Through building Sponsr.Us, we’ve learned a lot about the process of building a student-run organization up from scratch. Here are four tips we’ve got for you from our own experience to help you start your own venture.
User, Need, Insight
All ventures — for-profit and non-profit — need to address a problem. I like to frame this using the “user, need, insight” format. The idea is that you can describe your solution in a single sentence: User needs x, because insight. Sponsr.Us’ statement sounds something like, “students need both a social-fundraising platform and a mentorship network to make their projects a reality because a holistic approach to supporting student ventures gives them the highest likelihood for success.” Having a one-sentence description in this format touches on all of the key components of your venture: your audience, your solution, and, most importantly, why your solution in particular is the right one. One level higher, having a statement like this allows for you to have a clear message about the goal of your organization since it concretely explains your organization’s purpose. Describing your venture as involving a specific user, need, and insight is far more powerful than simply saying that you aim to achieve something.
Have a plan (but don’t fall in love with it)
When we first started Sponsr.Us we envisioned a platform that democratized access to funding for student ventures. By using the power of the Internet, we wanted to give students access to the same opportunity for funding that we had at our schools. We naively believed that access to funding was the sole barrier between students and making their venture successful. At first we thought that the solution was to simply provide students with this fundraising platform, but we quickly realized after working with a number of potential projects that funding was not the silver bullet we initially thought. Instead, we learned that the largest reason for failure of student ventures is lack of access to the advice and mentorship needed to overcome the inevitable hurdles. Thus, what began as simply a “non-profit, Kickstarter for student ventures,” evolved into a program to support student-run ventures financially and personally. The moral of this story is that adapting and pivoting is inevitable; projects that don’t succeed fail to realize opportunities for change.
Team = Trust
The most important part of any venture is not the solution to the problem being solved since, as you can see above, solutions are bound to change. Instead, what’s essential is having a strong team that buys into each other, not just the vision at hand. All teams hinge on trust — actually, all relationships for that matter hinge on trust. You have to trust your teammates. They have to trust you. It is simple as that. Ideas can change easily. People, less so.
This is why I love working with Alex, Brandon, Eric, and Kevin. Our own leaps forward resulted from the trust in each other, or sometimes, in a single person, to have the best interests of the organization in mind. Disagreements, no matter how large, only made our organization stronger, because we knew that it would lead to better results. On the other hand, some of our sidesteps have been a result of a lapse in trust in each other. Trust is hard to gain, but feels awesome to have, and with it, you can jump through any hurdle.
On a similar note, have someone outside of organization who you trust be a sounding board. That voice of someone who is not directly involved can work wonders in helping you iron out problem within the organization and solidifying any ideas that you may have.
Social ≠ media
Social media is awesome for helping to spread the message and progress of your venture. We have been trying to ramp up Sponsr.Us’ social media presence recently, but social media is no substitute for real life interactions. Being truly social is about creating an emotional connection in-person. We’ve learned that there is no better way to connect with potential partners, projects, and supporters than by talking to them in person, or at least over the phone. By creating a personal connection with the person being pitched, we learned that they are far more likely to support us. To continually make strides forward, you have to be constantly pitching people on your venture and updating them on your progress. Whether it is a friend or a family member or the person sitting next to you at Starbucks, you should be able to capture and hold their attention with your pitch. Be social. Don’t rely on technology as a substitute.
Stay tuned for more tips from the Sponsr.Us team. We’re students, just like you — and we want to give you the benefit of our past. We’ll be putting these thoughts under the “Advice” category.
As always, if you want any feedback on your project — just let us know!