Editor's Note: College Treps is a weekly column that puts the spotlight on college and graduate school-based entrepreneurs, as they tackle the tough task of starting up and going to school. Follow their daily struggles and this column on Twitter with the hashtag #CollegeTreps.
Editors Note: College Treps is a weekly column that puts the spotlight on college and graduate school-based entrepreneurs, as they tackle the tough task of starting up and going to school. Follow their daily struggles and this column on Twitter with the hashtag #CollegeTreps.
College and graduate school is the perfect time to launch a startup. As a student, you are surrounded by keen mentors and passionate peers. And the best part? While in school, you're in a traditionally carefree time in your life, so trying something new is a lot less risky. Nonetheless, at some point you'll need to address an important question: Will you pursue your startup full time after graduation?
When I founded Travefy last spring, I was confident it was a great idea and useful product, and I was fortunate to be working with an amazing team. Nonetheless with graduation a year away and significant student debt looming, I wanted to make sure my decision whether or not to pursue Travefy full time was made systematically. In this vein, I set some benchmarks for the company (and myself) that helped clarify the decision and ease the transition.
Here are some tips that worked for me:
1. Validate your product. Surveys and market research are great, but no data is as valuable as actual user insights. Build a minimum-viable product no matter how rough and put it out to your target community. Youll very easily be able to test whether your product actually solves the intended problem youre addressing. And dont worry about usability, as the rougher the product, the better it is. As a rough offering youll truly test your value proposition and not the potential smoke and mirrors of fancy design.
At Travefy, we released our minimum viable product in late January at four target universities. Hundreds of accounts and group trips later, we knew that our base product solved the coordination headaches of group travel. From there, we invested time and resources into our fantastic new version released in April.
2. Confirm your strategy. As a student, you have access to a variety of ways to affirm your strategy. Maybe you'll reach out to your schools mentor networks, as well as formal business plan competitions, which I highly recommend. Going through the process of crafting your full business plan and pitch for these competitions forces you to think through your full implementation strategy and understand the road ahead. Moreover, the feedback received from these competitions can help you identify your strengths and weaknesses as well as figure ways to further refine your strategy.
For Travefy, we entered every single business plan competition available. From the feedback we received at these competitions, we iterated our own strategy, which grew stronger and ultimately received validation for our path forward.
3. Actually listen. Throughout all of this, make sure you are truly listening. Dont self-select feedback and just hear what you want to about your product and strategy. Be a realist and understand what feedback individuals are trying to convey.
Theres no magic formula to tell you whether or not to take the leap with your startup after graduation. For me, it was a matter of honest assessment of our Travefy product and answering these two questions: Does it solve users' problems? And do we have a viable path to market?
As for me, I guess you can tell how I answered those aforementioned questions, as I'm now working full time on Travefy after just graduating in May.
How did you know you were ready to take the leap? Let us know in the comments below.
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David Donner Chait is a second-year student at Columbia Business School and the co-founder of Travefy, a free online tool that helps groups simplify their travel. He previously served as senior policy advisor at the U.S. Small Business Administration and worked as a consultant at McKinsey & Company. He holds a B.A. in economics-political science from Columbia College.