When I built a business all on my own

I recently received an invitation to a breakfast meeting of local conservative group.  Though I wear my political affiliation on my sleeve, on Facebook and voter registration clearly, the invitation wasn’t unusual because it came from a long-time friend who is deeply involved in the community.  What was unusual was how the invite ended —
“If you are a small business owner, remember:  You did not build your business, somebody (ie. Government) did it for you ????????”
The surprise wasn’t that the email contained the above rhetoric that has been emblematic of current politics.  The surprise is that it came from someone I hold in high regard for helping me build my business 17 years ago.  I’d left the protections of the large corporation and its benefits and had worked in my basement, writing software, for 6 months.  When a second big customer came through, I approached a prior co-worker to help with the new work.  His core requirement for moving was, even then, insurance so I went looking, unsuccessfully for insurance.  When the large insurers in town scoffed at our small group size of two, one small, family owned business accepted the challenge.  He went to bat for us with Principal Financial, Blue Cross Blue Shield and others and found our tiny group of two a policy that was acceptable, affordable and competitive.  We stayed with his brokerage for the next 15 years.  His and his team’s work helped attract future employees to the company and helped us grow.
He was not the only one who helped, but was one of the few.
Similarly, customers like Terry DeRoin of Nestle Food Company, helped me grow.  I had been doing contract coding work in 1994, when a chance referral from Microsoft Solution Provider program landed a fax at my desk.  Terry, a controller for the Waverly plant, had looked at software developers in Iowa before and was largely unhappy.  When he came to my house in March of ’94, I happened to be in sweats and a t-shirt (him in a suit!).  He did hire me after looking at sample code and gave me months and years of work that took me from tiny revenue to significant amounts.  Without his initial work, who knows if I could’ve even hired employee #1.
Leaders of Federal and State government agencies helped my previous company grow when they selected a company from Des Moines, Iowa for their critical projects over much larger companies in the US and abroad.  Today, StartupCity exists because local, state and corporate leaders have lent their support behind a mission and dream we shared with them.  Government agencies — Des Moines Councilmembers, County Supervisors, Director of Economic Development or the Governor’s office — all contribute heavily to our existence.  Mentorship from leaders of the Des Moines Partnership (indirectly the Des Moines business community) remains critical in our beginnings and current work.
My work today is that of a mentor and advisor to nascent companies.  I do it voluntarily, with no promise of income or revenue, not because I have nothing else to do.  I do it because since my arrival in the US, people like Elaine and Ralph Jaarsma of Pella instilled the volunteer spirit in me.  They spent extremely valuable time on me, a foreign student, to enter the Iowan work ethic.  They showed me how a tiny bakery in a town of 8000 people had national reach, how their work from 2:30 every morning till the end of the day, and their dedication to their community defined their success.  Despite their successes and life’s challenges, they continue to embody the volunteer spirit of helping others.
Dozens of new entrepreneurs benefit from the numerous city and business leaders who give up their personal time, early and late on weekdays and weekends to help companies.  In Des Moines, watch Bankers Trust CEO Suku Radia, for example, challenge and guide entrepreneur after entrepreneur in his office, coffee shops and city spots, and you’ll see the tireless spirit adding value to companies.  Watch the dozens of meetings Mike Colwell at the BIZ arranges in the city to supercharge people’s businesses, and you’ll know it takes a village.  Ayn Rand followers know that every Howard Roark has a Mike, a Cameron and a Dominique who challenged him and, in turn, guided him.
Business owners know who helped them along the way – from teachers, spouses, family, mentors, employees and customers.    I don’t know what selective listening candidate Romney was practicing that made him miss the boldfaced text below, but I stand with the President’s speech –

“Let me tell you something. There are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there. If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that.”

I was inclined to go to the breakfast meeting tomorrow and make a snarky remark about the irony of the message.  But that would be disrespectful to someone I hold in very high regard; I hope he knows how many tiny businesses he helped grow over his remarkable career and continues to support daily.

Some things are non-negotiable

“Oatmeal is not negotiable” is the title of a story I read in a hotel bedside book during an overnight stay at the Marriott at London Heathrow.  The story of an interaction with JW Marriott and one of his executive chefs was an interesting reminder about how certain minutiae that define a company and may seem replaceable or erasable in ‘strategic planning’ sessions can have an unintended impact on the company’s culture.
As I drove home late from a meeting last night, a story from personal experience came to mind about that very topic.  I’d hired the first person into my prior company and, purely for our workday comfort, we decided to get a small drom fridge and stock it with Diet Dew (the 90s energy drink for programmers).  Over the next several years of the company’s growth, the drom fridge became a full-size double door unit, and Diet Dew was joined by a dozen other varieties of soda shared by 50 some employees.  Someone always filled up the fridge and gave me the expense voucher and I paid it.  Customers, employees, and all were welcome to partake.  The  procurement was a modest expense and didn’t bother any of us.
However, with the growth from 2 to 50 employees came the onerous task of needing to stock the fridge, take the empties to recycling, listen to Diet Coke haters whining about Diet Pepsi, and more.  Being a group of engineers, none of us was willing to ‘outsource’ the work to vendors and tried to do it ourselves.  So, one day when the fridge hadn’t been filled and one habitual complainer in the office was whining away, my partner and I decided enough was enough and the free soda was history.  We ordered a vending machine from Coke, priced the contents it at cost, and the vendor stocking the contents.  A few employees complained but none loud enough to make a difference.  It seemed like everyone was happy to get rid of the restocking duties.
Then one day, one of the company’s critical customers walked into the kitchen with me for a drink, glanced at the vending machine and said:

 I knew the company would change, and now it has.

A simple statement like this from a customer might be taken as a compliment, but this was different.  This particular customer had selected us against his initial gut feeling.  I had not forgotten his email to us prior to contract award with a dozen key concerns (like our small size, whether could we scale in DSM to service their account, etc.) about selecting us as a vendor.  We had assured him that we’d scale with him and had.  His business had caused us to more than double in a short period and his concerns seem to have been allayed.  Now, boom  – an apparent change that set off something negative.
He explained why so many elements of our culture were attractive to him – from the entrepreneurial drive amongst employees to do whatever to solve problems, frank disagreement with a customer followed by respectful discourse, a work-life balance AND ability to react to production problems,
With little deliberation the free soda returned.  The fridge was restocked.  We outsourced the delivery to Coke and Pepsi drivers, and our janitors offered to take the hundreds of recyclables and keep the money.  All were happy.
If something that tiny about our culture was visible to a stakeholder, then what else had gone unnoticed in the growth.   We could see the positives but where were the warts?  And what other things had employees come to simply accept as “growing pains”.  As the tiny company of 2 grew to 50, much had been gained and some had been lost along the way, presumably for the better.
Yet as a off-handed comment from a customer reminded me — be prepared to be surprised at what matters.

Immigration issues – revisited in DC

There is an eerie consensus across the aisle in DC that our current immigration system is broken, in need of reform, and change is necessary for the long term economic growth.  There is little consensus on how such reform will be achieved, who will lead it, and what will eventually motivate Congress into action.
Human Capital, impacted by immigration, was one of the core topics of the Des Moines Partnership’s DC trip this spring and I am privileged in being able to join business and government leaders from our region on this trip.  I am certainly privileged to work with Lori Chesser from the Davis Brown Law firm and invited to a panel on immigration.
The panel, consisting of Rosemary Gutierrez and David Johns from Sen Harkin’s office, Kathy Neubel Kovarik from Sen Grassley’s office, Aaron Brickman from Department of Commerce, Ben Johnson from American Immigration Council, and moderated by Lori Chesser was attended by various members of the Des Moines community and focused significantly on answering questions from the audience and thus remaining very interactive.
There are three forms of legal immigration today – 1) marriage to a US citizen, 2) sponsorship by an employer, or 3) sponsorship by an American citizen family member.  Being involved in all three forms, I felt comfortable contributing my experience and need for policy changes and bills currently circulating in DC.  I am married to a natural born US citizen from Iowa,  have sponsored, on my previous company’s behalf, several H1b candidates from India, Nepal, Indonesia and Vietnam, many of who are taxpaying residents, green card holders, naturalized citizens and contributors to Iowa and the US economy.  I am also sponsoring my sister, a Malaysian citizen to the US.
What is broken and in need of fix are the second and third categories.  Whether it is the HR3012 bill that allows green cards to be issued from the available pool rather than be artificially limited, the proposed StartupVisa that allows for foreign entrepreneurs to start their businesses in the US when sponsored by an accredited US investor, the DREAM act  or others, several solutions exist and are available to Congress.
What I heard from many during this recent visit to DC was that many in Congress would rather wait for a comprehensive immigration reform.  Both Senators’ offices comments were consistent that they prefer comprehensive reform such that visas should not take jobs from US workers, college seats from native US students, be considered comprehensively and not piecemeal etc.
Though a desire for comprehensive reform is respectable, Congress hasn’t shown an ability to work together toward real reform in my voting life in the US.  Furthermore, careers in STEM fields continue to be underfilled by software developers, doctors and  engineers.  Companies large and small, represented in the audience for our forum, continue needing to offshore their work in absence of sufficient resources here.
As Jim Clifton so clearly pointed out in Coming Jobs War, there is a marked change underway worldwide.  Qualified technology workers are finding an ability to find careers overseas and no longer want to stand in line as second-class citizens in the US.  Recent news reports are listed net-immigration from Mexico even to be zero, resulting in shifts even in the agricultural economies of Texas, Florida and California.    People are finding opportunities elsewhere in the world, and if we are unable or unwilling to bring job-seekers here, our companies will be sending the jobs overseas.
My message to the congressional representatives and other members on the panel was clear –

  1. We can’t wait for comprehensive reform.  To stem the outflow of jobs, we must tweak our immigration policy through bills like the HR3012 that received significant support in the house (373-15) but remain stuck in the Senate.
  2. Small and new businesses are the job creators.  Startups, a subset of the new businesses, are the high growth leaders in wealth creation that leads to more job creators.  The StartupVisa, as introduced by Kerry and Luger in 2011 needs to be addressed in Congress.
  3. Our colleges and universities are global leaders in education and attract students from around the world.  As we graduate them and give them options to intern/train via OPT/CPT statutes, we should allow them the ability to apply for a green card and legal employment at the end of the practical training rather than subject them to 3-10 years of servitude via the H1b program.  These students represent a large community of individuals who are establishing strong ties to America – we need to grow through them.
  4. Our schools and colleges are not graduating needed numbers of STEM fields.  While we build that population up through K-12 systems over the next 20-30 years, we should make our universities and colleges attractive globally through a foreign student program as attractive as the one I used when entering this US in the 1980s.
  5. The DREAM Act proposes to give children of illegal immigrants a legal way to stay in the country.  Whether it is the original Dream act or the modified version by Senator Marco Rubio, the purpose is the same – keep and grow with those who love and cherish America.

We do not have time for comprehensive reform, or does Congress show any willingness to bridge the divide, specially in this election year and beyond.    If you have any doubts about our place in the world, pickup a copy of Jim Clifton’s Coming Jobs War or Thomas Friedman’s many tomes, including That Used to be Us.

The StartupVisa, Green card acceleration and Congress… aaarggh!

Christian and I recently submitted this post to the editors at Omaha World-Herald and the Des Moines Register in support of various bills pending in congress.  I am a strong believer in immigration reform that accelerates the entry of highly skilled, technical resources to our shores and is imperative to our growth.
These initiatives have been reported on recently by Silicon Prairie News, discussed in a fair amount of detail on a recent Prairiecast and are supported, tracked and documented by the StartupVisa website.

America’s technology industry is hungry for talent to feed our entrepreneurial spirit to drive our leadership.  Our universities remain a target for students worldwide to receive higher education.  Our companies continue to need qualified engineers and developers.  Yet, we graduate thousands of developers and give them no path to employment here in the United States.  We choose to pave a way for them to go back to their native countries when we should be stapling a green card to the very valuable diplomas we hand over.  We also have several hundred-thousand skilled technology workers who arrived here on a myriad of temporary visas but are beholden to their sponsoring employers, unable to create companies – the true engines of growth – due largely to bureaucracies and delays in immigration policy.
Congress has solutions on the docket but lacks the wherewithal to act.  A bill that passed the house by a vote of 389-15 (H.R. 3012) languishes in Senate as it awaits Iowa Senator Grassley’s approval before moving to the Senate floor for a vote.  If approved, it stands to accelerate approvals of green card applications to over 500,000 H1b visa holders.  These green cards will enable many individuals to create more high-tech companies that hire an exponentially large number of people.  These startups create intellectual property so eagerly sought worldwide.  It will incentivize many to stay in the US and productively contribute further to our economy rather than returning to their home countries where they can be equally accretive to job creation.
We continue to graduate students from our institutions of higher education with valuable bachelors, masters and doctorate degrees yet provide the same graduates with little to no ability to work in the country.  These highly trained, motivated individuals consequently return to their home countries or countries like Canada with more relaxed immigration policy.  We should incent these graduates with accelerated ability to stay in the US and create companies.  Companies like Microsoft, Facebook and Google weren’t created by seasoned businessmen – they were created by skilled and hungry college students with an ability to execute on their dreams.  We need thousands more such students unleashing the power of our economy.
Talented individuals still eye America’s global dominance in technology.  Many would love an opportunity to create businesses in this country and hire Americans, buy and build real estate, invest in communities and become accelerators in our communities.  The StartupVisa (H.R. 1114 and S 565) propose to deliver on this promise and needs Congressional support.  The really good news is that this enables foreign students and workers who are already in the U.S. to qualify for a visa. The requirements for them are very reasonable—they must show that they have enough in savings not to be a burden to American taxpayers, and get a qualified investor or a government entity such as the Small Business Administration to validate their ideas by making a modest investment.
Yes, there is a risk for holders of this visa that, if their venture fails or doesn’t go anywhere, they must start again or leave the U.S. Precisely!  The Startup Visa is for risk takers who are willing to build companies that rival the largest, most successful ventures and hire the brightest talent to develop products sold globally.
These initiatives in Congress are supported by many senior representatives and senators.  Several in the technology industry, venture capital, education and government support these initiatives.  We need support in Congress and the constituencies to recognize and deliver on these initiatives to maintain and grow our economic and technical leadership.

Every business doesn't begin with millions in cash

There is ample news about the idea that popped into an entrepreneur’s head in the shower, the demo was created by lunch, VCs lined up to lend money by dinner and acquisition happened in the quarter that followed.  Scant attention is shared about those who logged 60 hours a week developing a business while holding down a 40-hour square job, worked for years to build revenue, adjusting the model along the way until finding success in the trenches.
It is interesting to be surrounded by those who have done just that in the Des Moines technology ecosystem.  Des Moines’ dmJuice recently published an article about my friend, relative and partner, Erin Ginkens’ Entrepreneurial Technologies.  The article highlights the company’s evolution from a product company to service and now a hybrid.  Hard work is reflected remarkably in the creation of Tablenabbr, a mobile phone application that helps potential diners find restaurants with open tables in real time.
Similarly, the story of Brian Hemesath, the CEO of Catchwind and President of VolunteerLocal and involved in other endeavors, takes us through a decade of work.  Brian’s work has enriched the local technology ecosystem and his helpful presence at Des Moines startup events is inspirational to aspiring startups.  If you haven’t had a chance to hear his story, September 21st presents a great opportunity to hear him speak at the BIZ’s luncheon series, aptly titled Lessons Learned while Bootstrapping Business: The Non-Fundraising Path.
Bootstrapping is a strategy that works when designing a business driven by a need/desire for organic growth, a product that is largely service based with the entrepreneur’s expertise in delivering the product, secured by rock solid IP, and/or the unavailability of external money to fuel growth.  It rarely works when time to market is paramount and competition is circling your customers and employees.
Whichever strategy you choose — know that resources are available to discuss, quantify, qualify and critique your business model.  My local community is filled with events that support bootstrappers, angel funded and VC funded enterprises.  Find them, talk to them, share their experience and learn from their mistakes — I know that after 29 years in technology, 18 years in small-business and a year into a sabbatical, I still am.

What about adjourning?

I was lucky to attend Central College a private, liberal arts college in Pella that afforded time and flexibility to connect to faculty beyond the traditional lectures and grades.  Friendships developed then and remain true today.  So, it was a mixed emotion with which I attended Dr. Jann Freed’s retirement party recently.  Even though I was a Computer Science/Math major, Jann’s Organizational Theory and Behavior class made a huge impression.   During her retirement ceremony, as speakers came and went, honoring (and eulogizing!) her career, I was struck with her reference to the 5 stages of a team.
Psychologist Bruce Tuckman first came up with the memorable phrase “forming, storming, norming and performing” in 1965.  He later added a 5th stage – adjourning.  I truly believe that all of these stages apply amazingly well to the concept of business as they do to a team.
When you start a business, you love the idea of others coming along to share your risk, passion, glory, money, and more.  The team forms with 2 people and grows to 10, 20, 50…  As the team storms its products out the door, normalizes strategy into tactics and performs beyond its own wildest imaginations,  the human element creeps in slowly and quietly with tiny steps.  Partners lives, passions and goals morph and often in separate directions.  And then comes a time when partners have to separate.  AND THE TROUBLE BEGINS.
As many of my friends in the legal profession tell startups dozens of times–plan and formalize a legal document.  Don’t leave anything to verbal.  Don’t assume anything.  Your partnership, like all others will break.  If you are the rare duo and no business reason breaks it — human mortality will end one of your lives someday — and it will break.  Plan for it now while all is nice and comfortable, happy and with a bright future.
To plan for such an adjourning, you have to have a basic buy-sell agreement.  It may be something 1/2 a page long or 10 pages of details that cover esoteric elements of trusts and estates.  It may contain formulae or simple instructions.  It may go into trigger events or the desire for a breakup.  Whatever it needs, it needs to be formalized and memorialized in your corporate paperwork while you’re still dating each other, in love and with roses dotting the path to success.  Sit down together as partners, write down your priorities and share them with your lawyer.  Then file the document away in the safe for the unfortunate day when you will separate.
Remember, even marriage, the global partnerships practiced worldwide, formalized in front of family, friends,  religious leaders, co-workers, sometimes accompanied by vows, break.  All you have is an idea that germinated over a beer in a restaurant and the plan drawn up on the paper tablecloth on which your food was served.  It needs an adjournment plan.

Central Iowa Technology wantrepreneurs – your opportunity is here!

I have an exciting opportunity to share with my fellow techies in Iowa, especially the central Iowa region.  If you have been dreaming up the next killer app or the tech toy but were either short of cash, peer feedback or other hangups, your home State has a contest that may be of interest to you.
The Business Innovation Zone (http://www.bizci.org) is sponsoring a contest to attract new ideas and choose a popular winning idea to win $5000!  If you can generate enough excitement about your idea statewide, you also stand to win an additional $10000!
If you’ve read the history of technology in the United States to any depth, you know that Accidental Empires don’t come from America’s largest corporations.  Big ideas have been born in dorm rooms, garages, school buses and the playground.
This is your chance to expose your idea –
1. Grab a video camera or a webcam
2. Record a 1 to 5 minute pitch of your idea
3. Create a login and submit your idea at Dream Big Grow Here (http://goo.gl/hk2W9)  between now and August 15th, 2011
Starting August 16 market your idea to as many people in your circles, walls, address books and more to generate votes at http://www.dreambiggrowhere.com.
There are a few rules and FAQs that apply to this contest — please read them at http://www.dreambiggrowhere.com/
This is free capital for simply verbalizing and marketing your idea – don’t let it slip away!
What’s in it for me?  I am a Principal of Startup City Des Moines, a sponsor and supporter of this contest.

Successful entrepreneurs evolve

I attended a very interesting and informative session on Capital Markets outlook sponsored by Mike Colwell @ the Biz.  Presented by Matt Kinley of the Pappajohn Capital Resources and Equity Dynamics, the seminar presented the state of the market, their trajectory from 1998-present day and what anyone building a business would find useful.
A few strains of information were quite clear –

  • Capital is available to the right businesses in most market conditions
  • There is a good time and a bad time to raise capital
  • Positive cash-flow is the ultimate asset to any business
  • Prepare, Pitch, Follow-up and Delivery are key
  • The market between 1998 and 2011 has changed significantly and successful entrepreneurs have evolved with it

The last bullet was my key takeaway.  In 1998, for example, history shows that raising a few million bucks for an idea in exchange for equity was an oft-executed strategy.  Ideas were pitched, easy money flowed, execution happened in pockets and many succeeded and others did not.  Between then an now, private capital has shrunk by 89% (Matt’s data – see the slides when they’re up at the Biz) while ideas multiply daily.
Entrepreneurs, therefore, have evolved with the market.  Many have realized that germinating the idea with a very select, core team of employees/partners can take the idea from thought to action.  The same ideas can be further developed one or more times into a product and potentially monetized early.  Bo Fishback’s presentation from BigOmaha about the birth to release of Zaarly is representative of such evolution.  Though Zaarly has received funding already, it was working on its idea long before $$ came in the door.
So, entrepreneurs who focus on transforming their idea to reality and can demonstrate the product seem to have a better shot at market success, whether it is through demonstrable product for raising $$ or toward outright positive cash flow through monetization of their idea.
Where are you heading?

BigOmaha – What a rush!

I just came back from the BigOmaha conference presented by Silicon Prairie News.  Held at Kaneko in downtown Omaha, this conference brought together people with ideas big and small.  Some ideas were hatching, others had formed billion dollar businesses.  Yet, the energy kept the audience hopping, the phones parked and the ears intently listened.  How the heck did 500 people suddenly gather in flyover country, mingling with wantrepreneurs, entrepreneurs, press, government, friends and, yes – in Omaha, NE – even a live cow.
The Des Moines participants turned out in full support representing Dwolla, Entrepreneurial Technologies, Far Reach Technologies, Brown Winick Law, 48Web, Scoreyard and more.  The lineup of speakers had been impressive to read about, but reality rocked the bios and speakers managed to excite, inspire and challenge throughout the day.  I was gratified to see B Companies use the opportunity to inspire social entrepreneurship in so many sessions, inspiring me to not only learn from organizations like SamaSource, Ecko and Warby Parker, but also go out an buy their products.
Though this was my first conference where the idea of startups was the connecting theme, it certainly wasn’t the first business building exercise.  I was often reminded of lessons learnt from speakers like Mahan Khalsa and Jim Cecil from Microsoft’s now rebranded Fusion conference.  Where speakers previously spoke of how to build businesses, the focus now was purely the execution of ideas, continuous improvement, growth and deal flow.
The five key takeaways for me were –
1. Ideas are a dime a dozen; execution is key!
2. Your  legacy is how your family remembers you when you’re gone – so why do you give a damn about the world?
3. Successful execution requires guts, paranoia, risk aversion and unwillingness to take no for an answer
4. Awesome innovation is happening all over  this ‘flyover’ zone called the midwest
5. Startup Weekend, Thinciowa, BigOmaha, Startup Drinks and Techbrew like events are juice for the entrepreneurial soul – don’t miss any of them!

In college looking for a job? Why not create one instead?

A question that has perplexed me recently has to do with the incredible brainpower that leaves colleges and universities only to be stuffed into a cubicle.  Why do college students, filled with risk aversion, swimming in ideas, surrounded by similar and opposite minded people, with access to incredible faculty, services and support gravitate toward a job?
It is hard to ignore the  stellar successes of business launched at/during college by people like Gates, Dell, Zuckerberg, et. al.  We know that like these successes, there exist failures of many businesses.   But are those successes and failures any different than those achieved in a job?  The risk of failure at this stage is worth the chances of success.
Many students are looking to start a life after poverty, one where they buy their new car, a house, get married and have babies, immediately launching themselves into years of loans and servitude.  A car and a house are liabilities and babies require a steady paycheck to pay for diapers and health insurance.   How about utilizing your skills in living in poverty to not just earn money, but rather CREATE money?  When you live the life of a startup, making a product with little or no resources, selling it to fulfill an unmet need, you can create something real, of value and learn critical life and business lessons at the same time.
Each job you create has a multiplier effect — you earn money from your work and off the work of others who choose to work with you.
Surely, the desire to go get a job is steeped in needing to make payments on the student loan that will start requiring monthly payments soon after graduation.  Make a short term compromise — work for someone else just enough to pay for rent on an apartment, gas for the car, payment on that loan and invest the remainder of your time in creating your product.    You already know how to live on 3 hours of sleep a night — find a way to bill the remainder to those who need your services.  Your skills may be in drywall finish, programming, taxes, accounting, retail, auto repair, gun maintenance,  brewing beer, valuation of antiques, writing, teaching, and more — all skills that can earn you 20 bucks an hour as an employee or 75 an hour as an independent business owner.
Parents, Grandparents, aunts and uncles will tell you that the risk isn’t worth it and a job is the ultimate reward — BULL!  Ever hear of LIFO principles — they apply to jobs too.  Last hired is first laid off with little remorse.  The jobs of your parents and grandparents went poof in the last economic downturn along with a large portion of their 401ks and more.  Rightfully, many businesses disappeared too, but the business owners are returning long before the jobs because they know that the skills are valuable, in-demand and worth money even today.  A drywaller still charges the same amount of money — just is available a little sooner,  my car’s oil change is still the same $29, the programming services in the US are still commanding VERY high $$, despite a billion programmers in India, Russia, China, Phillipines and more coding for <$10/hr.    Work is still being demanded and business owners are making more than employees.
A common piece of advice for budding entrepreneurs at colleges is — just do it.  Think of what a startup needs – idea, caffeine, computer, time.  What does it not have  – employees, money, fancy digs, nice cars.  Now think of what a college student has – ideas, caffeine, computer, time — with no  access to employees, money, fancy homes or cars.  As a student, you already have the trappings of a startup – leverage them!
So what can you do while shlepping between classes –
a) register your business – others will do it for you for as little as $139 per corporation.  Go to your state’s secretary of state’s website and lookup other companies public filings for startup.  Get your ideas, create your document and run it by a lawyer.  Barter services for the lawyer or pay for his time.  Register your business because the act formalizes the business in your head
b) Know what you know well.  Practice your elevator statement (one you can recite to a potential in 30 seconds or less) and forget about all other marketing statements.   Then WRITE DOWN what you DON’T know and don’t try to do what you don’t know.
c) get 3 customers and work for free if you have to.  To quote Steve Ballmer from 15 yrs ago – DELIGHT THEM.  Their references are worth their weight in GOLD.
d) ask these 5 for a reference customer and work for this customer for full price.  Delight them.  Ask for a reference.  Repeat until you can afford marketing and sales.
e) Hire!
—Tej Dhawan