65% of UK employees want to start their own business in order to be “their own boss.” However, after doing initial research and bumping into the fact that most start-ups fail only after 5 years, why should we invest so much time and effort and risk our money or jobs just to end up failing? This article will explain why entrepreneurship is worth it, especially when being a university student, and will provide some insightful tips from my own adventure with Pixyo.
I'm Emilio Bujosa, an LSE fresher studying International Relations and Chinese from Spain. I have always wanted to be an entrepreneur, but never found the energy or motivation to start something on my own. Here I point out some of my post-recurrent excuses: “no time, not such a good business idea, no social approval, too much effort…”. They were perfect, until I found myself locked in my house last year, with exams cancelled and nothing to do. Finding an excuse then became a really difficult task.
While alone in my house, I couldn’t stop thinking of how much I wanted to party. I remember scrolling through my photos everyday just to recall the fun I had in each and every party with my friends. I also found, however, hundreds of pictures in which I didn’t even appear that were making my gallery full. I also recalled having to text my friends 24/7, asking for the pictures, then waiting days until I finally got them.
It then hit me. Sharing pictures after a social event was horrible. We needed a new system that was faster, effortless, and more personal before clubs opened again. This is how Pixyo was born. Pixyo is an app that uses facial recognition to share pictures with the same quality and in the exact moment they are taken (like if you yourself had taken it!). We are currently developing the minimum viable product (MVP), and expect to launch it as soon as restrictions are over and we can be together again (as the app is also useful for weddings, professional events, birthdays, etc.).
TIP #1 – DECIDE: YOU OR THE COMPANY.
I had no idea how to build a company. I had the time, the motivation, the idea, but no business knowledge at all. My sister, on the other hand, was a McKinsey consultant. It wouldn't come as a surprise that she was the one whom I contacted first. What you might not expect were her demands in order to enter the company: she wanted to be the CEO and have 80% of the shares. Was it fair? I was the one that had come up with the idea and who had started thinking of business models. Yes, it was 100% fair, because she was going to bring 80% of the expertise in the future. If I had prioritized myself over the success of the company, and without her, the startup wouldn’t have gotten this far. You always have to see things from the company's perspective and put it above you, accepting all types of criticism, and sometimes, this means even losing total control of it.
TIP #2 – RISK THE IDEA OR FAIL.
You can’t invest hundreds of hours in a product if you're not sure that people want it. On the other hand, it's difficult to know whether or not people would like it without risking someone copying the idea. This is one of the greatest internal debates within entrepreneurs. Well, you have to make a decision. My sister and I decided to create a Google Form asking people about their sharing habits, their partying habits, and more specifically, if they would pay for this specific idea. We were playing with fire. As we wanted the survey to spread as much as possible, we raffled 50€ between the people who completed the survey. We also paid the people who distributed it, giving 0.05€ for each person that finished the Google Form because of them. Raffle and money? Success. 1200 people completed the survey in 24 hours, more than what we could have ever imagined (well, we actually aimed for 5000 people, but you know the quote: “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you'll land among the stars." That number of people was enough to prove a point: 70% of people we didn’t know would almost certainly download the app (based on habits, preferences, and answers).
TIP #3 – SEE COST FROM A RELATIVE PERSPECTIVE.
Yes, the survey costs us €65. It's painful when your budget equates to your parents´ weekly allowance. However, it also allowed us to receive $3000 from MIT. Thanks to the survey, we were able to demonstrate user interest and received their grant. If we had saved those €65, we would have lost the $3000. This is why it is very important to see money, not by its absolute value, but in relative terms.
TIP #4 – 50% RESEARCHING, 50% DOING.
There are SO MANY opportunities for entrepreneurs. Governments, foundations, banks, universities… they all want your startup to thrive. It will be good for the economy and it will be good marketing for them. You have to spend hours and hours a day looking for these opportunities online, because I can guarantee you that they are there. Many of them don’t even ask for shares or repayment.
TIP #5 – THE TEAM IS EVERYTHING.
All investors repeatedly say that they focus more on the team for its supportive and innovative value. When choosing to consult my sister, I was not only looking at her business experience, but also the fact that I knew we could cooperate. I knew that there would not be any major arguments that could potentially break up the company (mainly because she always knew how to convince me). Most of the time you cannot build a startup on your own, and so you will have to choose the best possible team. Criterion? Familiarity and diversity.
You need someone who:
a) you have worked together with and know very well;
b) and has very different ideas from yours. You need to spend your time debating and discussing different options, and (tip #1) prioritize the company's success over your ideas.
TIP #6 – TAKE IT EASY.
You are going to spend a lot of time on your business. Therefore, you should enjoy every single minute spent on it. Don’t see it as an obligation or as another task to do. Remember: motivation is key. If you lose it, the startup will fail, and this is one of the main reasons why companies end. Building a startup is a hobby, not work. If you don’t feel like working on it for a week, don’t. If you don’t feel like working on it for a month, don’t. If you don’t feel like working on it for three months, then you might want to go and look for another idea that motivates you more.
TIP #7 - A (SUCCESSFUL) LEADER FINDS OTHERS’ MOTIVATION.
You need to incorporate people to your team, but of course, you cannot distribute the shares of your company across 17 people. This is why you must find what truly motivates them. Do you need a promotional video and a social media platform?
Option A: Spend 5000€ in a marketing company.
Option B: Do it yourself and suffer the consequences.
Option C: Take a moment to think, and realize that many final-year marketing students need to participate in a real-life project in order to graduate. And they will make sure to do their best because their grade depends on it.
TIP #8 – THERE WON’T BE A BETTER MOMENT.
You are in university, and regardless how much you complain about exams, internships and work experience, there will probably be no other time in life where you will have such a large amount of freedom to choose what to do with your time. At university, you have the time, the energy and the motivation, while being surrounded by people who also want to create things. Isn’t it just what you need to kick it off?
So, going back to the start: if you know you are going to fail, why will you still do it? Very good question. It is very common to say that after 10 failed projects, the 11th one will earn the first profit. But I am not interested in the 11th project. I am interested in the fact that I have learned a lot about business, project management and leadership, but most importantly, I have enjoyed every single second of it. I can promise you that building your own business is extremely exciting. You feel like you are in a real-life video game, overcoming obstacles and passing onto the next level. I was going to hold on to this advice, but I will just share it with you as a final tip.
There is no huge step you have to do at the beginning that will take huge amounts of time and energy. Little by little, step by step, you can start creating your own baby. Soon, you'll see that building a startup is easy and exciting. So stop making excuses, and make the most out of your lockdown.
Maybe start from this: don’t you think that the process of [ ] can be made more efficient?