When I was in college, I knew I wanted to work for myself. Although only five years have gone by, this was a time when "startup" and "young entrepreneur" weren't nearly as commonplace as they are today. Businesses were being created, but the costs were much higher and money was tight. So, instead of starting my own company, I did the next best thing. I joined a fledgeling startup in 2006 called Grooveshark where a bunch of guys used pizza boxes as desks and the office was located behind a halfway house.
When I joined Grooveshark, I immediately assumed the role of all things business development. I created the monetization strategy, made the first advertising sale, helped raise precious funding and create the foundation for the company's success today -- which now has millions of unique visitors every month and is considered one of the top sites on the web.
Fast forward five years and I am now the CEO and co-founder of Roboleads, an automatic prospecting and lead-generating service for companies and individuals.
Through all the ups and downs of running Grooveshark (while still being a full-time student at the University of Florida), I made a lot of mistakes and learned a ton.
Here are the five most important things I learned from building a startup as a full-time student.
Get a Job
My best advice to anyone that wants to start a company, but does not know how or what to do, is to get a job. Get a job, an internship and just observe. Note the current inefficiencies within the company. For example:
Notice how useless XXX are?
See how much money companies waste on XXX?
After observing for a while, you will be able to spot these inefficiencies and apply what you have learned to your own future business model/plan -- making it solid, efficient and well-structured, allowing the company to generate greater profits.
Get Domain Expertise
If you want to start a revolutionary food delivery business, learn something about the food industry: Get a job at a restaurant; research companies in the area; interview restaurants owners, managers, employees, etc.
One reason many companies struggle is that the people running them do not understand the nitty-gritty details from the ground up.
When I first started at Grooveshark, I knew nothing about the music business. In my case, I had to subscribe to every industry publication, gain valuable advice from industry professionals and thoroughly learn the ins and outs from each and every one of our competitors.
Now Is the Time
I received a great piece of advice from a local venture capitalist in Gainesville, Dan Rua. He was giving a speech at the Entrepreneur's Club at UF.
He told us, "You're in college. College, in essence, is easy -- especially for undergrads. You have no excuse not to start a business while in school." That advice stuck with me. I knew I would never have as much free time as I would now -- during my college years and I decided to put it to good use.
Now is your time -- take advantage of it.
Work With People You Admire
For those who have had a job, you may have heard (or felt the effects) about the familiar statistic: 20 percent of the workforce does 80 percent of the work. In a realistic world, we realize that you cannot get rid of the 80 percent. In a startup, however, you can choose who you work with. My advice: Work with people whom you admire.
The great thing about working at startups is that you not only work with smart, motivated individuals, but you work with people who are creative, innovative, talented, and so on.
Working with like-minded individuals whom you respect will push you to do your best and to strive higher. When you work your hardest, you will be happier, the people around you will be happier, and you are more likely to build a successful company.
Learn to Wear Many Hats
When you run your own company, your job is to do everything. In the early days of Grooveshark, we had no "product" -- no website, no code, no anything.
When we moved in to our first stand-alone office, one of my jobs was to clean the toilets. We could not afford to hire a cleaning service and since no one else was going to do it, I strapped on the gloves and got the job done.
Luckily, Grooveshark started to grow and I no longer had to keep scrubbing toilets. As it grew, I had to figure out how to adapt my role to the needs of the ever-changing company.
You never know what is going to get thrown your way when building your future company. Always remember to be flexible, adaptable and ready to take on the dirty work.