One of the core values at my company, Hawke Media, is "get sh*t done." Our team defines this (in more polite terms) as: "Move quickly, and seize every opportunity."
While that sounds simple, many entrepreneurs do the exact opposite. That's why I was so taken last year with our new intern, Daniel Newman. Simply put, Daniel is ahead of the curve for making things happen. While most college students are going to bars or catching up on sleep, this young man is applying every life experience to his advantage.
That's why I wasn't surprised in the least to learn that Daniel had recently organized and operated the first student-run Shark Tank-style event at his school, the University of Southern California (USC), and that the event turned out to be a massive success.
The guy who brought sharks to college
As vice president of operations of USC's TAMID (which helps business-minded students connect with Israel's economy), Daniel said he'd seen a lot of students hesitate to pursue their startup ideas. The problem: They felt too young or too inexperienced.
With TAMID Tank, Daniel proved those biases wrong: He showcased USC's top three student-led startups and demonstrated that even student-run companies can get venture funding. He and his TAMID team organized the whole event, raised $14,000 from various corporate and institutional sponsors and then chased down VCs by sending cold emails, calling their offices, catching them at events -- you name it, they did it.
Ultimately, they secured three well-known Los Angeles investors:
- Eytan Elbaz (co-founder of Render Media, Scopely, Social Native and Applied Semantics, which was acquired by Google and is now known as Google AdSense),
- Effie Epstein (COO and managing partner of Sound Ventures)
- Laurent Grill (venture lead at Luma Launch).
Leading up to the event, Newman designed a schoolwide startup competition to find the university's top three startups, then executed a marketing campaign to hit every corner of campus and ensure that everyone knew about TAMID Tank -- which subsequently sold out.
USC's top three student-led startups (Aqus, Drops and Reefer) pitched their companies and received valuable feedback and coaching, and the event raised the profile of TAMID and entrepreneurship across campus -- especially after the club won an award from the Marshall School of Business for "Most Innovative Event" during the 2016-2017 school year.
How did he accomplish all of this at such a young age?
I wanted to find out where Newman's passion and drive came from and what advice he had for young entrepreneurs moving forward. After talking with him, here are the three things I learned:
1. He learned from his refugee-parents how to deliver more for less. TAMID Tank may have been his most recent success, but Newman learned to "get sh*t done" well before he arrived at USC, drawing inspiration from his parents, who escaped from Iran during its 1979 revolution, with no money, no English language skills and no family in the United States. That didn't stop either of them from learning English and studying to become, respectively, a pharmacist and an optometrist.
Seeing his parents succeed against such odds had a huge effect on their son's desire to push himself to success, he told me. He considered working as a tutor for about $15 an hour but realized he could start a tutoring company himself, call himself the founder and charge twice as much for the same services.
Although he didn't intend for that venture -- TutorYou Beverly Hills -- to outgrow his own reach, before long, other seniors started asking him to hire them. With more employees came more demand; just like that, he had a real business. "I learned two huge lessons in that experience," Daniel said. "First, deliver more, and you'll slowly gain market share. Second, execute an idea shortly after it comes -- move fast while you're still inspired."
2. He quickly seizes (and maximizes) every opportunity. With those philosophies in mind, Daniel and his best friend quickly developed another company. They'd noticed a barrier to entry for people who wanted to use geofilters on Snapchat but weren't graphic designers; so the pair decided to help small businesses reach their younger targets on Snapchat's platform. Drawing inspiration from the success of TutorYou Beverly Hills, Daniel and his partner planned and launched Geocasion almost overnight.
One obvious thing about him is that Daniel has never taken his smarts for granted. People hard-wired for entrepreneurship can be overconfident. And when they believe they're smarter and more equipped for success than others, they may find it hard to know how much more they need to learn.
Not Daniel. In fact he's taken several internships to make the connections and fill the knowledge gaps he sees in himself. That's where I met him: in his role as a business development intern.
Eventually, our company, thanks to his diligence, promoted Daniel to my point person, allowing him, among other things, to develop proposals, referral agreements and service agreements for onboarding clients and driving revenue. These are rare and valuable opportunities for an intern and aspiring young entrepreneur. And he was grateful: Aside from learning the ins and outs of marketing, Daniel credited his time with us for helping him get Geocasion off the ground.
"I increased my marketing knowledge tenfold within weeks, which gave me the foundation to launch this company in the first place," he told us. "Without that experience, I might never have seen the gap that existed between small businesses and Snapchat's geofilters -- and Geocasion wouldn't have existed at all."
3. He finds inspiration in challenges and setbacks. If a startup takes off, that's excellent -- but even a failed startup provides valuable experience that compounds and leads to exponentially better results in the long run.
In Daniel's view, young professionals have little to lose by pursuing a venture, and a lot to gain. Most college students don't have to worry about rent, kids, a spouse or even a job. Moreover, younger entrepreneurs have a high risk tolerance and the highest level of energy and motivation they'll probably ever have. At that point in life, they should experience anything and everything -- while the stakes are low and the upsides high.
And just so you don't think Daniel's story is one of invariable success, Geocasion actually shut down recently. As the market evolved, there was no longer space for the service. Nonetheless, Daniel told me, he still believes that the time to act on an idea is always now. Even if the venture doesn't turn out how you envisioned, you'll meet other entrepreneurs, investors and professionals who will remain in your network.
Without chasing his ideas, Daniel would have no reason to meet people who will provide massive value throughout his career. For example, Daniel met TAMID Tank shark Laurent Grill during his own time running Geocasion. Although he and his partner closed that startup, the connection helped Daniel land Grill for the event that experienced so much success.
As Steve Jobs said, "You can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future."
To that, Daniel adds: "Have a reason to create those dots in the first place, and you'll be surprised to see the odd and miraculous way they connect when you look back."