In this interview, Ryan Foland, Director of the UCI ANTrepreneur Center, sits down with Lucretia Williams, co-founder of Cosign Reviews. Together, they talk about her startup and her best advice for early-stage entrepreneurs.


At the UCI ANTrepreneur Center, we are excited to highlight student entrepreneurs and share their personal experiences, achievements, and brilliant insights. We invite you to join us as we celebrate these ANTrepreneurs and get inspired by their stories.

2023 was a huge year for Lucretia Williams. Not only did she graduate from UC Irvine with her Ph.D. in Informatics and begin working as a Senior Research Scientist at Howard University, but she also saw her startup, Cosign Reviews, gain some serious traction.

During her time at UC Irvine, Lucretia shared her entrepreneurial expertise by serving as a Grad Scholar at the UCI ANTrepreneur Center. In this role, she worked with student entrepreneurs to support their entrepreneurial aspirations and helped them develop their business ideas. To learn more about her startup and her best advice for early-stage entrepreneurs, Ryan Foland, Director of the UCI ANTrepreneur Center, met with Lucretia to gather her insights.


Ryan: Ahoy Lucretia! Thank you for sitting down with me today.

Lucretia: Happy to be here, Ryan.

Ryan: To start us off, can you tell me a little bit about Cosign Reviews? What’s the main idea behind the company and how did you and Alanna come up with this idea?

Lucretia: My co-founder Alanna Walton and I love to shop online, and we recognized a significant void in the online shopping experience. Particularly when supporting small businesses, it’s challenging to find authentic and constructive reviews for products. You often have to search on multiple platforms and social media sites while deciphering which reviews are incentivized or fake. Online shoppers often lose the joy of shopping due to the extensive research required to distinguish between high-quality items. Deceptive reviews from brands compound the issue, making it challenging for consumers to differentiate between authentic and fake businesses. 

As we have careers in responsible AI and human-centered AI, we sought to bridge this gap by creating an innovative solution. Cosign Reviews uses AI to help e-commerce consumers write constructive reviews for small and medium-sized clothing and apparel brands. Our solution aims to restore the joy in online shopping by providing a platform for genuine and constructive reviews, helping e-commerce consumers make informed decisions effortlessly. Cosign Reviews offers a win-win solution where businesses receive valuable feedback for improvement and consumers gain a deeper understanding of products, fostering trust and transparency. 

Ryan: What long-term vision do you have for your startup? Where do you see it in the next five years?

Lucretia: We aim for Cosign Reviews to be more than just a place where you can go for clothing and apparel reviews; it’s our way of making a kinder internet. We are exploring what we call the “blank-box theory,” which is what happens when you give people a blank box to fill out online, and this just gives users a blank space to express strong feelings without any guidance. We think review sites that utilize the blank-box theory miss out on the chance for thoughtful conversations for helpful reviews. With Cosign Reviews, we want to change the current pattern of communicating reviews online.

Ryan: I think this is a really awesome idea, and I know that Techstars also recognized the potential when they accepted Cosign Reviews into one of their business accelerator programs. What was the Techstar application process like?

Lucretia: My startup was accepted into the Techstars Founders Catalyst program. The application for the Founders Catalyst program consisted of providing general information about our team and business, and attaching our pitch deck and a short pitch video. The key element of the application was describing our team and explaining how our team is uniquely positioned to carry out our startup. After our application was reviewed, we moved on to the interview round.

Ryan: And what was it like when you found out that you had been accepted?

Lucretia: I was super excited when I found out, especially because we weren’t even a full year into the startup at that point. We had just completed the I-Corps course at Berkeley in March to conduct customer discovery, so getting accepted into Techstars was a major confirmation to keep going.

Ryan: Now that you’ve completed the program and gained additional experience as a startup founder, can you share some of the important lessons that you’ve learned as an early-stage entrepreneur? 

Lucretia: One lesson I’ve learned is to only follow advice that applies to where you are in the business development process. For example, if you’re in the early phases like pre-MVP, it’s fine to consider future features and business models, but the primary focus should be on building that MVP. Tune out the noise that doesn’t align with your needs at that specific time.

Another important lesson is to shoot all of your shots, regardless of whether you feel like you will miss them or not. Don’t deny yourself an opportunity just because you think you aren’t where you need to be, aren’t good enough, or are the least qualified. Try to actively create opportunities. 

Finally, in the age of information, document your journey online, not just for others, but for your own growth and your team’s benefit. Showcase your thinking and your processes, and you might find yourself gaining expertise that sets you apart. Leverage social media to build a waitlist and you can unlock new opportunities like speaking engagements or other unexpected connections. It’s all about seizing the moment and building your path.

Ryan: This is great advice! In this same vein, are there common mistakes that you would tell early-stage entrepreneurs to avoid? Maybe some tips you would give student entrepreneurs as an ANTrepreneur Center Grad Scholar?

Lucretia: If you’re just starting, prioritize customer discovery and hone in on a solution that addresses the problem and pain points effectively. Have a really clear idea of your customer and the actual pain points before ideating or building out any product. This helps convey the story and create a solution that is actually useful and profitable. Most startups fail early by rushing this phase. It can take months to do customer discovery, so don’t rush the process. I suggest students at UC Irvine look into the UCI I-Corps program if they need more hands-on guidance on the customer discovery process. The intricacies of building out elaborate features aren’t crucial, especially in the early phases. 

Another common mistake that early-stage entrepreneurs make is not having a mentor or coach and not implementing the advice given to them sooner. The entrepreneurial learning curve is steep, and having someone with experience can guide you through the challenges. Many new entrepreneurs struggle because they try to juggle everything without a clear understanding of priorities. Getting a mentor or coach helps you focus on what truly matters and saves you valuable time. It’s not just about taking meetings but implementing the advice given and working smarter, not harder.

Ryan: You mention the importance of having a coach or mentor; I think networking is an important part of finding a mentor. Do you have any tips for effective networking?

Lucretia: Networking has been extremely important in my journey because you never know who can put you into contact with the exact person you need to be speaking to. But it’s important to intentionally network. Different events call for different styles, and it depends on your personality. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to networking. Personally, at mixers where you don’t know anyone, I set a goal to meet five new people and exchange contacts. Sometimes, I just join a table or find a commonality after introductions. If it’s a planned event like a panel, I don’t just focus on the panelists. Many times, the real connections come from others in the room. Networking isn’t just about going up; it’s about reaching across. Those sitting next to you might be the next industry disruptors. It’s all about recognizing the value in every connection, no matter where they are in their journey.

Ryan: It’s no secret that being an entrepreneur can be a rollercoaster. How do you maintain motivation and resilience during tough times?

Lucretia: I’m first-generation everything in my family, so motivation and resilience come first nature to me. Moving steadfastly towards goals despite challenges and naysayers is a gift that my co-founder has encouraged me to own. But for those struggling with motivation, it’s crucial to understand your why and purpose. It doesn’t have to be grand—it can be as simple as wanting a lot of money to fund the lifestyle you want. Whatever it is, make it your constant motivation. Post it everywhere, let it be your screensaver. When times get tough, reconnect with that motivation to push through discouragement and slow periods. It should be something you’re extremely afraid of losing or not achieving.

Ryan: It’s been great talking with you, Lucretia. Thank you for sitting down with me and sharing your insights. We appreciate you being one of our rockstar Grad Scholars, helping so many of our students on their startup journeys. To close out our conversation, can you offer some advice for student entrepreneurs who are struggling to balance academic responsibilities with their entrepreneurial expectations?

Lucretia:  I have three pieces of advice. First, I would say be realistic with expectations for academic responsibilities and entrepreneurial endeavors. Entrepreneurship takes time, so don’t feel discouraged because things aren’t happening as fast as you want. Second, I would say time block your calendar and stick to it! Finally, have fun and reward yourself, even for the smallest milestones. Keep a running document of your progress and wins, and look back on this when you feel discouraged. This will help you stay motivated and excited about your goals. 


To learn more about Cosign Reviews, connect via LinkedIn. For more information about the UCI ANTrepreneur Center and how it can support your entrepreneurial journey, including programming, speaker series, micro-internships, funding, and more, visit our website. You can also learn more about our valuable collaborations with Blackstone LaunchPad, Tech Coast Angels, Tech Coast Venture Network, OC Startup Council, SoCal Celebrates Entrepreneurship, and follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, and even Threads