“Entrepreneur At 20, Failure By 23”: 10 Things I Learned About Running A Student Startup

Posted on December 25, 2015 in Alternative Careers, Education

By Vishwarath Reddy

Dear Students,

Starting Up, Screenshot PitchersSo you want to startup? I have been there. I had an idea and couldn’t stop talking about it. Eventually I co-founded StudentLive, a platform for student driven content. Within a year, we went onto build a good network of campuses across India, with 100’s of student contributors and 1000’s of readers. We then leveraged this network to help various brands to tap into college crowd. Sadly, 2.5 years later I called it off.

Entrepreneur at 20, failure by 23.

I failed for many reasons, much of which was attributed to the fact that we had very less knowledge about various aspects of building and selling the product. However, I learnt a lot in this journey from my success and subsequent failure. Here’s what you can do to be prepared for what’s coming at you.

1. Get out of idea phase: The problem is we focus large part of our energy thinking of endless possibility of our awesome ideas. Oh those sleepless nights! You need to move on from your ideas by testing each your assumptions. Write down your idea, vision, simple business plan with assumptions (target user, tech challenges, Revenue sources etc). This will help you transition from idea phase to execution with clarity.

2. Make the best of your campus: Being a student opens doors without much effort. Be it access to mentors, investors, tech talent or your first customers. Participating in business plan competitions gives you a platform to get feedback on your ideas and earn initial investment. Hackathons are a great place to find some really cool developers. Lastly, the entrepreneurship club in your college could help you with setting up your office or infrastructure to getting your 1st set of clients.

3. Get out of your campus: Get out there and talk to people. No one is going to steal your idea. Even better, do a summer internship at your favourite startups. Understand your market, stakeholders and sales process before jumping in. A lot of students I speak to tell me that they are under-skilled to score an internship but the reality is most of them haven’t even tried to reaching out to startups. All you need is the ability to learn.

4. Team: There are many blogs out there which will give you advices on hiring and finding co-founders. Do not be an ass to your team. If you think by being one you will become Steve Jobs, you are mistaken. You will come across as a shit head. Build culture, not ego.

5. Execute (The rough phase): Build a Minimum Viable product (MVP). Find out how you can reach out to greatest portion of your users with one particular platform. Do not waste time in building an iOS app, android app, web app, website and mobile website with 100 odd features over 12 months. Choose a minimum set of features that can validate your idea in the shortest time possible. The thing about keeping it minimal is to be agile. More often than not our assumptions fail. When that happens, you should be able to pivot your idea in a new direction without wasting more time or effort.

6. Technology and design: Try to keep most of your development and design in-house. Involve your developers and designer during idea, sales and customer interaction phases. Developers aren’t artists, you can’t expect them to perform magic. You do not want your products to look like an abstract painting (Nobody understands them). There is a difference between artists and craftsmen. Developers and designer are like craftsmen, they come up with elegant solutions to user’s problem.

7. Keep a tab of things (metrics): Establish your MVP’s definition of success. It can be revenue, customer conversions, page views, social engagement or app downloads. Track these metrics as you execute your MVP. You might discover a new source of income or engagement which you’ve missed out. Metrics will play an important role in product and business decision as you grow. To make sound decisions you need to rely on data rather than intuition.

8. Get the word out: There is no easy to do this. You need to do some annoying stuff like spamming your friends and persuading (threatening) your friends with high social reach to share your content. Talk to strangers at a bus station or an airport (if you’re lucky). You need to be in good books with your local journalists, they are God sent. I spent a lot of time as volunteer at local events to gain good network of journalists, friends and influencers who later put in a good word about me.

9. Investment and revenue: Do not fall prey to valuations and investment deals you see in the news. You need to be grounded in your idea and focus on your work. There are many conflicting views on idea of revenue for startups. One school of thought prescribes on building on users and let revenue come in later. Other one focusses on bootstrapping. I prefer the latter. It depends on your business and customers. check out companies like: Basecamp, Kickstarter, Zoho etc who’ve grown into valuable startups without heavy weight investments or stake dilution.

10. Failure: You are more likely to fail than succeed. Sadly, our society looks down on failure which only makes it harder. But it is okay to fail. Your story doesn’t end there. In reality you learn more by failing. You acquire tangible career skills and learn to embrace the passion for building something. I know many failed entrepreneurs who went onto be successful at what they take up next.

There are many more tangible and intangible factors like mentors, hiring, financial discipline, culture, continuous learning, etc which can make or break your dream. Take time out to read some good blogs and books with some great startup advice which will help you along the way.

Everything said, being on your own is the most amazing and fulfilling feeling ever. I wish you all the success.

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