Learning from successful entrepreneurs can save you years of work. Especially if you are launching a business for your first time. This story is about a young man’s entrepreneurial journey from his path to becoming a corporate lawyer to launching a business idea and becoming an entrepreneur.
It’s not all rainbows and butterflies though. Brendan faced his face share of challenges, but also has had some amazing victories along the way.
Table of Contents
This story is a true representation of what can happen if you just try.
What the Idea is, What the Company is Doing.
dormGO is a company that was set up to help provide a pleasant and seamless experience when it came to the first day of university of college. They would have your package of dorm room supplies ready for you once you arrive. So on move-in day, you would visit the dormGO stand to pick up your package of dorm room goods, and be all settled in within a matter of minutes.
This solved the problem of having to spend a significant portion of your first few days setting up your dorm for the rest of the semester, and instead you can get back to partying!
However, dormGO wasn’t always set up this way, and the entrepreneurial journey for Brendan has been a wild ride, to say the least…
The Story Behind dormGO
The story of dormGO is not your typical story of discovering a problem and then instantly developing a solution and executing. This story is different, and it started with an unpleasant move-in day on the first day of university.
During move-in day to his new dorm room at university, the campus was mayhem with over 2,500 new students arriving. After he finally got his keys from a lengthy line, the place had stains on the carpet and holes all over the walls from previous students. Not to mention, the bed was an extra large length so regular sheets didn’t fit, and several other things were needed that he did not anticipate. Once all his other stuff was moved in, Brendan’s family and himself spent the remainder of the weekend finding the rest of the supplies he needed for his dorm. Overall, he thought this process was painful, to say the least, however, he didn’t think much of it at the time.
Brendan didn’t always plan on entering entrepreneurship. In fact, when he entered his first year of university, he had plans to finish his bachelor’s degree and pursue a law degree to become a corporate lawyer. His heart was set on that path.
This all changed in a matter of minutes as Brendan sat through his first entrepreneurship class in the BCom program in the first week of classes.
A Life-Changing Class
The teacher arranged for a group of entrepreneurs from some big-name companies to come to speak to the class. They began talking about their entrepreneurial journeys, what that was like for them. As they discussed how they have had an impact using entrepreneurship and how others can do the same, Brendan’s point of view started to change. By the end of the talk after he learned how these entrepreneurs built successful businesses and loved doing it. He thought this seemed like an interesting path to think about, but not much came of it.
The first assignment was to keep an idea journal. A notebook with all the business ideas he would come up with over the next week. The goal of the assignment was for the students to generate as many business ideas as they could and choose one to create a business plan around for the final project.
One of the first handful of business ideas that Brendan had was for dormGO, however, he had many other business ideas. In fact, there were several others he seriously considered and wanted to use for the assignment. There were even a few ideas that he flushed out before the college dorm service.
Choosing the Business Idea
Brendan got to the point where he was ready to narrow down his list of business ideas to find the final idea to create a business plan around. However, he thought he had several great ideas, so he needed a way to narrow them down.
To do this, he took the route of finding the most viable business idea that he could execute on immediately, using his own experiences, strengths, and resources.
This is where a lot of the ideas were killed.
Each idea faced the test if he could ultimately execute on it with a small amount of money and just himself. To do this, he would see if each idea could be executed using his available resources and skills. Brendan noted his expertise was quite low as he was a new high school grad, so he had to choose carefully.
He even had some other business ideas that fit his past skills and experiences more closely. During Brendan’s high school years, he was quite involved with car sales and the repair market. However, he got a few steps into developing the business idea related to that market and realized he would need to hire a lot of key people to compliment his weaknesses. These areas were critical to the execution of the idea, and he did not want to take on a big team so he ended up killing that idea.
When you are in the phases of validating and going through your business ideas, make sure you choose one that has a large potential customer base. You’ll also need to make sure you can execute on your idea. No sense in trying if you can’t do the key functions of the idea on your own, unless you want to hire others and have the resources to do so.
dormGO ended up being the idea where he thought he could execute. The website did not require significant coding or development skills, and it would basically take a lot of grunt work and hustle to execute. Some of the other ideas needed significant investment or other speciality skills like software design to execute.
Finally, after narrowing down his business idea he completed his business plan for the course and submitted his final assignment. At this point, Brendan was still set out on becoming a corporate lawyer, as he headed home for winter break after completing that class.
Upon arriving back at university, his professor wanted to speak to him about his business plan and idea.
Brendan’s professor told him that the idea he has was really fascinating and obviously solved a problem in the marketplace. There was strong potential for the idea to succeed if executed properly, and the professor wanted Brendan to know that.
Starting the Entrepreneurial Journey
For the first time, Brendan knew he was going to change his career path, and try this whole entrepreneur thing out.
Without much hesitation, he thought about his options of how he could pursue this idea further, and dropped his course load down to three courses from the original five. By taking some easier electives and dropping the more intensive courses, he was able to free up more of his time to validate the business idea and execute.
This didn’t last long. He ended up taking a leave of absence from university so he could have a lot more time to work on the business. Lastly, he needed some income to invest in the business and keep a roof over his head so he found a way to pursue his realtor’s license so he could sell real estate and develop the idea.
Take note, as this is not the usual route of executing the business idea while in university, or doing it full-time without a job. Look for areas in your life that you could free up time from and use that for your business idea. Video games, surfing the internet.
Ultimately, Brendan knew that he was making the right decision because he was going to have an experience of a lifetime and learn so much along the way. He could always return to university later if the idea did or did not work out. But he was young and knew he could take the risk of starting a business.
Developing the Business Idea & Taking the First Step
With his eye on the prize to launch this business and solve the problem he had on move-in day, he took his business idea to the campus incubators for help and assistance. They had a wealth of resources to add to his arsenal.
If you are seeing what resources you have available, see if you can join any organizations that give entrepreneurial support. They usually have a lot of tools that can save you time and money.
Originally, dormGO was not the clean and simple solution like I explained in the beginning. It involved a complex online process with a 3D scan of each different dorm room, and you would virtually create your room with everything, from the posters to your rugs, to the bedding you had.
After running this by the entrepreneurial incubator in campus, he found out this was not viable as it would cost a lot in website development due to the coding expertise needed. The mentors and Brendan continued to work on the idea to make it more lean and easier to execute. From the original hundred thousand dollar operating budget, they were able to scale it down into something with the few thousand range.
This goes to show that you don’t need a lot of money to execute an awesome business idea. Sometimes alls you need to do is make it more lean and concentrated. Get rid of all the fancy
features and flashy buttons.
Doubts & Pivots Along the Way
It wasn’t all butterflies and rainbows as Brendan got an amazing recommendation from his professor and continued to see massive progress with help from the innovation centre and his own hustle.
As like all entrepreneurs, he faced doubts and challenges early on. Specifically with his supply chain. If he was going to supply students with quality materials and supplies that would last all year, it was imperative for dormGO to have a reliable and high-quality supplier, that could also produce the products at low-cost, since students do not have a lot of money to spend. This challenge ended up being something that Brendan has not overcome, and continues to work on.
Although he is facing challenges and struggles, he has continued to persevere to break through these challenges. Don’t get discouraged and give up along the way. That is how you reach defeat and stay defeated.
Brendan emphasizes that to stay strong in the face of adversity, you must have faith and believe in the idea you are trying to execute. For himself, he would go back to the initial market research he did, and the 500 to 600 data points he gathered telling him this idea would be viable and solve a real problem to solidify this mindset that his continued efforts would be worth it. The other criticisms and input also need to be tuned out if you are going to execute with passion.
Key Areas that Played into the Success
The Business Plan
One of the major areas that played into the initial validation and launch success of dormGO was the effort put into writing a solid business plan in the beginning. Brendan credits this exercise as an imperative piece to the continued success of the idea.
The business plan is so important because it flushes a lot of the necessary details out, getting you to think critically about how the idea will operate. It also can act as a guide when you begin to get lost or stray off the path of where you should be going. You can always go back and reference it for help to be reminded of your original goal, value proposition, or potential customer segments. He also notes that having the business plan with all the benefits and features worked out allowed him to write the website copy and create sales pitches quicker and easier.
Although Brendan did not explicitly note this last area that played into his success, from our conversations, it was obvious that his willingness to take on risk and move ahead in the face of fear is a major contributor to his entrepreneurial journey to date. If he did not take the initial risks with reducing his course load or begin conversations with the entrepreneurial incubator, he would of not of made the progress he has continued to make to this day.
Lastly, his ability to move ahead in the face of fear is another key area that played into his success. He never was an entrepreneur before starting this business, so there was a lot of new things he needed to learn and try. Fear all stops us from trying and learning new things, however, this fear did not stop Brendan.
A key takeaway here is to see what you can do to make progress, even if things look or seem scary. It can be frightening making that first step, asking the first potential customer, or even accounting for your available resources. But remember, if you don’t face the fears now, when will you?
Last tips for Aspiring Entrepreneurs
Brendan’s last tips for aspiring entrepreneurs is to get down to the micro problems, and solve those.
When it came to dormGO, the pain and frustration that Brendan went through was really only a drop in the bucket when you compare it to the timeline of his life. Literally one single day that caused frustration, and it is not a day that he looks back upon and gripes about every day. Next time you are feeling frustrated or notice that there is a pain from a small problem, take note as it may be your next big business idea.
Getting micro with the problem also kills off a lot of competition, and Brendan noticed this first hand with his idea. By trying to solve the big worldly problems, you are going to be rubbing shoulders with companies like Google, Amazon, and Facebook who are also trying to solve these problems as there is a lot of money in providing a solution.
If you start small, you don’t have to worry about a billion dollar budget coming and crushing your company. Once the smaller problems are solved, you can work your way up to the large problems. These big companies also started this way. If you look at Google, the small problem that they initially solved was finding reliable search results from a search engine. They mastered that and have moved onto other things.
As you can see, Brendan has made tremendous progress with his entrepreneurial journey. From coming from a background where he wanted to become a corporate lawyer, to putting his university career on hold to start a business, he is definitely one to learn from.
After putting his business idea to the test and launching it, he has proven that you do not need to be an entrepreneur with previous experience to think of and execute on an idea. He managed to develop an entrepreneurial mindset along the way. You can read more about Brendan’s entrepreneurial ventures here.
What is your favourite take-away from his story? Let me know in the comments section below.