As most up-and-coming entrepreneurs are familiar with, the things you need to be most successful with your startup are often what you lack: money and time. Though you may struggle to get a startup together with limited resources, don’t be too discouraged. We talked with successful entrepreneurs, faculty, students and everything in between to curate the top eight tips and tricks for those side-hustling their startups.
1. Take Time to Plan
Although your new idea may be exciting, resist the urge to start right away. Take a step back, and take stock of what resources you have, the time you can commit, and what your project will look like.
“I think that practice is a very expensive way to learn,” said Jay Barney, the Lassonde Chair of Social Entrepreneurship and professor in the Department of Entrepreneurship & Strategy at the U. “Trying is emotionally, financially, socially expensive. Students will ask, ‘What is a cap table?’ at the beginning of their startup. Let’s not figure out that we need a cap table at the end of our first go; let’s do that early on. Practice is important, but it would be a waste of time and money to not explain and understand the groundwork.”
“We don’t realize that this is a marathon and not a sprint,” said Kathy Hajeb, director of operations at the Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute and assistant professor in the Department of Entrepreneurship & Strategy at the U. “Get comfortable knowing that you can’t do this full time initially – you’ve got to bootstrap and side-hustle. When you start building momentum, your customers are knocking down your door, that’s when you move into full time. If you have a ‘I can’t do this part-time’ mindset, you’re going too fast and are missing opportunities to improve your startup and idea.”
2. Start with a Prototype
After getting the basics down and a plan in place, Hajeb recommends putting together a prototype.
“Once you have an idea, you’ll need to assess its feasibility,” Hajeb said. “Building a prototype can flush out your plan, help to address issues and make pitching to possible team members and customers easier. Though crafting a prototype may seem like an expensive, arduous task, it doesn’t have to be.
“Create as simple of a prototype as you can with the sole purpose of getting feedback,” she added. “Go to crafting stores, use stuff from the hardware store, sketch it if you have to; just show to people. I think entrepreneurs waste so much time in their heads thinking about their ideas without validating that they’re working on a problem that needs to be solved through prototyping.”
Mark Pittman, CEO of Blyncsy, which he launched at the U with help from the Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute, emphasized the importance of building a simple prototype, regardless of how grand your idea is. You don’t need a full-functioning product or design – investors and grants that you’ll receive from a successful prototype will help you build your product after the fact.
“The first mistake I see a lot of people make is that they assume that they have to build (their product) first,” Pittman said. “If you look at most GoFundMe and Kickstarter pages, they’ve created a 3-D rendering of what their product will look like, or they have the shell that doesn’t actually work yet, and they’re raising the money to build it. That’s pre-selling – you have to pre-sell something and then get the cash for it.”
3. Don’t Keep Your Idea a Secret
Once you have a prototype, it needs to be critiqued and reviewed. Startups also need dedicated team members, investors, customers and resources. To improve your prototype and build your startup while attending school or working full-time, you’ll need to pitch frequently and passionately.
“Everything we do is behind our screens, so we don’t talk to people very well,” Hajeb said. “To get the kind of feedback you need to better your startup when it’s not your full-time job, though, you need to carry a prototype with you everywhere and talk to anybody and everybody about it. I often hear from students that they’re afraid of talking to people because they think someone will steal their idea, but how else will you get information to improve your product? Spend time considering patenting your project at the beginning, and put together your prototype in a way that you can show it to others without explaining the intricate details, but pitch it any time you can.”
Kepler Sticka-Jones – a computer and political science double major at the U, co-founder of Blerp and director of Company Launch at Lassonde Studios – hears the same fears from the students he coaches.
“There’s an instinct that exists that you should protect your idea at all costs, but I say the counter of that: you should be talking about your idea all the time,” Sticka-Jones said. “You further develop your ideas through conversation, and it’s also how you meet people who are interested. It’s talking with friends, classmates and peers – meeting software, engineering, business students and more who can add to your team. I joined Blerp during my freshman year because my co-founder approached me about working on the team.”
4. Build a Dream Team
Though you can certainly succeed on your own (many solo-preneurs have done so in the past), if you’re running on limited resources, a stable and dedicated team can make the difference.
“Through working with Blerp, I learned the importance of having a strong team,” Kepler said. “Because of the people involved, we were able to get moving pretty quickly, and get the application we were creating in people’s hands so fast.”
JoCee Porter, CEO of Celebrate Everyday, which she launched with help from the Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute, built a team that helped her better balance her academics and startup work.
“I realized that I needed to outsource more so I could spend more time studying, and I found the perfect team to work on Celebrate Everyday with me,” Porter said. “Now, I oversee as others attend various events and represent Celebrate Everyday. Allowing others to help me helped the company grow much faster and larger than I would be able to do on my own.”
So where do you start? How do you get others interested in your idea, enough to put their time and energy into it?
“When I was brought onto Blerp’s team, I was looking for a place to do programming, as well as being able to be an entrepreneur,” Sticka-Jones said. “It was sold as an opportunity for me to write actual code. Anyone that’s looking for essentially career experience or a chance to develop their skills will be interested if you frame it that way, as a chance to grow and gain experience.”
5. Pay Attention to the Connections You Already Have
Your startup isn’t an island. Although it’s important to take stock of the resources that you bring to the table, look outside of yourself. Often, possible partnerships, funding opportunities and more are missed simply because they aren’t obvious.
“Entrepreneurship is about who you know,” said Jason Kimball, head of brand and creative at Enso Rings and adjunct professor of entrepreneurship marketing at the U. “That’s where you need to pull from first, when you’re beginning your startup. Sit down and make a list of everyone you know and where they could help you. They are who will care about what you’re doing, and who you can pull from.”
For Sitcka-Jones, finding free patent and hosting resources helped launch his company, and the startups he mentors through Lassonde.
“The campus library has a database of patent information and guidance, and Google can give you several months of hosting for just being a startup,” he said. “It’s all about being clever and looking for these opportunities.”
6. Play the College Card
College years are notorious for the high-stress levels, rising costs and limited time for social lives and sleep. Students often register for full-time classes and attempt to balance a job, extracurriculars and more outside of school. For college students who have a startup idea, venturing into the world of entrepreneurship with all of these roadblocks can be daunting. But, while being strapped for cash, time and resources while in school might feel like a detriment, you can your situation to your advantage.
“College is the best time to fail,” said Mohan Sudabattula, a U student and founder of Project Embrace. “If you failed here, you have a community all about encouraging you to try, and try again. Being a student and launching a business is amazing. This is the time to do it. People love hearing about a college student is creating something; there’s this optimistic perspective of you as a very capable kid.”
Aside from the safety nets, Sticka-Jones says that playing the “college card” catches investor, client, customer and possible team-members’ attention.
“You can say that you’re a college student at X university studying in whatever field you’re in and that will get you in the door at a variety of places,” he said. “Playing the college card lets others know that you want to learn and that you’re willing to commit. You communicate that you have business ambitions as well as your educational ambitions.”
Universities and colleges also offer unique opportunities to students that are easy to capitalize on.
“Regardless of your university, there are tons of services that you can get at a discount or for free if you use a .edu email address, like a domain name from Name Cheap. At the U specifically, the Lassonde Institute offers so many support systems for entrepreneurs, from the Company Launch program to CoWork, where students can meet other students from all kinds of disciplines and talents.”
7. Do Your Own Research
Outside of college student promotions, you can save money without cutting corners in many other ways. While it may be your instinct to trust professional services to get your startup going, make sure you enter meetings with background knowledge to help you negotiate.
“While there are many professionals who go out of their way to help young entrepreneurs get off the ground, there are others who will use your meetings to try and sell you their services at prices you can’t afford,” said Mica Sloan, biomedical engineering MS candidate and executive vice president of Beacon Sleep Solutions. “When I was starting out as a student entrepreneur and looking to trademark a name and logo, we met with an attorney who wanted $3,500, and I found through the U.S. patent office’s website that the same services could be obtained for 10 percent of their price.”
Hajeb also highlighted the importance of staying informed.
“Are you reading the newspaper regularly?” she said. “Are you doing periodic research on the broader markets nationally and globally so you can anticipate trends, find resource opportunities and possible partnerships? If your head is down, you’re not talking to anybody and only getting news from one source, you’re going to struggle with your startup.”
8. Remember That Your Struggle is Not Unique
Entrepreneurship requires a new mindset. Entrepreneurs must be problem-solving, out-of-the-box thinkers, and some struggle with the shift.
“The biggest barrier to entry for success is that we’re asking you to approach the resources you’re given and your startup idea in a completely different way than you’ve been trained,” Hajeb said. “Students show up and expect someone to give them a list, a syllabus and instructions. Entrepreneurship, though, is self-directed work. I see that often the biggest hurdle is just organizing and directing their own efforts. It’s scary for many students.”
Regardless of how scary embarking on your startup journey is, you’re not the first to walk this path.
“Don’t sweat that you don’t have any money or time,” Sticka-Jones said. “That’s more common than anyone will tell you. You just have to be clever and resourceful, that’s the true secret to entrepreneurship. It’s what makes you stand out, and your startup successful.”