Network, network, network, be social, be outgoing, and be smart.
My first year of college was pretty rough, I ended up transferring schools and wasn’t really sure of what I was going to do with my life. One of my first college grades was a C and for a short time I thought my life was in shambles. How will I get a job with a C, let alone pass my other classes? (I worry a lot.)
I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit and have a knack for identifying inefficiencies in a market. It started when I was a kid just collecting baseball and basketball cards. These cards would increase and decrease in value in correlation with the player’s statistics. I would sell the cards when I could but mostly developed a collection. When the Pokemon craze hit I would sell cards and trade with my friends to put myself in the most strategic position by collecting the most valuable cards.
The summer after freshman year I took some classes at the local community college and contemplated how I was going to set myself up to succeed. My first real venture was called ClassConsultant.com. I took an economics class over the summer where I learned a basic economic concept – “information is costly.” I had gotten a C and knew I couldn’t continue that trend and be successful and I was sure that others were in the same boat.
Grades are almost always a result of the professor, and obviously the class. What if there had been an easier professor or an entirely different class that filled the same requirement? So I created a website that would essentially have every “easy A” class listed at universities across the country.
It took some time to get started, I Facebook messaged all of my high school friends and asked what known “easy” classes were available at their school and started compiling my website. I did find that some of the classes my friends had suggested were easier, but easier was not the easiest, and I was trying to optimize. I ended up spending a lot more time than planned researching and verifying claims based on ratemyprofessor.com ratings and historical grade distributions. To boost the popularity of my site I ended up buying stickers to place around campus, made a Facebook page, Twitter page and even filmed a commercial. The problem was that a website with user generated content needs to have enough content to draw people to the site and eventually generate more content.
I had put a lot of time into the site without much profit. School started up again in the fall and I had become pretty sidetracked between school work and a new social environment. I left the site running and promoted it when I could. I was fortunate enough to transfer to a solid business school with other entrepreneurial minded individuals. This leads me to my initial statement, network, network, network.
After getting ripped off by selling my summer session books for almost nothing as people were buying them for much more for the same class, I knew I could capitalize on this inefficiency. I was at a house party with a couple friends when I met my buddy Pat. We talked for an hour or so about how a whole industry survives on the resale of books (e-books won’t allow this inefficiency to last much longer). We were both pretty well versed on databases and querying on specifications, working with big data. We both had a little programming experience but nothing too technical.
Enter Matt. Matt was a senior finishing up a computer science degree and was able to fill in the cracks. Pat and I set up all of the account processing and requirements for our textbook price inefficiency program that took online market prices and compared them to the buyback prices of several online retailers. If there was an inefficiency (ex. market price > buy-back price), we would execute the transaction (this is an advanced algorithm that took several months to develop the proper macros, which was super fun).
For the first three months this went off without a hitch and the more profit we made, the more books we could buy, the more money we could make and so on and so forth. Although we ran into some snags with books not being in the condition they were queried for, it all worked itself out until we needed to update our code to match the changes of our online retailers that purchased our books. We made the proper changes but eventually Matt left and we needed a better tech guy as Pat and I were not cutting it when it came to maintenance, an issue I also had with ClassConsultant.
(Warning!!! maintenance can be very time consuming!!!)
Since then, I’ve networked more, talked to more tech people, some entrepreneurs, read a couple programming books and I continue to have a steady stream of income to fuel my college shenanigans from this venture. I’ve recently been working with a tech start up in Portland, but have taken more time to focus on school.
So, here are four things I hope you can learn from my experience:
- Things will never go as planned, there will always be change and maintenance to be successful
- Find chaos/inefficiencies in a market and capitalize. Where there are problems, there are margins. Is your product or service valuable? Is it rare? Is it expensive to imitate, can you organize around it? If the answer to all of these is yes, you’ve got something special.
- Network with people, be friendly, and learn everything that you can – most people are allies that are willing to help, especially at a younger age.
- Know who you are working with, the people you want to work with may be your friends for now, but money can change things. The best thing for a strategic alliance is to be completely honest and open with one another, have the best interest for the “entity” or “business” in mind. One party may benefit in the short run but both parties lose in the long run. I other words, be strategic, be smart.