Most students come to the University of Tennessee with a plan: enroll in classes, get a degree, and land a job directly out of school. Joel Seligstein came on a mission. During his time at UT, Joel enrolled in honors coursework, declared two majors, and landed a job that allowed him to graduate ahead of schedule. That job was at a little social media company called Facebook. At the time a small enterprise with approximately 15 million users, Facebook would go on to become the mogul that it is today, reaching upwards of 1 billion avid Facebook users. During his six and a half years with the company, Joel utilized lessons he had learned as a member of the Chancellor’s Honors Program and honed his uncanny ability to tackle new and complex problems.
Since he was a child, Joel has never considered failure to be an option. He grew up believing that he was in full command of his destiny and continues to determine it by being proactive and intentional about where he invests his time. In fact, his job opportunity at Facebook emerged out of contacts he made while working on the beta for logging into other websites via Facebook during his spare time at college. By pursuing a hobby in his field and developing competency in that hobby, Joel managed to network himself into an interview that set him on a quick path to success. After writing code for about three years, Joel began leading the “Messages” team responsible for developing Facebook Messenger long before “pm me” was common social media terminology. It was in this position that Joel found his experience with the CHP particularly helpful. Joel compares his time at Facebook to his time in the CHP by saying that it felt a lot like being in honors because everyone was brilliant, motivated, and provided with excellent resources. Being surrounded by honors students in the classroom helped Joel adjust to working with people at a higher level. He views his time in the CHP as a unique training experience that helped him to realize he was no longer the smartest person in the room–a message reinforced by his workplace. This realization was incredibly motivating, and after his time at Facebook, Joel went in search of his next big challenge.
He found it by once again pursuing an interest that soon became a hobby and eventually turned into a major opportunity. That interest was sledding. After taking a renewed interest in the Olympics due to working for a high-tech sports gear company, Joel set out to conquer bobsledding, his favorite event. Upon talking to a bobsled company, he realized he was missing a key component that no amount of hard work and determination could overcome: a partner to run the brakes. Instead of hanging up his sledding hat, he decided to opt for a lesser-known event called skeleton. Skeleton is a winter sliding sport similar to bobsleigh and luge that involves a single rider sledding down a frozen track while lying face down. Though Joel’s first attempt at sliding was in his words “absolutely horrifying” he says that quitting was never an option. His goal from the beginning was only to get better. And get better he did, Joel now races for the Israel National Bobsled and Skeleton Team and hopes to qualify for the 2018 Winter Olympics.
In line with using his time intentionally, Joel founded A# Capital Startup Investing in 2014 between running sprints and sliding down tracks at 80 mph. In this venture, Joel invests in small companies and mentors their management teams on taking their products to market. He works mostly with software engineers, young CEOs, and new managers and loves the human aspect that coaching brings to the engineering field. Two things Joel always incorporates into his coaching are empathy and hustle. Joel emphasizes the importance of building teams and forming partnerships through empathy and stresses that a big part of startup success is the “hustle” attitude. The entrepreneurial spirit is essential to achieve the sort of high arching goals for which Joel reaches, and he exhibits it well. A recent recipient of the UT Alumni Promise Award, Joel’s finds success by cultivating his interests and will continue to look for ways to challenge himself and grow.