Are you a college student or recent graduate determined to have your dream job post-graduation? Do you have a great idea that you think would make a successful business? Are you impatient, a little “all over the place,” and driven to change the world?
If you answered "yes" to any of these questions, you may be a closet entrepreneur.
I’ve been tossing those questions around myself. As a college senior trying to make plans for graduation, I’m at the point where I have to decide where to start my career. Should I go to graduate school? Go the corporate route? Or take the risk and go out on my own to pursue my own business?
So this year, I attended the Collegiate Entrepreneurs’ Organization National Conference—a three-day event in Chicago inspiring college students to go out and pursue their crazy ideas. The event featured successful entrepreneurs like Jeff Hoffman, founder and CEO of Priceline, and up-and-comers like David Simnick of SoapBox Soaps LLC, who shared their experiences and a few things about the entrepreneurial lifestyle that every aspiring business owner (college student or not) should know.
1. You’re Going to Fail—and That’s OK
Young entrepreneurs are often afraid of what will happen if they fail. But according to the entrepreneurs who spoke at the conference, failure is one of the best things that can happen to you. By making mistakes, you learn to how improve your business, making it stronger, and, hopefully, more successful.
As the founder of Extreme Youth Sports Duane Spires put it: “Failure creates two things: fear if you let it, or fortunes if you learn from your mistakes.” Spires testified that as the recession hit in the early 2000s, he had to rethink his business model and make structural changes to keep the company afloat. Instead of just focusing on commercial businesses as clients, Spires chose to take his athletic programs to summer camps and local schools. It wasn’t easy, but a few years later, the company had not only weathered the recession, but it also continued to grow.
2. Believe in Your Idea
“As an entrepreneur, you’ll hear a thousand no’s, but you have to keep believing in yourself and your idea,” said Simnick, who spent months pestering his local Whole Foods to sell his soap. He became known as the “soap guy” who would go in day after day, pitching his product to employees—until, finally, Whole Foods agreed to sell his soap temporarily at one location.
Simnick didn’t stop there—he proceeded to come to the store every day, talking about his product to every customer who walked down the soap aisle. And guess what? His soap sold so well that a few weeks later, Whole Foods expanded the line to the rest of its locations.
People—even experts—may say that your idea is crazy, impossible, or stupid, but if you’re passionate about it and know that you’re solving a problem in the world, stick with it. You just might succeed.
3. Pitch Yourself All the Time, Everywhere
Mike Evans, co-founder and COO of GrubHub, said that he spent weeks in the beginning stages of his company ducking into restaurants and pestering restaurant owners to partner with his website on delivery services. That was hard work—but it’s lead to the company’s rapid growth over the past few years, including five rounds of investment funding totaling $84.1 million.
So what was his secret to success? A great pitch. He recommended being able to explain your business in 10 seconds by focusing on the benefit your product or service provides. Then, share that elevator pitch with everyone you meet. In other words, become your brand.
4. Build the Right Team
At some point, you will need to expand your business beyond you and start looking for a partner, investors, or employees. Unfortunately, this is where many businesses hit a rough patch.
Michael DeLazzer, founding member of RedBox, advised hiring to your weakness—or, choosing people who can complement your skill set with different strengths. More importantly, though, he cautioned that you should stay far away from anyone who lacks the skills or vision for your business, or, as he called them, “rotten cantaloupes—you can’t fix them and you’ll end up firing them anyway.” Don’t settle for less than the best—and don’t waste your time working with anyone, even temporarily, who doesn’t share your vision for the company or isn’t willing to put in hard work.
Entrepreneurs—tell us! What is your advice for aspiring business owners?
Photo courtesy of Yelena Bosovik.
Born and raised in Ukraine, Yelena moved to the United States at the age of eight. She is currently a marketing and management major at Drury University and the editor in chief of the Drury Mirror. God willing, she is planning on attending law school, starting her own business, launching a clothing line and getting elected to Congress by age 35. Follow Yelena on twitter @yelenabosovik.More from this Author