TEMTT founder Briana B. Franklin on turning experience into innovation

MAY 16TH, 2020 | DREAMS IN-PROGRESS BLOG INTERVIEW SERIES

Interviewed by Samia Abbasi,
Dreams In-Progress Creator + Host

Flashback to summer 2019: I would wake up, get ready for the day, and hop on all the job-searching websites to participate in the trial & error known as the job market. Those days were blurry; sending at least 1 cover letter + resume out into the world felt like enough progress for the day. That’s when I came across Briana B. Franklin on LinkedIn. It was serendipitous clicking on The English Major Takes Tech (TEMTT). Its existence made me feel validated about the crossroads I was at, between having an English Creative Writing degree and living in Silicon Valley surrounded by tech.

Months later, and after reading so many of Briana’s candid & thoughtful posts, I reached out to see if Briana was interested in being interviewed for Dreams In-Progress. She affirmed: Too often, emphasis is placed on the destination as opposed to the journey. And that really sums up why I started the series. Briana is such an articulate and forward-thinking person, and I am so excited for you to read about her journey as a literary entrepreneur in the process of melding the Humanities v. Tech divide and creating community in the process—one English major at at time. Thanks so much Briana for this awesome collab!

[PROFILE]
Name: Briana B. Franklin (she/her)
From: Atlanta, Georgia
Career: Digital Content Creator & Entrepreneur
Brands + Businesses: The English Major Takes Tech, Just B. Frank, & Friction Factory
Degree: B.A. English Literature (Creative Writing conc.) from Dartmouth College

SA: Tell me about yourself, Briana! What are you passionate about? What are your hobbies? 

BF: I am a 25-year-old entrepreneur, writer, and literary artist, which is my way of saying I like to create through writing! I run my personal brand, Just B. Frank, which is an all-inclusive platform where I produce content that represents all of my different interests, and I’m also the founder of The English Major Takes Tech (TEMTT), which is a startup that improves content + communications for small to midsize tech startups. Aside from tech, my passions are also primarily in fitness and sustainability. In terms of hobbies, I’m a big fan of jigsaw puzzles, writing poetry, and refining my cooking skills by trying out new recipes. Also, I’m into crafting and finding ways to preserve pictures and keepsakes by putting them into curated mediums. 

THE ENGLISH MAJOR FINDS HER PATH | ENTREPRENEURSHIP

SA: Did you have any expectations from family, school, or your environment to choose a certain major or career to explore? 

BF: Throughout high school, I keyed in on my love of writing after having spent so much time around my godmother (my mom’s older sister), who is a news anchor; so back then, I thought Journalism would be really cool. That later changed to International Relations, and once it was time to lock in on where to attend college, I saw that of my acceptances, Dartmouth had the most competitive Government program, so I rolled with that. And after taking Gov 5 my freshman fall and ending up with a C—my first C ever at that time—I was like, Nope! Back to square 1.

A few months after that was when I decided on English Literature. I knew that would allow me to hone my skills as a writer, so by default it made the most sense, but going with that route also triggered some pushback. I had a lot of family members who were averse to the idea of me being an English major, since they were fearful that I’d end up the typical starving artist and therefore wanted me to go with something more “practical.” That pressure made it tough to stand my ground and be confident in that choice, but it was really just a process of elimination—I thought, If not English, then what else? As I stuck with it though, I did eventually fall more into a groove, and the improvement in my grades that came as a result pretty much spoke for itself.

SA: What kinds of experiences have shaped your pathway with writing?

Who said the writing process can’t be pretty?

BF: Over the years, I’ve picked up on different indicators that it was always the path for me, but didn’t really embrace it to this extent until relatively recently. I remember as a child receiving compliments from family and teachers on my writing skills and excelling on the standard benchmarks—i.e. some years scoring perfectly in the English/Language Arts sections of the CRCT (an Atlanta Public Schools standardized test). It was funny, because for a period in elementary/middle school, I was doing really well in math, but then the focus went back to English. It was definitely a gift. As I got older, I didn’t really think writing was a viable career—again, because of that rhetoric that only “practical” career paths are what you should pursue unless you’re wealthy, and have tons of money to cushion the blow of any artistic failures.

Once I started taking more writing-intensive classes in high school and college, it worked like a snowball gaining traction, since I went from learning different styles, to correcting bad form, to finding a focus area to eventually writing for my own sake. It was kind of like leveling up over the years. 

SA: I’m very curious about how you got your entrepreneurial footing. How did you know that you wanted to start crafting your passions into a business or brand? How did you start The English Major Takes Tech?

 BF: Starting a business in general was something I knew I wanted to do when I learned the word “entrepreneur” in a vocabulary lesson in elementary school. And when the teacher defined it, she was saying, “Some people want to be nurses, some people want to be lawyers or doctors, and there are some people who want to be entrepreneurs, which means that they start their own business.” It was one of those serendipitous things that kind of just struck a chord and stayed with me ever since. I continued to have that in the back of my mind. 

TEMTT was the result of a perfect storm of challenges I found myself facing and was able to serve as pretty much a unanimous solution for all of them. The first was realizing I wanted to go into tech and obviously didn’t have the credentials to land a typical job, like a coder or software engineer. I then saw firsthand that a large number of techies aren’t the clearest writers or most efficient communicators, so immediately, I identified that as a gap I could help close. And then, there was the financial aspect. Going to a school as expensive as the one I attended came with a staggering price tag, and once those loan statements started pouring in, I realized I was in deep trouble.

And because there are so many people who write off English majors and devalue the skills they bring to the table, the job prospects weren’t looking great at all. I knew that I didn’t want to be paying this debt off forever, but also that if I took a standard below-market paying position, I more than likely would. Also, there was the aspect of trying to find the right fit professionally, because I kept getting shut down time after time with each attempt to land work. I was putting myself out there, but nothing ever stuck. That signaled to me that it was time to bet on myself. I figured, if I go into business and make my own legitimate entity, there’s no telling how many opportunities and possibilities can come from that. 

When I started TEMTT, the tagline was “Innovation through communication.” That’s still the heart of it—being forward-thinking with communication strategies and not being afraid to push the envelope with the creative process. More recently, since regrouping and looking at it through my personal experience and keeping it authentic to what brought me into tech, the new working tagline is: “Turning the lowest paying major into a something major.” It was really capitalizing on something that people thought would work against me. And not for the sake of spiting others—I don’t believe in trying to make examples of people or doing things to prove someone wrong—it was really just taking that and turning it on its head to find the good in it. And putting all that I can into it. TEMTT is a way for other creatives and literary artists to do the same and successfully impact tech.

SA: In addition to TEMTT, you have Just B. Frank and Friction Factory. Tell me about those projects!

BF: Just B. in Frank is really my way of honoring my whole self instead of only trying to funnel into one specific category. Even though I’ve changed my approach with TEMTT to be more authentic to my truth and sustainable, it only focuses on one of my interests. Just B. Frank is a play on my name, Briana Franklin, but it’s also a motto: being frank, being authentic, not being afraid to share. So I’ve really taken it as a way to open up. As far as the website, I have my portfolio work, the blog, etc., so it’s an all-in-one personal brand forum. 

Friction Factory is still something that I’m trying to figure out, but the focus there is fitness. Throughout my own fitness journey, which spans about 10 years, I’ve realized that the things I have had to overcome are different instances of friction. For anyone on a fitness journey, it’s a friction factory. There are elements of discomfort that fuel your gains and pretty much force you to keep moving so you can hit your targets.

SA: How did you start blogging in general? It can be hard to be vulnerable and develop your voice online. How did you approach it? 

BF: When I started it, it was almost like an “it’s about time!” sort of feeling. I felt like I had no legitimacy, since I kept branding myself as a writer and talking about it in interviews and conversations, but there was nothing to really back it up. I remember a few years ago when applying for a position, the interviewer was like, “You’re a writer and don’t have a portfolio?” And if that wasn’t bad enough, it happened again almost 2 years later, so that lit the fire under me to finally buckle down and make it happen. I just instinctively knew I needed to start if I was going to be successful in the ways that I dreamed. I was like, How did I not put this together sooner?!

SA: I feel the same exact way! It’s kind of wild that growing a portfolio wasn’t a focus for my English degree in terms of career-building. 

BF: 100% true! I have plenty of short stories I’ve written, but as far as a place to put them all and keep the work going, there wasn’t one. And of course, I didn’t stop being a writer once I graduated and completed my formal studies. I just didn’t have anything cohesive to show for it. So later, I had this voice telling me, It’s time to start producing. I felt like I’d truly given the corporate route my all and exhausted all avenues for landing a steady job, so I knew it was up to me to lean back into my roots and use my talents to establish myself as a writing authority. I had years worth of stories and experiences that had bubbled up, so it was time to pop the lid and pour them all out. 

SA: What are some moments of doubt or uncertainty that happened? What are moments where you had big realizations about your pathway?

BF: I’d say I felt most uncertain as I was working up the nerve to officially announce Just B. Frank. Even though all signs were pointing to yes, I let fear take over, which delayed the process until I finally got the wake up call I needed to follow through. Other moments of doubt came well before I got to this point. Leading up to TEMTT, I took a string of mostly writing jobs as a contractor/temp, and every time a project came to a close, it felt like the world was ending, so I was having a borderline existential crisis about every 3 months for over a year. Needless to say, that definitely takes a toll on your spirits and mental energy. 

Then last November, I really remember feeling unsure after a completely different method I took fell through, too! For context, I had to hit pause on TEMTT mid-last year, since as is the case with most scrappy startups, profits were few and super far between, so I rolled my sleeves up and got 2 part-time jobs to supplement—one being with a fitness chain, since I wanted to pivot into the HWF (health/wellness/fitness) sector. After a few months of working as a sales associate, I attended an audition to become a coach and thought that I had it in the bag, since I cleared the first round, but then during the next, I got cut. 

That one stung because I truly thought I´d finally found my setting and something I could rely on. I had it all planned out—I was going to coach, then do some writing here and there or even get a full-time writing job, since many instructors coach on the side while holding down a standard 9 to 5. So once again, it was back to the drawing board, but that time, I was telling myself, That’s it. There’s no hope for you. Way to blow your most promising opportunity. I really took it to heart at first.

On the flip side, a moment that made me feel reassured, as ridiculous as this is going to sound, was when I got rejected from the last corporate job I applied for, which was actually right on the heels of the coaching catastrophe, believe it or not! Long story short, a recruiter from the company reached out, I reciprocated interest, then went through the various interview stages, which I saw as a huge win because a) it helped me sort of rebound from getting the axe with coaching just prior and b) that was the furthest I’d ever made it through any application cycle. All along though, I still heard that inner voice I mentioned saying, It’s time to start producing. So while, sure, I was thrilled about the prospect of finding something steady and secure, it was more from the angle of finally managing to accomplish that goal after almost 3 years of trying, rather than because I felt that it was in my best interest and where I needed to be. 

And having studied so many of my favorite artists and entrepreneurs, I knew there’s this hustler’s mentality that’s bred from not having a guaranteed biweekly paycheck to always look forward to, so having that fall through reassured me that there was something even greater in the works about to hit.

TEMTT: Innovation through communication

SA: Going back to your work with TEMTT, it’s wild that people have this idea that English and Humanities are so archaic or from the past. But TEMTT is bridging an important gap. What are your thoughts on that?

BF: I was definitely shocked by the disconnects between how I saw my potential as an English major versus how others perceived it. It was like the only people who saw the value were other English/Humanities majors! As I spread the word about TEMTT, I started hearing from them, and they’d say, “Oh my gosh, that’s my story too; love that you started this!” or, “Right there with you! I work in fintech, but I studied Sociology!” And it was so heartwarming, because for a good chunk of my time in and post-college, all I heard was the inverse.

One pretty memorable instance happened over the winter break of my senior year. My dad took me with him on one of his business trips, and while he attended a meeting, I was on my laptop in a nearby conference room. One of his colleagues came in and made casual conversation, then asked me what I was studying. When I said English, he laughed condescendingly and said, “What are you going to do with that?” And then straight up walked out of the room. 

I wasn’t sure how to process that in the moment, but with time has come more confidence and pride in the work I’m doing, so I don’t even sweat those negative attitudes anymore. It’s unfortunate that people are still so narrow-visioned, but I’ve learned not to waste anymore energy trying to prove myself to them or change their mind, so now I’m just all about focusing on building community and doing the work I feel I’ve been called to do.

“I had years worth of stories and experiences that had bubbled up, so it was time to pop the lid & pour them all out.”

— BRIANA B. FRANKLIN

THE LITERARY ARTIST PAVES HER WAY | POSTGRAD

SA: What were your early moments of postgrad life like? How were you thinking about getting a job, working on creative projects, and dealing with internal changes? 

BF: I finally put this whole experience into words just a few weeks ago with my first blog series! It’s called Pursuing Prosperity and is split into three parts. The first describes this very time period and is called, Conscience Never Lies. In it, I talk about having a gut instinct all throughout college telling me I’d have trouble finding a job after graduation and how those challenges did in fact play out once it was time for me to enter the workforce.

At first, the struggle was finding a credible and legitimate job, since I was aiming for a position in PR and quickly saw how much of a buzzword it was and how many pyramid-schemers disguised as agencies there were.

SA: I almost fell for a marketing pyramid scheme job this past summer, omg. I was going to interview with the company until my sister saw that the company had 1-star average review on GlassDoor and she said, “Oh my goodness, Samia, don’t apply. I think it’s a pyramid scheme.” And I was like, Oh shit! 

BF: It’s good that you had someone who knew to steer you in the right direction. Some people I talked to about it were like, “Woah, I didn’t even know scams like those existed!” It was crazy how blind I was to it at first, too. And I mean, it makes sense when you consider everything I mentioned about being fearful I’d never get hired anywhere, so naturally, I was over the moon to see people responding to my applications and reaching out to set up interviews—even if the wording was the exact same across different “companies.” A classic example of “If it seems too good to be true, it usually is.”

SA: What was it like moving home after college? How did you manage that? 

BF: I was relieved to be home because in Hanover, I very much felt awkward and out of place—and not to mention isolated. Don’t get me wrong; once I found my friend group, I definitely felt more at ease, but I was for sure excited to be home. However, I wasn’t excited about living at home. I loved being back in a big city atmosphere and reconnecting with the place I’d known since birth, but the entire time, I was also scared of being a two-time modern day millennial statistic. The first was not finding work as a humanities major, of course, but then there was also moving back in with mom and dad. For the longest, I didn’t think I’d ever be able to leave their homes or Atlanta in general, so once I did manage to finally move out to the Bay back in January, I was like, “Thank God!” 

SA: In terms of post-grad, what were some of the things you were doing to ground yourself? How did you work on finding your sense of self?

BF: Truthfully, I wasn’t doing much at all to ground myself out the gate of graduating, since back then, I was still very much stuck in a college mindset. I didn’t have the best habits, unfortunately, which translated into making poor social and recreational decisions even after I’d left campus. And I largely ignored my sense of self, so there was no concentration on personal growth or improvement of any kind—and just as the saying goes, if you don’t grow, you either stagnate or deteriorate. 

It took me hitting rock bottom and being at risk of losing people and things that meant a lot to me to get my act together and grow up. So I spent all of 2018 and 2019 going through major phases of evolution. That first year, I spent a lot of time devoted to professional growth by improving my writing/communications skills and getting a better grasp on how to navigate the business world. And that was the year I started getting comfortable with getting uncomfortable by putting myself out there in new communities and environments. 

In 2019, it was all about developing as a person. I spent that year unlearning a lot of things, like limiting beliefs, and letting go of things that didn’t serve me. I actually did this in a literal sense by going hardcore minimalist and ditching all kinds of clutter and objects that did nothing but weigh me down. That was the key to being able to live life more on my own terms, since it forced me to define my values and remove everything except for what was most important, so I could give what remained my undivided attention.

SA: You moved to the Bay Area in the beginning of 2020, how were you able to find your sense of center there? How were you able to create a routine and get to know the area? 

BF: I can’t believe it’s already been 4 months! 2020 is totally flying by…for better or for worse. When I first got out here, I lived and worked in San Francisco, since a family friend was generous enough to let me crash with her while I got settled. I found work with that same fitness chain, since I was already in the network through coming out here for the audition back in November. And it was awesome getting to experience the heart of San Francisco and meeting so many great people through work who were able to offer guidance for adjusting to life out here. 

But around mid-February, I started getting the sense that it was time to pick back up with entrepreneurship. I took a step back and realized I’d been working really hard and paying my dues those last few months, so it was time to rip off the safety net and give it another shot. So in typical Briana fashion, before I was able to get too acclimated to one routine, I was already preparing to throw myself into the next. But, it ended up being for the absolute best that I acted when and how I did, since this was just before COVID-19 started to take hold here in the states. I made the necessary adjustments, moved further down the Bay to stay with my boyfriend and his housemates, and put a plan in place to launch Just B. Frank and revive TEMTT.

SA: How has the pandemic been for you? How have you been establishing a routine while sheltered in place?

BF: It’s a 50/50 split of being half blessing, half curse for sure. Creating a routine in quarantine has been so difficult because everyday is wide open, and I definitely do best when I have some set-in-place structure to guide my day, whether it be a fitness class first thing in the morning, an alumni lunch mid-day or Wednesday night church service—something to keep me accountable. And all of these do now have virtual counterparts, but it’s so much easier to blow them off when it’s just a matter of opening a browser tab or Zoom link on a device than it is after you’ve spent the time and/or money on transportation to be physically present. So having flexibility in my schedule is always great, but too much becomes a problem, so it’s taken a lot of discipline and mindfulness to stay on track.

But now that I’ve generally gotten the hang of it and gone full force with creating content on both my blog and social media, it’s an around the clock job. Some mornings, I’ll be yanked out of my sleep by the urge to post or perfect a story and the excitement of putting more work out there because that’s how eager I am to create. I’m also trying to put the emphasis on output and outcomes rather than benchmarks and metrics when it comes to planning because each day, the needs are always different. I’ll say, Okay, I have 2 things going live this week. I have to spend a day writing captions for them or editing a video or filming a video. Plus, I try to keep my content relevant, and the best way to do that is to work as real-time as possible.

What I’ve really enjoyed is working with my cousin who I hired to help me with marketing. She does my illustrations for my blog, and she’s always been such a creative genius, even as a young kid. What’s crazy is I actually had a vision years ago that I would enlist her creative talents in some way for a project of mine, so it’s been wild to see it finally happen.

SA: How has your creativity been impacted by the pandemic? I know that’s something I’m struggling with so I’d love to hear your thoughts!

BF: As far as my creative projects are concerned, this time has been such a blessing, because it’s allowed me to revisit things that were jotted down in notebooks and files for years that I was always too busy to do anything with, so I’ve enjoyed getting to develop them into something full-form!

In terms of being a creative, this period has placed me under no pressure and a lot of pressure at the same time. There’s a lack of external pressure because shelter-in-place keeps getting extended, so no one’s really expected to be productive right now, but for me, there’s a mountain of internal pressure to make sure I don’t go back to life as it was before the pandemic, which was working minimum wage to pay the bills while chasing the dream, as the saying goes. Ideally, coming out of the pandemic, living the dream will be what pays the bills, so this has been game time.

I’m also finding inspiration and motivation for new material everywhere, since being in such tight quarters with 4 other housemates at all times has 100% driven me to find my second wind and keep the progress going. One thing I’ve always been proud of is my ability to almost immediately convert negatives into a winning outcome, so instead of going crazy, I manifest that energy through my writing. 

SA: As a Millennial, how are you experiencing pressure or expectations right now? 

BF:  I would say that at this point, the only person whose expectations I seek to live up to are my own—and of course, God’s. Before, I was very much a people-pleaser. That was my nature: I was always a Type A, goody-two-shoes child, who was morbidly afraid of getting on my parents’ or any adults’ bad side. I blindly submitted to authority out of fear of consequences. Now that I’ve shed that persona and learned to step into my confidence as a woman, leader and entrepreneur, all expectations are now what I feel I have to accomplish. If I let my brands down, I let myself down. Which is something I can’t live with. 

SA: Do you have any advice for Millennials or Gen. Z-ers who are figuring things right now? 

BF: Top tip would be to learn how to filter input. Whether it’s from family, friends, or social media, you’ll always be presented with a host of outside opinions and information from other people, but it’s up to you to know what’s best in your specific situation. Don’t flat out silence all noise completely, because there are times when people could be approaching you with valuable insight that could totally work to your benefit. On the flip side, don’t be so quick to factor in input from others that it steers you off course of what you’re trying to accomplish.

SA: How are you envisioning your future? What are you proud of?

BF: I’m very proud to be for the most part, living life on my terms. I remember about 2 years ago, I wrote out what my ideal day would look like. It included things like waking up and working out first thing, watching a sermon for daily worship, working where I want, and having plenty of time to volunteer, get involved with passion projects, cook my own meals, and above all else, have the freedom to spend time with family and friends, outside of weekends and the standard 12 – 1 PM lunch window.

I never considered it a possibility for anyone who wasn’t a celebrity or stay-at-home mom, but here I am! And best believe, that’s been motivation for tackling other aspirations and not letting them sit on paper. I want them to become real-life results. 

SA: With your brands, what are some things you’re looking forward to?

Jumping for fitness joy

BF: With TEMTT, I’m super excited to grow the community and open the floor up publicly to others who’ve been on a similar journey. I only have my experience, and some people find it interesting, which I am grateful for, but there are so many others with great stories to share, too. So really looking forward to turning it over to more people in the crossover boat and making TEMTT a home for them—a place where not only can people unapologetically own their journey, but it will be recognized and celebrated.

With Friction Factory, it’s still in the works. I feel like I leapt before thinking about that one all the way through! If I could map out a vision for it right now? It would look very similar to TEMTT, but for people who have had challenges with achieving their fitness goals and hitting those targets—especially women and women with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), which is something that I actually have. It’s pretty much a hormonal nightmare. 

SA: What are 3 fun things you’re looking forward to after shelter-in-place is over?

BF:

1. I recently found out that one of my cousins is coming to Stanford in the fall, so I’m so excited to have her out here! She’s been wicked intelligent since birth, so naturally, she had dozens of excellent schools at her fingertips. I really thought she was going to stay on the East Coast, and I kind of thought that she applied to Stanford just to say that she got in! So having her out here is going to be so fun. I’m going take her under my wing and make sure she’s good. 

2. On a very simplistic level, I am very excited to see a movie. I really miss getting to go out on a Friday night to eat and enjoy a new movie, so even though I’ve been making the most of Doordash and Disney+ as next best alternatives, the I can’t wait to once again have the full experience.

3. This is a little bit further off—or maybe not, since who knows when we’ll have fully reopened—but being 100% out of debt. Last September, I started my debt snowball, and have gotten rid of about $13K to date, but still have over $110K to go—all of which is student loans. I set my goal to be completely debt-free by April 11th, 2021, which is the day before I turn 26, so I’m going on record here to hold myself accountable. I will be debt free by April 11th, 2021! 

Briana on a sunny, San Francisco day

BRIANA’S RESOURCES:

Books:

Podcasts:

Organizational Tools:

BRIANA’S TOP 5 FAVORITES:

Entertainment:

Music artists:

Food:

  • Sushi
  • Plantains
  • Chocolate-covered strawberries 
  • Mint chocolate chip ice cream
  • Sugarfina gummy candies

FOLLOW BRIANA ON SOCIAL MEDIA:

“Now that I’ve shed that Type-A persona and learned to step into my confidence as a woman, leader & entrepreneur, all expectations are now what I feel I have to accomplish.”

— BRIANA B. FRANKLIN

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