The New York University’s Entrepreneurs Festival was a lot of things to a lot of people, but for me it was one of the most beneficial learning experiences I’ve ever had. This was a process that ranged from the beginning of October to the end of February. I was able to see a project evolve from an idea to finished product right before my eyes. Looking back I can’t help but think that the lessons I learned during the festival can be applied to launching a startup.
Lesson 1: Have a Backup Plan
No matter how likely you think something won’t go wrong, always have a backup plan. In the unfortunate turn of events where you’re scrambling to figure out why Plan-A didn’t work out, it’s nice to have Plan-B in your back pocket. This was learned all too well when, after about two months of writing and planning our main promo video, our production team dropped out two weeks before the deadline. Suddenly we were up the creek without a paddle, or more accurately about to shoot without a production team. So we reached into our back pocket and pulled out that Plan-B. Our creative team had talented and capable members who were aware of all the aspects of how to pull a shoot together. I knew from the beginning that if we couldn’t find someone we could outsource our video to, we could make it ourselves.
We regrouped and planned out all the technical aspects of the shoot, pushed our deadline back a week, and pulled together a stellar production team consisting of all NYU students. In the second week scouted locations and hired actors, all leading to the one day shoot that weekend. We shot on one day from 5 AM to 8 PM because we had limited time and limited flexibility with everyones’ schedules. On the third week, we made all our edits and were able to present the video done and dusted on our new deadline and on budget. This applies to running your own business by illustrating the necessity to have a backup plan. If there’s a glitch with your product during an investor meeting, have a backup plan. If one of your suppliers goes out of business, have a backup plan. Entrepreneurship is exciting and full of optimism, but there should be an equal amount of consideration on preparing for the worst while starting your own company.
Lesson 2: Making Big Decisions with Little Time
Ironically some of the most important decisions you will make, will happen with a very limited amount of time. Some may call it trusting your gut or following your instinct, but I think a more accurate way of describing it was best said by my grandfather “when opportunity meets preparedness, it’s called luck”. So while you may not have a lot of time to think, how prepared you are for the unexpected will determine the outcome of your decision.
Things really sped up on the first day of the festival. Suddenly there was a bunch of problems that had solved in a few minutes. The crucial part was prioritizing them. For instance, should I stay with the tech team to make sure the projector is working or search for the missing panelists that are MIA at the moment. If the wrong decision was made a speaker could tell the audience to look towards a blank screen where a presentation should go; or a moderator could be moderating a panel of empty chairs. Preparing all the necessary resources and information beforehand allowed for good decision making. All these aspects translate to a startup culture. Knowing when to sell or not sell. Figuring out the best debugging efforts when your app is crashing on tons of people. Asking your parents for more money before saying goodbye. All these things require a decision made in a few moments that could impact the future of your startup, but with a little preparation the future can be bright.
Lesson 3: Surround Yourself with the Best Team Possible:
You’re not perfect. You can’t do everything. Your mom was wrong, but it was the thought that counts. In other words you only have a limited ability to handle tasks and limited amount of expertise or time as well. In order to do a great job you need a great team. While you may have a brilliant app, innovative distribution idea, or even just a million dollars, you won’t be able to execute any of it without a superb team.
The group of students and advisors that made NYUEF possible were truly excellent. The amount of effort and enthusiasm that was put into every moment of planning and implementation made the festival into one of the best yet. The team never relented whether it was staying up late the night before to get the complimentary t-shirts sent to another manufacturer to get redesigned, setting up all the venture showcase tables, or months prior securing sponsors to fund the festival. The festival didn’t fall on anyone person’s back, but on the back’s of everyone that participated. In a startup you need other people to succeed. Hardly any success is gained by climbing that entrepreneurial mountain alone. That’s why you need to surround yourself with some of the best people you can find. The coder, the sales guru, the numbers guy, and the one person that can get them all to work together.
In short, I had a blast working on this festival. It was an amazing time where I learned a lot and made many friends. I hope to take what I learned from helping put on this event and apply it to my own startup one day. Until then, I can’t wait for NYUEF2015!