Alumni Success Story: Alisa Chalakhyan (BAB ’19) Becomes Head of Operations at PaintGun
Alisa Chalakhyan (BAB ‘19), a star graduate of the American University of Armenia (AUA) and the Entrepreneurship and Product Innovation Center (EPIC), tells the story of how she has made tremendous professional progress in such a short time.
November 9, 2017 — the day that shifted my life to an entirely new direction and a day that I hardly knew would define who I am today. Before then, to me, startups were the “animals” living far away in Silicon Valley, and the word “entrepreneur” was the newly fabricated, fancy, and complex definition of someone who just does business.
Today, three years later, I say, “Hi, my name is Alisa, and I am an entrepreneur.”
After receiving the welcoming AUA acceptance email, the following months went by very fast for us. We were the fresh startuppers, enduring the sharpest ups and downs along with the excitement of the smallest successes and disappointments of major failures, unending training and coaching, teamwork, and debates. As AUA business students, we were equipped with the necessary knowledge of business management, yet very few (if any) of us had ever utilized any theories in practice, let alone experienced the phenomenon of starting what we called “a living being” from square one. Some succeeded in turning their first-ever ideas into growing startups, others let go of theirs and started over again. My startup, on the other hand, grew to become a nonprofit with a strong social impact.
Some say AUA has one of the most competitive environments among Armenian educational institutions; others say it’s rather demanding when it comes to student performance expectations. People also say that AUA has an overly fun-filled educational ecosystem. I’d say the biggest success of AUA is its unique way of challenging students by pushing them out of their comfort zone. Every day, AUA spreads new opportunities that, of course, come with their respective challenges. But those who dare to take on those opportunities are never alone in facing the challenges. And once they are able to overcome those barriers on their own, they can declare personal success.
The Entrepreneurship and Product Innovation Center (EPIC) was one of the opportunities that I seized. At the time, my biggest struggle was letting go of my finally stabilized work-study balance and diving into the uncertainty of devoting myself to something new that had a higher chance of failure than success. I didn’t overcome this obstacle until I graduated from AUA. One needs a certain level of maturity and confidence in their own skills to take that step. Back then, I understood the meaning behind the word “incubator,” yet it wasn’t until after graduation that I felt its real impact on me. Without even realizing it, I had grown and matured in EPIC’s optimally “warm” and “humid,” demanding and competitive environment. I was not merely wise in terms of age and knowledge, but also mentally.
Another wonderful opportunity that I took on was the visit to Silicon Valley organized by EPIC, AUA and San José State University (SJSU). During this time, all ten of us — AUA students — met with representatives of the largest innovation hub in the world. We had challenging and enlightening conversations with those who stand behind the tech giants, such as Google, Facebook, PayPal, GoPro, and met young entrepreneurs who are now creating emerging brand names like DoorDash and ParkStash. Over a year has passed since that trip, and I can say with certainty that it helped me “grow up” by about ten years in a period of just ten days.
Seeking more opportunities and overcoming challenges outside of the university walls became a lifestyle for me. I’m sure that many AUA graduates also “suffer” from the same syndrome. With time, goals get bigger, targets grow higher, and the weight of the expectations gets heavier. The beauty of this phenomenon is not how fast one reaches those goals or how much higher one reaches, but the fact that one dares to even take that step.
One of my latest opportunities and achievements — my current occupation — is ongoing and is gradually becoming more challenging with its growing responsibilities and expectations. Having started not too long ago as an ordinary entrepreneur-in-residence intern, I began my journey with PaintGun — a mobile acquisition agency that was founded in London with its biggest office in Berlin. PaintGun employs brilliant minds from all over the world and works with some of the best apps of our times, such as Cleo and Current. Nine months after the start date, and I am preparing my periodic report as the Head of Operations of PaintGun — now the first ever tech startup to build a pioneer AI software that will automate creative ad production and make mobile acquisition ten times easier and more efficient in the near future. As I look back at the journey completed thus far, I count numerous occasions where I have utilized the skills and knowledge gained through my AUA education and EPIC experience to benefit a company that I am most passionate about and for which I would readily risk everything.
Being nicknamed “Alice in Wonderland” (both for my name and personality), I now see that AUA has taught me the art of spotting “drink me’s” and “eat me’s” on every lemon that life throws at me. As if this weren’t enough, AUA has taught me how to make a “lemonade” out of those opportunities. And it is the confidence in getting a delicious tasting lemonade that keeps me moving.
It was this confidence (and lifelong mindset) that got me into one of the most competitive graduate programs at Columbia University. It was what helped me join one of the fastest-growing startups in Europe. It is this confidence that makes me believe that one day I will be ready to turn my own big idea into another “living being.” And finally, this confidence is what I call the biggest success that AUA helped me achieve in life.