Three businesses, two apps and a novel: What did you do in freshman year?
His friends call him a ‘ray of sunshine’
Dressed in a raccoon onesie, Akshay Dinakar initially appears to be a polite albeit quirky man. However, his exterior whimsy conceals his inner genius; a second-year product design major at Stanford, he founded a non-profit and personal design firm, published a play, novel and research paper, released three apps on mobile devices, and led the intramural basketball team… all as a freshman.
Despite his incredible accomplishments, his friends describe him foremost as a consistently upbeat “ray of sunshine”.
Raised in Kansas as one of the few Indians in his community, Akshay appreciates the diversity he has found at Stanford. At 19 years old, he expresses not only maturity but motivation far beyond his peers – something he was quick to address.
In an admirable display of self-realization, he said: “Every time I feel de-motivated… I just tell myself – there are so many other incredibly bright and deserving students who wish they could experience the same opportunities that I have had.”
But consistently maintaining the razor-sharp focus needed to succeed at a variety of different fields while keeping up with school is not easy. Akshay admits to working incessantly behind the scenes and planning out his days obsessively, saying, “I love playing the “long-game,” as I like to call it… For example, the first six weeks of my sophomore year have already been planned out – from which dining hall I’ll be eating in each day to what independent projects I’ll be working on.”
Incredible. Luckily, I was able to steal him away for a bit to discover more about the man behind the legend.
Given Stanford’s notoriously heavy workload, how are you able to balance school with extracurricular and extensive entrepreneurial ventures?
Two answers. First, I’m very lucky in that I immediately stumbled on a major – product design – that I feel is a perfect fit for me… The second answer is planning – extensive planning… So with those two things in mind, the balance is a little bit easier than it probably would be otherwise… That being said, for me, it’s all about staying disciplined. [For example], going to bed, even when you’re having a good time and you really want to stay up all night.
Everyone’s dying to know – what is the secret behind your smile? How are you so happy all the time?
There’s no secret! It’s pretty simple: I don’t have anything to not smile about! [However], as wonderful as Stanford is, I’ve realized that it can be a little bit of a pressure-cooker environment to some, and that a smile or occasional check-in on a friend can make so much more of a uplifting difference than you might think…
That’s part of the reason I created #FroSoHappy, a anonymous positivity initiative within my dorm last year, which has now been adopted as a full-dorm initiative for the coming school year.
You are a nationally recognized violinist. What about that instrument appeals to you?
Violin is my creative escape… Without it, I would never have made all my close friends on the international stage, been exposed to so many different ideas, cultures, and stories, and [experienced] self-growth…
Following up on that thought, I love the violin because it’s the most individual instrument… I love using my sound to create musical projects that spread happiness, whether it’s leading Stanford Flashmob Orchestra (which will be starting up again this fall), recording an album, making YouTube pop covers, or composing a brand new piece. It’s a way of putting my musical signature on something and metaphorically saying – ‘this is an extension of who I am.’
Talk to me about running Chameleon, your design firm, and Covalence, your non-profit. What are the similarities and discrepancies between managing the two organizations?
Something about entrepreneurship ignites a spark inside of me.
Chameleon is a series of individual projects that I collaborate with other students to create. It’s an umbrella entity that I can associate all these seemingly unrelated projects and endeavors together under – though all the projects seem so different from each other – they’re all connected because they’re for the underlying purpose of social good. Covalence is an opportunity to help high schoolers discover the same multi-cultural identity and self-confidence that I did while in high school. I’ve witnessed many of the negative results of tiger parenting and academic pressure in the Bay Area high schools over the past year, and I wanted to do something to change the culture, or at least make a symbolic splash in the ocean… Covalent Scholars are a select group of passionate Asian high schoolers who are passionate about making a positive social impact, discovering multi-cultural identity, and helping others find personal happiness.
Both projects are similar in that they’re both for the future. CHAMELEON deals with the innovation of products and tech; Covalence is [for] the future of people. And through both, I’m trying to change the mindset of the world.
From where do you draw the inspiration for your various projects?
My inspiration comes from a variety of sources and creative techniques. I get a lot of inspiration by being exposed to new environments, listening to different genres of music on Spotify (I LOVE Discover Weekly), and listening to people talk about their passions.
It’s hard to pick a favorite project because each one has been so different in purpose, goal, and scope, but there’s one moment that really stands out to me from last year – I was super excited for a Flashmob rehearsal, and I had reserved the Toyon Lounge two weeks in advance… I had done a lot of PR over email about the meeting, and was hoping a lot of musicians would show up to the rehearsal. But unfortunately, there ended up being freezing rain that evening and less than ten people showed up… I just felt like I had failed.
However, when I got to my door, I saw an anonymous note taped to the door handle, apparently from someone in my flashmob orchestra. I opened it and it said something along the lines of: ‘Don’t worry about how many people show up to rehearsal. Don’t worry about whether the notes are perfect or not. That’s not what it’s about… Sure, we may not sound like the world’s best orchestra. But I can assure you one thing – we’re having so much fun.’
It’s the magical little moments like that that remind me why I work on these projects, even when I sometimes get discouraged and forget the ‘long-game.’
Lastly, you’ve accomplished so much already. What are your goals for the future and do you have any exciting projects coming up?
My goals for the future are to stay on top of my life balance, and always prioritize people, not projects. I’m would love to get more involved in school this year – I had a blast doing SUPA (Stanford Undergraduate Psychology Association), and I really appreciate the work, activism, and events that Stanford Sanskriti puts on. I also can’t wait to spend even more time in the Product Realization Lab this year!
In terms of new projects, there’s always some new stuff in the works! I’m placing a personal emphasis on making sure I stay on top of my current obligations to others (the yearly Covalence cycle has just begun, SUPER excited to see how that comes to fruition).
Though the projects that will be coming out this fall are a lot bigger in scope than the ones last year, I’m up for the challenge — and I’m always grateful that I have such inspiring peers in my grade who respect and support those who are willing to take entrepreneurial risks. Stanford really feels like home.
Stanford couldn’t be luckier to have him. Thank you Akshay and best of luck for your sophomore year!