November 19th, 2009

5 Things I’ve Learned About Starting a Business as a Recent College Graduate

Entrepreneurship -

Guest Post: This weeks post comes from Jesse Gossett, the first member The Green Light Distrikt’s Cool Hat Club. Like myself, Jesse just graduated college and his passion has driven him into renewable energy. Jesse knows a thing or two about starting a company. A company he co-founder, Emergent Energy Group, just won Business Week’s ‘Top 25 Under Top Competition”.

My last post on “What I’ve Learned Since Graduation” received a lot of positive feedback so a couple weeks ago when Jesse and I were talking about what we’ve learned since graduation over a game of corn hole, I thought it would be great to see Jesse’s perspective. Jesse wrote a great post and I can’t wait for me in the future. Here it is, enjoy!

1. Now is the best time to start a business from a personal standpoint. By this I mean a few things. First, we should all have very few strings attached to us when we graduate. College loans and potentially a girlfriend. No car payments (depending on your geography), no kids, no mortgage, and no credit card debt (please tell me you got real college loans and didn’t use your credit card…). We’ve gone months at a time without any revenue, and we always get by because we have such an incredibly low operating cost and living standard. Actually, the living standard isn’t even that low. I can’t tell you how many friends buy me a beer when we’re at the bar…

2. Starting young can be a very difficult time to start a business from a professional standpoint. Sure, there are a lot of resources available to young entrepreneurs, such as incubators, college resources, and friendly/altruistic mentors. But you don’t have the network. And you don’t have grey hairs. I went the hard way, with a service-based company. I imagine it’s much easier to sell something tangible that you can prove functions in a meeting. We sold ourselves, our brain-power, and our creativity. Very hard to do. Get some IP. It’ll make your life easier. Otherwise, you’ll end a meeting with the following quip from across the table, “Great to meet you guys, cool work you’re doing. Next time, invite your fathers, though.” (yes… it happened.)

3. Get the right people on the bus. This can be taken in two ways. First, make sure the talents and skills of each person involved in your venture mesh well. Complimentary skills are important. Even more important is to make sure everyone is good at the role they are taking. And MOST important is making sure that everyone is happy doing what they are doing. Happy, healthy teams are more productive. Second, make sure everyone likes each other. Duh.

4. Be comfortable squeezing your budget. This, of course, depends on your type of venture. If you raise  money, by all means take an 80k salary and live it up on the VC’s dime. However, if you’re boot-strapping, be prepared to bum drinks. Lots of drinks. Lots and lots of drinks. Then, occasionally, cook everyone dinner. Using food stamps. I sort of already said this, but I really can’t stress it enough. It’s certainly a risk to start your own company from a financial stand-point. However, if you survive off of top ramen, subsidized health care from the lovely state of Massachusetts, and work from home, that nest egg from mowing lawns can go for YEARS.

5. Be creative. This can go so many ways. For now, let’s just say in how you get free sh*&. Starting out, you tend to give a lot away for free. Prototypes, demo’s, time, etc. However, there are always ways to get free stuff in return. You’re young, you’re sexy, you’re the next ‘google guys.’ People want to know you now so they can sell you sh*% later. Lawyers, partners, parents, you name it. People will be nice to you. Don’t abuse your position, and always remember to be gracious. And of course keep them in mind if things do go your way. But in the mean time, be a sponge. Suck up all the free advice, food, time, and products that you can. We’ve been living off of probono lawyers for the last three years!  OH. One thing on that note. Be careful with pro bono legal work. It’s free, which is awesome, but make sure they do it right. We had one of the most premier law firms in the country do one of the most basic things in the world wrong. And we didn’t find out for over a year.

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Chris Williams

About Chris Williams

Chris Williams is the editor of Green Light Distrikt and Chief Marketing Officer at HeatSpring . He has experience in business development, prototyping and new venture research with a focus on geothermal heat pumps, solar thermal and solar photovoltaic technologies. Chris is an IGSHPA accredited geothermal installer and NABCEP certified solar installer. Chris is focused on solving customer facing issues in the creation and adoption of clean energy technologies and products. Chris has installed over 300kW of solar and tens of geothermal systems. He's invented the PV Pal , developed many trainings at HeatSpring, publishes the NABCEP Study Guide , the Hitchhikers Guide to Cleantech and has done due diligence research for Urgent VC . Feel free to connect with him @topherwiliams , on Linkedin , or through email about new ventures, collaborating, writing, research or whatever is on your mind.