You would think starting a business in college would be damn near impossible, what with 3am cramming sessions and stressing about finding a post-grad dream job being key components in every typical university experience. But three young college roommates at Santa Clara University accepted the challenge without hesitation — in fact, the idea for their genius college business came organically.
What started out as a simple experiment combining Gatorade with alcohol to create the perfect hangover-eliminating cocktail quickly turned into a legitimate business idea, reminisces co-founder of Ficks & Co. Mike Williamson. After surviving the rocky first few months of creating a startup, the trio crowdfunded enough capital to create their products — the amazing Ficks Margarita Cocktail Mix ($10) and Ficks Moscow Mule Cocktail Mix ($10) — and the rest, as they say, was history! We sat down with Mike to get some expert advice on just how to start a college business of your own.
Find Your Winning Idea
1. Start off with a great idea. Finding an idea that you’re passionate about and makes sense financially can be tough. But once you do, the results will speak for themselves. “Ficks was born as a wild idea to eliminate hangovers while drinking. Simple as that,” says Mike. Start with a problem and brainstorm solutions — the simpler the better.
2. Do the sleep test. “I once had an idea for an alcohol-branded ice cream,” Mike confesses. “I wrote the idea down, slept for a healthy eight hours and woke up the next day having already mentally crossed it off my list.” College is a time for massive experimentation… so don’t shy away from big ideas. Just make sure to give yourself ample amount of time to fall in love with your idea before diving head first into entrepreneurial mode during your already busy senior year.
3. Do your research. Figuring out if your product has already been attempted is super important, but just because something similar has already flopped doesn’t necessarily mean that your project is doomed. Give the past project lead a call, suggests Mike: “Most entrepreneurs who have started a business that failed would be happy to see it work, even if managed by someone else.” Plus, the information you can learn will be priceless.
Hunt for Help
4. Use your college’s resources. “Colleges and universities are full of people interested in helping out students with unique ideas,” Mike advises. “In our case, we leveraged the resources of our biology department, as well as a number of individuals within the business school and entrepreneur networks.” Don’t be afraid to ask for help, even from a peer in a different department.
5. Seek out experts. No matter how much you think you’ve learned since arriving on campus, talking to an established industry expert about your startup is an essential first step in growing your business. “Just be careful not to bring an expert on as an advisor too quickly,” warns Mike. As ideas are prone to adapt and take on a ton of new forms during the initial stages, it’s important to weigh all expert advice against the most recent and adapted direction of the business.
6. Put together the basics. Putting together the basics like a business plan and financial model is important, “but don’t sweat every tiny detail,” Mike suggests. “If you don’t have experience with financial modeling, walk onto a business school campus and ask any random person if they have experience with creating models. They will almost certainly be able to help or refer you to someone else who can.”
Talk Your Idea Up
7. Talk to EVERYONE about your idea. “Most early entrepreneurs are very cagey with a new idea,” says Mike. And while that initial hold-off-ishness may be valid at times, more often than not, the feedback you’ll get from creating a dialogue about your product with family, friends and colleagues far outweigh any negative effects.
“Someone you know will almost certainly have some important tidbit to opine on that will ultimately prove invaluable,” Mike notes. “For example, if you need a website but you’re sweating the idea of putting one together yourself, ask a local card shop or coffee shop or restaurant or book store where they got their website done and get a referral! Sweating done.”
8. Stay Focused on Being Small. “In order to make a very large business, you have to make a very small business first,” says Mike. “When you launch, launch as big as possible, but realize that the business must first maintain a very core group of customers — the ones that join the email list as soon as possible, reorder and reorder and reorder and so on. Reach out to them to find out what they like most about the product and leverage that.”
9. Don’t forget the fun. “The most important aspect to realize about working with your friends is it needs to still be fun,” says Mike. Establish clear roles and responsibilities and make sure you communicate with your buddies effectively — but if you’re not having fun with your friends while you’re working on your dream project, then you’re definitely doing something wrong.
10. Learn how to embrace the intimidating. Starting a business early on in your career can feel super intimidating, but learning how to embrace that feeling can be tremendously rewarding. “If it doesn’t feel intimidating, then you’re not putting everything you have into the idea,” says Mike. Being an entrepreneur can put you in some awkward situations, but at the end of the day the feeling you get when you present a product that is completely and uniquely your own is absolutely worth every stressful moment.
11. Remember that it’s okay to make mistakes. “When starting an idea in college, you WILL make mistakes,” Mike says. “But each and every one of those mistakes will be the building blocks of what the company will eventually be.” Own your mistakes — preferably in the beginning stages of your company, when mistakes typically cost less — and you’ll be well on your way to making your own amazing college business.
Do you or anyone you know have a successful college business? Tweet us by mentioning @BritandCo.
(Photos via Getty)