Start with Community
– Reid Gahan –
Community is a big part of the switch to college. I’m in the Jeffrey S. Raikes School of Computer Science and Management—we all live in the same dorm and we all go to class together. If I have a problem on any homework assignment, or studying for a quiz, I have a bunch of people right here who can help me figure stuff out.
A subscription box startup, Bulu Box, which is based here in Lincoln, invited all of the Raikes students to listen to a talk from Paul Jarrett, a co-founder and the CEO. I went to it and loved what he had to say. I started emailing him a bunch and eventually got an internship working for Bulu Box as a developer.
There were three people on the development team and I was one of them. I was doing real world stuff and getting mentored by Paul, a genius entrepreneur. That’s what’s so great about being in Lincoln if you’re interested in the startup community. There are so many startups downtown that love whatever work you’re able to offer, and you get to learn with them as they grow their company.
CO-CREATE YOUR FUTURE
My first year at Nebraska, I took a class called Innovation Process with my friend Jake.It was about entrepreneurship and the process of making a startup. The class combined with interning at Bulu Box really sparked the entrepreneurship bug inside of me. Then I watched some Gary Vaynerchuk videos—he’s freaking crazy—but it’s hard to listen to him and not want to start your own company. So Jake and I started bouncing ideas off each other.
One of my friends had gone up to Delaware to work for a few months and he told me about Insomnia Cookies which is a late-night cookie delivery company. I was like, “Oh, that’d be kind of cool, but I don’t know how to make cookies and I feel like I’d probably poison someone by accident.” So we landed on ice cream.
We took a week and built a website. We just started doing it. We went to the store, bought some ice cream and hung up a bunch of flyers around campus just to see what would happen. The first night I think we sold 20 pints and Ice Cream Bro was born.
Once we got it started, Paul Jarrett actually encouraged me to quit Bulu Box to focus more on Ice Cream Bro. He started mentoring me on how to build the business. I had professors help out a lot too. I will go and hang out in Professor Laurie Miller’s office, not only because she’s a really cool person, but she helps me with studying and lets me talk to her about Ice Cream Bro stuff.
She’s an econ professor, so she gives me her input on how I should pay people and elasticity of demand and how we price our ice cream, stuff like that. If you put the effort in to build the relationship with professors, they’ll completely give it back to you. If you’re interested in what they do, of course, they want to talk with you and be friends with you. I was surprised by that. That was a good surprise.
The RISKY BUSINESS
There’ll be times where I sit down and grind out homework and Ice Cream Bro stuff for eight hours straight and then I’ll go to bed. A lot of Friday nights, I’m just doing homework instead of hanging out with friends, but in the long run, that’s what’s going to benefit me. You have to focus on what actually matters.
And if Ice Cream Bro fails, awesome. That’s the thing. If I fail, well I’ll have a really cool story to tell my next employer about why they should hire me. I can tell them how I started a successful startup my first year of college, made mistakes, and learned from them. If it works and it can be my full-time job after graduation, that’s awesome too. Really, there’s no downside to pursuing something new. College is good for teaching you knowledge, but college is the best time to gain good experience with mentors and pros around.
That’s the way to do things. College is for trying things, figuring out if you like them and if you don’t like them, stop doing them—but use that experience to do other things better. Or just keep doing them because they’re really awesome.