Getting over the Excuses with Maia ‘11

Allison Basore ‘20
 

 

2011 grad Maia Bittner has worked at various startups, starting right after her first year at Olin. Currently she is working on her own venture called Pinch. Maia has used her connections at Olin and beyond to build her career in the startup world.

 

 

Why Olin…

Maia remembers traditional school as not being a good fit for her. In high school, her original plan was to not attend college and learn on her own instead. During her senior year of high school she received a flyer in the mail from Olin that countered all her arguments against college. To her, Olin seemed to be a one-of-a-kind alternative to a broken school system. She wanted to help build the school that did not exist yet. Her strong background in math and science also persuaded her that engineering could be a good fit. In the end, she decided to try Olin’s method of learning by doing.

 

What she did at Olin…

Maia entered Olin in the class of 2010. After her freshman year, she took a leave of absence to work at a startup in San Francisco. She started working as Marketing Manager at a company called Spock. Then she worked at company called Seeqpod as Product Manager. After coming back to Olin, Maia took advantage of the cross-registration options to attend classes at Babson, Wellesley, and Brandeis. Maia says that most semesters she was taking one class from each institution. Although it was difficult to schedule between the different school block times, she loved the variety of attending these different schools.

 

Maia majored in Engineering: Cognitive Science, a self-designed major at Olin. She studied linguistics and human computer interaction at Wellesley, consumer behavior at Babson, and neuroscience at Brandeis. 

 

Maia Bittner working at Rocksbox

What she has done since Olin…

Right after Olin, Maia started working on her startup, Rocksbox. The idea of Rocksbox is to bring users a new way to wear jewelry. Users have personalized style-suggested jewelry sent to them to try on. They can then buy the jewelry or send it back to rotate their jewelry wardrobe. Maia worked to build Rocksbox from the ground up for over three years. Eventually they were shipping 3000 pieces of jewelry a day, powered by 80 employees.

After Rocksbox, Maia went on to start a company called Pinch. Pinch is a fantastic new way to build your credit. Users pay their rent through Pinch, which also reports their information to credit bureaus, boosting the users’ credit scores.

 

The idea behind Pinch was not always so clean cut. Maia says she and her fellow Olin co-founder, Michael Ducker, knew they wanted to help people in bad financial situations. Her first thoughts were that the solution would be in innovating insurance. After doing some testing, she found out that better insurance is not that helpful. Instead, more affordable loans are the solution. After looking into why people cannot get affordable loans, she found out that the root of the problem is with low credit scores. This path of investigating and testing led her to the idea for Pinch. Currently, she has been working at Pinch for two years and is continuing to work hard to build it up.

 

Her favorite classes at Olin…

A couple of Maia’s favorite classes were Senior Capstone Program in Engineering (SCOPE) and advanced linear algebra. SCOPE is an industry-university collaboration program that many Olin seniors participate in. For a year, students work with a company to solve real problems. In SCOPE, Maia participated on the Autodesk team, which she really enjoyed. Many of the members had also taken leave of absences to work at companies while at Olin, which gave their team a high level of experience. Other classes she enjoyed were Social Linguistics and Product Design.

 

Why San Francisco…

When Maia took a leave of absence to work in San Francisco, it was the first time she had lived there, and she fell in love with the city. Maia says that San Francisco has always been her city and that all her friends know it. She loves how the people there are open to new ideas and willing to try new things. She says that when you bring up an idea in San Francisco, people say “let's go try it” instead of bringing up excuses of why it might not work. This “what would it hurt to try” attitude is what appeals to her and makes San Francisco a theme for her life.

 

Her thoughts and advice with entrepreneurship…

“When should someone start a company?” I asked Maia.   She responded, “You always start a company before you feel like you’re ready to.” She encourages people who have considered starting a venture to get over their excuses, because there will always be a reason to not start. She goes on to say that one of the most important aspects of becoming an entrepreneur is using and growing your network. Her method of learning something new is to start asking around. She feels that she learned how to be an entrepreneur by asking lots of questions of people in her network.

 

One of the best parts of heading a startup, Maia says, is getting to be creative without asking permission. She loves being able to make major decisions about the direction of a venture. Being in charge allows you to build a team that works for something you’re passionate about. Maia considers team empowerment one of the hardest things to learn as an entrepreneur, but also the most important.

 

Posted in: Alumni Speak; Entreprenuership