5 Takeaways From ThinkChicago For Student Entrepreneurs

by Colin Boardway on October 19, 2012

Think Chicago
Last week I was lucky enough to be one of the students chosen to attend ThinkChicago. As a total novice to Chicago’s startup community this was an awesome chance for me to get involved, meet with some of the most celebrated local entrepreneurs, and attend some pretty amazing Chicago Ideas Week events. It would be impossible to sum up this entire experience in a simple blog post, so here are 5 lessons I took away that I think can be applied to anyone who is currently in, or has ambitions to join a startup.

  • Build A Great Team
    No one follows their business plan exactly. If you’re just beginning a startup – you are going to pivot. The best way to deal with this kind of rapid change is to assemble a team that can adapt quickly. If you already have an established business, make sure your team can preserve your bottom line when making strategic shifts. Need help finding a co-founder?
  • Be Data Driven, Solution Oriented
    Simple A/B testing can go a long way. Orbitz CEO, Barney Harford shared how by playing with different versions of their hotel-booking page they were able to boost sales by 7%. Think of the revenue implications for a company that size. Establish your goals, set up metrics to track them, and if you’re not converting, test different variables until you get it right.
  • Test Your Assumptions Tim Ferriss, author of the 4-hour workweek, wanted to see if he could write his latest book without making phone calls or using email. In his talk he shared how it wasn’t actually all that difficult -he was able to pull it off through the use of tools like dropbox and project management software from 37signals. By shedding your assumptions you force yourself to find creative solutions to the problems that are irking you. Put all your sacred cows on the chopping block and get to work.
  • Build To Make Money From The Beginning
    “You can’t just turn on the make money lever” – Jason Fried. I’m not trying to dissuade anyone from starting a “product-first” company, but Jason made a very valid point. Before embarking on a business venture, you should be thinking, “how can this idea make money?”. Earning revenue should be built into your company’s plan from the start. If you want to hear more from Jason Fried, be sure to check out our next event!
  • Chicago Is An Amazing Place To Start A Company
    After visiting these companies and attending a number of talks, if one thing stands out, it’s that Chicago isn’t like New York or the Valley. But Chicago DOES have a strong startup community and a deep VC culture. All these emerging companies are rooting for each other, using each other’s products, and helping each other out when they can. If it was having a beer with Logan, CEO of Belly Card, or getting a ride to the Redline from a member of one of this year’s Excellerate Labs companies, it was evident that as a young entrepreneur, I couldn’t be in a better place. To my fellow undergraduates looking to take that leap into entrepreneurship I want to share this advice:
    “Have a good head on your shoulders. Don’t be an ass. Save some money. Have some fun.”
    – Jeremy Smith, SpotHero


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