I had the opportunity to attend the East Coast Startup Summit this weekend at Princeton University. It was a great experience and I learned a ton from a number of the speakers including Fred Wilson of Union Square Ventures, Jennifer Hyman of Rent the Runway, and Jon Steinberg of Buzzfeed.
Below is a cheat sheet I’ve created for would-be (student) entrepreneurs based on our conversation with Vin:
Learn to Code
Vin mentioned that if you’re interested in tech startups, you should teach yourself to code. This was actually a point brought up by a number of the speakers and I definitely agree myself (and did before the conference).
Vin had actually not known how to code going in to building Yipit but taught himself so he wouldn’t have to outsource a core competency of his business from the outset. The best idea, according to Vin, is to spend about 3-6 months just teaching yourself to code and then used that knowledge to build prototypes.
Vin mentioned that the best languages to learn are Ruby (on Rails) and Python (Django). I suggest using Rails for Zombies or Learn Python the Hard Way. Other resources to learn to code include Codecademy.
Creating Business Should Be The Same as Creating Experiments
Vin mentioned that every business idea you have should be looked at like an experiment. Your idea is a hypothesis and your job is to try and prove your hypothesis right/wrong. If it fails, figure out why and test it again, this time with a tweaked experiment.
A Harvard grad and former Wall Street guy, Vin actually hadn’t failed up until he decided he wanted to become an entrepreneur. He mentioned that everyone should try failing. In other words, you have to get over the idea of following a path of going to school and getting a cushy job. Instead, try a bunch of different things and don’t be afraid if it doesn’t work out.
Vin also mentioned that if you hit rock bottom, that’s when you truly become the most innovative and creative because then you really have nothing to lose.
The Ideal Co-Founder
Vin mentioned that there we’re three qualities to a great co-founder:
- Someone you trust: you should find someone who you can look to as a friend and will be loyal to the business.
- Someone you’ve worked with: you may still find someone loyal and trustworthy, but your working styles may not mesh. Think back on all the group projects you had in school. Which of those people did you work well with? You may end up finding your co-founder in that group of peers.
- Someone with complementary skills: Lastly, you need to make sure that your cofounder has complementary skills. This doesn’t necessarily mean you should be the programmer and they should be the business guy. Complementary skills can even include one person being the creative, big-picture type and the other person being the methodical, small-picture type.
- How to build a landing page: Building a landing page is a great way to easily gauge if people will be interested in your product. If you get a lot of sign-ups and people show interest, you may be on to something.
- Build quickly, build fast: There’s no point in spending a lot of time building a product if it may fail. Vin mentioned they built Yipit in three days. They didn’t have the more technically advanced parts of their product built yet, but they knew it wouldn’t be worth the extra effort if people weren’t interested in their idea. After three days though, they knew they were on to something — building quickly also allowed them to be ahead of others who had a similar idea. From there, Vin and his co-founder iterated they’re product quickly to better fit the needs of their consumers.
- Build relationships: In the startup world, nothing is more important then the people you know. Build relationships with those who can help you. They may end up being your next cofounder, investor, or employee.
- Build your network: Going off of building relationships, it’s important to also build your network. You can’t do it alone in the startup world — the more quality people you have around you that can help and advise you, the more likely you are to succeed.
After hearing from Vin, I realized more so that entrepreneurship and starting a business isn’t just about knowing how to creatively market your product, or knowing how to build some shiny technical object, or just really being good with financials — it’s about being good at the art and science of business and learning that failure is not only okay, but the only way to learn and grow as an entrepreneur.