As a young or first time entrepreneur, business owner or startup founder, you may feel at times the odds are stacked against you. You have all the responsibilities from your day job, schoolwork, etc. and it’s tough to rally enough cash to make worthwhile investments. And of course, founding a business has implications on your social life and school experience – there’s sacrifices all around.
But like most things, the barriers we see are often a product of our imagination.
Can you have a lot of cash, a lot of friends, do well in school AND still start a business? Maybe…maybe not. But there are actually a lot of resources readily available up that make starting your business fun, interactive, social and of course – a financial success.
The first step to start a business is to realize that it’s more work than a full time job.
Organizing everything from marketing to legal to equity to operations can be quite challenging, especially atop your school responsibilities. So, it’s ideal if you can find resources that provide either processes or templates for the less customized, monotonous work.
However, if you want to avoid the distraction of school, you can do a summer intensive program. Many of them are open to the whole US and beyond – so location isn’t an end-all. I actually mentored one of these over the summer at University of Pennsylvania, and was amazed at how quickly the students create a business when equipped with the right resources. My mentees came from Brazil, Kansas and San Francisco.
How to start: realize that there are simpler paths.
I have come to realize that there are much simpler paths than the one I took for my tech startup, Vea Fitness.
I realized this after reading through the curriculum of Global Startup Challenge, an innovative competition, specifically for high school entrepreneurs, and talking to the TEDx Speaker and founder, Frank Pobutkiewicz.
The Global Startup Challenge helps high school students ideate, build, test and pitch their business all within a week. The curriculum itself has won several awards, and capitalizes on the test and learn methodology. Students don’t just build the first product that comes to mind – there’s an articulate and in depth validation process for refining and discovering product/market fit.
Looking at this unique competitions reminded me that if you don’t use the resources at your disposal, you’re ultimately at a disadvantage. Essentially, you just end up doing everything yourself, and don’t leverage the economies of scale that come from a well-crafted curriculum.
These are my 3 keys to starting your own business.
1. Hang with the big dogs if you want to be taken seriously.
Global Startup Challenge pays visits to a few top institutions, like MIT and Hubspot so students can not only immerse themselves in the act of creating a business, but also brush shoulders with hot shots in the tech world.
I would say one of the largest takeaways for myself leaving a large company was the opportunity to work with executives. My VP was supportive and let me pitch my own marketing plans to our execs – at the top of our 56 floor headquarters. It was surreal every time. But I remember feeling privileged whenever I strolled up to the floor-to-ceiling windows to see miles and miles of city. And, then executives 20 years older than me went quiet to give me the floor.
I just wish I’d gotten this experience sooner.
So, I really appreciate that GSC takes students to big houses like Hubspot, CIC and Venture Cafe to see inside the belly of the beast, to begin developing emotional intelligence. That emotional intelligence carries us a long way in the business world, and really refines our public speaking skills. Take the time to see how the ‘big dogs’ operate and make every effort to pay visits, network, etc.
2. Get the right mentors.
This is an often-overlooked area but mentors are truly invaluable. Mentors help you avoid rookie mistakes. As a first-time founder, there will be a lot. You may not recognize them all as mistakes, but the second time around you’ll realize you wasted time on certain activities.
At this time, I have 2 unofficial mentors and about 3 more role models who I follow closely. It can be tough to get a busy executive to commit to being your mentor. But, if you can join a program where they’re explicitly choosing to mentor, it’s much easier and more productive.
Find yourself a mentor or mentors that can help you refine concepts, apply learnings, and actually take ideas into action.
3. Whatever you do – just make sure you don’t reinvent the wheel.
Again, it’s really frustrating to design a whole product experience, only to find out you’d save 40% of the time using a mentor. Or that the legal form you paid a lawyer $450 to create has similar templates available for $50.
So it’s important you leverage the resources at your disposal. The programs that have proven curriculums and rigorous accountability can really rocket-ship your business.
If you’re a high school student with a fire inside, Global Startup Challenge is probably a serious consideration for you. They’re also giving away $500 to one lucky startup/founder who applies to the program. You can see their sweepstakes here.