In the past two years, I have constantly encouraged almost everyone I know to work for a startup or become an entrepreneur. In observing the journey of a variety of people, including myself, I have realized a common pattern: a focus on adding value.
One of my favorite entrepreneur professors at the University of Illinois (my alma mater, as they say), said networking should be about “how you can add value to others” (Dr. John Clarke). I believe this practice of adding value to others and adding value to startups is the formula to getting involved with entrepreneurship and startups.
I want to share how this practice of adding value has led to a variety of accomplishments: (1) becoming a thought leader on state regulation over private education, (2) becoming a writer for topics like the importance of women in tech, (3) assisting with investment strategy for a startup with a multi-million dollar valuation, and (4) starting a company that had a million plus in revenue in just one year, and (5) leading a company that continues to have the ability to give people a new opportunity or new beginning. Below are three stories of how adding value…
Led to becoming a thought leader on state regulation over private education
Back in early 2013 when we started MakerSquare, we hired Joseph to help us part-time. We (Ravi, Shehzan, Harsh, and myself) particularly needed help building a bunch of Ikea furniture for our school and our townhouse for students. Since the start, Joseph has been amazing at helping in any way that he can. He has built a shit ton of Ikea furniture. In May of 2014, as we were launching MakerSquare San Francisco, we even flew Joseph out to help us set up the office. In addition to the labor work, Joseph has been managing our HR (payroll, onboard processing, employment contracts) and ensuring compliance with state regulation (TWC in Texas & BPPE in California). The past two months I have been meeting regularly with seven other tech education schools about the imminent pressure of this potentially restrictive state regulation. As a group, we have been working with state legislators to put language into the regulation which enables more schools like ours to train and place valuable tech talent. In the end, we all must comply with the regulation as is. As we have worked through similar regulation for 10 months in Texas, Harsh and I offered to share our insight and experience. As we (Harsh and I) did not particularly work though all the processing required for Texas’s TWC regulation, we consulted Joseph, who can be recognized as a thought leader on state regulation over private education. He could easily offer his services as a consultant to the 60+ other schools like ours still working through similar regulation. Joseph is currently a prospective senior at the University of Texas. Yes, Joseph is a boss (and a child)! How did he become a boss? He added value. He built Ikea furniture and continuously listened and executed.
Led to becoming a writer and assisting with investment strategy for a startup with a potential multi-million dollar valuation
Nish is currently at MakerSquare writing content for MakerSquare’s PR and our blog; he also directly supports me with our investment strategy. About a year ago, as Nish was working full-time in finance at Guggenheim, Nish expressed his interest in volunteering his time to help me with MakerSquare in any way that he could. I was well aware of how smart he was, so I knew he would be extremely helpful. I consulted him as I managed our accounting and finances. We also concluded that he could help us write content. In our first two months of operation, Nish wrote two awesome articles (The Programming Revolution and The Need for Women in Tech). His article helped us get a class with a 50/50 male to female divide. I believe to this day MakerSquare is alone in accomplishing this gender diversity feat! More recently, Nish quit his position at Guggenheim in preparation for his MBA at University of Chicago’s Booth program. Initially he planned to enjoy his summer learning to play golf, working out, and drinking enough beers. At the same time, he expressed his interest to help again in any way he could. On June 24th, 2014, the news of Kaplan purchasing one of our ~equal competitors, Dev Bootcamp went live on the Wall Street Journal (based on speculation, the estimated purchase price is between $30-$80 million). I was thrilled. I reached out to Nish, because I knew he follows m&a activity and a variety of investments. He provided me with valuable insight. From there, we continued to talk and he volunteered 30+ hours a week to help with writing more content and MakerSquare’s investment strategy. After three weeks, I expressed my interest in giving him an offer. Nish is now working full-time for MakerSquare until he starts school at Booth. My conclusion here: provide value to others or ‘network’ and awesome things will follow, maybe even a job offer to work with your friends.
Led to starting a company that had (1) a million plus in revenue in one year and (2) the ability to give people a new opportunity
When I learned to develop software a few years back, I had the chance to work on an social web application that would connect kids learning English in developing countries like Cambodia and Honduras . I had a chance to do this because Adam was leading the development of this app for Global Playground while I was at Starter League. I did not get paid for this opportunity, but I worked on it in the evenings after work. Now, a few years later, I continue to maintain this relationship with Adam and he is now working for a complimentary company, Udacity, as a curriculum director. I look forward to seeing how MakerSquare will help Udacity as they provide tech nano degree (The New York Times).
My motivation to start MakerSquare was to provide others with the same opportunity I was presented to learn to code when I graduated college. Looking back at our progress since the start, I strongly believe the reason we are where we are is because we focused on providing the best opportunity we could for our students: personable interview process, a constantly evolving curriculum, teachers who cared, and help to land a new career. I hope we continue to ‘network’ with our students and continue to provide value in the form of an opportunity. Lastly, the one thing I have enjoyed the most is encouraging my closest friends from my childhood and college to chase something bigger. A couple of my roommates from U of I (Illinois) have already taken MakerSquare and they are happy about their new opportunities: Tejas is a developer for Lou Malnati’s in Chicago and Neil is living in my apartment in SF, making Angular apps, and finding his next career. More recently, my friend Parag was questioning his career path for the past few months. After reading my last blog post, he was pushed to his limit and he decided to make the leap. Read about his inspiring story titled “The Beginning” on his new blog.
Have you ever wanted to be an entrepreneur or work for a cool start up? Take two weeks of unpaid time off and add value to a startup. Another option: spend your week nights and weekends (not drinking, attending baby showers, sleeping 12 hours, or going to weddings and start volunteering your time at a startup). If you really want to go after what you love, quit your job. If I like you, I will loan you money for a month and try to start a company. What’s the worst that can happen? You will probably go back to your current life (at least you tried). Also, you will now owe me some interest on that loan. GO ADD VALUE!!!
Monika Narayen, Ravi Talati, Ravi Parikh, and Neil Mithipati for providing feedback. Ben White and Nick McDonnough because I wanted to write about how they follow this concept of adding value, but the blog got too long. Geeta, a college sophomore at U of I, for being a pleasant surprise in her ability to add value in just a one day job shadow, which resulted in summer internship offer!