My path to DRF: Letter to my freshman self

Britney Zhang, right, hugs the Berkeley mascot Oski at UC Berkeley in October 2019. Courtesy of Maya W.

Third time’s … the charm?

That’s right, I applied to Dorm Room Fund three times. The first time was for Head of Design in April 2020, the second time as an Investment Partner in September 2020, and the third time as Head of Social in May 2021 (jackpot!). I’d be kidding if I said my pathway to DRF was a breeze, and I try to stray away from perpetuating the social media standard that everything comes “easy.” When I first found out about Dorm Room Fund a year ago, I had but the slightest idea of what venture capital was. I had just finished my first year of college … Well, sort of. 

I remember sitting at home after I had just been kicked out of my dorm, packed up the past eight months of my life in a minivan, and drove home across the state – in a state of shock. My best friends were scattered all over the place. My study abroad program for the summer was canceled. The question on top of every college student’s mind … What now? 

Even though it’s only been a year, I’ve grown into a completely different person. Here are the things I wish I could tell my younger (well, one year younger) self. 

Britney Zhang visits UC Berkeley for the first time and committed on the spot in April 2019. Courtesy of Britney Zhang.

Comparison is the thief of joy. It can be easy to fall into the trap of comparing your life to someone’s highlight reel, whether that be Instagram or LinkedIn. A gentle reminder that everyone’s life is far more complex and human than what’s shown online. The “I’m excited to announce…” LinkedIn job post you saw on the feed may have taken a few minutes to post, but the act of recruiting took the person months of hard work. The nature of social media is being able to post a life update with a click of a button. Progress takes time and is not instant. For college students, this mindset is essential when going into the job recruiting process. If you see a peer announcing exciting news or completing their goals, take inspiration and be genuinely happy for others and their progress. Other people’s successes are not a reflection or detraction of your own worth. Your journey is different and truly cannot be compared to others. 

Know what you bring to the table. This is a great practice for everyday life, not just in job or club recruiting. Recognizing your value and individual strengths is key. Even if you are just an intern, you bring to the table 1) a clean slate, 2) a curiosity to learn, and 3) investment for the future of talent. You don’t need to be in a certain senior position or at a certain point in your career to bring value. For prospective Dorm Room Fund applicants looking to break into student venture capital, discover what makes you unique, and show up authentically. As a student, what are you interested in? What piques your curiosity? What are you known for amongst your peers? Tl;dr for me, I’m interested in media and the creator economy because I’ve been an OG fan since the 2010 Youtube creator-era. I was inspired to teach myself how to edit videos and design through simply by observing my favorite creators. I learned how to run social media ads and secure influencer campaigns through my dog’s Instagram account before I knew how to solve a derivative. My superpower is storytelling – I am curious how stories can be used to form genuine human connections and evoke certain emotions. Amongst my peers, I am known for ghostwriting Instagram captions and for planning intricately detailed and elaborate everyday events. Bring to the table your whole self, not just your resume or accomplishments, but your personality, your story, and your interests. Your value will change over time and experience, but the value will show up when you recognize and OWN IT! 

Britney Zhang, most right, at the student and donor scholarship dinner in February 2020 at UC Berkeley. Courtesy of Britney Zhang.

If you wait until you feel ready, you’ll never get started. Confidence comes with experience. The “but how do I get the experience?” loophole can be broken by just getting started. Going into college, I didn’t even know what a startup was or any business term. My only formal experience was working at my local city government and working a summer retail job. I felt incredibly confused about what I wanted to study. For me, the best thing I could do in my first year was join student groups. I joined a few groups that showed me different aspects of what I wanted to learn – networking, event planning, fundraising, public speaking, and more. I remember sitting in a business lecture my first semester, not knowing what a balance sheet was. Even though I felt “behind” at the beginning of college, especially in classes, the idea of “learning something for the first time” allowed me to work harder than I had ever before, and enjoy the process of something new. 

Opportunities are EVERYWHERE. Look for them. In my experience, the best thing one can do, especially early on in college, is recognizing that opportunities are literally everywhere, but one needs to look beyond the traditional paths and what is offered. Are you interested in a specific industry? There are thousands of Youtube videos that explain how to break in, what steps you can take, and how to do it. Want to work in a product role but don’t have any formal experience? Sign up for a case competition, join a virtual Zoom meetup, or read a book on product management. Something I am grateful for my freshman year was never waiting for something to be handed to me. Between my first and third applications to DRF, I attended every Zoom event I could find and read dozens of venture articles to prepare myself. When you take action, you are able to learn and grow in the matter of your own hands, rather than wait for something to come along. 

These are just a few of many lessons learned throughout my college, COVID-19 experience. I hope you can take these with a grain of salt and apply them to your college experience, whether you are an incoming first year or an upcoming graduate. If you are reading this, I am so proud of you! I hope you are equally proud of yourself for how far you have come. 

Above all, I hope you learn how to live in the moment and find joy amid the “waiting.” You got this!

Love Britney <3


Written by Britney Zhang, DRF head of social. Reach her at britney@dormroomfund.com.

Get more news and updates on Twitter and Medium. Want more DRF content or have suggestions? Subscribe to our newsletter or email our head of content at annewen@dormroomfund.com. Ready to take your startup to the next level? Apply here for an investment from Dorm Room Fund. Until next time! 🚀

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.