Featured Alumna: Maria Walley (’10)

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Photo courtesy Killian Beeler.

Name: Maria Walley

Graduated: 2010
Maria (Murdock) Walley graduated from the University of Dallas in 2010 with a BA in English. After a few years of sharpening her teeth in the advertising and marketing world of Chicago and Cincinnati, she finally fed her creative, entrepreneurial spirit by co-founding a startup called Kandid.ly — an online marketplace where anyone can find, book or become a photographer.

Q: What inspired you to found your startup Kandid.ly?

MW: Before we even knew each other, my co-founder and I were struck by the same article in the Wall Street Journal, all the way back in 2012: “Don’t Forget to Pack Your Photographer.” The article goes on to explain how wealthy people hire photographers to follow them around on vacation. We both thought it was kind of ridiculous, but at the same time, intriguing. Of course, there’s a couple of ways to look at this article. For one, you can think, “Wow. People are really self-absorbed,” but that’s a limited view. In a world that’s becoming increasingly visual — thanks, technology — people are getting tired of posed pictures and selfies, and are desperately trying to capture the moment and be in the moment simultaneously. You even see this in photography trends — unposed pictures are becoming more desirable compared to popular photographs of 20 years ago. Unposed photos are no longer fun bloopers, they’re the goal. As time passed, we realized that this can transfer to so many parts of people’s lives — not just vacation or a wedding. We imagined a place where a mom who is sick of being behind the camera could hire a person who likes taking photos to take pictures of her baby’s first birthday. Consequently, she’ll have memories of being in the moment and will be able to relive the photos again. In 2014, scientific-based evidence came forward to reveal that the brain actually can’t take a photo and experience the moment at the same time — which really provoked us to launch. Moreover, burned by the recent financial downturn, people are more motivated to save than ever, and consequently the “gig” economy is flourishing, and we wanted to capitalize on that.

 

Q: What role do you think your UD liberal arts education has played in your entrepreneurial career?

MW: It’s helped with taking a step back, and seeing the big picture. Sure, I didn’t exactly have hard-marketable skills upon graduation, like, say, an accounting major would, but I was able to apply my liberal arts worldview in more applicable ways. On a more granular level, it’s helped with my presentation and communication skills, which are invaluable for management and getting investors on board.

 

Q: As an English major, what text from your time as a student has most influenced you? With your art history concentration, what work of art?

MW: Homer’s “Odyssey” has always stuck with me. Its truths are so universal that it can apply to so many areas in life — from business, to relationships, to fighting a disease. I find myself paging through it occasionally — an epic journey that just goes from one weird scenario to the next. Ultimately, we’re always trying to come home. Dante’s “The Divine Comedy” is also similar, when I’m feeling more theological.

As for my art history concentration, I remember writing a paper on Anish Kapoor’s “Cloud Gate” — also known as the bean in Chicago’s Millennium Park, which … is where I met my husband. It got kind of crazy and cerebral, but it stuck with me because Kapoor’s mission was to represent the universe and capture time. The bean is never the same, but unchanging. Like the universe, and God, really, it’s timeless but a reflection of our current times.

 

Q: In the period between when you graduated to now starting your own business, what valuable lessons did you learn? What were some transitory struggles?

MW: Oh, there were so many lessons and struggles. For one, when you’re in an environment like UD, it’s something you take for granted that nearly 100 percent of the student population is open to talking about words like vocation, and purpose. It was something I greatly took for granted. In the business world, those words might be in the vocabulary, but they aren’t the talking points. Business just wants to get things done! “Brevity is the soul of wit,” and that’s something I had to learn. No one wants long emails, rather, it’s “Get to the point already.” One big struggle of mine was confidence and follow-through. I’ve learned that real confidence simply comes from experience, and, kind of ironically, humbleness

 

Q: What advice would you give to current UD students and recent alumni who are seeking to feed their own entrepreneurial spirit?

MW: Find a business partner who is very different from you. My two co-founders are a former aerospace engineer and a developer. And surround yourself with people who are full of energy and aren’t satisfied with the status-quo. I’m not saying get rid of all your practically (sic) friends — you need them, too — but when you’re starting a business, you’ll often second-guess yourself. You’ll sometimes reconsider your sanity. And you’ll need a support group of people who believe in your mission, because you believing in your mission is the only way it will happen. Also, save as much as you can. Have several months of expenses stowed away. Startups are always strapped for cash, and it’s nearly impossible to think strategically when your finances are hand-to-mouth.

Students, are you interested in speaking with Alumna Maria Walley and/or learning more about how to start your own business? Contact UD Alumni Relations at udalum@udallas.edu.

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