For our third and final professional event of the semester, our Professional Events committee provided us with a Start Up 101 event. The committee organized for five panelists to join us to discuss the obstacles they faced when starting their own businesses. The panelists included Stephen Tracy, the found of Keap, Dan Reich, co-founder and CEO of Troops and co-founder of TULA, Alexa Wagman, Director at Yext, Kalani Leifer, Executive Director of COOP, and Hermany Niu, Marketing Manager at Gooroo.
The panel kicked off with each panelist describing his/her background. Stephen is originally from the UK and had previously worked for Google. He explained that those closest to him were surprised by his decision to quit his job at Google to start his candle business, Keap. Dan has co-founded two companies: Troops, a technology company, and TULA, a skincare company. Alexa is part of the Strategic Team at Yext, a company that helps businesses get found online. Kalani used to be a teacher, he also worked at Google and is now working to “overcome underemployment” at COOP. Hermany first attended school in China and is now part of the marketing team at Gooroo, an informational technology startup and app.
The panelists then discussed what they enjoy about working at a startup. Alexa explained that she likes having more responsibility at a young age than what she would have in the corporate world. Additionally, the startup world is dynamic, creative and exciting. Startups are constantly changing and growing, which means those working at startups get to change and grow along with the company. Kalani explained that he fell in love with the problem of how to help others transition from formal education to employment, rather than the solution to that problem which is why he enjoys working at COOP.
The next question that the panelists tackled was the question of how to go about starting your own business. All five panelists agreed that taking the first step is the scariest, but the most crucial. You should come up with a name for your business and put it on paper in order to make it real. Alexa encouraged us to take advantage of local resources such as Venture for America, which connects recent graduates with jobs at startups and, ultimately, helps them start their own businesses. Kalani said that learning hard lessons early on is the best way to go. Failing fast and picking yourself back up are key aspects of working at a startup. He encouraged us to learn about what motivates and drains us. Dan believes that to start your own business, you have to begin with an inspiring team of people. Your team is what helps you market your brand and spread the word about it. Dan explained that another thing to keep in mind is that your company should have a unique point of difference that sets it apart from other companies. For example, his company, TULA, was the first to use probiotics to produce skincare products.
The panelists then discussed what they do when they run out of ideas. Hermany explained that you do not need to generate ideas always. Ask your team for ideas because they are there for you. New ideas can also come as a result of listening to your customers and what they want to see from your company.
Finally, the panelists shared their thoughts on how to stand apart. Stephen explained that many of us read about success, and it may seem like it happens overnight, but he assures us this is not the case. In fact, many ideas and businesses fail. Stephen believes we need to challenge what success is because it is NOT just about making money. His company stands apart because he genuinely enjoys what he does, which is promoting sustainability through his candles. Kalani added on that in order to stand apart, you should determine early on how your company will make life better. How will you add value to the world? He believes that not doing anything is your biggest threat as opposed to the typical view that competitors pose the greatest threat.
The panelists left us with some final thoughts and advice. Kalani advised us to look at the process of starting and maintaining a business as success. He hopes that you focus on your core business because that is what makes you worth betting on. Do not get caught up in the little details, such as the name of your business or the legal requirements. Hermany encouraged us to contact potential investors and keep them updated on the company’s growth until they feel that the operations are substantial enough to invest in. Alexa advised us to find people that can cover our weaknesses. Lastly, their final piece of advice is that once you encounter a problem, change your perspective and change what you had planned on doing.
Our panelists as well as WIB hope you found the advice of our professionals helpful. We encourage you to get out there and make your dreams come true by pursuing your own business ideas!