In this special interview series, we are proud to highlight the incredible members of the ANTrepreneur Center External Committee (ACE) and discuss their entrepreneurial experiences, their reasons for joining the ACE, and their best advice for aspiring student entrepreneurs.
This article’s featured ACE member is Maryam Garg, Founder of Retail Tech Consulting LLC. Maryam is a successful entrepreneur and dedicated educator in the field of entrepreneurship who is committed to nurturing the next generation of business leaders. As the former Director of Blackstone LaunchpPad at USC and as a current Principal Venture Consultant at the UCI ANTrepreneur Center, Maryam has and continues to collaborate closely with aspiring entrepreneurs, offering guidance to help them transform their ideas into flourishing businesses.
As a graduate class project at USC, Maryam launched MODMASK, a sustainable facemask company with an emphasis on comfort and style. This successful business was featured in a Harvard Business Review case study and led to Maryam landing speaking engagements at top business schools worldwide. Prior to MODMASK, she led multi-disciplinary teams across product strategy and marketing to launch several high-profile ecommerce products at Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s. Recently, Maryam was elected as a board member at The Search Institute, a leading research institute focused on creating positive youth development outcomes and advancing equity.
To offer her professional insights and invaluable advice to UCI student entrepreneurs, Maryam recently met with Ryan Foland, Director of the ANTrepreneur Center, to share her story.
Ryan: Ahoy Maryam! Thank you for sitting down with me and introducing yourself to the ANTrepreneur family. To kick us off, can you share how you got involved in entrepreneurship?
Maryam: Hi Ryan; thank you for having me! My transition into entrepreneurship started at Macys.com, where I began my career as a digital marketer. Ecommerce was just becoming relevant but was still in its infancy in terms of the conveniences available to customers. I realized that social media would ultimately be a bigger opportunity than search marketing and pitched the need to build out social media as a sales and customer service channel. However, the bigger prize at the time was to figure out how to compete effectively with Amazon. Recognizing that Macy’s biggest advantage was its store infrastructure, I became an intrapreneur who conceived and established first-to-market products that leveraged stores as a strength of their ecommerce business. In this vein, I launched services such as “buy online pickup in store” and “digital try-on.”
Additionally, I was working with AI imaging companies over a decade ago when most of them were ahead of the market timing. My desire for a more autonomous lifestyle inspired me to become a consultant for Macy’s where I launched “free return shipping” in a way where per unit economics would still work. Eventually, I switched to independent entrepreneurship because I wanted to manage my own schedule as a parent and fulfill my itch to launch a venture independently. Now, I love the ability to make impactful decisions while also designing my days around my preferences.
Ryan: The flexibility of being an entrepreneur is a major perk. But being an entrepreneur always comes with some challenges. What have been some of the most significant challenges you’ve faced in your entrepreneurial journey and how did you overcome them?
Maryam: Within large companies, the biggest challenge is the need to convince stakeholders that something is worth doing. I tried and failed to launch social media as an acquisition channel (think how cool it would have been for Macy’s to have jumped on the influencer bandwagon before it became the de facto way of paid acquisition!). As an independent entrepreneur, the biggest challenge for me has been learning to set healthy boundaries between work and personal time since there’s an option for every minute to be consumed either by work or personal business. Another significant dilemma was whether I wanted to scale my business or retain control. But, despite its challenges, entrepreneurship has given me the gift of self-discovery and strategic decision-making.
Ryan: Can you share an experience where you had to face failure or setback and what you learned from it?
Maryam: The biggest career setback I’ve faced was becoming a mother while navigating my career. I aim to be the best at whatever I do, and while a lot of books will tell you that women can do it all, the truth is we can’t. Spending time raising young children has meant giving up time to scale-out my venture. More recently, as my kids have grown, this is less of a struggle, but those crucial years of having to choose between the people I love and the work I love has taught me invaluable lessons in resilience and the importance of a supportive community.
Ryan: This brings up a great point. How do you balance the demands of being an entrepreneur with your role as a mother to two awesome kids?
Maryam: The truth is that most days I feel like I don’t achieve that balance, but balance is not the way I look at it. It’s been about finding a structure that gives me harmony between my professional and personal life. For me, that requires being incredibly selective about the people I work with professionally, having very few but very clear goals, and setting boundaries effectively.
Ryan: That’s a great mentality. Moving away from challenges and setbacks, can you describe a moment in your entrepreneurial career that was particularly rewarding or enlightening for you?
Maryam: The first time I taught the Harvard Business Review case study was an aha moment for me. I surprised myself by finding out that I loved teaching just as much as building out new ventures. There’s an indescribable joy in witnessing my students have their own aha moment as they journey towards their own entrepreneurial goals. Being a part of their journey, helping them shift their mental blueprints, and unlocking their ability to reach the next phase of their goal is particularly rewarding.
Ryan: Is your desire to teach and inspire young entrepreneurs why you’ve gotten involved with the ANTrepreneur Center?
Maryam: Definitely. The ANTrepreneur Center is more than an institution; it’s a vibrant community that fosters growth and innovation. My motivation stems from a deep-seated desire to give back to my community daily. As an ACE member, I’m positioned to leverage UC Irvine’s vast network and resources to guide and shape the futures of young entrepreneurs. It’s a role I cherish, and I’m always eager to provide mentorship and share insights gleaned from my journey.
My goal is to empower these young minds with not only hard skills but the soft skills and understanding of real-world frameworks necessary for success. I’m particularly excited about helping them discover and leverage their unique strengths to build robust businesses or carve out successful career paths.
Ryan: I know that our students really appreciate you sharing your expertise. Can you share some of the ways that you foster creativity and innovation at UCI?
Maryam: At the ANTrepreneur Center, I’ve introduced several effective ways for students to think outside their own mental box. I emphasize the importance of movement while problem-solving by doing walk-and-talks and using outdoor space effectively to stimulate creativity. I often challenge students to break out of their own mental box through activities like extreme brainstorming.
Ryan: Given your expertise, what trends in entrepreneurship are you currently most excited about, and how do you think they will impact future entrepreneurs?
Maryam: I think AI, especially Gen AI, is the obvious answer here. The ability to be more efficient with time and impact while delegating mundane work will be a significant work revolution. As an entrepreneur, I am excited about opportunities using Gen AI to level the playing field for people who haven’t benefited from the technical advances of the past quarter century. Personally, utilizing Gen AI in my own operations not only makes me a more effective leader but also frees up time for the things I truly enjoy.
Ryan: It’s been great talking to you and picking your brain, Maryam! Thank you for sitting down with me and sharing so much. To close out this conversation, what key pieces of advice would you offer to student entrepreneurs who are just starting out?
Maryam: My advice to students is simple: dive in, make the most of this incredible resource, and don’t hesitate to ask for help. Embrace failure as part of the learning process. Always take a step back to see the bigger picture and understand your customers’ perspectives. Utilize every resource at your disposal and never underestimate the power of networking and real-world conversations.
I would also like to leave students with this message: I’m here to support and guide you, but the hard work is yours to do. Through this incredible Center and its ecosystem, I hope to empower you with confidence, tools, and skills. Regular interactions and seeking diverse insights will greatly enrich your entrepreneurial journey. You’re not alone in this; let’s build your dreams together.
Want to learn more about our ACE members? Stay tuned for the next installment of the “Meet the ANTrepreneur Center External Committee” interview series. For more information about the UCI ANTrepreneur Center, 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.