Monday, December 18, 2017

Entrepreneur Alexandra Szakats (CAS ’12) on the Importance of Learning to Think

Alexandra Szakats
Photo Credit: Jason Smith
We caught up with Alexandra, co-founder of trüFORMAT, a brain and body training company. She shared what it is like to be an entrepreneur, her early job experiences, and what motivates and inspires her.

What did you study at NYU?

I graduated with a degree in Metropolitan Studies and German. I didn’t declare until midway through my Sophomore year; there were plenty of interesting classes and coursework available, but, at eighteen, I was puzzled at the idea of having to pick a major that would guarantee a career. Instead, I chose based on my interest in the content and a confidence that it would teach me how to think. Cities are complex. My classes taught me to break down big subjects, understand the parts in relation to the whole, and reimagine their configuration. I’ve used this thinking in every (non-city related) job since graduation.

What was your first job after graduation?

My first job started before graduation on the Equities trading floor at Barclays Investment Bank. The summer before senior year, I was interning at a bank across the street. I met up with a friend who was completing his internship at Barclays, and he insisted I meet with his boss. I earned a job with her to help design strategies that generate and source new revenue streams for US equity products globally. With time, I led the equity education program designed to highlight the team’s thought leadership. I had the opportunity to travel all around the US and Asia.
Alexandra Szakats: her story continues
Were important people in your life supportive of your decision to leave the financial sector?

Yes. There was some hesitation from my parents when I told them I’d be leaving a full-time job and benefits to start my own company, but ultimately, they trust my decision-making and empower my freedom. I’ve always been encouraged to embrace fear; it’s a worthy motivator and a catalyst for growth. My boss at Barclays put me on a plane to Chicago my first week of work, before I knew anything about anything. I barely owned a suit! She’s been supporting me since then as a boss, a friend, and now, a business partner. And of course, my boyfriend and lifelong best friends have provided volumes of encouragement and love along the way.

What motivated you to start your own company?

My business partners agree that it is very liberating and simultaneously very frightening to define and work towards your own goals. But as a team, we orient from a place of accountability and growth. Our company asks users to engage the brain and live deliberately. Creating trüFORMAT is an expression of that commitment.

How would you describe trüFORMAT?
trüFORMAT is a brain and body training company. We’re passionate about moving and developing our bodies with purpose. My business partner and I picked up yoga in 2013 and were perplexed by the typical blank surface of the mat: how were we supposed to know where to place our bodies and measure its changes without reference points? We created our mat product to keep the brain engaged by encouraging deliberate body placement. The mat’s visual markings become a map for tracking progress, preventing injury and setting goals in any mat-based exercise or stretching routine.

Stretching on trüFORMAT mat
Photo Credit: Michael Kushner

What is your role as co-founder of trüFORMAT?

As a small company, I work very closely with my team on most aspects of the business. In these early phases, our priority is to define and showcase trüFORMAT’s value proposition. That way, the purpose and impact of our product is as clear as possible to potential users. To do this, we spend a lot of time working on our brand (its messaging and reach) and forming relationships with like-minded, value-oriented partners. My goal every day is to do work that contributes in a meaningful way to the longevity of the company and our present/future customers.

What inspires you?

Books are a significant source of inspiration: they’re a low-cost solution for boredom and knowledge gaps. They’ve been instrumental in encouraging and supporting the formation and growth of trüFORMAT (specifically Shoe Dog by Phil Knight, Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand, and Spark by Dr. John Ratey). Travel is also crucial; new experiences and perspectives are important when trying to be creative and adaptable in business.
A group stretching on trüFORMAT mats
Photo Credit: Michael Kushner

Yoga stretching on trüFORMAT mat outside
Photo Credit: Michael Kushner

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