During the aftermath of Hurricane Hanna, which had made landfall in the Rio Grande Valley in July 2020, Lucious McDaniel IV spoke to someone who had lost their home and two cars to flooding. It was a tough loss, but thanks to the work of aid groups and McDaniel’s startup Phly, that person was able to receive food, shelter and a sense of relative stability and safety. Phly stands for “philanthropist on the fly” and provides a platform for mutual aid groups and local communities to collect, track and send money that they raised for their respective causes.
“That was the moment where I thought, ‘Wow, we are actually building something that is making a difference in the world,’” he says.
In addition to being the founder of Phly, a Forty Acres Scholar and one of our outstanding graduates from the class of 2022, McDaniel is above all a problem-solver. He will graduate with degrees in business honors and management information systems with a certificate in elements of computing.
“I’ve always been a very solution-oriented person,” he says. “Entrepreneurship was a great way for me to express that.”
The friendship and mentorship of peers and professors alike defined McDaniel’s time at UT. As a freshman, he was given the opportunity to work at the startup of Katherine Allen, a class of 2018 Forty Acres Scholar. As McDaniel went on to build his own startup with Phly, Allen continued to be a great coach and friend giving him guidance through the process, he says.
McDaniel and his team developed the idea for Phly with the support of the Longhorn startup lab, a UT class and incubator that connects students to mentors, investors and co-working spaces. McDaniel’s team initially envisioned a company that would enable folks to round up the price of their purchases and donate the excess to charitable causes. But when McDaniel and his team noticed a greater need in mutual aid and community groups, they pivoted. During their time as a company, they processed hundreds of thousands of dollars in transactions for campaigns worldwide.
“The biggest lesson I learned is that it takes time to figure out what it is you’re actually building,” he says. “We came in with one idea of what the world needed, but by talking to customers and all the different stakeholders, we figured out the product we should actually be building.”
Having always been a fan of mentorship and advocacy, and receiving so much himself, McDaniel enjoys paying that kindness forward. He volunteers with Dent Education out of Baltimore. Using the experience he received at UT, he helps students from underresourced high schools start and grow their own businesses.
“I think a lot about the opportunities that have been given to me,” he says. “I want to make myself accessible so that I can hopefully help people avoid some of the mistakes I made.”
Both of McDaniel’s parents are UT alumni, along with many uncles, aunts and cousins. Throughout his childhood, when the weekend would come around, McDaniel and his family would drive up from whatever part of Texas they were in for UT game days. “I almost grew up on this campus,” he says. “It always just felt like a big part of me.”
As a student, McDaniel has made memories with a wide variety of groups and spaces across the Forty Acres. The Multicultural Engagement Center was always a comfortable place for him to study and have lunch. He received great support, he says, from faculty and staff members, including MEC Assistant Director Malik Crowder, who always helped McDaniel apply for scholarships and think through life decisions, such as applying to grad school. He adds that he’s particularly grateful to Robert Prentice and his Business Law and Ethics course.
“Professor Prentice gave us so many great frameworks for thinking through ethical challenges,” McDaniel says. “If I ever reach similar struggles, I now feel I will be well prepared to make the right decision.”
McDaniel was also a part of Genesis, a venture fund run by students and alumni. It provided him with the opportunity to get industry experience, which he’ll soon be using at his full-time job at the prestigious New York-based equity firm General Atlantic. His good friend, roommate and fellow Forty Acres Scholar Marshall Comeaux — whom you may have seen on “Jeopardy!” — was the first to tell McDaniel about General Atlantic. And after an intense interview process, McDaniel landed the internship and was eventually offered a full-time position.
When McDaniel isn’t wrapped up with all things business and mentorship, he enjoys sports, reading “corporate anthropologies,” and the perhaps non-standard hobby of helping his uncle and the rest of his family raise bison on a ranch just outside of Austin. “I spend so much time in the city that being able to then go take care of these animals is something I look forward to doing on the weekends.”
As he prepares to head to New York for his job, McDaniel says he is excited to represent The University of Texas at Austin. He’ll miss being close to his friends and the professors he met at UT, he says. “The relationships I’ve built at UT have been some of the strongest I’ve had in my entire life.” He thinks it may be tough, but he remains optimistic about keeping those bonds intact. After all, McDaniel has always been good at solving problems.