Inside Digital: Jewel Burks – A Young, Black Entrepreneur With A Mission

Jewel Burks Partpic

Jewel Burks

Co-founder/CEO @ Partpic, Entrepreneur in Residence for Diversity Markets @ Google

Twitter / LinkedIn / Website

How did your earlier career choices lead to your current role at Google?

I interned at Google the summer after my sophomore year at Howard and was exposed to technology as an industry for the first time. When I got to Google I became enamored by how well everything worked. I compared it to how frustrated I was with the systems at Howard and when I found out that the email and collaboration tools were used internally at schools, I made it my mission to get Howard to adopt these tools.When I got back to school after my internship I eventually did convince Howard to adopt Google Apps. Leaders at Google noticed my initiative and it landed me a full time job on the Google Apps team.

Tell us what your role at Google entails and describe a typical day:

No such thing as a typical day. I primarily manage events at Google, where I help underrepresented business owners learn more about how to manage and grow their online presence. So on any given day I am either planning an event, traveling to a conference, or leading a session. I also work on internal efforts around increasing diversity among our customer base at Google.

Can you tell us a little bit more about your company Partpic? How did the idea come about and what were the steps you took to get it off the ground?

Partpic is visual search for replacement parts. The idea came about when I left Google in 2012 and began working for an industrial distribution company. I was supervising a call center and was struck by how bad the systems were at this company. The systems being poor led to bad outcomes for our customers and for the people on my team who were trying to assist them. I wanted to create a way for people to more easily search for parts. I reached out to a friend from Google who had gone on to work for Shazam (which is in essence doing a similar thing to Partpic, just for music). He became my cofounder and we started trying to find more technical talent to start building out our product.

What’s a typical day like in building Partpic and how do you balance your full-time role at Google with being an entrepreneur?

Everyone who I work with at Google knows that I also run Partpic. I have the support of both of my teams (Google & Partpic) to do both. How I manage both, I’m sure is a mystery to people — because I try as much as I can to be present and available for everyone. However, because my role is pretty independent and event based, I spend most of my days in my Partpic office. We now have 7 employees and a few contractors, so majority of my time is dedicated to making sure everyone on my team has what they need and making sure we always have plenty of money in the bank (via revenue & fundraising). I sacrifice my personal time and life to do what I consider to be good and necessary work at Google and at Partpic. I don’t have work/life balance at the moment. Work is pretty much my life, but I’m ok with that.

What has been the most surprising and challenging aspect of being an entrepreneur?

Hiring people is really hard. Every single hire at this point is going to impact the future trajectory of my company. So it’s critical we get it right and correct quickly when we get it wrong. This is a big part of my job and it’s very time consuming.

President Barack Obama poses for a photo with Jewel Burks and Jason Crain, Atlanta, Ga. of Partpic, while hosting top innovators and startup founders from across the country for the first White House Demo Day, Aug. 4, 2015, in the State Dinning Room of the White House in Washington. Partpic allows customers to take a picture of a part they want to replace and automatically receive product name, specifications, and supplier information. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
President Barack Obama with Jewel Burks and Jason Crain, of Partpic, at the first White House Demo Day, Aug. 4, 2015. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

It’s no easy feat but Partpic has been racking up wins at pitch contests around the world, even being showcased at the White House. How do you stay hungry and keep up the momentum?

I feel like success is the only option and I’m going to keep working until I get there. Winning at pitch competitions is nice, but it was really just a means to an end for us. I’ve won almost $200,000 in pitch competitions which is important because it translated into jobs for us. Now that we have a full team we can more ferociously attack our goals around revenue and product development. I’m excited about what we’re building and I want it to be ubiquitous, so I’ll keep pressing until it is.

Diversity in tech is a hot button topic right now. As an African-American woman who is blazing new paths, what advice would you give to young tech enthusiasts looking to work for a major tech company?

1) Find someone who works for the company you’re interested in and get them to refer you. Do not apply blindly on the website. Be persistent. If you don’t get hired the first time, don’t give up. These companies are competitive, so you may have to make multiple attempts to get in.

2) There are so many resources online available for you to learn whatever it is you need to know to make it in whatever role you are looking to acquire. Figure out what you need to know and take the initiative to learn it.

3) Do not be afraid or passive because you are new to the industry. Be bold and unapologetic about who you are and what you have to offer.

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