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What does it take to be an entrepreneur?

Read advice from three entrepreneurs, regarding idea generation, the need for people, and balancing time.

What does it take to be an entrepreneur? This was the question posed this week at a meetup co-hosted by Catchpoint and Rochester Institute of Technology. As I listened to the talks, I reflected on the various experiences I’ve had with startups throughout my career and advice I’ve heard from Catchpoint’s founders as we celebrated our 10th anniversary last month.

The topics were wide-ranging, and the entrepreneurs represented companies ranging from ‘still developing the product’ to ‘the market leader.’ Whether you are starting your own company or looking for ways to grow your career here is some of the advice shared by the panelists:

Image of panelists

Entrepreneur panelists Kailey Bradt, Aaron Foss, and Tyler Schrodt with moderator Nikhil Nampalli.

Generating ideas

Ideas come from the most obscure places. Kailey Bradt, a Chemical Engineer by trade and founder of OWA Haircare–a company developing sustainable, waterless haircare products, said that her idea came from an annoyance with having to travel with liquid shampoos.

Just because you have an idea, doesn’t mean it should be a product. Not all ideas are good. If you tell your friend about a product idea and the response is “Oh that would make a great gift” they’re just being polite. If people don’t want a product for themselves, they don’t want it at all.  What you want to hear is “Wow, that’s a problem I’ve been having, and I have no idea how to solve it.”

Make your product about solving a problem.  The more people that have a problem, the larger your market.  Bonus points if the solution is unique–“Oh, I didn’t even think that was possible to improve!”

Working with the right people

Your company won’t succeed without people. You need people to sell to, people to invest in you, people to believe in you. One of the most important things when starting a company is to get potential customers on board. You need to get the word out about your product and validate that the market you think exists does. The market validation is more important than having a product. A product with no market won’t sell. To validate the market, collect emails of interested customers, publish press releases, or ask people to write a product review. Once you’ve validated your idea, everything else will fall into place.

Launching a company takes time and money. It’s easy to want to jump to the investment stage, but don’t start the process too early. Validate the market first. If your idea is a good one, investors will find you. Tyler Schrodt, the founder of Electronic Gaming Federation–a company working with schools around the country to develop esports programs, said that for the first couple of years the company was funded for by winning various business plan competitions.

It might feel natural to want to work with your friends. But friends can make terrible business partners. Before you decide to start a company together, consider (really consider!) what would happen to your friendship if the company fails, or if one of you had to fire the other.

Balancing time

Being a founder of a company is hard.  Splitting your time between developing your product and developing business relationships is harder.  Sometimes you just have to jump in full-time – but if you have the opportunity to do it part-time, take it.  If you’re working 40 hour weeks right now, maybe you can keep working 40 hour weeks at your current job while working another 20-40 on your idea.  After all, once you do jump in full-time, you’ll be working 60-80 hour weeks all the time so you may as well get used to it.

If you’re going to spend time doing something, whether it’s starting your own company or working somewhere, or taking on a new challenge in your personal life – make sure you enjoy it.  Panelist, Aaron Foss, founder of multiple startups including Nomorobo– a company that protects your phone from robocallers and telemarketers, said you don’t have to be passionate about your idea, but you do have to be excited by it.  It’s just not worth it otherwise.

Ultimately, if you have a product that helps people solve a problem, you’ve validated that the problem is real, and you are excited about it, you’re on your way.

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