Last week we announced our company Pushpins was acquired by Performance Marketing Brands (parent to Ebates/Fatwallet). It has been a wild ride since we started the company in our dorm at Harvard Business School just over three years ago My co-founder, Peter Michailidis and I learned so much along our journey and feel so fortunate that we started Pushpins when we did rather than waiting until after we graduated. So I wanted to share some tips on how you can take advantage of being a student to launch your company.
1. Pitch. Pitch. Pitch.
You will have access to a number of business plan competitions at your own or neighboring universities. They are tremendously helpful because they force you to:
- Get grilled by successful venture capitalists, professors, and entrepreneurs
- Interview potential customers and validate the size of the market
- Test potential co-founders and teammates
- Find mentors in your industry
- Meet deadlines
Oh, and you can make some money too. We were lucky enough to win MIT100K’s Executive Summary competition, which gave us just enough money to build an initial prototype of our product.
2. Don’t Be Afraid to Use your .Edu
For four years, you are given access to a golden ticket – a .edu email address. Don’t be afraid to use it. While you shouldn’t spam your alumni network, you should seek out people who you think could be helpful. Just ask for a 15 minute call (it usually turns into more) and be specific if your request.
Here is an example:
I hope that my email finds you doing well. I am a recent graduate of [Your University] and came across your name in the Alumni Navigator — please excuse me for contacting you without a formal introduction.
The reason I’m reaching out is that I co-founded a venture backed, mobile coupon company with a fellow classmate and am looking for some feedback. I promise this is different than the hundreds that flood your inbox every week.
[Information about your company and how it relates to them]
I was wondering if you have 10-15 minutes to provide some feedback around what we are building?
Most successful people love to pay it forward because they remember when they were in your shoes. While you won’t find an advisor in every conversation, you will start building relationships with key people in your industry.
3. Date Your Potential Co-Founder
In school you have many low risk opportunities to date your potential teammates. I was lucky enough that my co-founder Peter was a classmate of mine.
We took every opportunity to work on “non-company” assignments together. If you can trust each other in the classroom, it’s a good first test to see if you can trust each other outside of it. This led us to collectively decide to give up summer internships to work on Pushpins as part of Lightspeed’s Summer Fellowship Program.
At the end of the summer we ended up raising our Series A from Lightspeed while going back to Harvard to graduate. We knew we could trust each other to finish school, while still dedicating ourselves to Pushpins.
Don’t wait to graduate to start working on your idea.
There is no better time to a start a company then while you are a student. You have access to money, mentors, and teammates that are not nearly as easy to acquire after you graduate. While every school project might not end up in an exit, it will help you lay the foundation for the skills you will need to be a successful founder in the future.
Jason Gurwin is the Co-founder of Pushpins, follow him on Twitter @jasongurwin