With Austin Startup Week just around the corner, I figured it was time to put together another blog post. Plus, WordPress has been nagging me about how it’s been over 20 days since my last blog post. Okay, WordPress, I was just waiting for the right moment to blog – calm down.
From my resume and past work experience, you would probably never guess that I’m actually a huge supporter of startups and entrepreneurship. Apparently something about working for well-known billion dollar companies screams, “I hate startups and small businesses.” Plot twist: I love them.
In fact, I’m a huge supporter of starting a startup. Recently, Y Combinator’s Sam Altman designed a class called “How to Start a Startup,” and guess who is following along? Me. So why in the world do I even care about the startup community? Because I actually believe that attempting to start a business is probably one of the most useful experiences you can ever do during your professional career.
Whether or not your startup achieves an IPO, at least Series A funding, VC backings or completely flops – you still learn something along the way. I can honestly say that I fall under the last category.
That one time I started a business with some really smart guys
In the summer of 2013, my friend Clarke Rahrig messaged me, along with a few other guys about meeting up at the local Dog & Duck pub for some drinks and to throw ideas for a project. Little did I know that spending quality time with these guys would result in a potential business, lots of primary research for a business and a very odd naming of a company that didn’t flourish, but made us better people because it.
Alparka was the name, parking was our game. The concept was simple: you have a parking spot that you’re not using this weekend, let us be the Craig’s List to sell it out to someone who is in town for a Texas football game – simple enough considering Austin’s constant struggle for parking, especially during a game day.
Four engineers, a sales guy and a PR girl apparently leads to one hell of an experience. We were the epitome of Austin Troll, LLC – yes, that’s what we called ourselves and the Groupme still holds that title to this day. So what did I learn from these fellow trolls? I’ve worked on various group projects in my advertising and PR classes and I’ve worked with my fair share of engineers and computer scientists, so what made this experience any different?
1. Working on a diverse team: We each had our talents. Clarke had a knack for coming up with ideas for a startup / finding a way to start a startup to replace his Senior Design class for engineering majors. Farzad Yousefi was an electrical engineer who dabbled in student affairs on the side. Aazim Sitabkhan was a biomedical engineer who was a closeted computer scientist. Matt Dodson was a computer science and mechanical engineering double major who had an odd mix of talents in programming. And of course, your two non-technicals: me and Tyler Durman – the PR girl and the corporate communication major doing his victory lap with a talent for selling you basically anything. We somehow meshed together. Yes, the beers did help, but we also had a lot of help from white boards and Google Docs filled with ideas.
2. Use your resources: If I had a dollar for every time I played the, “but I’m a student and I just want to pick your brain” card with a local entrepreneur, I would be a well-off woman. We asked as many questions as we could to every connection we had. We wanted to understand the market, introduce our idea for feedback and tell everyone what we were doing to get some hype. We even had a website for others to review. Whenever there were Entrepreneur-in-Residence (EIR) office hours for Brett Hurt, we picked his brain. We casually asked our friends about our business model. We did anything we could get our hands on.
3. Support: It sounds like such a simple concept, but many forget that when building a business, there is no way in hell you can do it on your own. Having the support of your team is what gets you anywhere. Even though Alparka didn’t flourish like we wanted to, I can honestly say I always had the support of the guys. They were always there to tell me when my ideas were great and when they had no relevance to the business model – better to hear critiques from your team members who want to see you succeed.
4. It’s okay to fail: I’ve mentioned it a few times throughout this post, but Alparka didn’t play out like we wanted it to. Three of the members of our team graduated and went off to work for cool companies and three of us are graduating in May 2015. Did we technically fail? Yes. Are we going to give up the idea of starting a business together? No. Nothing brings strangers and acquaintances together better than attempting to start a business together. Friendship was an added bonus at the end of the adventure.
Have an idea for a startup? Do it. The worse thing that can happen is it’s not currently the right idea or it’s not the right time. Eventually, however, you’ll get there. Just look at successful student startups like my friend Bradley Roofner and his partner Logan Brown‘s HatTee or my friend Sunny Das‘ Texas Custom Apparel.
If you’re a student, start a startup. It will change your undergrad experience for the better.