By Tiffany Chang W’19
Growing up in the Kaka’ako neighborhood in my hometown of Honolulu, Hawaii, I became exposed to the budding startup culture that trickled across the Pacific from the Bay Area. What I found most intriguing about this culture was its ability to define a problem in society and creatively find a solution to it. Back home, I joined a fellows group called the Center for Tomorrow’s Leaders, which helped me gain the tools to become a leader and cofound Hawaii’s first student coworking space, The Canvas. Upon arriving at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, I knew I wanted to take my ideas to a whole new level. Inside the classroom, Wharton allows me to study across a wide variety of fields with the best resources. Outside the classroom, I joined clubs and programs like YouthHack FreshStart, which has given me opportunities and resources to transform my ideas into reality.
One of these opportunities was visiting the tech startups of Philadelphia and immersing myself in the growing entrepreneurship scene. As Juliana from Technical.ly Philly, a startup publication we visited, said, “Philly is its own tech scene filled with different opportunities, one of which is being a unique fish that matters in a sea, not just any old small fish in a big sea.” Many of the YouthHack freshmen’s eyes lit up as we began to envision our startup ideas one day becoming realities in Philly.
But what really does it take to bring an idea to life? Here are my five take-aways from our startup tour, visiting DreamIt (founded by Michael Levinson W’81), Curalate (founded by Apu Gupta WG’05), RJMetrics (founded by Jake Stein W’06), and Technical.ly Philly through the YouthHack FreshStart program.
- Make sure you are solving a problem
This mantra was first introduced to us by Steve Barsh from DreamIt Ventures and resonated with every entrepreneur we met through YouthHack. You can have the greatest idea but if it doesn’t solve a problem people have, no one will use your solution. As simple as it sounds, this principle easily escapes the idea-flowing, young entrepreneur, as most of them are focused on making the next “cool thing.” Stay grounded to the problem.
- Validate your idea
It’s important to check that the idea you have is solving a problem that is shared amongst others. How do you go about doing that? Jake Stein, COO and co-founder of RJMetrics, shared his story about the hundreds of phone calls he made, asking people about their problems and focusing the conversation not on his product, but on their needs. By first asking about the problems these companies faced regarding their data analytics and understanding what his potential clients have trouble with, he was able to shape his idea to better fit his clients’ needs. As a result, RJMetrics’ first product was tailor made for their first few users.
- JUST DO IT
Shia LeBeouf could not have said it any better. As one of our guest speakers Scott Sill (WG’00) worded it, “if you’re not embarrassed by your product, you’ve been thinking about it for way too long.” Many of the entrepreneurs we visited that day encouraged us to develop our idea into an MVP, a minimum viable product, and get it out in front of our potential clients. The MVP is made for us to test a hypothesis and get feedback to improve the product, rather than sitting in a room thinking about what could go wrong. It is one step to come up with assumptions, but the next step to get hard evidence on what went well and what didn’t go so well.
- You will know what everyone is doing
Startups are often times known for their small teams. Maybe working in a startup will bring you so close to the team that you’ll eventually know everyone’s daily routine—just like in the case of Curalate, where the family vibe and culture were very evident during our visit to their office. But most importantly, working at a startup or founding your own means that you will be highly involved in every facet of the company. Whether it is design or customer care, members of Curalate tell us how every employee is heavily involved across borders and departments.
- Don’t let dreams be dreams
Shia LeBeouf has captured the essence once again. Statistics show that 92% of startups fail within three years. These statistics are daunting, but true entrepreneurs are not fazed by those numbers and will stand up time-after-time, rejecting failure, to push forward with an idea they are passionate about. Melissa Morris Ivone from Curalate shared her realization that working at a startup is her dream job. At first, she didn’t believe that it was possible to find a dream job that she would love so much. But upon joining Curalate, her heart was completely changed by the way she could creatively utilize her talents towards a cause she believes in. Maybe creating or working at a startup is your path. Don’t let dreams be dreams, make them reality.
Bio: Tiffany is a freshman at the Wharton School. She is the cofounder of The Canvas, the first high school coworking space in her hometown Honolulu, Hawaii. She is passionate about problem solving, creating social impact, and bringing her millions of ideas to life. In addition to surfing and eating acai bowls on the beach, she works as a freelance graphic designer and photographer during her free time. She is currently exploring a biotech startup idea that she hopes to get going in the upcoming year.