Wharton sophomore Laura Gao recently launched her own company Draw Street Journal which designs and sells laptop decals, many of which are Penn-themed. She spoke with The Daily Pennsylvanian about her inspiration behind the project and owning her own website.
Daily Pennsylvanian: What was your inspiration for Draw Street Journal?
Laura Gao: Draw Street Journal started off as a side project. In my freshman year, I started designing a few laptop stickers for fun after noticing the MacBook decal trend. A lot of my friends would ask me where I’d bought them, and I’d tell them that I made them. This winter break I had quite some time, so I figured I could put it to good use. I’ve always been into entrepreneurship and design, so this is a really cool project for me.
DP: When did you start Draw Street Journal?
Gao: I had plans for it in my mind all throughout the first semester of this year, but nothing was materialized until winter break. I would be held up in my room all night on Photoshop. I’m also very interested in architecture, so that’s where I got my idea of creating minimalist architectural designs of each of the famous buildings at Penn. The Penn Skyline was the first-ever sticker I made for this.
DP: What were some major challenges you’ve had with Draw Street Journal?
Gao: Finding originality is definitely a challenge. Laptops stickers have been around for a while, so I feel lucky that I was one of the first to be able to come up with the Penn stickers; but otherwise, I’d have to find ways to incorporate my own style and ideas.
It’s also challenging on an emotional sense. Yesterday, I had one of my most stressful days when I tried to get my first shipment of orders printed, but something was wrong with the printer. Though it worked out at the end of the day, my mood had sank for most of the day. If I don’t get a problem fixed, I’m that kind of person who will have it constantly nudging on her mind. It’s actually harder as an entrepreneur because not only are you letting yourself down, but more importantly, you’re also letting other people down — people who were your earliest supporters and were the first to believe in you.
DP: What are your long-term and short-term goals?
Gao: In the short term, I definitely want to sustain it. I know there’s a lot of hype going on since it’s the first week since launch. For now, I have friends posting about it all over in social media, but how long will this novelty factor last? My short-term goal is to sustain the business through different marketing techniques and to create new designs every month. I’m also considering putting in a comic section onto the website. As a kid, I’ve always loved drawing comics, and I have some that I haven’t put onto paper yet. If I add a weekly comic section, hopefully that will also garner a lot of traffic to the website.
In the long term, I hope this becomes a “Penn Tradition.” Incoming students will buy lots of Penn merchandise like T-shirts and mugs; I hope that they will also want to get my sticker in a similar way to show their Penn identity and school spirit. This culture of being proud of how beautiful our school is, and to have it solidified into that sticker, is what I want to achieve.
DP: Do you have any advice for your peers who also hope to start their own company?
Gao: My biggest advice is to be OK with the fact that your significant projects will never be finished. It must constantly be sketched, erased, dropped in rain, ripped apart and sketched again. This lack of an end may not be satisfying, but it sure is exhilarating to experience.
For girls interested in this path, I recommend you execute your idea before you think too much about it. When the mind is left you wander, you’ll begin to tread into the murky depths of doubt and fear. As girls, it is easy for us to put too much weight on other people’s opinions. There’s a social stigma that many women aren’t mentally brave or prepared enough to explore the unknown alone. I don’t think any of that matters though, if you are able to get past the hardest part: actually launching the venture.
This Q&A has been lightly edited for clarity and length.
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