15 9 / 2012

How to start a business while you study at UCL

I’m often asked about my experiences at University College London (UCL) particularly Msc in Technology Entrepreneurship; so I thought I write a little about my life and ventures. Some of the topics that I discuss here are personal evaluation, experiences from close friends and common questions that people have asked me. I hope this write up will shed lights to someone who has the motivation and drive to start a company while studying at UCL. 


Team:

The key essence of your start-up will be the team.  So far, the best people I’ve hired are former colleagues and school/class mates. While you are at UCL, you will have plenty of opportunities to meet your potential team or just simply build a business rapport. Therefore, it’s beneficial to work with different groups rather than constantly working with the same classmates. 

Moreover, if you are a non-technical person and you’ d like to build a tech startup, your first goal is to find someone who has a technical background. It’d be difficult to build a product without a technical co-founder. Where and how do you find them?   Get involved in a student run society, be a proactive person in your group work, hang out where brilliant people hang out. Don’t just send a job advert through the Computer Science Department, as I know some startups that tried it and didn’t have a successful result. The best people are already working on great things and will not wait for your advert. 

Some Links:

Start-up lifecycle by Fred Destin

What we look for in founders by Paul Graham


Studying vs. Working on Your Idea

You will need to find the right balance between studying and actually concentrating on your start-up.  Most likely at the beginning of your course, you are unsure of your idea or maybe even don’t have an idea to materialize. Therefore, I recommend to attend networking events and familiarize yourself with the entrepreneurial scenes.  Such examples are by attending business bootcamps, UCL e-challenge (must participate!), Leancamp and Enterprise Society events.

At some point, you may have the dilemma of attaining excellent grades or starting a reputable startup. For many of us, there’s a struggle where our first priority lies. However, it’s not impossible to do exceptionally well with the two spectrums.  I have met some people who were successful in their studies as well as in their startups.  So don’t get discourage when you feel you have to choose. 

 

Where to start?

You will need to find a problem worth solving. Nobody is going to pay you when there’s no necessity in the product or service. Reflect what kind of problems you are having or what problems your parents or friends are having. If you have worked or interned before, reflect on the job you worked on. Was there something that was complicated or involved a lot of manual work or people complained about? Ideally you find a problem that some people would be so happy if you would fix it for them. Talk to these people and ask them if they would pay for your solution (important!). It’s important to test your idea as soon as possible. And believe me, you can do the first initial testing without even writing one single line of code. A conversation with your potential client is enough and you will find out if he has a problem that you might be able to solve. If you get some users really excited about your idea, build a simple prototype. Ideally this shouldn’t take you longer than a few weeks especially if you are doing something web or mobile related and if you have coding experiences. Btw: Once a year, CS students need to work on a software project for their course and maybe you can get someone excited about your project…

Some people asked me if they should wait to work on their idea until the dissertation starts - No! Start as soon as possible, basically Now! The probability that your initial plan doesn’t work out is high, so you still want to have enough time and resources to work on another idea.

Some Links:

How to create things people want by Garry Tan 

The Lean Start-up by Eric Ries


Where you should get involved:

- Enterprise society: You can have a great impact on how entrepreneurship will be shaped at UCL. You will have plenty opportunities to meet potential co founders and even having the chance to set up an event theme that you are particularly interested in and attracting people in this area. We have had amazing speakers at our events and none of the speakers I contacted ever said no to my invitation.

- Participate at hackdays: Great way to rapidly prototype an idea and getting to know other people

 

Build trust and take it serious:

Don’t be a slacker! You will have amazing people and mentors around you; so don’t waste their and your time. Be prepared for meetings with questions that you have. Every staff at UCL that I know will want to help you in your start-up success, but you will need to do your homework as well. 

 

No one will fund you with a business plan

Many students still believe “I write a business plan and talk to an investor and I get funding” No! This will only work if you have already started and exited 3 or 5 companies and you have a well-respected name in the industry. You will get funding when you have traction! Traction means you need to show that people love your product! It means you need to show that either people pay for your product or that you have many users using your product. Of course there are also more criteria such as market size etc. 


It’s harder than you think

Many students are blindsided about success stories they read on Techcrunch or by following the media. What young people often don’t see are the endless iterations and pivots that many companies have to go through. Paypals success was based on their 5th iteration. Instagram did something different before and even Facebook was initially something different. Ask yourself if you even would work on your idea if you are completely out of money and have to sleep on campus. And if you believe that you will not stop working on your idea regardless of the tribulations, then you are ahead of everyone.  

Some Links:

The Struggle by Ben Horrowitz

Founders at work by Jessica Livingston


Please let me know about any comments, questions or what else interests you.

 




15 9 / 2012

Blog start

Hello world,

My first blog post! Hopefully you will see some regular updates here :-)

Cheers,

Martin




13 11 / 2011