Meet a Student Entrepreneur: Jalen Ponder
As most students at Beloit aspire to become successful with their projects, many unfortunately face setbacks that make it hard for them to achieve their goals. But not for freshman Jalen Ponder’ 25, the Chief Executive Officer of Evendtor, a connection platform for food trucks to find their event host. The Round Table was able to interview Ponder for an exclusive insight about his goals and business ventures.
RT: Tell me a bit about yourself?
JP: So, I have been starting up two businesses now, and one of them has been around for about five years now. What I have done over the past, I have created a platform for food trucks to create connections to businesses that need their services. The best way to think about it is that it is somewhat like Tinder where people will think and say “Hey, I am looking for a food truck and want to park my truck at this place”, and I facilitate that connection and I allow the food truck to allow them to get connected with the event host, and I figure out ways on how to make their event profitable. And I have been doing that since I was 13. It started out as a side hustle, and I have turned it into a recurring business. Now it has grown to encompass a drive-in event. After I learned how to do food truck events, I wanted to learn how to do other events. So, I started a drive-in movie. I saved up some money and took out a loan, and I started up a drive-in movie and made a good portion of it back. But really, I am doing what I love to do, and it is fun to me. But this school stuff is hard, and it takes a long time, and I am having some second guesses about it. But, as of right now I am just figuring out how these businesses grow. I am not near anywhere as successful as I want to be. I am just doing it right now. I know I have a lot to learn but right now I am content.
RT: So, we learned you have been doing these businesses at Beloit before you got on campus?
JP: Yeah, I started one before I got into high school. As I have said, I started one when I was 13 and this new one is a drive-in movie theater. I started that last summer at the height of COVID. My other business is a connection based platform that allows food trucks to find event hosts. And, we allow food trucks to sign up and create profiles and we allow these event hosts to scroll through these profiles and find what type of food they want at their event and book the food truck, food tent, or whatever the caterer might be and we allow the process to be seamless. And, we do that by making contracts and making sure that the vendors will actually be there.
RT: What do you enjoy most about running a business?
JP: I enjoy the power that allows me to have. If I want to go out and do something I could just do it. And, if I want to create an event I can just create it. It allows me to set the pace of my life and allows me to take my life into my own hands instead of putting it into somebody else’s hands.
RT: What made you realize that you wanted to be an entrepreneur and why Beloit?
JP: I spent most of my time between Detroit, Rockton, and South Beloit. My parents lived up in Chicago for a little bit. I wasn’t really raised out there as much. But I will say that when I was 13, I was way more mature than other 13-year-olds were just because I had to be. People were reliant upon me. There were expectations of me. It made me think about life in another way. After seeing how many people around me were struggling and gave away their life to work for somebody else for 30 to 40 years, it made me afraid to not pursue my dreams and not be mediocre. And I never wanted to end up like that, and I wanted to help my family who gave away so much of their life. Like, some of my family members worked for so many years and don’t have anything to show for it and we still lived in borderline poverty. And I wanted my kids and my family and my community to have more than that. And so I took it upon myself to create that change.
RT: Have you ever faced any challenges?
JP: Yes. I have gone broke numerous times and I have struggled to pay people back. I wondered if it was worth it. I wondered if I was good enough. I wondered if I was smart enough. I have lost friends doing it. I dedicated a lot of my life to it. But, at the end of the day, I don’t regret it. It’s made me who I am today and I think that looking back 10 years from now it’s something that I’m never going to regret and I have sacrificed a lot and it has taken a long time for me to realize how to come to terms with those sacrifices. For example, the biggest concern that I’ve ever had in business was I had an event in seven days and I already sold my tickets to this event and there was a sudden expense and it cost me $4000 to fix it. And, I had already invested all of my money and I got four people together and they all chipped in $1000. But, at the end of that, I had to pay all of them back and so I just went off three days straight and sold, sold, and sold to every person I ran into on the streets and we wound up making $5100 the first night. And, we made another $2000 the second night and I paid everybody back but I barely slept for three days just because I was like how am I gonna sell this? How am I gonna do this? And it just pushed me. But, there are a lot of these moments and that is the most recent one that I could remember. So I think that, yeah, there’s always challenges.
RT: What are your goals about your future?
JP: I want to create a national event platform where any type of vendor can get booked in under 10 minutes or less. I want to have a website where you can go to, and let’s say that you want to have a wedding. Then it says that here are the recommended vendors for your wedding. You’re going to want a caterer. You’re going to want a florist. You’re going to want a DJ. And then it pops up with all these options for florists, caterers, and DJs and you can just click that. I want that one, and then it’s done. And, we receive a certain commission for that and that way I can allow people to create an event without the initial barrier of who is going to do the event. That’s how a lot of events fail before they even start because people don’t know where to start. So, that’s my goal for the company but my goal for myself is that I want to allow people to live their life and have fun doing it and if I can do as many events as I can, I just want to see how many events I can do in my life and see how many people I can create experiences for and see how much fun other people can have and make sure they can have memories about them. Like, I’m pretty sure I’ve had events where people took pictures and then they hang it up on their walls and they remember that for the rest of their lives. And I want to do that for everyone.
RT: What advice would you give for aspiring student entrepreneurs like yourself?
JP: I would say either you just do it or just don’t. Like, the main reason why people don’t be successful is because they don’t do it. Like, I don’t know how to describe it. I’ve been there but I’ve also been very much a doer. Like, they ask me how to do business and I tell them and then they don’t do it. It’s not that hard. Just go outside and talk to people and make a connection and start working. And as you go, you’ll figure out the kinks instead of sitting in your room and doing nothing about and figuring out a plan. You don’t have to be smart, and you don’t need a whole lot of money. You just have to be outside and be out there and do it. It could be as simple as walking to someone’s house and asking them if I can mow their lawns. Just go knock on doors and make a connection. Like, that is how I can explain it. It’s either you do it or don’t.
RT: Where can they contact you for booking events?
JP: They can go to my website evendtor.com. You can go there and see a list of food trucks there. They can also contact my business email if they like to book a food truck. There’s also the Drive 815, a drive-in movie theatre where we do showings every Friday in October.