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How She Got There: Sterling McDavid, CEO/Founder of The Starling Project


Name: Sterling McDavid     
Age: 27
Job Title: CEO/Founder of The Starling Project
College/Major: The University of Texas at Austin, McCombs School of Business, BBA Finance; Parsons School of Design, AAS Interior Design
Instagram Handle:@starlingproject and @sterlingmcdavid

What does your current job entail? Is there such a thing as a typical day?

Sterling McDavid: I wouldn’t say there’s a typical day at all. A couple of my days throughout the week are spent with UNICEF, which is who the Starling Project has given $100,000 to so far. I am also the chair of National Development for UNICEF Next Generation, which is targeted at people ages 21-40 looking to give back. My passion is UNICEF. I love it and what they do for children. I love that they give back more cents on the dollar than other organizations, so I spend a lot of time learning and working with them—helping spread the word, organizing events. Of course, in addition to that, working with The Starling Project. Another day could be mixing scents with my manufacturer and getting inspired. It can be anything and everything.

What inspired you to leave your finance job and go into interior design?

SM: I started my career in finance at Goldman Sachs in New York. I was inspired to leave after attending a field visit in Vietnam working for UNICEF. I thought if I could do something that mixes my technical skills and finance with more creativity and come up with something along the lines of Toms, that would really be a dream for me. I started to look into things and I applied to Parson’s, and I fell into interior design. You might think, "Why interior design?" Well, I also had a focus in architecture and product design, and things like that are in the same program. It’s design on a larger scale. I ended up working for an architecture firm in Paris. Paris is well-renowned for their candles and perfumes, so I got inspired while living there to create this sort of product line that was going to give back. That was really obvious for me. It was a simple idea, but it really married business and creativity with a giving back component that I was seeking from the beginning. I already had a passion for solar energy, so it all made sense.

What is the best part of your job?

SM: I think it’s just fulfilling giving back—even providing other people the opportunity to give back. A lot of people want to help out, like students or those on limited salaries who can’t write a large check, and giving them the chance to do so is a great feeling.

What is one mistake you made along the way and what did you learn from it?

SM: Everyone makes mistakes along the way. I don’t think there’s a great way to grow without them. But there were a few times that I wanted to rush into things when I had other ideas. I tried to start on those without doing any research; however, with this one, I was prepared and made sure people were inspired by The Starling Project, wanted to purchase candles, and more. I’ve learned a lot through my career. It’s been very unique, from finance to architecture and design is a very different path to go, but I think you learn from the mistakes you make. I’ve always looked at mistakes as stepping stones to the future because I don’t think [whoever has] been successful [has] gotten there by the snap of a finger.

How do you manage your interior design practice while running The Starling Project?

SM: Firstly, I’m a total go-getter. I like to be busy. I often am working 15-16 hour days. It’s completely different when you wake up and love what you’re doing. In some ways, I don’t feel what I'm doing is working. It’s all about breaking up what you do. I have a set schedule every week, but I also encourage anyone to call me at any time so that I can be available to help.

What advice would you offer to a 20-something with similar aspirations?

SM: Never be afraid to go for it. I genuinely think people who have dreams can accomplish them with work. I love this saying so much: the harder I work, the luckier I get. I truly believe that luck isn’t a thing. I think people who work really hard accomplish what they want to. That being said, I don’t think it’s easy and I would never say that, but I would tell 20-somethings to remember that mistakes are okay—learn from them. Pick yourself up and don’t get discouraged, but get excited because you learned something that will make you better later on.


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