Start-Ups in Business School

by on November 4th, 2012

I must first apologize to everyone for not having blogged in over a month!  I don’t think I have done this since I went on a blogging hiatus in December of 2010 when I was studying for the GMAT while writing my application essays.  Now that I think about it, even then I think I may have blogged a couple of times.  In any event, I’m Sorry!

That being said, I think I’ve alluded to the types of things that I’ve been doing in my 2nd year of Business school.  It’s VERY different from the first year, but I’m feeling more and more in tune with myself now than ever before.  Let me rephrase that… a couple of weeks ago I felt more in tune than ever before.  Lately, I’ve been a little sidetracked with my own initiatives because of Johnson Means Business, Student Council, Halloween part planning, and helping the first year with their recruiting efforts.  That being said, I want this post to be about what I’ve done for myself and why I feel that for certain entrepreneurs business school is a great experience.

Summer Internship – Let me back up to the summer first.  So as you may know I was at a start up in NYC that’s a member of General Assembly.  The start-up that I was at is www.CraftCoffee.com and I was doing customer acquisitions while there.  A great benefit of being within the walls of General Assembly is that I was working on the floor with 16/17 other start-ups so I was able to witness a great deal from their experiences.

Over the summer is when I thought of an idea for my own start-up.  I started to map out exactly what this service (web/mobile application) would look like.  While at General Assembly, someone taught a class and mentioned Keynotopia to me.  Keynotopia is a “program” that enables non-programmers to create mock-ups of a mobile app and website using Apple’s Keynote.  The user is able to create hyperlinks between slides and then upload it to the Keynotopia app and basically go through the functionality of a working application.  I know that I didn’t quite explain that correctly, but if you’re curious just Google:  Keynotopia and you’ll see what I’m talking about.

In any event, over the summer I was able to start working on the functionality of the application.

Back to Campus – Once I got back to Ithaca and was able to re-evaluate the classes that I wanted to take, I decided to take the following classes that would help move me along the start-up route.

- Entrepreneurship & Business Ownership (EBO)

- Start Up Issues & Venture Capital Terms

- Oral and Written Communication

- Pricing Strategics & Tactics

- Negotiations

- Managerial Decision Making

This grouping of classes is beneficial in that each class makes me think about a different aspect of my business plan.  In my EBO class, our midterm was to form a group and come up with a business idea and pitch to two of our professors and a third person who invests in companies.  Then for the final we are to pitch to investors/VCs.  My group consists of my good buddies here.  One who is a finance guy and wants to go into Private Equity, another who has a great operations background and is focusing on Marketing, and the third who also has a finance/sales background and has been involved in start-ups before.

In my Start-up Issues & VC terms class, I learn every day from a practicing Venture Capitalist.  Professor Zach Schulman is his name and I sit right up front every class.  I love learning about entrepreneurship then 15 minutes going to my Start-Up class with Professor Schulman where I hear about things from the VC perspective.  Many times these views are conflicting but it’s great to hear both narratives.  Doing this every week has been a blessing.

My Oral & Written communication class is great because as an entrepreneur I will need to be incredibly comfortable with this.  I won’t say that I’ve never been one to get nervous talking in front of people because when I was younger, I was so shy that my mom used to ground me for “embarrassing” her with my lack of conversation.  Right before my EBO midterm, we had to do a presentation in Oral & WRitten communication and I did a presentation on my pitch deck.  It was great to get live feedback from my class, not necessarily on the idea or feasibility, but rather on the delivery which is something that many people will neglect to comment on.

So that’s just a little bit of how my classes are helping me on my start-up journey, so lets switch gears a bit now.

Start-up Weekend:  Back in September there was an event here at Johnson in Sage called Start-Up Weekend.  Here’s the URL: http://startupweekend.org/  Here’s how it worked.

- On Friday, different people got up and pitched their ideas.

- Then the collective group voted on each idea that they liked and out of the 20 or so ideas 6/7 were chosen.  Out of those 20, 2 of the 6 that were chosen were ideas from my fellow business school classmates (they are 1st years).  I ended up working with both teams.

- Throughout the weekend we had 54 hours to build a product and vet the idea…do market research… etc all of that stuff.

- On the final day the “owner” of the project got up and pitched it to the group but also some investors.

Here’s the picture of one of the teams:

I did make a great connection with someone who is an iPhone mobile application builder.  I took him aside at one point over the weekend to vet my idea with him.  He really liked it and told me to reach out to him when I knew if I was accepted to 3DS.  He would also be willing to put me in touch with the students that he taught in the iPhone mobile application development class here at Cornell.

I know you’re going to ask, “Why didn’t you pitch your idea Richard?”  Well, because I had never participated in an event like this, I wanted to see how it operated first.  I wanted to do this knowing that I was going to apply to 3 Day Start-up (3DS) which is held in November.  I will get to 3DS in a second.  Business school has made me realize that my modus operandi is to observe first then dive in. This was my way to observe first.  It positioned me very well for 3DS.

3 Day Start-Up:  So 3DS is similar to Start-up weekend.  There are some fundamental differences though and 3DS tends to be more technology focused than start-up weekend.  For this reason, I was really hoping that I was accepted.  It required an application and an interview process.  I’m assuming that I did well with both of those because I WAS ACCEPTED TO 3DS!

Now a note about 3DS…one of the Founders of it, is someone who I interned for when I was 20 years old and in college.  He and his partner owned an interactive advertising agency down by Wall Street.  Now this may not seem like anything significant, but I forgot to mention that he was 18 at the time and lived in Texas, while his partner was 17 and lived in NYC.  Neither one of them were in the office because they were in school!  Here I was 20 years old interning for them, in their office space in NYC texting them while they were in HIGH SCHOOL!  Cut to 10 years later, and I’m applying to 3DS which one of them founded.  I actually had a phone call with him a couple of weeks ago A) to catch up but also to get some advice.  I do have to give him a call again before 3DS so he can give me some more advice on how to approach the weekend.  That’s definitely to come though because he’s very interested in the idea that I have.  It’s all about connections right?  10 years ago, who knew that I would be in this position with an idea?   I spent years and years working on businesses for other young entrepreneurs who are heavily connected now.  I feel that now is my time to shine.

So what I’m doing now in preparation for 3DS is getting my EBO team on the same page that I’m on in terms of a business plan and Keynotopia mock-ups.  Our team needs to have a clear idea of the functionality that we’re pitching so that at 3DS if my idea is picked, I know exactly the functionality that I can have the other students develop.  That will all go into my elevator pitch!  It is tough though managing a team of my classmates who have other things going on, but that’s what business school is about right?  My managerial decision making class has definitely helped me frame a plan of action for them.  I’m still working on it though and plan to be for the rest of my life.

Reaching Out MBA Conference:  2 weeks ago I was at the Reaching Out MBA Conference in Boston.  This was my 3rd time attending this conference as you would see by looking back in my blog!  This time around I felt right at home and it was good to see old friends.  One of the best things that happened was that I got to reunite with my friend Ryan Allis.  I’ve definitely spoke to you guys about Ryan before in THIS POST.  As i stated in that post he’s now a 1st year at HBS so I thought it would be great for him and I to catch up and for me to run my idea by him and learn more about what he’s doing.  So we met by Harvard Square and had a great lunch.  Now sure he’s been in the entrepreneurship scene for years and years and years but he’s been through A LOT and I would be re-missed if I didn’t seek his advice ESPECIALLY because the company he just sold has a very similar business model to ours.  We talked for about an hour and a half and then I had to get back to the conference and he had to do a skype call.

Here is a picture of us after dinner:

Back at Johnson:  So after the Reaching Out Conference I got back to campus and had to hit the ground running.  I downloaded (MBA buzzword) all of the information I had gathered over the weeks and sent it out to my EBO team.  I have to keep them in the loop so I sent a looong email basically laying out the next few deliverables that I need from them and things that are coming up.  In doing so, I failed to remember that the end of October is one of the busiest times for MBA students.  The first years have started their 2nd groupings of classes and people who are TA’s for those classes now have different schedules.  Additionally, it’s a time when us 2nd years are having midterms and recruiting gets into full swing.  I’m finding myself having to spend a lot of time keeping everyone up to speed and trying to work around people’s schedules.  I think I’m going to have to start scheduling meetings at night, which is not something that I want to have to do.  That being said, I understand my group and maybe we can meet while having beers.  We seem to be in synch when we each have a beer in our hands.

I thought that I would have a week to decompress for a bit and get back into the swing of things regarding my own start-up but I am being pulled in a lot of different directions at the moment.  It’s going to be tough to do and I’m going to have to do two things:

  1. Re-acclimate myself to not having much sleep.  In addition to finishing the mobile app mock-ups, I have to start working on the mock-ups for the website.  This is going to take a lot of time.
  2. Stay organized and get things done well before their due dates.  On top of being pulled in different ways for different initiatives that I’m working on here at Johnson, I still have classwork that needs to be done.  Sure a lot of people say that 2nd year is easier, but let me translate that for you.  I am no longer in the CORE.  That’s all that means.  I suppose it’s easier in that it’s not as grueling and I am accustomed to the time crunch that is business school and the work is easier in that I actually enjoy everything that I have to do.  However, it’s still time consuming and I find myself with less hours in the day to get things done.

We shall see how much I can get done this week because at the end of this week is the eBay Hackathon.

eBay Hackathon:  I’ve never been to a Hackathon in the true sense of a Hackathon, but again I’m all about having new experiences this year.  I figured that I will go and make connections with the Computer Science community here at Johnson (mostly undergrads) and use it as another learning experience as I go into 3DS which is next weekend.  The more information I can garner from folks – the better.

Now a lot of people would argue that if you want to do a start-up and be an entrepreneur, then business school is not needed.  I would argue that for some people that is true.  For other people it is not true.  Of course I’m concerned about paying back my student loans after school as that is a REAL concern.  However, I’m trying to hedge against having to “sell out” and get a corporate job in lieu of my dreams.  I’ve paid too much money to go an grab the first job that gives me an offer and be seemingly unhappy for the next X years of my life.  Business school has been too transformative for me that as I write this I think that would be a waste of my education. Let me say that my education thus far in business school transcends what I’ve formally learned in classes.  That’s for another post though…

I’m going to end this post right now because I still have to do a paper, send two important emails, do some research for another paper, and fix my pitch deck for a meeting with a professor tomorrow.  it does not look like I will be going to sleep at all day, which will be tough because I have 12 hours until class.  That is more than enough time to get everything accomplished but I know that in that 9 o’clock hour, I will be struggling.  Thank goodness we get free Starbucks coffee @ school around that time!

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