What can you do with an English and philosophy double major and a minor in east Asian studies?
If you’re John Frazier III ’12, you do a little bit of everything. Frazier has taught in Asia, earned his master’s degree in public and international affairs, served as CEO of a technology startup, and currently works as COO of his family’s glass company.
His path from college to COO has not been a straight shot, but his ability to adapt has served him well at each turn.
He started at W&J as a sophomore, transferring after spending his first semester at Bucknell University. Though Frazier grew up near Washington, Pa., and generations of his family attended W&J, he had been looking to branch out from the area and experience something new. But he quickly discovered that everything he was looking for in his education could be found at the place he’d known all his life.
He hit a speed bump early in his time at W&J, when lackluster grades in economics and accounting deterred him from the business major he’d planned to pursue. He switched gears and focused on his love for English and writing instead, taking advantage of a wide variety of opportunities including theater, radio, and the newspaper.
However, one trip abroad during his sophomore year would give him another interest to pursue.
“I went to China on an intersession trip with Dr. Gai and it was life-changing,” Frazier said. “We went to five or six cities around China, one of them being Hong Kong. I decided that I wanted to learn more, so I took a history course or two with Dr. Caffrey and a year of Chinese language with Dr. Yang.”
The trip to China led Frazier to pick up a minor in East Asian Studies. What he didn’t realize at the time was that trip would play a significant role in his future beyond W&J.
After graduation, Frazier wasn’t sure what to do next. That’s when his friend Emily Thompson ’11 mentioned that she could help him get a job teaching English as a second language at Lingnan University in Hong Kong, where she had spent the previous year.
“I accepted the job without thinking about it and it was one of the best years of my life,” Frazier said. “I really got to know students and it was wonderful.”
He returned to the Pittsburgh area to work after his year abroad and was accepted into the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, with the recommendations of his W&J connections. As part of his graduate studies, he spent six months in South Korea at Seoul National University furthering his global education.
In his pursuit to understand other languages and cultures, Frazier and some friends founded a technology startup called uTranslated Technologies, a re-imagining of language translation services that cut out the middlemen with the goal of making translation more streamlined and affordable.
They first floated the idea for their company in 2015 at the Startup Blitz at Pitt, a 24-hour competition for student startups where the team made their pitch to potential investors in a scenario like the TV show, Shark Tank. Their win in the Startup Blitz led them to complete the Pitt Blast Furnace program, a facilitator for student startups that provides education and connections to the innovation and entrepreneurship community. After winning a second competition in 2016, uTranslated was accepted into the Alphalab Startup Accelerator, a nationally ranked software accelerator based in Pittsburgh.
“It was then we thought, ‘Okay, we’ll actually go for this,’” Frazier said. “We were pursuing it before as a side project but that was when it was like, ‘This seems real now.’”
When it came time to make pitches and speak in front of large audiences, Frazier found himself reaching back to experiences like the W&J Theatre Slam! where students have 24 hours to create and stage plays, something that paralleled the situation he found himself in during the Startup Blitz.
uTranslated started seeing success and gaining traction in the industry. It was designated one of the 40 Best University Startups by the National Council of Entrepreneurial Tech Transfer in 2017 and won second place in China’s Chunhui Cup, a national startup competition, as well as the competition’s Award of Excellence. These accolades earned Frazier, the company’s CEO, a spot on Pittsburgh’s 30 under 30 list.
As the market evolved and changed, the company found a shift in interests from investors and customers. After some consideration, Frazier and the other members of the company decided to move on. Many went on to large companies, including Google, Amazon, Facebook, PNC, and Airbnb.
The experience of taking an idea and making it a real, thriving company is something that Frazier never planned on being part of, but that will stick with him.
“If you really believe in your project and believe in your team, just go for it. Don’t be afraid to fail at something,” Frazier said. “That’s one thing I learned here at W&J. I flunked economics and accounting and I went on to get a master’s degree in economics.”
Frazier came back to his roots and joined his family business, Frazier-Simplex Inc., a glass engineering, design, and manufacturing firm. He’s been in his current position of COO for a little more than a year and is excited to bring a startup mentality to a business that recently celebrated its 100th year.
“We’re going to try to build this up, try to innovate, and see if we can stretch this thing out for another 100 years,” Frazier said.
His nimble approach to education has helped him make the switch from technology to manufacturing. His unorthodox journey has encouraged him to take chances and learn from his experiences.
“The school really teaches you how to learn, how to throw yourself in a new situation, learn want you need to, adapt, and excel at it,” he added. “I’m really glad I never had an easy course here.”
Along with encouraging current W&J students, Frazier is sharing his wisdom with his younger sister, Frances Frazier ’18, who graduated this spring with a degree in Studio Art and now works as a User Experience Designer at SDLC Partners in Downtown Pittsburgh.