andy I was well aware of how much capital is necessary to bring a drug to market. However Before Elixir was not a drug and I knew through research I conducted that I could use natural ingredients to make it. To this Dr. Andy responded with a glorious email in which he simply told me, “…your best bet is to move on, quickly, to something you know about.  You may not think this is kind advice, but it is the best advice I have for you.” 

The best way to get me to do something is by telling me I can’t do it.

When I read this I remember being dumbfounded by this guy’s attitude. I never asked him for advice yet he consistently felt the need to give me some and at no point did he answer the one question I did ask him. This was 2013 and back then I wasn’t familiar with the term “mansplaining.” But now I am and Dr. Andy you are 100% guilty of MANSPLAINING!

When I read Dr. Andy’s final email, I wasn’t angry, I wasn’t sad, and most importantly I didn’t let it deter me. What I did feel was disappointment - disappointment that a professor like Dr. Andy who has an abundance of experience, resources, and is backed by a powerhouse of a university like UT, who could choose to inspire, motivate, and help young people realize their goals, instead simply told me I didn’t know what I was talking about and to give up.

Well Dr. Andy, I have some news for you. I created that drink I told you about. It’s called Before Elixir and it works and it sure as hell didn’t take me “100’s of millions” to make it. It actually took me one year, 40 testers, and closer to $30,000.

I don't care for people like Dr. Andy who think they know it all and preach skepticism instead of inspire innovation. People who tell other people what they can and cannot do. Do you want to know the best way to get me to do something is? It’s by telling me I can’t do it. That’s right Dr. Andy. You didn’t put out my fire. You added fuel to it! So thank you for your bad attitude and complete lack of faith in me. 

You can accomplish anything you put your mind and heart to so don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

The moral of this story is, just because someone is older than you, has a Ph.D, and is a professor at a prestigious university with decades of experience, doesn’t mean that person knows better than you. And that person certainly has no place dictating to you what you are capable of.

If I had been more impressionable and less confident about my idea and my ability to turn it into a reality, I would have listened to Dr. Andy and you know what would have happened? NOTHING. I would not have started my own company, I would not have successfully crowdfunded Before Elixir, I would not have sold 14,400 bottles of Before Elixir to over 1200 people around the world, and I would not have realized my full potential as an entrepreneur.

What really saddens and downright infuriates me is knowing Dr. Andy has likely squashed the hopes of hundreds of bright students with his mansplaining and skeptic attitude. How many ideas has this man killed? How much innovation and promise has he and others like him squandered because they thought they were so much smarter than the rest of us? 

The next time you seek advice or help from anyone, remember that you are in the driver seat of your future, not that person. You can accomplish anything you put your mind and heart to so don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. And certainly don’t let the Dr. Andy’s of the world bring you down!