Alumni Spotlight: Kent Rollins (’14)
Kent Rollins remembers his tenure at Maggie Walker as a time of growth. “Both emotionally and physically. I experienced a lot of personal growth, but I also grew 11 inches,” he joked. He described himself as “an 80/20 kid” for the first two years of high school. As in, “Put in 20% effort, get the 80.” He recalls doing all of his homework on the bus ride in from Chesterfield. But that changed as he became more and more engaged in his classes. He was particularly influenced by Mr. Ulmschneider’s Government class, Dr. Ericson’s IR class, and We The People. He also remembers classes with Mrs. Hill, Mr. O’Bryan, Dr. Oreska, and Mr. McGuire with fondness, as well as his time on the soccer team.
While his twin sister, Ariana Rollins, now at Stanford, was applying to fourteen schools, Kent decided to apply early decision to William & Mary in the interest of being done with the whole grueling process. He was admitted in December of his senior year. “Maggie Walker prepared me for the real world,” Kent says. “It’s such a geek situation to say my high school was more selective and harder than college, but it’s true. I was ready to take on this heavy workload at William & Mary.” Like many Governor’s School graduates, Kent went into college thinking he would pursue something in the field of government. Because of all of his credits from high school, he was able to finish most of his government major in his freshmen year at William & Mary.
Having finished one major, he developed an interest in William & Mary’s business school, but when he applied, he was rejected. He says his first thought was, “I have to prove these guys wrong. I have to prove to them that I’m worthy of this school and this major.” So he started an import business, bringing in goods from China and selling them online. His success with that venture helped to propel him into business school during the next round of applications, and his experience there proved to be extremely formative.
One of the best parts of William & Mary, Kent says, is the opportunity to become a student leader on campus. He fondly described, “at William & Mary, I just kept adding responsibilities.” As he picked up a marketing major in business school, he took a leadership role in the Student Marketing Association. “In business, finance is where all the funding is, so marketing doesn’t get the same amount of attention,” he explained. “I’ve worked really hard to grow the club from 10 to 20 members to nearly 100.”
Because of his success with the club, the business school now has him hold office hours during which he mentors other students in marketing. “I get to have an impact on a lot of students. I love that I get to connect people,” he says. That experience helped him rediscover how much he loves finding ways to give back. He also helps out with William & Mary’s fundraising and as an ambassador for the business school, has gotten the opportunity to meet visiting dignitaries and business leaders.
Kent has changed since he was a high school freshmen rushing to finish his homework on the bus. In addition to graduating a year early from college, a feat that required that he take 50 credits in a year, including four classes at three colleges over the summer, he also applied to graduate school and started a business that was recently featured in the Richmond Times Dispatch called Candid Campus Tours.
Kent started thinking about Candid Campus Tours two years ago. A professor for a class he took at VCU to graduate early brought in startup leaders in Richmond as guest speakers. Hearing them talk, he realized that starting a company wasn’t necessarily so intimidating. Plus, he already had an idea. He and a friend started brainstorming, and then brought in another student studying computer science to do the technical stuff they couldn’t. Kent bought a domain name, set up a Google AdWords campaign, and launched the business, which provides one-on-one honest and personalized tours of college campuses to prospective students.
At first, the Candid Campus tour guide roster was one deep; it was just Kent. But he got business. He was making some good money, he says, but more importantly, his trial run provided much-needed proof of concept. In March of 2017, he and his co-founders started talking about where to expand. “We decided to do Virginia first, and targeted the seven biggest schools in the first round. We were successful in getting those, and it wasn’t actually that hard. Maggie Walker kids had a ton of connections at those schools. It’s a compelling value proposition for students, because you can be a tour guide who speaks their mind about your school, and you’re going to make $25 an hour plus tips.”
It wasn’t until a conversation Kent had during his summer at Booz Allen that he realized there was no reason not to expand to campuses outside of Virginia. “Why not just go for it?” he thought. Once again, he reached out to other Maggie Walker grads, as well as someone with deep connections with Women in Business college network. Candid Campus Tours started scaling and adding as many schools as they could. They also started partnering with high schools to promote their services and received some funding from William & Mary for student startups.
What’s the hardest part of running the company? “Things that keep you up at night are ‘what ifs’,” Kent says. The company is still in its infancy, so much remains unknown. “Balance is tricky, too, because I do a lot of stuff right now,” Kent explains. “I work two jobs in the business school. I’m the president of a club. I play club soccer. I do web design. I just finished two majors, and I’m going to grad school. Then you have all these people are going to be expecting things from you, which means a lot of people to answer to. It’s a lot of making sure you’re balancing your personal life while also being accountable.”
But the upsides are big. “It’s amazing to say I have 115 guides who signed up for this,” Kent says. “I’m helping 115 people make money. And it’s actually a business that makes the world a better place. Not like selling knockoffs online. I like being part of helping someone be able to make an informed decision about college.” They are adding new schools every week and new guides every day.
Kent just finished up a summer at consulting firm Booz Allen in their “Summer Games” program. The firm gives interns selected from all across disciplines the task of presenting a solution to a challenge that one of Booz’s clients is facing. At the end of the summer, they pitch the solution to actual partners. Kent’s team’s pitch was convincing enough that the firm plans to present it to the client.
In keeping with his now-normal breakneck pace, Kent will undergo the rigorous recruiting process for big consultancy jobs while he is still in graduate school. Before he applied, he had to teach himself Python, SQL, and linear algebra, as he is getting his master’s in business analytics and data science. “There’s a divide in companies where people who understand data don’t speak the same language as business guys,” he says. “I want to be the guy who understands the data and can communicate with the business guys effectively about it.”
Asked for any last comments, Kent said, “Any way you can bring this back to Maggie Walker. It’s a special place. All those people came together to make it a meaningful experience, and when I left I was ready for any challenge. That was really special.”
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