Editor’s Note: College Treps is a weekly column that puts the spotlight on college and graduate school-based entrepreneurs, as they tackle the tough task of starting up and going to school. Follow their daily struggles and this column on Twitter with the hashtag #CollegeTreps.
Starting a business on a shoe string, may force young entrepreneurs into all kinds of awkward situations — from losing an internet connection mid-Skype to being asked by a Starbucks barista to “keep it down.”
In launching my company OneKey Ventures, a Santiago, Chile-based strategic-investment brokerage, I was trying to land high-level meetings with sources in China all while attending graduate school and operating out of a tiny dorm room. Possible? Yes. A little crazy? Definitely.
Though my program included a six-month sojourn to China — where we met Chinese investors all the time — my company’s then headquarters was located in our tiny two-bed dorm room. The tight accommodations made for some interesting situations that I will never forget.
With the 12-hour time difference between China and Latin America it became common to have Skype calls with investment banks at three and four in the morning. Naturally, everyone else was asleep at that time so I had to find a place where I wouldn’t wake up my roommate or run into students coming back from parties. The logical thing to do would have been to go to the dorm’s common room, but there wasn’t such thing. So I was left with one place to make these crucial business calls: the bathroom.
There I was, in the middle of the night, sitting in the bathroom in my pajamas, armed with my laptop and headset to talk to managers of a multibillion-dollar investment banks. And when we would have early-morning video conference calls, we would quickly throw on a shirt and jacket but leave our pajama pants on. (Our counterparts on the other side of the world could only see us from the waist up.) It was brilliant. Once, we were even complemented on how well dressed and put together we were.
In the end, you really do just have to make-do with what’s available — even if you are working with some of the largest investment banks in Latin America to attract Chinese investors to multimillion-dollar projects.
Here are three tips I learned for starting up from a dorm room:
1. An office is overrated. Having a dedicated office space is nice, but you don’t need it to get started. Spend your money only on things that will land you customers.
2. Launching in college is cheaper. Starting up while you’re still in school is often cheaper because your opportunity costs are lower — that is, you don’t really have anything to lose. And your “office costs” may be largely financed by the low-interest student loan you got for tuition and housing.
3. Living with your co-founders is key. Starting up on campus makes it easier to coordinate the team and work long hours when your co-founders are your roommates or next-door neighbors. This simple fact can have a big impact on how much you can accomplish in a short period of time, as well as on your startup’s overall success.
What other tips would you suggest for starting up lean? Let us know in the comments section.