The HBCUpreneur Corner – Huston-Tillotson University’s Jasmine “Bobby” Oliver & VYRL Co. Design


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Name: Jasmine “Bobby” Oliver

Alma Mater: Huston-Tillotson University, Class of 2015

Business Name & Description: VYRL Co. Design began from an honest place of desiring to have an opportunity to explore all that it means to be a creative entrepreneur, but also to showcase recent photography and web/graphic design projects that I have done. VYRLCoDesign.com became a space of passion, honesty, and inspiration where you can see a deeper side of a creative black-woman entrepreneur living, traveling, and pursuing a beautiful and fulfilling life that inspires others to do the same.

What year did you found your company? I first began as VYRL Media in 2010, then sometime in 2015 I started dabbling into design and the name evolved into VYRL Co. Design.

What has been the most exciting and/or fearful moment during your HBCUpreneur career? The most exciting and most fearful moments itself are when I realize that others are paying attention to my work and start asking me to do more challenging projects. Each and every project has allowed me to come out with a learning experience that I can take onto my next project.

What made you want to start your own company? Financial independence. Let’s be honest, this is probably the biggest reason people get into business from get-go. Which is a good thing! However we define ‘financial independence’ – retirement funds, unlimited cash potential or having the money to buy/do what you want….. entrepreneurship can allow you to achieve it. Another reason, I wanted to start my own company was because I had a hard time finding many places where myself, an African American creator/creative, could go to after graduation. So I figured that I would start small, build my own company and eventually hire other designers like myself.

Who was the most influential person/people for you during your time in college? Jeff Wilson and Clara Bensen. Jeff, the dean of our college, and Clara Bensen, local Austin writer.

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How do you handle complex problems? Creatives are wired uniquely. As such, I think we have to navigate the world in a slightly different manner than non-creatives. How I handle complex problems is by trying to slow down. This is one I’m still trying to work out. While i think that multitasking can be useful, sometimes it does more harm than good. This causes my creativity to plummet as well as my mood. So as a resolution I try to get a firm grip on my schedule. And I only take on what I can do. Next I prepare for disapproval. I don’t know about you, but for some reason, I’m always looking for validation. I suspect this has something to do with a lack of self-confidence. However, it’s important to recognize that some people ‘just don’t get it’. I am a Cancer sign which means I am a very emotional person. So I also try to keep my emotions in check. I have this habit of always dissecting my thoughts which tends to lead me to second-guessing myself. So, what seems like a good idea today, feels like a disaster later. Plus, I’m overcritical of myself. So I tend to try to remind myself that not every thought needs to be evaluated.

What is something you wish you had known prior to starting your company? I wish I had known how much entrepreneurship consumes your life. This has became something that has consumed my thoughts. You start with an idea then a hailstorm of ideas on how you could possibly execute the idea begins… and it never ends. You just keep thinking and doubting and thinking and execute.

Many African American companies and organizations suffer from a poor digital presence. Why do you believe there is not more investment in this by African American entrepreneurs and companies? I’m not particular sure about this. My guess is economics plays a part. It would be interesting to know how many of our businesses get e-commerce business. That certainly could play a role in how serious they take their web presence. If they are not getting much of their business from the web, then they may not think it is worth having much invested in it. However, these days the web is serving as the store front most customers encounter even before they get to your brick and mortar. A strong presence though is not cheap and as I stated, economics may play a major role in the lack of investment in this area. Do I as an entrepreneur invest more in my product or my web presence? It is a decision we are faced with more than other groups unfortunately.

Digital designers certainly get influence from a myriad of different places. What are some of the things that you believe influences your design personality? Things that influence my design personality kind of derives from my first experience as a photographer. I have always noticed that I was drawn to clean spaces and I’ve noticed that in my photography that I was always drawn to photographing in unison with landscape and architectures. I love clean lines.

What do you believe HBCUs can do to spur more innovation and entrepreneurship while their students are in school either as undergraduate or graduate students? I would love to see HBCUs encourage students to step out more and challenge them to find their passion, their why, and assist them in starting their own business even while in school. Not only should HBCUs provide the fundamentals, but provide them with hands-on tools and resources to develop action plans.

I’ve also noticed that many HBCU’s do not have many arts programs. I want to see more photography and design programs that are infused with business.I would be super geeked if I had seen a “Visual Identity and Creative Branding” course on my curriculum.

How do you deal with rejection? Bah! Rejection. It’s easy to say ‘don’t take it personally’ but it’s not so easy to do when you put your heart and soul into your work. I am still learning how to deal with rejection quite honestly so I don’t have an amazing answer but what I can tell you is that I try to respond to it by experimenting with new influences and making my work more unique.

When you have down time how do you like to spend it? I try to stay as far away from my desk and computer as possible. I love being outdoors so I may go on a quick trip to Conroe or Austin to visit friends for a day or two, go running with my dog, check out the museums downtown or simply do nothing. There are days well I feel mentally exhausted and I’ll opt to a movie on my iPad in bed and order a pizza and gather some snacks for easy access while in the bed. I’m keeping it simple these days.

What was your most memorable HBCU memory? Being apart of the student organization, Green is the New Black at my alma matter (HTU). GITNB is a organization that was created tin 2013 that tackled both environmental issues and race. We had events, raise funds and were advocates of environmental awareness in areas that weren’t particularly apart of the “sustainability conversation”.

The biggest moment was when I was even won first place prices for a $85,000 grant from Fort HBCU Challenge against much bigger named HBCU’s.

In leaving is there any advice you have for budding HBCUpreneurs?

Be focused. Very obsessively focused.

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