This week, to honor the homecoming of so many Ohio State alumni and to kick off the BBC Mafia (alumni) festivities, the Business Builders brought in four awesome alum to put on an open-ended style panel. Maria de Caris graduated in 2014 with a degree in city planning and is currently a Product Analyst at Loop Returns. Jay Clouse graduated in 2014 with a degree in marketing and was a former president of BBC. Since 2017 he has been freelancing, with most of his time being taken up by small business consulting and his podcast, Upside. Zach Boerger graduated in 2014 with a CSE degree, and is the Director of Engineering at Drive Capital. He joined Drive Capital when it was just taking off as employee #6 and has been with the company since then. Julia Fletcher graduated in 2019 with a finance degree and is a Financial Analyst at Aware. Each panelist went in depth on their careers and what their companies do before opening the floor to questions. That overview is what you see below.
Aware is a company that adds HR compliance and security to communication platforms that a company uses. Aware uses AI and machine learning to add security to collaboration platforms such as Slack in order to keep a companies communication under regulation.
Unreal Collective is a 12 week online accelerator where 3 groups of 5 individual business owners meet with Jay for an hour every week and work on their business. Jay also has a podcast about early stage investing and startup communities called Upside. He teaches online course on freelancing and product management as well.
Drive Capital is a venture capital firm for very early stage start-ups that helps them grow and develop. Drive promotes that you don’t have to be in Silicon Valley to start a company anymore and that Ohio can and has produced plenty of kick-ass companies.
Loop Returns is an e-commerce software solution that helps mitigate the huge problem that returns have created for online merchants. They mostly work with shopify and some of their clients include Allbirds and Chubbies.
The style of the meeting was essentially a Q&A with each panelist pitching in their knowledge and expertise for the questions that applied to them. What you see below are the questions asked and their answers. Go gain some knowledge people!
@Jay & Julia: “Do you ever get into a situation with a client where a job/task is over your head and you’re in too deep, and if so, how do you handle it?”
- The best thing to do is to figure out a solution on your own because you are most likely still miles ahead of what your client can do on their own. Take a breath, step back for a couple days, and see if you can figure out a way to deliver.
- However, this is not always the case and if you get into a situation where there is no way for you to deliver, then the best alternative is to sit down with the client, have a direct conversation, and have someone else in mind to refer the work too a.k.a. find someone who can deliver so the client doesn't have to.
- Another alternative would be hiring the person who can deliver and having them show you how to do it instead.
- The absolute worst thing you could do is not communicate and just put it on the back-burner instead of being direct about the situation.
@Jay & Zach: “Is it necessary to have a technical background when going into Product Management?
- It is a difficult field to get into because there are no formal institutions of training for it and you can only get good at it through experience.
- Product Management is being able to think cross functionally by taking in a ton of context from all the stake-holders of a problem and delivering a recommendation.
- As you work with product management, you will have to acquire a technical vocabulary, but the most important thing is that you have a shared vocabulary with your stake-holders.
- You don’t have to know how to do everything technical, but you at least have to know how to speak it.
@Panel: “In your experience with Innovation and Startups, what's been the one big differentiator between products that work and products that don’t?”
- Timing is key and unfortunately a lot of it is luck. Your idea must be relevant in the time of its creation.
- Have some conviction with your idea. Believe that what your working on needs to exist. A good idea is one that brings out the insanity in you. The same insanity that causes you to quit your job to work on an idea. That insanity and irrational behavior is what it takes to make a good product. Be obsessed with what you’re doing and be committed to making it the best product out there.
- Define your values and have a vision when starting a company. Your values are your foundation that you fall back on when things hit the fan. Always have that North Star to guide you, but never be afraid to change up the path and pivot a little.
- Don’t build a solution, solve a problem. Your product can be the greatest solution ever, but if it isn’t solving a problem then no one is going to buy it. The best companies are the ones that get paid by a customer to solve their specific problem. (One specific piece of advice Zach suggested was building buttons and landing pages that lead to nowhere to test customer receptivity)
- Don’t be afraid of niche ideas. Not every idea is going to sound sexy and appeal to everyone. If the idea has potential then it is worth pursuing.
@Panel: “If you could give your college self one piece of advise, what would it be?”
- Jay’s first piece of advice was that he would make his own major. The reason being that you can craft it specifically to your interests, allowing you to break away from the traditional past and better define your schedule. His second piece of advice/knowledge was realizing that college is a safe place that gives you a proper transition to the real world. It is the plastic bag that holds the fish (you) away from it’s unfamiliar tank water. It helps you survive in the real world, or in the fish’s case, prevents you from dying of shock. His third piece of advice was to start something in college. It doesn't have to be the next Facebook, it just has to be something. Whether it’s a podcast or a business, being able to title yourself as a founder makes you much more susceptible to people’s attention. When you open yourself up as a founder people pay more attention to you.
- Maria’s advice was to put yourself out there. Be a sponge. One of the biggest advantages of being a college student is being able to be interested in something and having the opportunity to pursue it with essentially no repercussions. Most students really don’t have that much to worry about when it comes to responsibilities such as families, mortgages, careers, etc.. Use that to your advantage. Just show up to things that interest you, don’t worry about whether you belong or not. Take it all in, learn from it, and understand that curiosity is the only excuse you need to be there.
- Julia’s first piece of advice was to be involved, but not be over involved. It is better to join 3 clubs that you really care about rather than join 10 that you are vaguely interested in. Her second piece of advice was to take classes that have value or interest you outside your curriculum. Just don’t be afraid to take them as pass-fail. Her final piece of advice was to study abroad.
- Zach’s advice was to recognize how unique being a college student is. People love to help students. As soon as you get to the real world, the help people offer you decreases drastically. Take risks and use the resource of being a student properly.