Advice

This Is What I Learned From My First Business, Which Went From Broke to $500,000 in Sales

Here's how I overcame my position and started a thriving business as a 19-year-old college student.
This Is What I Learned From My First Business, Which Went From Broke to $500,000 in Sales
Image credit: Deagreez | Getty Images
Guest Writer
CEO and Co-Founder of Storm
6 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

I still remember it like it was yesterday.

I was 19 and a broke college student at the University of Washington -- so broke I had to drop out. I got a job, but still couldn't pay my rent and basic expenses. Suddenly, I had an idea. It was simple, delicious and had the potential to earn me some much-needed extra income.

Related: How to Start a Business With (Almost) No Money

This idea is what got me back into school and became a $500,000 business. It was my very own rags-to-riches story. (More on that later.)

Today, my primary focus is Storm, the company I helped create in 2014. Storm allows people to earn cryptocurrency anywhere, anytime, from any device. In this article, I share my best advice for aspiring entrepreneurs: real lessons I've learned on the journey from broke college student to thriving business owner.

I'll begin with possibly the most important lesson of all: It won't be easy.

1. Starting a business is hard.

No one is going to give you permission to start a business. In fact, many people will try to stop you. You'll need to have courage to keep you moving forward when things get tough.

Let's go back to my business idea back in college. Here's what happened: At school, everyone studied late, it often rained and the streets were often dangerous, but I knew college students wanted late-night munchies -- it was an opportunity. After I begged my dad to let me borrow $100 and armed with my mom's Korean barbecue recipe, I started posting an offer to Facebook that I would deliver Korean tacos to anyone on campus for $3. They were delicious, so I expected orders to start rolling in right away.

Long story short, they didn't. For two months, not a single person wanted my tacos. I ran out of money and had to survive on peanut butter sandwiches.

Luckily, I refused to give up. Then, on a fateful Wednesday, I received two orders for a total of $9. My first success!

The lesson is this: There's no magic formula for business success. If you accept that it's going to be difficult, you'll be able to endure through the hard times. You'll be able to believe in your idea and emerge on the other side of adversity with your own success story to show for it.

Related: The Complete, 12-Step Guide to Starting a Business

2. See the opportunity.

Absolutely anything can become a successful business if it provides real value.

After I sold my first tacos, I got a glowing report from one customer who said it was the best taco he ever had. I asked him to post a review to the Facebook page in exchange for a free taco. Soon, over a hundred of his friends were following the account.

This was an opportunity to grow my business, and I couldn't pass it up. I asked the other customer to leave a review and his friends began following me as well. Demand grew until I was catering frat parties and weddings and that $100 loan from my father quickly grew into $10,000. Today, it's still going strong. It's become a $500,000 business and one of the most popular food trucks in Seattle.

Michael Dell has said, "It's through curiosity and looking at opportunities in new ways that we've always mapped our path." Seeing an opportunity when no one else can is often the beginning of a successful business. And just when you think your business can't grow any more, a new opportunity can elevate you to the next level of success.

Related: Need a Business Idea? Here are 55

3. No excuses!

You can always find a way to do what you want to do. As an entrepreneur, it's crucial for you to have this mindset.

I landed a full-time internship with Amazon during college because I cold-emailed someone at the ecommerce giant. My connections in the crypto world began when I simply walked up to someone at Consensus and started networking.

In short: Don't wait for permission. Find a way.

"Complaining has no value," explained Gary Vaynerchuk in a Facebook video. "Let your actions dictate, instead of sitting there and feeling like you're not in control."

Remember how I had to drop out of school? Instead of giving up on my degree, I picked up a full-time job as a bank teller and took online courses at night. Five days a week, 18 hours a day, I immersed myself in work and study. As difficult as it was, I kept working and interning full-time to support myself until graduation.

I don't say this to brag, but to inspire you to work hard to make your dreams a reality.

Related: 63 Businesses to Start for Under $10,000

4. Do something you're passionate about.

The reason why I can keep pursuing my vision for Storm, even when things get hard, is because I believe blockchain can make people's lives better. 

If you're going to spend your life doing something, you should to be passionate about it. If you enjoy it, it's not going to feel like work. Steve Jobs said something similar in an interview with Bill Gates: "People say you have to have a lot of passion for what you're doing and it's totally true. And the reason is because [building something of value is] so hard that if you don't, any rational person would give up. ... If you don't love it, if you're not having fun doing it ... you're going to give up."

When you follow your passion, it will motivate you to stay on the path to success.

Starting a business isn't easy, but the first step is simply to take the first step. I encourage you write down and commit to one concrete action you will take to build your business this week.

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