Monday, November 7, 2011

Advice for Entrepreneurs

Last week, Forrest Woolworth and I participated on the “Campus Entrepreneurism: Fad or Fixture” panel at the Wisconsin Early Stage Symposium . We had a great time, and I’d like to share with you some of the great entrepreneurial advice that came from the event. Watch the full video from the panel at the end of this post.

How did PerBlue start?
Justin: When we first started, the idea was really simple. We wanted to make another game. There were 4 goals in mind: the game would be played on the phone, it had to be fun, it had to make money, and just for kicks, it would use the phone’s GPS. We were bored with homework at about 4 am, and decided to start right there and then.

What was the key turning point of success for PerBlue?

Justin: My key moment was November 23rd, 2009. At that point most of us were still in school, we had been working insane hours for no pay. We were trying to ship a new age, one that would integrate our Virtual Good business model and finally make us money. I remember telling myself, “If we don’t make any money tomorrow, we’ll shut the whole thing down and I will be very happy. This has been fun, it was a great adventure, and we did our best.”

We woke up the next morning and we had made about $5,000. That was the turning point of success for PerBlue and Parallel Kingdom , because revenue is my biggest metric for success. It showed that my time spent productizing something, and then putting it on a shelf and selling it, was ultimately worth it. Earning revenue after productizing time and talent, was a key benchmark of success for me and the company as a whole.

What resources are available student entrepreneurs?

Justin: There are a ton of resources available for students, the real question is: what should they be doing? The really smart ones are the ones that are seeking out mentors, networking, and getting connected to Angel networks. They are getting practice pitching and tapping into the peer-to-peer network of advisors. The learning curve is so steep for entrepreneurs, you need a really good group of advisors. Tap into these resources as you go, call them up as you need advice. I’ve found that the best advice comes from mentor and friendship relationships.

Forrest: That’s what makes Capital Entrepreneurs so valuable. So many of our members come from such a variety of backgrounds and businesses, they can provide a unique perspective for a variety of questions or issues. Having this great network of peer connections is invaluable to asking and receiving great advice. There are also so many resources on campus, like Wiscontrepreneur at the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery.

Should entrepreneurs worry about sharing their ideas?

Forrest: Ideas are pretty much worthless, they are a dime a dozen. What it really comes down to is execution. There are very few people in the world that could actually execute your ideas. So my advice is, don’t be afraid to share your ideas. Bounce them off your peers to get feedback. They can help you focus and refine your ideas. Talking about your ideas is actually a really good idea and something I would encourage.

What is scary about venturing out as an entrepreneur?

Justin: There are two things that are scary things for me, even now. The first is looking back and watching everyone follow you. Today I have 35 people who follow me, but even in the beginning with just a small group of us, it was still scary. If you fail, you are responsible for leading your team down the wrong path. That is the scariest thing for me as an entrepreneur. I was never afraid of the sacrifices I was making as an individual, because in my mind in the worst case scenario- I just go get a job.

The second thing that is scary to me is staying balanced and on track. Entrepreneurship is like always walking a tightrope. If you are not constantly providing correction to your balance, it feels like you’re always on the verge of falling off. Some days it seems like you have 15,000 things pulling you off this rope, and it takes a lot of work just to stay balanced. Keeping a team together, that’s hard. Keeping a product laser focused, that’s hard. Cranking out revenue, that’s hard. Everything is hard. That’s what’s scary! When you live your life on this tightrope, you get really used to having your adrenaline pumped all the time. I think being a little of an adrenaline junky is also helpful.

What is your advice for student entrepreneurs?

Forrest: The execution aspect of ideas is key. If you have an idea, don’t’ say ‘oh, it’d be cool if we did this.’ Just go and do it. Don’t ask questions or leave any room for fear. Make your ideas a reality. That’s how PerBlue and Capital Entrepreneurs came about. We saw a need and we filled it. We wanted to get all of our entrepreneur friends together, so we just did it. We created an organization and now it’s grown to 150 members. I can’t stress it enough, execution is the most important part of being an entrepreneur.

Justin: My advice is actually kind of weird. If you’re in college, slow down. Work for other startups, or even do an internship. As you get closer to the end of your college career, start to decide which market you want to grow your company in, and then build your team. But don’t rush through college to get to your startup. College only comes once and you can do startups for the rest of your life. A startup is a marathon you start running at any point.

So, Campus Entrepreneurism: a Fad or Fixture?

Forrest: College really is the best time to start something. You have very few risks really, you have no assets to lose. In the worst case scenario, you will be in the same place next year as you are today. Slow down, it’s the best piece of advice I have for students. Spend time focusing on your smaller projects, you’re in a place full of so many amazing people and resources to tap into. This is never going to happen again outside of college.

Justin: I’d say fixture, it’s extremely important to encourage entrepreneurship with young people. I hear so many complaints about a poor job market, and I have relatively little sympathy. ‘Hey, start a company.’ We need to create more role models of great companies and great entrepreneurs to get students thinking about entrepreneurship earlier. So many are still stuck in the “I need a job” mentality.