Mckenna Ross

Everything in startups takes more work than expected

You have to really believe you have a golden goose to get into entrepreneurship.

This semester, one of my classes challenged me and a group of classmates to create a media project to solve the problem of how to get internships. It took us some deep thinking just to come up with any ideas at all. But once we thought about all the factors involved in getting internships, we had a break through. It’s about networking. Thus, Mentor Match was born.

Our service would match students with mentors in the workforce through a survey and profile. It’d be like a dating website, but professional.

I thought all the hard work was done. We had our idea, now we could present it to investors as the Next Big Thing. Of course, that’s incredibly untrue. The work had barely begun.

First, we had to consider that other people might already be doing this. While the idea has been floated around in some university programs, and Bumble Biz is similar, we felt our product was different enough because it was specifically for students.

Then, we had to consider how we’d make money. Would we be primarily profiting off ads, like most websites? Or would we require memberships and other sources of revenue, potentially causing a barrier of entry?

We had to consider what would make the most money, of course, and how to find the cheapest production costs. We knew our highest cost in the beginning would be a programmer to create an algorithm to make the matching function.

Once our budget was set and our revenue streams were defined, we conducted some market research. We surveyed our potential market — college students and as well as professionals. We wanted to see if students actually had a need for something like our product. Overall, we found that more than half of the students surveyed said they would want and would pay for a service that helped them find professional mentors in their career fields.

Once this was defined, we were better able to decide how to market our product. Based on who our primary customers were, we had to decide where they might be on social media and how they would best engage with our brand. We didn’t want to just barrage them with posts on Facebook and Instagram begging them to buy our service. We wanted to lead them into our product, through a marketing funnel.

Ultimately, we decided that our best strategy would be to primarily focus on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook to market our service. Academic and media professionals highly prefer Twitter and it’s a great place to start conversations; LinkedIn is where professional college-graduates network and social things related to careers; and everyone uses Facebook for basic information and shareable videos and content.

All of this was a few months of work. It was much more planning than I ever expected. Every aspect took attention to detail and a willingness to go back to the drawing board again and again, just to make sure it was the perfect pitch. For example, we thought we had our revenue models set up perfectly: a mixture of membership fees, ads and ticket sales for events. However, as we interviewed alumni about becoming mentors, we realized how many found it much more legitimate when we framed it as an alumni-to-student connection program. Ultimately, we realized a good funding model would be a contract between us an a university.

While that wasn’t a large hiccup, it certainly put things in perspective for me. Something easy like that can change for us while we’re working on a project. But what if we were a real business, and we had already talked to many investors about our old funding model? Would we have to go back and re-pitch? What if they didn’t like the changes we made? Would we have to stand up for our idea and potentially lose startup funding, or would we have to bend for the investor so we could complete our long-term goals?

This whole journey showed me how much faith is needed in yourself, your idea and your team. You have to constantly spitball ideas and you have to have an expectation that things will be rocky at the beginning. If you’re willing to weather all that, then you’re good to go. But if a little challenge makes you unsure, then entrepreneurship probably isn’t for you.

My entrepreneurship experience taught me a lot about myself, too. I learned that I am not sure of how business-savvy I ever want to be. But I also learned that I love innovation. I love leadership and taking a project from start to finish. I could see myself in an entrepreneurship world, starting projects with others and testing out how successful they might be.

Maybe I just have to get in early, but not too early.

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