SECOND CAREERS CONTINUED [ 2 OF 3 ]
Adam Epstein '95 used to hear from his parents, who are both
lawyers, "Go to law school, but don't be a lawyer." So, after
completing law school at the University of Michigan in 1998,
Epstein worked in the field for two years, first at a New York law
firm and then for a Michigan judge, before leaving law to become an
Epstein had known for a long time that he might want to become a
business owner. His great-grandparents and grandparents had their
own businesses, and he had tried various ventures while growing up
and in school, such as a dog-washing service and selling parking
spaces at football games.
Leaving behind steady paychecks and a measure of prestige,
Epstein founded Alternacast, an Internet broadcasting company whose
centerpiece is a Web site where sports fans pay to broadcast a game
or their own talk show. He has taken on debt and works in downtown
New York out of an office that is essentially a cubicle with a
door, but Epstein embraces the new-millennium, start-up lifestyle.
"This is a little more on the edge," than his former career, he
admits. "But now I wake up in the morning and I can't wait to get
here, and I go to bed at night thinking about the business and how
I can improve it."
When people hear about the Web site, Fancast, they often
assume that Epstein is fulfilling a childhood fantasy of being a
sportscaster. Epstein says that's not true. He did always enjoy
watching sports, and after working at Spectator as sports
editor, he thought he might want to do something media and
sports-related. But the specific idea for Fancast didn't come to
him until he was clerking in Michigan and returned to New York to
visit friends. Epstein had been watching sports on television solo
in his apartment in Kalamazoo and hadn't realized until he was
amongst his buddies again what had been missing. "It was the banter
among these guys," he says. "It was the community feeling."
Epstein had the idea to use the Internet to connect fans. When
his clerkship ended, he returned to New York and started working on
Alternacast full-time. Fancast launched six months later, in May
2001, and by the end of the year had 32,000 listeners and 1,200
shows per month. Epstein hopes the company will turn profitable
Holding his own purse strings, Epstein has gotten almost
everything on the cheap. Alternacast acquired technology, office
equipment and marketing lists for cents on the dollar from
dot-bombers and negotiated the lease on the company's 10' x 5'
office in the ice-cold market just after September 11. Before that,
Alternacast was incubating in Epstein's apartment. The company now
employs one other full-timer and three part-timers, all refugees
from the dot-comet era.
Epstein has borrowed from family members and invested his
savings. "I have debt from school, and I've incurred more debt," he
says. "I don't think you can be a deer in the headlights when it
comes to risk. If I'm not going to take a risk when I'm in my 20s
with nobody to support, when will I do it?"
Shaking up his finances, at least in the short-term, is what
Epstein is doing to pursue a more fulfilling career. "From
Columbia, it was easy to go to a good law school and relatively
easy to find a job where I was making six figures," he says. "I was
swept along, but I wasn't very happy."
Seeing the risk that Epstein has taken, people often try to
reassure him. "They say, 'You can always go back to law,'" Epstein
says. "But that's what keeps me motivated to make this work."
Music did a lot of things for Daniel Schechter '83: It gave him
refuge as a child and helped him explore the world outside of his
hometown of Miami. It brought him recognition in the form of
festival appearances and awards. It even led him to his wife,
Christine Breede-Schechter '99TC, who also is a musician.
Schechter, an accomplished cellist and composer, studied at the
competitive Tanglewood Institute in Massachusetts, majored in music
and French literature at Columbia and then went straight into the
music master's program. At 21, he was one of the youngest teachers
of Music Hum ever at the College.
That's when he realized music might not be what he wanted to
pursue full time for the rest of his life. "I had been so focused
on music that I never thought about what was going to happen later
or what would happen with other interests that I had," Schechter
says, pointing out that one reason that he transferred after his
first year from the Oberlin Conservatory of Music in Ohio to
Columbia was to get a broader education. "I was ready to branch out
and do something new that would directly benefit others," he
Following the model of his uncle, who is a psychiatrist and
psychoanalyst, Schechter signed up for some pre-med classes at
Columbia while getting his M.A. His uncle didn't understand why
Schechter would turn away from music - and neither did others.
"I come from a family that promoted people's development in
arts, and in which going into medicine was not supposed to be in
the cards," he says. As for colleagues in the music department,
"They were saying, 'Are you nuts?' and 'Maybe Dan wants to learn
more about what was wrong with Wagner.'"
To further explore his interest, Schechter volunteered in the
child psychiatry division at Mt. Sinai Hospital, where a mentor
encouraged him to pursue medicine and to work with young children,
where Schechter's gift for understanding nonverbal communication
would be appreciated.
Schechter finished his music master's in 1987 and that fall
enrolled in P&S. Specializing in child psychiatry, he now is
medical director of New York-Presbyterian Hospital's Infant-Family
Service/Therapeutic Nursery, which works with inner-city families
with children under 5 who are at risk for abuse or neglect. He also
teaches at P&S and is up for an assistant professorship of
clinical psychiatry in pediatrics.
"I'm only now feeling that I'm at the level of depth in
psychiatry that I was at in music back when I was 20," Schechter
says. "I was never sure in the beginning if I was doing the right
thing, but one thing I've learned about human development is that
your life can be enriched in different areas and they contribute to
He still makes time to play the cello for his enjoyment and that
of his son, Jan Nikolai.
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