TL;DR – Daihan Zhu shares her experience of starting her business.
A year ago it would have never crossed my mind that I’d be calling myself an entrepreneur, let alone spell it. But the more I reflect on the journey that got me here today — specifically a slightly-musky-smelling dorm room with a plaque ‘Entrepreneur in Residence’ on the door, I realized that I was more entrepreneurial than I thought, just in disguise.
Back in elementary, the 4th and 6th graders got to earn ‘money’ through academic achievement and good behaviour. We could then spend it at a bi-weekly market run by alternating classrooms. Some kids sold cookies while others made crafts such as bracelets and origami. I was incredibly observant and realized there’s a demand for Gimbap (a popular Korean style sushi) — after a kid shared his homemade lunch in the classroom. So at the start of my grade 6 year, I pitched my idea to a girl who always had Gimbap neatly packed in rows for lunch. You might’ve guessed it, yes, we made bank selling Gimbap, and yes, that was my first unintentional business empire at virtually no cost for me (Sorry about that).
Since then, I’ve worked for startups, designed software, and even started a few of my own ventures. None of these happened overnight, but more importantly, I didn’t do any of it with the intention of starting a business. If I did, then it wouldn’t have been half as fun.
So you are probably reading this with the ambition of starting your own thing, whatever that may be. Hopefully, I can give you some insights to guide you into the right direction.
Start with what you are already doing.
If you are new at this whole entrepreneurial thing, its best to find your start by doing what you are already doing. Do you love riding unicycles? Be the guy who found a fix to a common part problem because he frickin love riding unicycles, then started selling it to people who also frickin love unicycles. Boom. There’s now a business.
You are the expert of your own problems. When starting out, don’t waste time trying to look for other people’s problems to solve.
Build things, lots of things.
Execute on your ideas! There’s no better way to put it, but having ideas means nothing, it’s your ability to make the thing that will matter. Even if it means making a prototype with cardboard and pipe cleaners, having something tangible that you can feel and touch makes a world of difference. Make the thing and don’t just stop there, tell people about it, show it to your friends, make a post on Facebook (okay maybe don’t), and then keep going. Gather feedback. Iterate. And repeat.
This process can get long and repetitive real fast. That is why it’s a problem you love and truly care about. I cannot emphasize this enough.
Connect with the right people, and give back.
As an early stage entrepreneur, you often need things from other people. Surrounding yourself with the right people can offer a great source of motivation and resources.
You should network with a goal in mind. For students, you have access to many events on campus that is exactly for this purpose. For example, The Waterloo Entrepreneurship Residence Connection aims to bring together likeminded first-year-students on similar paths in their entrepreneurial journey.
When you are networking, not only focus about what you want out of it, but figure out what you can offer as well. Are you skillful in one area but lacking in another? For me, I often seek mentorship in web development in exchange for my expertise in branding and design.
A meaningful connection is a two way street.
Lastly, ask yourself these questions.
- What value are you providing to your end-user? Remember, end-users are people who are actually using your product, they are not always where your revenue comes from.
- How will you extract value from your product? Where is the revenue coming from? What process will you be using to earn money?
Once you have these two questions nailed down, I think you might be on your way to something special. It’s time to start hustling.
Daihan Zhu is entrepreneur in Residence @UWaterloo, Intrapreneurship @RBC, Design @UWFeds. Originally published on Medium.