I recently got to interview Drexel University Senior, former Dorm Room Fund partner and Scholly Founder Christopher Gray who has been featured in multiple news outlets and is going be featured in Shark Tank this season. A recipient of over 1.3 million dollars in college scholarships, Gray started Scholly, an application that helps students find scholarships. Given all his experiences, he shared with me a few tips and lessons he has learned as a student entrepreneur.
1. Take advantage of your story
Gray is a perfect example of someone who leveraged his background story into creating a startup that helps other people achieve something he was able to. Being a $1.3million scholar, Gray was able to leverage his personal story in making the story of Scholly even more compelling with his mission to go full circle and help students do what he was able to do.
2. Don't be naïve; listen to advice
Gray talked about how when you're young, you're kind of naïve. You go through a period where you know everything. When it's your idea, you feel like you're the only person who knows what to do. Sometimes, it's better to listen to advice. Surround yourself with mentors and people who are smarter than you.
3. Learn how to delegate
Delegation is important. You won't be able to do everything by yourself. And even if you do, you won't make the best thing. It's important to be able to build a team with multiple skillsets so you're able to think all of these through and complement each other.
4. Build a compatible and complimentary team
Team is one of the most important, if not the most important ingredient to startup success.
Gray says, "I learned the importance of building a compatible and well thought out team because sometimes it just doesn't work. You have to check if they actually fit that role. During my first few projects, I didn't think about these and it harmed me." Moreover, you need people who have a core skill set that will really help branch out the team so you really have the resources to grow and scale. When you're running a 3 to 4 person startup, you have to wear a lot of different hats as well.
5. Focus on one startup at a time
You have to learn how to strike that balance. You have to focus on one startup, and trying to focus on doing well so you can really grow your company. You have to be able to think about things intelligently. You may be able to get things done but you won't be thinking things through. Some people feel like they can think about sales operations, marketing, accounting and programming for multiple startups. Yes, you can think about it all but will you be effective?
6. Be open to opportunities
There are so many opportunities out there. You can't just sit back and wait for things to happen. You have to be working on other opportunities and getting things out there. You have to be open to opportunities. He emphasized, "work as if anything that hasn't happened, won't happen."
7. Validate your idea before executing
Learn more, talk to people, validate your idea and make sure that there's a real market and interest before you even start to execute on the idea.
8. Take advantage of being a student
Gray emphasized the importance of taking advantage of being a student. Everything you do seems much more impressive the younger you are. Moreover, people are much more willing to help students as well. Use the fact that you're a student to meet with executives, and people to learn more about the market.
Reach out to mentors; ask people questions; take advantage of being a student. There are so many business plan competitions, hackathons and other resources and events that aspiring student entrepreneurs should take advantage of.
There's definitely no better time to start a startup than when you're a student.
David Ongchoco is currently a freshman from the Philippines studying at the University of Pennsylvania majoring in LIFE. Here in college, David hopes to continue fuelling his passions in technology, social impact, entrepreneurship, and education. He is currently working on expanding his organization YouthHack and social impact startup ThirdEye. It's David's goal to make an impact in the lives of as many people possible while constantly learning new things every single day. Feel free to email him at firstname.lastname@example.org