An Interview with Alana Muller

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Written by Sydney Brazil, 10th grader at eStem Public Charter School

Noble Impact is hosting the first ever High School Startup Weekend, where students from 12 high schools around the state will bring their best ideas, turn them into companies, and then pitch to judges on the final night.

Last fall I had the opportunity to go (with six other Noble Impact Scholars) to Northwest Arkansas Startup Weekend. The experience was life changing. Being able to say that you were a 15 year old (at the time) who owned a company was a plus of the weekend, but the greatest reward had to be the connections. The downtime that was spent talking to people about silly and serious things, making friendships and connections lasted far longer than the weekend we spent together.

In lieu of the first High School Startup Weekend, the Noble Impact scholars have been tasked with conducting interviews. We have been talking to businessmen and women, entrepreneurs, and people who are making an impact.

Mrs. Alana Muller is president of Fast Trac (Part of the Kauffman Foundation), which provides support and tools to help contribute to the success of entrepreneurs. She is the author of Coffee Lunch Coffee: A Practical Field Guide for Master Networking and also has a very active blog.

Before my phone interview with Mrs. Muller, I had never really thought of networking in a positive light. In fact, the word reminded me of stuffy boardrooms, high heels, aching feet, and pencil skirts that only allow you to shuffle, not walk. How could this word apply to a sixteen year old like me?

After giving me her back story, I asked Mrs. Muller what her passion was. She replied with, “My passion is networking and connecting with other people…everyone is looking for connections. It’s in our DNA that we want to connect with people.”

Not the answer I was expecting.

Me: “Since you are an entrepreneur yourself, what do you think the three most important qualities of an entrepreneur are?”

Mrs. Muller: “The most important quality in my opinion is optimism. You need to believe you can succeed and have an optimistic feeling about the future…an optimistic vision. I would also say perseverance, because there are going to be good times and bad times. Entrepreneurship is not an easy business and perseverance is really critical. Last, I would say passion or dedication to the business.”

Mrs. Muller explained to me that she believed her entrepreneurial spirit came from not only her parents but her grandparents as well.

Mrs. Muller: “I watched both of my parents with their successes and their struggles in entrepreneurship. If you would have asked me when I was a little girl what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would have said own my own company. I always knew I wanted to be the leader or own my own business.”

Me: “I read some of your blog and it’s really interesting and I know you have written a book. So how did you go from being a Sprint executive to now being a part of Fast Trac, to writing a blog and book?”

Mrs. Muller: “I didn’t set out to write a book. It never occurred to me to be an author. What started happening is people started contacting me and asking me if I would meet with them. I don’t want to write a novel and I can’t write 1,700 words a night but I could blog every day and that way I could get on paper basically what it is that I did to improve my network. People started asking me if I would print copies of my blog so they could staple them and take it with them. So I decided to write a book.”

After talking to Mrs. Muller, I saw the great benefits of networking. It was about connecting with people, sitting down for coffee and just talking. There doesn’t have to be any constricting pencil skirts or stuffy boardrooms involved. Just two people and a little caffeine. Thanks to Mrs. Muller for showing me the true power of networking.

My challenge for all the students attending High School Startup Weekend is to meet as many people as possible and see who can collect the most business cards. Trying to win the competition is important, but making connections is the best prize of the weekend.