Starting a business in college has been one of the most formative learning experiences of my undergraduate career. I learned how to raise money, put together a great team, refine a business model, motivate a group of people to accomplish a task and I managed to pinpoint my core values. I also had the opportunity to travel to competitions around the U.S. and deal with investors. Most importantly, though, running a startup taught me how to prioritize when time was most scarce.
Here are seven things I wish someone would have told me before I committed to launching Practice Makes Perfect in college:
1. Act like an adult. Everyone listening to you knows that you are young. That is not going to stop them from thinking you can do it because there have been many examples of incredible innovations started by young people before. With that said, you have to carry yourself with a higher level of professionalism and make an effort to look the most polished in the room.
2. Admit that you don't know everything. Saying this simple line: "I’m young and I don’t know; that is why I need your support" has, by far, my biggest asset. It's been the best way for me to differentiate the good investors who want to scale the vision from the greedy investors who just want a return. In the early stages of any venture, money is not the most important aspect. Admitting you don’t know everything makes people want to jump on board and help you out if they are interested. Then, when you are ready for serious funding, the investor will have already put so much time and effort into your venture that they will begin to leverage their network to help you access funding.
3. Brace yourself for the rigors. Starting a company can be emotionally and physically draining. Not only is there a high chance of failure, simply participating in the day to day running of a business can be difficult to sustain. In the end, that means those papers and readings you have to do for classes may not always get done to perfection. But keep in mind that you're learning other entrepreneurial lessons.
4. Be frank with potential stakeholders. When people suggest you should “just ask,” they really mean it. This was something I heard time and time again, but it didn’t resonate for a long time. Early on, I got caught up in the idea that I would owe someone something if I asked for assistance. The reality is that I didn’t have much to lose and so their support would have only helped me accelerate our growth.
5. You will make a lot of sacrifices. We all watch in movies how the smartest student spends more time studying or the best athletes are always training in gym. What we don’t see are the trade-offs, or what they could be doing in the time they are studying or practicing. As a college student, you have the freedom and flexibility to decide what you want to do and what you don’t want to do. No one breathes over you making sure you did your homework. There will be times where you will have to decide whether you are going to go to a pitch or to a party. Try to prioritize your activities, and know that some things that you care about may suffer.
6. No one has to buy anything from you. You have to sell your product or service, at least early on, regardless of what it is. Products and services are not as easily or quickly adopted. Early indicators of success help, but the message will not get to the consumer on its own. Someone has to share it with them.
7. You won't really control your own schedule. Having that control may come in time, but in the earlier stages, the company will often dictate where and when you have to travel -- especially if you are trying to maximize the company’s growth. If you are looking for immediate flexibility, look somewhere else. As a founder, you have to manage expectations of other people, your team and investors.
What time management tips did you learn when starting up? Let us know with a comment.