I was extremely excited to attend an InSITE crash course with serial entrepreneur, Eric Koester, current founder of Main Street Genome and cofounder of Zaarly. I’m pretty new to the entrepreneurial field, as my background is mechanical engineering and prior to business school I worked for 3M Company. I didn’t know what to expect from this crash course, but I wanted to be a sponge and soak everything up. Eric had prepared a slide deck for us about how to build a startup, but instead we all opted for a Q&A session with him. This was really cool because he has tons of experience as an entrepreneur and it was a great way for a newbie like me to learn about entrepreneurship and startups.
There were a number of great takeaways I gathered from the session with Eric and a few definitely stuck out. One of my personal fears is that maybe I have no good ideas or ground breaking solutions, so how could I possibly become a successful entrepreneur? Before we threw any questions toward Eric, he started off with some really great advice. He said that we don’t have to be entrepreneurs right at this instant with a great idea, it’s just that we have to start being entrepreneurial in how we think and where we decide to focus our resources. His advice to us was to begin to spend time on topics or industries that really interest us and also spend time with people that are also entrepreneurial because it is in those moments that a great idea or innovative solution comes to fruition. This was a really simple idea, but something I needed to hear. After that, I began to think a lot about what entrepreneurship means to me. I realized that it’s not about coming up with the next big idea.
Instead it’s about immersing yourself in an environment/city/industry/landscape that you’re passionate about and uncovering what the problems are. By understanding the root causes of the problems, a person can begin to think about solutions. I think that is the point where innovation really begins. So I may not be a genius with million dollar ideas spilling out of my brain, but I can definitely be entrepreneurial.
Two other things that really jumped out at me were the importance of team members and also what Eric called, “The $10,000 Challenge”. When dealing with startups, Eric really stressed the importance of having a strong team, which makes a lot of sense. If I am going to be working countless hours with the same person every day in a startup environment, I have to be 100% comfortable with them, want to go through all of the ups and downs together, and still want to have a beer with them at the end of the day. That would be challenging for anyone to find a co-founder that met that criteria. So my takeaway was that teams can either make or break a company, no matter how good the idea is. The “$10,000 Challenge” was a quick gut check that Eric said we should run when we have an idea we really want to pursue. The challenge is that if someone were to give me $10,000 today to drop everything I’m doing to pursue my new idea, would I do it? If I were to say no, then it’s probably not an idea worth pursuing. This may seem a little silly, but I think it’s completely valid. To start a company is very very difficult and if I’m not 200% behind it, willing to fully commit, then it’s not going to succeed. Even when everyone else has given up, I will need to be the one person still working and believing in the idea. That type of mentality and motivation is what’s truly needed to make an idea become reality and I think the $10,000 challenge is a quick check of what mindset is needed for any budding entrepreneur.
Phil Vang is a first-year MBA student at Georgetown McDonough and an InSITE Fellow. He has experience in business design and engineering.