This piece comes to us from Jeremy Berman (MBA ’13), a 2nd year MBA student and current EVC Club President here at UNC Kenan-Flagler:
One of the best parts about being a business school student is that you can reach out to random companies of interest and ask to learn more about what they do. It is the perfect excuse to visit startups, network, and learn about different industries. In business school terms, this falls under the guise of a “career trek.”
Last week, a group us trekked north to visit the burgeoning startup scene in NYC. The startups we visited were all over the map – from nonprofit marketing to ed-tech to online marketplaces. The common similarity across all the companies (and this is the best part about startups) is that all of the employees are extremely passionate about what they do. Coming from an environment where people gravitate towards investment banking and consulting – meeting with startups always is a breath of fresh air.
All of the people we met with were inspiring and helpful in their own way – here’s what we learned:
WiT Media’s main focus is to provide marketing and advertising services to the non-profit sector. They also develop products such as Culturadar
, which is a powerful online tool that connects consumers with the best cultural experiences at the best prices in a city. Here are the key takeaways:
- There is a right and wrong time to build your startup – time the market appropriately
- Industry connections can remove a lot of risk when first starting out
We were lucky enough to meet with Joe Morgan, Noodle Education’s CEO, and with Kyle Jaster, Chief Product Officer. Both Joe and Kyle gave valuable advice when it comes to building a company and landing a job at a startup:
- Knowing how to communicate with the technical team is a huge advantage (everyone at the company, including the administrative assistant, has taken a programming class)
- When you are trying to boil the ocean, you need to initially focus on a beachhead vertical to gain traction
- In order for a startup to be successful it must iterate and ship quickly. In order to ship quickly, you need to define success and shorten the feedback cycle
Our meeting with Josh Goldstein, Director of Operations and UNC alumni, centered on finding a startup job in another city. For those of us aspiring to work at startups, these “in-the-trenches” talks are extraordinarily valuable. Here are some lessons learned:
- Your network is your key to finding a startup job. Submitting a resume online is essentially worthless. Get out there and meet people.
- The same job has different titles at different startups
Jamal Motlagh, Acustom CEO, had a less traditional pass to becoming an entrepreneur. After beginning his career at Microsoft, Jamal changed gears and joined a professional water polo club before heading back to business school. During his internship in a financial role, he decided that he needed to get out there and do something on his own. Jamal walked us through his path to entrepreneurship and dropped some nuggets of wisdom along the way. Here are the highlights:
- Fundraising is a full-time job, make sure you have a co-founder to help out with other areas of the business
- Life is worth taking a risk on
While Warby Parker was one of the companies we visited last year, the only thing that was the same was the person giving the presentation. Over the past year Warby Parker has raised $30M, hired 90 people, and changed offices – all while dominating the eyeglass industry. Once again, Tim Riley, Director of Online Experience, dropped some knowledge on our group:
- Attack the cause, not the symptom (in reference to helping customers if their glasses don’t fit right)
- In order to scale a company, the foundation (e.g. existing employees) needs to be exceptionally solid. That is the only way to grow and maintain the company culture.
When I heard that ShowMe was part of General Assembly
(GA) I was exceptionally excited. GA is one of NYC’s premier co-working locations and I was interested to see the magic behind the curtain. Our meeting with San Kan, Founder/CEO, gave us insight into what makes ShowMe so successful. San is focused on building the best product possible and by doing so has attracted 1M users with no marketing. San told us that:
- A good network effect will eventually lead to a sustainable revenue model
- To listen to users more than competitors
In conclusion, thank you Kristin, Joe, Kyle, Josh, Jamal, Tim and San. After speaking with all of you we are even more excited to join the NYC startup community after we graduate.