Full transcript of ShipMonk founder Jan Bednar’s TEDx Talk: What College Students Need to Know Before Starting a Business at TEDxBocaRaton conference. This event occurred on February 19, 2016.
Notable quote from this talk:
“I didn’t fail a thousand times; it just happened to be a thousand-step process.”
Jan Bednar – CEO of ShipMonk
A couple of years ago, I visited the immigration museum at Ellis Island, New York. I saw a quote on the wall, that somehow stuck with me until this day and it goes something like this:
“Before I moved to the U.S., I heard that the streets are paved with gold. When I got here I found out three things: first, the streets were not paved with gold; second, the streets were not paved at all; and third, I was expected to pave them.”
The reason why that quote resonates with me so much is because it reminds me how difficult a life can be when you move into a foreign country without speaking their language, having any friends, or knowing their culture.
When I was 17 years old, I had a huge dream of moving into the U.S., finish the school, and start a business. And now I am happy to say that I finally fulfilled my dream of starting a business, as I’ve run my business for about a year and now employed 15 people, and we just had $15 million in revenue.
I’m not the most seasoned entrepreneur out there, but I do want to share three key pieces of advice that have helped me succeed as a college entrepreneur.
FIND THE PROBLEM
The number one thing to starting any business is to find the problem. Might sound easier than it is, but finding a problem is the key ingredient to starting any business.
Now, you might wonder, ‘how do I find a problem?’ Well, start with yourself. Start with your hobbies and the things you like to do. Do you like traveling? Do you like sports? Do you like video games? Either one of these things.
There is bunch of challenges that surround that particular hobby that might be waiting for your business idea. When you do come up with a solution, you want to talk to the community and your friends, and see if they would use it, if they would like that business, and how much they would pay for it.
Once you get to that point, you’ve got something. I was lucky. When I was a sophomore in college, I was approached by a friend of mine who asked me to buy an Under Armour T-shirt for him here in the U.S. and ship it to the Czech Republic.
I didn’t really understand why he asked me to do this, so I started doing some research. It turns out, there is a lot of businesses here in the States that don’t ship products internationally, or don’t accept foreign payments.
On the other hand I knew, there is millions of people that don’t have access to the same products. So, I started a business. I paid a friend of mine a hundred dollars to create a very basic website for me that would basically explain to people how to buy from the U.S. and I would ship it to them overseas.
I’ve run that business for couple of months, and it wasn’t until four months before graduation when I heard of the FAU business plan competition and the 250 thousand dollar price poll that you can win. At that point, I knew I am in.
The problem was, I had no idea how to write a business plan, or how to present in front of a large audience. So I knew I needed to get help. I found out about the free seminars that Florida Atlantic University was offering to young start-ups to help them write business plans.
So I started attending these seminars, and that’s when I came across a very strange term to me at the time, that’s called ‘mentorship.’ The reason why I say it’s strange is because the mentorship is a concept of experienced business people that have been there, they have done it, they have successfully started, launched, exited businesses.
And now they want to help people, young people like myself, to get their business to the next level, for free. That’s the biggest catch, that’s the thing I couldn’t understand.
I couldn’t understand how somebody would volunteer their time for free, and not want anything for it. The reason why I don’t understand it – or I didn’t understand it – was because, coming from a post-communist country, you get nothing for free. And when you do, there is usually a catch.
Well, there wasn’t a catch this time. I met my first mentor, Bob Millson, a grey-haired, seventy-year-old dude who has been there, he has done it, he sold and exited his business, and he was there for me.
He has helped me to write a killer presentation, a business plan, and helped me win the first place at the FAU business plan competition.
Before I knew it, I was approached by the FAU to represent them at the State-wide, collegial competition up in Orlando. Before I knew it, I was standing up on stage, right next to every single major university in the state of Florida, competing for the State championship.
I told the judges my story. I told them how a friend of mine has approached me with a problem. I came up with the solution, and I had an existing problem and a existing business that would solve this problem.
They loved it so much that they thought that FAU and me should win the first place in the collegial State-wide competition. That was great feeling. That was one of my best accomplishments so far and at that point I knew there is no going back.
I joined the FAU Tech Runway Accelerated Program that is designed to help young companies and young people like me to succeed in their business. And that is exactly what they have done for me.
They have provided me with capital, space, and a bunch of other grey-haired mentors to help me get my business to the next level.
That brings me to the my third piece of advice, which is to bootstrap. Bootstrapping basically means, “don’t spend money on things you don’t necessarily need.” It’s really easy to spend money but it’s a lot harder to make them.
When you are in school, you are in the learning phase. You should really take advantage of all the resources available to you on the internet, on YouTube or anywhere else that you can imagine. You can learn the basics of basically any business online by yourself, and you don’t have to spend tons of money doing it.
When you are starting a business, it’s extremely important to, not to spend money on things you don’t need and you can do yourself. When you get to the point where you validate the business, you validate your concept, and you know that you can move forward, at that point you can start spending as much money as you want, but you can have intelligent conversations with those people because you will know the basic photoshop, basic accounting, basic sales and marketing. You will know all those and that’s what helps you.