Kris Gibbs-Smith

“I'm just a kid from the inner city and I’ve had three successful exits in tech companies.”

Learning How To Dream Big: From the Inner City to the Tech World
Posted 05/16/2022 by Kris Gibbs-Smith in Alumni

You can only dream as big as you know. At least that was true for me. I grew up in Rochester, New York, where we didn’t learn to dream outside of our neighborhood. Where I’m from, no one planted the seed for us that said, “Hey, one day you can be a lawyer or make millions being an engineer.” As kids, our potential seemed finite. 

But that changed when I was 11 years old and started going to Boys & Girls Clubs of Rochester. I was safe from the outside world for the first time. It was a place where my friends and I felt comfortable and could learn life skills and build confidence. 

Building Life Skills for Future Success 

I learned so many things at the Club that prepared me to be the leader I am today. One of the most important skills I learned was how to communicate with people and build relationships and trust. That continues to be invaluable in my work today. 

Like many kids I grew up with, I didn’t have access to a computer at home or the resources to learn about technology. At the Club, I learned computer skills and realized early on that I had an interest in technology. My Club even helped me learn how to write properly, apply for college and prepare for the SAT. I couldn’t have done it without their support.

But the Club didn’t just teach me foundational skills to propel me into young adulthood, it also fostered my passion for basketball. The supportive staff helped shape me into a confident player. As a result, basketball ended up being my ticket out of Rochester. 

When It Comes to Dreams, The Sky Is Not the Limit  

NASDAQAstra goes public on the Nasdaq

I took an unorthodox path to get to where I am today. I went to college, played basketball and got my degree in business communications. Fortunately, I had a successful college basketball career, which allowed me to play professionally worldwide.

But during my off season, I visited the Bay Area, where I knew some people starting a company that built imaging satellites to go to space and take images of Earth. I learned a lot about business and was interested in pursuing that. So when the owners asked me to take a year off from basketball to help them build their business, I said yes. I was in charge of building operations, scaling real estate and infrastructure, and traveling overseas to build ground system sites. We started with 10 people and quickly grew to become a 250-person company. We launched satellites into space and accomplished a lot as a team. 

We sold that company to Google for $500 million. 

Soon after, I left for another opportunity to scale business, operations and real estate across Europe, Asia and America. A year into working with that company, I joined an exciting opportunity to build rockets that take satellites to space. Today, I’m their head of capital projects, and last summer, we went public on the Nasdaq. 

That company is now worth over $2 billion.

I’m just a kid from the inner city and I’ve had three successful exits in tech companies. To me, it’s unbelievable. But it all goes back to building relationships — that’s something I learned at the Boys & Girls Club.

5 Tips To Overcome Limits & Make Your Dreams Possible

It’s hard for kids and teens to imagine themselves being more and doing more when they don’t see people like them in successful positions. I love that Boys & Girls Clubs encourage youth to take positive steps to become what they dream. The Club reminds kids that their environment can build their character, but it doesn’t have to dictate their future. I’m living proof of that. 

Boys & Girls Clubs have successful alumni who love to share their knowledge with Club kids. I met a lot of successful, interesting people through the Club, and I used those relationships to ask questions and learn. 

Now that I’m an adult, I have so much to share. Here are a few tips I would share with today’s young people: 

  1. #1 icon
    Use your time wisely and stay focused. You can accomplish so much when you concentrate on the right things. 

  2. #2 icon
    Don’t let social media trick you. We may see a person’s success in photos or posts but not the hard work it takes to get there. Don’t forget that it takes daily practice to be your best. 

  3. #3 icon
    Don’t be afraid of change. Just because you’re on a particular path doesn’t mean you have to stick to it forever. Opportunities can be scary, but they can also change your life. 

  4. #4 icon
    Get comfortable with yourself. I have tattoos down to my wrists, and I used to worry about people judging me, so I’d cover them before meetings. Now, I know if a company isn’t comfortable with me, it’s not the right fit. 

  5. #5 icon
    Start networking in the world you want to grow in. Find someone who’s doing what you want to do and listen to and learn from them. Connect with a Club mentor or alumni today. 

Dreams Have No Limits When Kids Have Clubs 

Did you know that 1 in 16 people living in America has been a Boys & Girls Club member like Kris? Your donation to Boys & Girls Clubs of America will give more kids and teens access to a safe and caring environment, positive adult influences and life-changing experiences so they can have a great future.  

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