Now is the time to take risks, a pair of UMW-made entrepreneurs who landed on last year’s prestigious Forbes “30 Under 30” list told 1,000 undergraduate candidates who gathered beneath a hot sun on Ball Circle Saturday morning.
Robert Davis ’12 and Abbas Haider ’12 delivered the 2018 commencement address at the University of Mary Washington, where an international marketing class launched their careers as successful young business leaders.
What started as a class project eventually turned into a company called Aspetto, which today sells bulletproof suits and professional attire, plus other high-end men’s clothing. The lifesaving apparel line has generated millions of dollars in revenue and serves the U.S. armed forces, government contractors, NFL players, reality TV stars and other highprofile clients. It has also been recognized by such publications as Esquire and Newsweek.
But none of it happened by accident, the pair told graduates in a speech meant to both humor and inspire.
Haider, who once drove to New York City to sell out of the back of his car, nixed plans to go to law school to pursue his passion.
“I am sure things weren’t as dramatic at Rob’s house, but if you can imagine the extreme reaction from brown parents when their kid tells them that he decided not to go to law school – after they had already submitted the deposit,” Haider joked.
“That was probably the biggest risk we took to this day. We immediately went from a comfortable Ramen Noodle budget to a ‘lifestyle’ of making $500 a month working six days a week. For those of you trying to calculate our hourly rate, yes, it was well below minimum wage,” Davis said.
But there was no better time to take a risk. “Take advantage of this opportunity and do the things you love and are passionate about because the steps you take today will shape your future tomorrow,” Davis continued.
UMW on Saturday awarded 432 Bachelor of Arts degrees, 480 Bachelor of Science degrees, 56 Bachelor of Liberal Studies degrees, 32 Bachelor of Science in Nursing degrees.
To them, the entrepreneurs had this to say: Inexperience is not a crutch but rather an opportunity to seize.
“The business tested us, both mentally and financially. Our freshly printed degrees did not
guarantee our success,” Haider said.
But through hard work and risk-taking, they ultimately found it. Now, the pair told graduates, it was their turn.
“As long as you keep taking steps forward,” Haider said, “you will always be ahead of where you started.”