This article is by MIT Launch alumna and cofounder of ConnectMe, Jane Zhang.
A year ago, I had no idea what the word “entrepreneurship” meant. Last week, I finished the MIT Launch summer program and am currently working on my second startup with teammates from another continent. So how did I become a high school entrepreneur? Here are the lessons I learned while building my own startups in high school:
1. Don’t be afraid to do something that’s unfamiliar.
The most important lesson I’ve learned from MIT Launch and other ventures I’ve started is that I will never have all the answers, and that is okay. Had I let self-doubt stop me, I would’ve missed out on so many key opportunities.
For instance, in September, I was invited to join an entrepreneurship accelerator, but I had no prior entrepreneurship experience. However, I didn’t let that stop me. Instead, in Nike’s words, I “just did it” and created my very first company.
When I applied to MIT Launch a couple months later, I felt I had less entrepreneurship experience than past participants, but I was confident that I could create a life-changing startup and ended up building my second company with an amazing team and a mission I deeply care for. Had I doubted my skills from the beginning, I would’ve missed out on the opportunity to explore entrepreneurship, which has ultimately defined my career ambitions.
2. Network and talk to people—especially those with more experience than you.
Every day during Launch, I spoke with new students and seasoned adult entrepreneurs. The Launch program gave me countless opportunities to gain advice on my company through a variety of guest speakers and networking events, but the most insightful feedback came from the specific people in my field who I reached out to.
For example, my company ConnectMe is an online platform, aimed at helping high school students initiate their own projects. When my co-founders and I were trying to develop a business model, we emailed a few college admissions officers and asked them if we could meet up to discuss potential partnerships with colleges. Representatives from MIT, Boston University, and Babson College were more than willing to give us feedback on our company’s business model. Afterward, we connected on Linkedin to stay in-touch, should we need help in the future.
As a high school entrepreneur, don’t be afraid of contacting people more experienced than you. In fact, many professionals are excited to help students because they remember being in the same position. Use your age to your advantage and reach out for help!
3. Be resilient—entrepreneurship is an iterative process
One of the best guest speakers at Launch was Bill Aulet, author of Disciplined Entrepreneurship. He drew this diagram on the board to describe the the life of a startup:
This graph shows the three routes that a company can take:
- A: initially progresses but then plateaus
- B: continually grows and eventually skyrockets
- C/D: falls to ground zero (C) and cycles back to the start (D)
The only situations you want to be in are route B or C/D. Route B is obvious – everyone wants their company to take off. Route C/D is the iterative process we call entrepreneurship. Many companies will fail, but it is better to start a new company when you lose interest or find the business decaying than to go on route A where your company stagnates and fails to grow. Therefore, you must be resilient to endure the route C/D cycle and start over. After going through route C/D a couple of times, you will learn from your mistakes and increase your chances of getting on route B.
When my co-founders and I were in the ideation process, we went from an app that locates parking spots with motion sensors to a motion-triggered personal assistant named Gari, all the way to an online platform that helps students initiate projects and find collaborators. In between these ideas were moments of failure and growth that eventually led us to the company we have today—developing a sustainable idea that my whole team loves.
4. Align your values with your company’s mission
ConnectMe went through a variety of product ideas. Our first idea, the app that located parking spots using motion sensors, is definitely a product that many people need. But at the end of the day, do we really care about the efficiency of transportation? The answer is no. We only chose the idea because the technology sounded interesting. Soon enough, we lost faith in our product and continued our search for a better idea.
At the end, the product idea that stuck with us was one that aligned with all of our passions: helping students make an impact. As high school students, we all had faced the challenge of starting our own projects in hopes of making a change in our community. However, many of our projects failed to live up to the plans we envisioned because we lacked a team with similar interests and complementary skills. Thus, we created ConnectMe to help students find collaborators and make their projects a reality.
Build your company based on a cause you care about. If you’re going to spend copious amounts of time working on a startup, it better be solving a problem you care about.
As a high schooler, you have the unique perspective to create ventures no adult could ever imagine. So, the next time you come up with an innovative idea or discover a problem in the world you want to solve, take a leap onto the entrepreneurship rollercoaster and make it happen.
Best of luck!
P.S. Looking for collaborators to build your startup? Find them on ConnectMe!