30 Minutes With: Author and Social Entrepreneur Alex Quian
Alex Quian is a 23-year-old multi-hyphenate with a world of knowledge for his young age. He in an author, podcast host and the Executive Director of the Better Together Foundation—where he spreads the word on the life-changing effects of a service-driven life.
Below, some nuggets from our wide-ranging chat with Alex—including how acts of service teach empathy, how to maximize the college experience and why every young man could benefit from having a mentor.
d.RT: Alex, you’re a fellow Dallas-based entrepreneur. How did you hear about d.RT?
Alex: So my mentor, Greg Weatherford II, and I are actually both big fans of Neighborhood Goods, we think they’re a fabulous store—also based here, of course. And we saw that d.RT was being sold there and after digging around and learning more about the brand, we just thought that the mission behind your brand was really inspiring, and obviously something that would be of interest to both of us. And so, I reached out to you guys because I’m a big advocate for not only youth entrepreneurship, but also young men doing different things and pursuing their dreams.
d.RT: Well, we’re glad that you found us and that the synergy between our brands was the reason. You’re an impressive young man yourself … just 23 … a Cornell graduate … an author … the executive director of your own foundation, and someone with a life’s mission to spread the importance of service. How did you get so motivated—to both pave your own way and give back—at such a young age? Are your parents entrepreneurs?
Alex: You know, my parents actually did set a great example. They are both immigrants and always worked traditional jobs—but are extremely hardworking. And just through their dedication, they got educated and have made a very good life for themselves. So, I always had them as an example of hard work and how to stay driven. But I have to give a lot of credit to Greg—who is also the co-author of my book—as he’s truly shaped me in so many ways. He’s an entrepreneur savant in his own right—because he started when he was just 12 years old. He not only taught me what entrepreneurship was like, he showed me how attainable that is really can be. What I have found is that if you have not been exposed to that path, it can seem so daunting to begin. I think people get stuck on the how—and the where to begin. But it’s just like any other thing … you have to learn a little bit and just be dedicated to trying it out. Little by little. So, you know, I credit him for showing me so much of the ropes on this journey.
d.RT: Excellent. We feel like it is interesting—and possibly deliberate—that you still refer to him as your mentor, even though you are now co-authors and colleagues. Does that word mentor carry some weight for you?
Alex: Absolutely. You know what, I think it's just an accurate label—there's still so much that I'm learning from him. I'm very fortunate to have someone who has such a wealth of knowledge in my life. But also, I think it's important to emphasize to people, especially other young people, that having a mentor is important and to really encourage them to maximize those relationships. Not to say you can't be successful without a mentor. But if you are able to find a good mentor, if you're fortunate enough to make a connection like that, it really is something that can be life-changing for you. You know, something that I've often heard, whenever I talk to, for example, the executives that have been on my Mentor Moments podcast, is the best way to use a mentor is to learn from their mistakes and to just kind of iterate upon what they've done and do it for yourself.
d.RT: Yes! Normalize the mentor/mentee relationship. We agree that there is a wealth of knowledge and value in young people finding someone to learn from who have already walked a similar path to their own. Tell us about the 30 Days of Service challenge that Greg recommended to you and how it changed your life—according to the title of your book?
Alex: The 30 Days of Service project was something that I did back in 2019. I had just graduated from college and I knew that I wanted to find a way to give back to my community, because I saw so many examples of community service through my work with Greg—who I had known for 3 years at that point. But also, while at Cornell, I had the opportunity to speak to so many different people, and learn about diverse backgrounds, and consequently, issues that I had never been exposed to. And so that confluence of things just made me want to give back in some way. But I didn't really know how, and so Greg was the one who suggested that I use my summer to do 30 different service projects. One, because that's a really great way to immerse myself in service and to see how I feel about it. But also, it was a way to explore 30 different causes, and just learn what area of the community really inspired me and where I felt I could best use my talents and interests. And to that effect, I did learn that something that's very important to me is youth education, and giving young people personal and professional development opportunities that they normally wouldn't have access to. So it's fair to say that that summer of service really changed my life because it led me to start a nonprofit and now write this book.
d.RT: It sounds like you were a born entrepreneur in search of their mission and you found it via those 30 days. So the book is your offering—your way to spread the message and to encourage young people to follow your path to find their own cause or passion?
Alex: Yes! The book is certainly about encouraging more youth to serve, but we make a point that you don't have to do 30 projects in 30 days, as I understand that is kind of a big challenge to take on. The great thing about service is that is takes so many different forms. It's not just about ending world hunger, necessarily, it's about just being kind to people and spreading that kindness throughout the community. So, throughout the book, I talk a little bit about how I came to be more involved in service, but I also go into details about the different service projects that I did. And we provide some kind of instruction on how people can replicate that in their own communities. We teach them how they can find a project that interests them. We also sprinkle in tips throughout about how you can be a better student, and how you can be a better professional. We teach things like: here's how I write emails to people, here's how I set goals for myself, and here's how I manage my time. It’s packed with useful, practical tools.
d.RT: Getting started seems to be the main pain point for young men who want to get involved, so we agree that this sounds like a useful tool for them. What was the one project during your 30 days that really stuck with you?
Alex: I always say, just start small, begin by spreading kindness. Your act will inspire someone else and so on and so forth. Doing something—anything—is enough. Something will spark the more you put yourself out there. For me, it was teaching a life skills class at the Boys & Girls Clubs of America to underserved youth. I was there to teach them things like how to prioritize their time, and what it means to be a leader, and things like that. But actually what I found was that I learned from them too. Just seeing how they saw and approached things in a different manner was very impactful for me. But what made it resonate the most was at the very end when this girl walked up to me and thanked me for coming out. She said she appreciated it because people didn’t usually make that kind of time to come and speak to them. It was a great moment for me because it was affirmation of the impact that you can have. It seemed small, but it was huge for her.
d.RT: That sounds so satisfying. But what you gave them wasn’t small, you gave them your greatest asset—your time.
Alex: Exactly. That experience taught me about the importance of exposure. Some people, some kids, just don’t have the exposure to mentors, or well-equipped parents even, to show or teach them these tools and life hacks. And in that moment, that became my calling. I wanted to be a resource for young people who lacked exposure. I wanted to open up new worlds for them.
d.RT: That’s a fantastic mission. We’re curious, since you are so pro-entrepreneurial, what do you say to young people who want to skip the college experience and get right to building their empire? Do you think college is still a valuable experience for Gen Z?
Alex: My thought is that college is definitely not a one size fits all solution, there's certainly plenty of cases where it doesn't make sense for someone. But I do believe that college can certainly still be valuable for young people, but that you have to know how to maximize it. And unfortunately, I don't think that preparation is taught often enough. So just in a really brief summary, I think the way to maximize the experience is just using it as an opportunity to try out different areas of interest, different professions and areas of study, things like that, to really see what works for you. The good thing about college is that it's an environment where you are supposed to be learning, where you're allowed to make mistakes and not have everything figured out with relatively few consequences. Also, I recommend really learning how to network with like-minded and driven people.
d.RT: How do you feel about the importance of emotional intelligence?
Alex: That is certainly an area of passion of mine. Right now, we don’t have specific programs dedicated to that—but we do emphasize service as a way to build your empathy. I think you can strengthen your emotional intelligence by just being more aware of what's going on around you. In a broad sense, that means being aware of the different community issues around you, but also on an individual sense—by paying attention to how other people approach and experience something. Being mindful that things are not always what they seem and that your perspective is not universal—everyone comes with their own lived experiences. Being able to remove yourself is an important part of service, so we really try to emphasize that in our work.
d.RT: Besides running the foundation and being an author, you also host a podcast called Mentor Moments—which you started at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic. Share with us one thing that you learned about that process, or possibly yourself, during that time.
Alex: The one thing that I definitely learned is to not be afraid to reach out to people and ask for help. You would be surprised, so many people are willing and happy to talk and share their experiences—especially with young people—if just asked in a kind and thorough way.
d.RT: Hit us with your best, or greatest, tip about professionalism. Especially for those who maybe just started off in the next season of their lives—like their first job or internship.
Alex: First, you need to understand that professionalism is important because it is a big part of the reputation you have with people. And having a good reputation with someone will allow you so many different opportunities that you wouldn’t normally have access to. So you need to treat your reputation like money, almost, because it takes awhile to get it. And certainly, you can blow it away pretty quickly if you're not being professional, for instance. As a young person, always approach your business interactions with great appreciation and respect. Don’t act entitled. Be humble and gracious, always. That’s how you want to be remembered.
d.RT: Any last jewels of wisdom for tomorrow’s gentlemen—maybe something that you wish someone told you?
Alex: Stay curious. Seek out opportunities to try new things. Keep your mind open and be willing to explore experiences and avenues that you may not have considered. And learn to be okay with being a little bit uncomfortable as you learn about yourself. Don’t get derailed by other people’s agenda or thoughts about you. Listen to yourself—first and foremost—and honor your passions. Service is a great teaching vehicle for all those things.
Social entrepreneur and Dallasite Alex Quian in the Soff Eleven Tee in white.