Being a first time entrepreneur is difficult. Starting a business in college? More so. Yet every year, new college startups pop up anyway.
I met with the founders of Cribspot, a rental marketplace for college housing, to learn how they turned their idea in college into a full-fledged company.
Co-founders Jason Okrasinski, Tim Jones, and Evan Dancer built their first prototype in November of 2012 while in undergrad at the University of Michigan. Since then, they’ve expanded to 175 schools in 48 states. They’ve also raised a seed round of $660,000 and completed both the Bizdom and Y Combinator startup accelerators.
They know a thing or two about getting a startup off the ground. And luckily, aspiring college entrepreneurs, they’ve got some advice for you.
Solve your own problem.
You have to work on something that you care about. If you don’t really care about it, you’re not going to want to stay up late and skip going out. If you’re starting a company just to start a company or make a lot of money, it’s not going to motivate you.
Launch fast so you don’t lose interest.
Don’t try to make the perfect product before you push it out. Especially in college, it’s easy to pick up something for a couple of weeks and then stop when it gets hard. It’s never going to be easy, so you have to have the expectation that it’s not going to be easy and just work.
Get to market fit.
The goal of any startup should be to find a target audience that loves what you are building. You want to start with a niche market first and then expand outside of that.
Initially we tried to do too much: Facebook marketplace, housing, and an auction site. Do one thing well.
On Forming a Team
Seek people you work well with.
It’s always easier to start a company with friends. Try to have a diverse background of tech and business. As long as you believe in the vision and you’re excited about it, then that should carry over when you’re talking to someone that you’re trying to get to join the team.
“I wanted to make something that my peers would use, whether it was games or something that was actually useful, it didn’t really matter. I just wanted to see something I made get used by the student body.” – Evan
Keep your team small.
In line with staying frugal, only hire when you don’t have enough hours in the day to do everything you need to do. Also, trim down the things you think you need to do to what really matters. Don’t hire before getting to market fit and be selective.
On Using Campus Resources
Take advantage of workspaces and grants.
Today, most universities offer grants and funding. The University of Michigan has a few grants such as the Provost-funded CFE Jump Start Grants, Dare to Dream, and others. We worked in many different university spaces, including the TechArb incubator and the Fish Bowl computing site.
On Spending Money
A lot of people think you can’t start a company without raising money. However, the most successful startups all had little, if any, investments. This forces entrepreneurs to be creative, thrifty, and ramen-profitable focused. In our case, the four of us lived out of a 500 square foot apartment for less than a $1,000 /month.
Spend money on things that leverage your time better.
It depends on your company situation, but you should only spend money if it’s going to result in growth or users. At first, we mostly spent money on things that weren’t good like pens and stickers. Now we spend money on services like Heroku, which is more expensive than AWS, but is a lot easier for us. For services, you typically have to build it yourself or pay for it. Just pay for it.
On Applying to Startup Accelerators
It’s always beneficial to apply, so apply every time. At the same time, don’t just do any accelerator. There are two accelerators that are worth it regardless of the stage: Y Combinator and Techstars. Outside of that, it depends on the equity/money/stage of your company, though it usually makes sense for a first-time entrepreneur to go through an accelerator. You might be able to get the same experience by moving out to San Francisco and hooking up with a mentor.
Don’t use buzzwords in your application.
Every accelerator is different. With YC, focus on your growth numbers. Make sure what you do is clear. They hate marketing buzzwords. Whatever you’re doing should speak for yourself. Have an idea what your North Star is and show that you’re growing a lot, 10% week-over-week.
On Telling your Parents
Explain the benefits.
Even if your startup fails, you’ll be a much better candidate for any job. Your resume is better and you have a great experience to talk about in interviews.
Don’t rely on them for money.
You should be able to figure out how to get yourself the minimal amount of money necessary to survive in the early days of your startup without your parents
Thanks guys! If you have any questions for the Cribspot team, reply in the comments.