Interviews

[INTERVIEW] Bernard Capulong: From Pre-Med Biomedical Engineer to Tech Startup Co-Founder

By March 11, 2015December 30th, 2020No Comments
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In this interview, Bernard Capulong, Co-founder and Editor-In-Chief of Everyday Carry discusses his switch from going to medical school with a biomedical engineering degree to founding a tech startup through his hobby of everyday carry.

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The website started off as a simple Tumblr website that eventually gained widespread traction, getting covered by A Continuous Lean, LifeHackerTechCrunch, the South Florida Business Journal and even Food and Wine magazine. By then, he was offered an opportunity to go full-time with his blog and co-found a startup company.

However, our conversation focuses on his career switch from applying to medical school to founding a tech startup.

Bernard provides us with insight to how he decided to make such a drastic switch, from being self-conscious about no longer pursuing medical school to throwing himself fully into a newfound business opportunity.

At the end, he gives three pieces of great advice to anyone looking to advance in their career. You have to:

  1. Move fast
  2. Challenge everything and
  3. Learn every day.

Visit Bernard’s personal blog or follow him on Twitter (@bernardcapulong) to read more about his day-to-day startup life. To see what everyday carry is all about visit EverydayCarry.com.

You can find the transcription of the interview below.
David Ly Khim: I just want to say thanks again for doing this, I really appreciate you taking the time to answer all my questions. I want to get the background story of how you got to working on Everyday Carry when you were an engineering college and your path towards that. Just to start off could you just described your path to what you’re doing now?

Bernard Capulong: To what I am doing now, I am a co-founder and editor and chief of Everyday Carry which is like a tech startup that focuses on the hobby that I had of everyday carry, which in a nutshell is about the things that people carry in their pockets everyday. You can think like phone, wallet, keys and from there there are more enthusiast things like pocket knives, pens, watches and so on.

But how I got there is an interesting story, I was studying biomedical engineering in college and in my lunch hour, while doing volunteering research I started a Tumblr blog for everyday carry and it was interesting because there were no blogs out there about this–not in the modern social media way.

I am like a serial hobbyist, I’ve always had hobbies. I have been a blogger since my Xanga and Geocities days and I guess I’m sort of a hipster in the sense that I create novelty and doing something before it catches on.

That’s what I was doing and I wasn’t generating any revenue at the time, but I was very active on the Tumblr and it sort of put everyday carry on the map in a broader sense outside of just discussion forums for enthusiasts and inaccessible places to get that information.

One of my goals for that blog was, I thought there was so much information out there and it’s really cool, it’s just so hard to digest and hard to find. I thought, “I’m doing all this effort anyway so I might as a put it out there to make it easier for other people.”

I was doing that for a few years and it got a lot of recognition, but like you said, I was studying for medical school because I was doing biomedical engineering. And by the time I had to really buckle down for that and study for MCATs, I sort of just iced the blog and it was unfortunate because that went on for at least a year, maybe two because senior year really picked up.

Around December 2013 that was when I was doing the secondaries for my med school application. I got an email and it was an offer for a new venture with an established tech entrepreneur and he pitch me this vision of turning the blog into a business. I always thought I wanted to do a lot with the blog but I just didn’t have the resources, and I thought maybe teaming up with somebody who knows what he’s doing can help me achieve that.

Whereas I was in the middle of half-assedly doing my med school application and I realized it wasn’t really too important to me as much as it should be and I felt like I was just kind of slogging through it.

The idea of a startup–especially something that I was the originator of–that speaks to my craving for novelty, and I felt like would be a difficult and, in similar ways, respectable path to pursue. Medicine is respectable in a lot of different ways, but it wasn’t something I had in my heart at the time.

DLK: On med school how far did you get the process before deciding to focus on Everyday Carry?

BC: It was during around when I was doing secondaries, and to be honest I was late on all the deadlines because I didn’t know what I was doing and I didn’t care too much to light a fire under my ass. I was kind of lazy during the whole application process. That’s on me. But I was doing secondaries, I was supposed answer these essays, I was supposed to have written them before I received them, but really I was kind of procrastinating.

That’s when the offer came up and that’s when I felt like I needed to do something with myself because if this doesn’t pan out it’s another year of me at home with my parents studying again.

That wasn’t something I found very fulfilling because I didn’t it produce results immediately other than my MCAT score–and it was a good score–it is just that there are so many other things I had to been doing that I wasn’t.

It felt like I was at a crossroads because I didn’t feel confident about getting into a school versus I didn’t even know what I would be getting into with the startup, but my reasoning was that, there are always other years you can apply to med school but an opportunity like this is once-in-a-lifetime.

DLK: It was like whichever decision you went with you had to go all the way with pretty much.

BC: Yeah, but it’s kind of different and scary for medicine because just to even have a shot for being considered to get into a school, you would have had to decide and prepare for it since you were a child. And maybe that decision was even made for you.

You would have to work towards that during most of your formative years and you kind of give up a lot of things that are also important in those years just to get a shot at doing it for even longer [in med school] and then for the rest of your life. That’s all in hopes to secure a future, but maybe you didn’t have much of a past or a future to secure because you’re so focused on one thing.

Don’t get me wrong I have the most respect for doctors because I couldn’t even do it. It’s definitely hard, but it’s not something that I felt at the time would be best for me personally.

DLK: Obviously making that decision was really difficult and you did a lot of reasoning, but what was the tipping point that made you choose to do Everyday Carry?

BC: I guess there was a dissatisfaction I had in my life at the time where I wasn’t feeling fulfilled by by what I was doing and I felt pressure to make something of myself–especially since med school didn’t look like it was working out. Everyday Carry, I think was a gift in the sense that it was an opportunity to prove myself in a way that I think I could, and it would be empowering to me because it would be something that I wanted to do.

That’s just the vision or the dream or even just the pitch of it. I wouldn’t have known what I was getting into at the time to be honest. At some point, you can sit around and try to figure out what you want to do, but honestly you just need to do something and then figure out if it’s something you like, and if it’s something you would keep doing, and if it isn’t then you have to work to find something else.

DLK: I agree 100%. It ‘s better to do something than just get paralyzed. The next part is something I’m very interested in because I went through a period where I had to deal with it on my own. When you made that decision, how did the people around you, like friends and family, react to it?

BC: I was telling everybody that I was applying to med school. Every time I was at a family party or I met up with friends from UCI for dinner or something, and they would ask me, “So what are you up to right now?” At the time when you’re unemployed and you’re just studying for MCATs and you’re kind of late on your whole cycle that’s like the worst question you can get and you just want to jump out the window.

The thing is you don’t really have anything to show for yourself during that period and it is very hard. And you’re supposed to be occupying your time working towards that. That would be extracurriculars or doing research or volunteering or something. I was doing some of that, but I wasn’t proud of it myself so it didn’t feel like something that I wanted to bring up.

Once I finally made the decision that I would be focusing on Everyday Carry and seeing what happens–I finished my applications and I obviously didn’t get in anywhere so that kind of make this easier. But the main thing I noticed is that startups and entrepreneurship in general are not really well understood, especially when you compare it to something more obvious like medicine or becoming a doctor.

I tell people I’m turning my blog into a businesses and that sounds cool to them because it appeals to the glamorous side of the startup life. But for my family, especially the older members of my family, they don’t really understand what that is or even what a blog is.

My concern was feeling that maybe I look indecisive or I’m running away from what my real calling is because my parents would give that expectation to the family because they were proud of me. But it’s not the best way to go about it by telling other people what you’re going to do because that forces you into this expectation and to act motivated only by satisfying those expectations and not necessarily for yourself.

While I told people in my family that I’m going to be doing this tech startup, they don’t really understand and I don’t know if they are as enthusiastic as my friends are, but they didn’t necessarily tell me “no.” I think it’s because they don’t really understand.

DLK: Coming from that end, since they didn’t really understand, it must have been difficult to see support from them or even see discouragement instead. How did you get through those periods where it felt like you are kind of going off the deep end and you’re trying to figure out everything on your own and no one really understood? What was the process you went through to deal with that?

BC: As far as dealing with discouragement and not knowing what you are doing, I think it’s really important to make a distinction of the discouragement you get from other people, especially in your closest circles that you consider your family and friends. I think [that discouragement] should be ignored because those people probably don’t care about you as much as they should. I feel just cutting that out is the best course of action and that way that kind of discouragement from external sources that is easier to avoid.

However, in my experience, most of the discouragement that I get is from within. It’s very hard to deal with because you already believe [in your idea], if you are the one who thought of it.

I can look up data on how many startups fail and that’s discouragement to me. I can look at my resume and I see I’ve been only doing medical and biomed stuff and academia. So I have nothing on running a tech startup, I have nothing on marketing, nothing on writing, and that makes me feel overwhelmingly underqualified.

I might make mistakes at work, like I published something wrong or I just do something wrong and I don’t know what I’m doing, and I might feel that I’m just not cut out for any of this because it’s not just a Tumblr anymore.

But all of that is usually not true, it’s not the case and it’s the result of focusing on your own self-doubt instead of really looking at what is happening out there and what is the reception is. That’s probably a better reflection of how you’re doing.

I could talk on and on about how to overcome your self-doubt, but in summary, what works best for me is just do your best everyday. Just show up. Show up, do your best even if you think it is not good enough. Over time you’ll see the progress you’ve made. You’ll look back and see you don’t make as many mistakes. For example, I didn’t think I was a writer but I’m seeing my name in publications saying I’m a writer, or I see myself having bylines in bigger publications than I thought I could ever be in and it’s reinforcing in that way.

I would just say, getting through discouragement, you need to realize what’s external and what’s internal and then be very careful about the discouragement you give yourself.

DLK: I can totally relate to that because there were external discouragements, and once I got over that, I was still doubting myself. I think it’s really good where you talk about just showing up because some people get so discouraged that they decide not show up and they let that hold them back from doing anything.

When you decided to do Everyday Carry you said you moved to Florida. What’s it like working on a startup in a city, in a state where you don’t know anyone? What do you do to remain focused and really grind it out?

BC: It’s true, I’m in Miami Beach, I came from Los Angeles, I don’t know anyone here, I don’t really vibe with the culture here. In that sense I’m sort of in a vacuum. As far as grind it out, just for me moving I made a huge sacrifice already.

It’s not even like I’m switching career paths it’s like, you give up so much just to have a shot to work hard and earn an opportunity to have a different career. It’s not like an equivalent A and B and you’re switching it.

I moved away from my home, my friends, my family. All the stuff that I like back there [in LA], a lot of my possessions, my favorite places to go, my favorite things to do. I broke up with my significant other. I’m really on my own and I’m facing one of the biggest challenges in my life.

When that much is on the line and you have a belief in yourself that you can do it, there is no way you’re not grinding and you’re not focusing. There are different levels of focus in different scopes. You need to focus on the long-term, but to get there you have to take everyday on it’s own as well.

As far as focusing everyday it really has to do with showing up and doing your work and figuring out how you can be valuable and how you can feel that you are actualizing your potential everyday. Because if you start to slip up, if you start to get lazy and basically not focused, then you’re jeopardizing your long-term goal and once you’ve sacrificed and put so much on the line you can’t have that.

You have to be tough to do something like this and I think it is very hard and it’s not like the whole “cool office,” hipstery whatever startup life you might see in something like The Social Network.

It’s not all fun apps and making fun games, it’s really hard.

DLK: I completely understand where you’re coming from. There are times when I do set up myself, but you just have to understand to pick it back up and that’s the most important part. Where do you expect Everyday Carry to be in the next 5 to 10 years or if you even plan on working on that or something else?

BC: Five to ten years is a long ways away, especially in the context of a tech startup where things move so quickly that I’m not sure where Everyday Carry itself might be in 5 to 10 years. It might’ve been acquired, it might’ve gone under, it might still be a successful, sustainable business. Honestly I don’t know if I would have a place for myself there.

But as far as what I would want to do and where I want to be I still really like that it’s similar in medicine and engineering and in startups it’s like you have to do a lot of research and do a lot of experiments, but ultimately you’re using your intelligence and your skills to solve problems that benefit other people.

I know it might not make sense with Everyday Carry because it’s e-commerce but my angle for that is, we’re helping people find tools that could obviously potentially to save their lives just because of the whole preparedness aspect. But it’s also something that makes their everyday easier and it helps them perform better at work or whatever they need everyday.

In that sense I think I like the way how startups are not necessarily so rigid in structure. I would probably be doing some kind of startup but it would be interesting if I could do something biomedical-related or something that’s more directly a product that can change people’s lives everyday in matters of health. That would be interesting to me.

DLK: So even though you’ve made the switch away from biomedical engineering, you still see that in your future with what you’re going to be doing?

BC: Yeah. It’s also because I think it’s, by now, wired into the way I think or it’s always how I thought, which is why I was interested and attracted to biomedical engineering in the first place.

If you think about it, biomedical engineering shares a lot of the things I like about EDC in that, there’s a product, there’s the design of the product, there’s engineering and it’s very technical and it helps people in a certain way. I think you can develop, a device–there’s a spoon that has these motors that help people with Parkinson’s. Things like that I think is interesting.

Even though I switch to tech entrepreneurship coming from biomedical engineering, I still utilize so many of the same thought processes. I always treat things as an experiment. I always try to see what kind of data I can learn and then use that for a next set of experiments It’s always like you have a hypothesis, you want to test it that you can achieve a certain result and those results and that data will help you create a better product over time.

I’m fortunately that I learned a lot of that through traditional school because I can apply a lot of those principles to being in a tech startup. I think those concepts might be lost on a founder that may come from a different background.

I would say especially to a lot of kids still in school who are studying STEM that you shouldn’t leave business and entrepreneurship off the table. Even though you don’t have formal training you’re smart, you’ll learn it quick. But a lot of the stuff like math and experimental design, those concepts are still very much applicable and valuable in tech startups and you have an advantage there.

DLK: Yeah, I think that you address a big misconception about switching careers. I think people think that once you make the switch you’re completely dropping the other thing completely when, in reality, it’s always ingrained in how you think or what you do.

Even though I’m not doing chemistry, it’s still a part of me I still think about things in terms of what a chemist would think of as an experiment. I’m glad that you brought that up. I think when people think of a switch they think of completely throwing away what they learned in college, when in reality those skills are most useful going forward.

BC: Right. You’re not your diploma. You have so many more skills than that and so much more potential than what some piece of paper tells you you should be doing.

DLK: What advice would you give to someone who wants to change their field of work? That’s a huge change and you were able to make that transition. What advice would you give someone else?

BC: As far as going from career to career, I would say if you’re not happy with your first one and you think that there’s promise in your new one, then you just have to do it.

It’s going to be difficult because it’s change and a lot of people have trouble processing change, but if you’re not happy, you can’t get comfortable doing that. You owe it to yourself to give yourself the opportunities that you think you deserve. Get help if you need it, but don’t be scared and just work towards it. If you’re spinning your wheels for no reason, it’s going to be too late. Do it as fast as you can.

This also applies if you want to switch into tech startups or just startups in general. I would tell you the same thing. The three main things that I will tell you, you have to move fast, challenge everything and learn every day.

For startups, the main thing that you are doing is you’re conquering uncertainty. There’s an uncertainty that your idea will work, that you’ll still be in business tomorrow and, as a result, you have to move fast. Procrastination will kill you.

There’s not enough time or resources to sit around or else your company will fail. It needs to grow and, since you don’t have that foundation already set, since you’re trying to build that as you are growing, you can’t give it enough time to decay or buckle.

You have to make most of your time because that’s one of the only resources you have. Everyone gets the same amount of time so you have to be very efficient with it.

This forces you to improve your decision-making and it develops your confidence and it’s not like biomedical engineering where if your plan isn’t perfect, if you’re execution isn’t perfect, if you make mistakes, someone will literally die. That doesn’t really happen.

In a tech startup, when you’re selling a product, it’s okay to do something you think is just good enough. Even though it’s not perfect–you wouldn’t get an A on it if you turned it in or whatever. If it works enough and people can tell you what is wrong with it then just fix it in your next product.

To do this, it brings me to my next piece of advice which is to challenge everything. That means to challenge not just yourself but your existing ideas and the status quo around you. A good product will change the world for the better and you need to challenge what’s not good right now.

You have to think into the future equipped with knowledge from the past and even what’s going on right now like on the pulse of it. It’s extremely difficult. Not everyone has the knack for that, but it’s something you should work on.

The other thing that I would say is learn everyday. I say this because you’re trying to squash this uncertainty and uncertainty appears in so many ways.

“Is your product good? Is this what customers want? Am I doing the right thing? Are we going in the right direction?” All those things.

You need to learn from all those sources of uncertainty. Even if you fail–this is another big thing, especially for kids who are going through college–a failure is so frowned upon, but in tech entrepreneurship, it’s opposite to a certain extent.

It’s okay to fail as long as you learn from it. When you succeed, you should be learning from it. You should be asking yourself, “What made this successful? How can I use it again?”

It’s the same if you do fail. Instead of dwelling on it and saying you’re not good, just ask questions like, “Where did this go wrong? How can I make this better?”

I would say learn something new everyday, not even just in your work. As a person, for yourself, you should always be learning because that helps in everything else. Those are the three that I would say.

DLK: All some great piece of advice. I can use that advice for myself too even though I already made the change. Those are all the questions I had for you again I really appreciate you taking the time to do this interview, it really means a lot and I think a lot of people can learn from the insight that you had to give.

BC: I hope they do and I don’t think I am an expert or anything like that because I’ve only been here for nine months. It doesn’t sound like a lot especially for kids who are still in school or studying for medicine because you have blocks for four years at a time. But nine months is a long time to be on your own doing something that moves as quickly as this.

Hopefully, what I said was insightful and useful and thank you for considering me to even speak. That’s a privilege. Thanks.