From Student to Founder
Takeaways from the TechCrunch Early Stage 2022 conference
- Being an entrepreneur requires a new perspective on how you think about business.
- Founders are storytellers.
- Your team is the backbone.
- Choose investors wisely.
Being an entrepreneur is so much more than meets the eye. It requires a different perspective than any you have had before. It changes the way you think about business.
People tend to view entrepreneurship and being an entrepreneur as something glamorous and lavish. But being an entrepreneur is different in reality. It takes drive, strong communication, a healthy relationship with failure, and a team that can endure the tough times with you.
I graduated from UC Davis in 2021. I am a first-generation college graduate who transferred from Folsom Lake Community College. Growing up, my family did not have much. My Dad and his family came from Lebanon when he was young and they worked hard to build a life here.
Both my parents struggled to provide for me while I was growing up. They worked hard to raise my sister and me while fighting a tough lawsuit against the builders of our first family home. Our home had massive defects and toxic mold, and it eventually had to be condemned. The lawsuit was so hard on my family, we barely scraped by.
This experience shaped me into the person I am today. And it was the inspiration for my startup, JusCheckIt, a legal services company with a dream of providing better access to legal communication, information and representation.
As a founder it's important to constantly expand your knowledge on building startups and how to adapt when building one. Attending TechCrunch’s Early Stage 2022 conference, held in San Francisco this spring, helped me do exactly that. It gave me perspectives straight out of the birthplace of the tech world, Silicon Valley.
This conference gave me insights from professionals at major venture capital firms like Sequoia Capital who have funded companies like Apple, Zoom, Instagram, Airbnb and more. It provided resources from company programs like Oracle for Startups, Microsoft for Startups and AWS for Startups. As you look around, the possibilities seem endless and it sparks your creative energy. It's like the magic you feel as a kid going into Disneyland. It's inspiring.
Here are three key lessons I learned at the TechCrunch Early Stage conference:
Founders are storytellers.
Being a founder of a startup is a lot more than just creating a product. It's a lot more than pitching one, too. It’s also about your story—about crafting the inspiration for your startup and its mission into a compelling story.
But telling a story does not always mean you are being a storyteller. Focus on crafting the story, don't just talk about it to get people to understand your product. Rather pull them into the story by being personal and genuine. Focus on being crisp and creating a visual. Think of your story as a way to channel the experiences you have gone through and the vision you have created into the audience. Allow them to feel the journey you went on to get to where you are and why the startup exists. Your story tells the world who you are.
Your team is the backbone.
As the primary founder and CEO of JusCheckIt, my perspective on being a team has really evolved as we have grown. It’s important to not focus on trying to just be successful as a startup; instead, focus on your team being happy working together.
With my team, I focus on three areas: our roles, our strengths and weaknesses, and conflict management. In our roles, we are founder and co-founders. But we each focus on a different area of the company, whether it's finance, the technology, the market, the network, etc. We wear many hats and knowing how to switch between roles to better work together is important.
It is also important to play to your strengths while supporting your teammates’ weaknesses. This helps create a flow and a positive synergy. There are enough trials a new startup has to go through. Your team should not work against itself.
Finally, proper conflict management is critical. One of my favorite UC Davis professors, Doug Findlay, once said to my MGT140 class: “In any conflict, whether right or wrong, you are 50% part of the problem.” This has stuck with me. Be accountable and know that you are a factor in the state of your startup. Focus on keeping your team healthy.
Choose investors wisely.
To founders, the idea of choosing an investor initially sounds crazy. Investors choose to invest in our startup, and I know I feel excitement at just the idea of someone having an interest to invest. But your investor could determine the direction your business goes. And your investor is sort of like a new team member. They need to be someone you can work with.
At the TechCrunch conference, Jess Lee, partner at Sequoia Capital, asked: “Is there good alignment?”—meaning, Does this investor align with not just your startup but your team? She went on to explain that the investor and founder relationship is like a marriage. Understand how thoughtful they are and what the chemistry is like with your team and that investor. It also helps to have references from other founders who have worked with the potential investor.
When thinking about investment, really make sure to consider if your investor is a good fit for your company, because it will be a long-term commitment for your team just as much as it will be for the investor.
My team and I feel absolutely honored by the chance we had to go to the TechCrunch Early Stage 2022 conference and are grateful to Blackstone LaunchPad for supporting student and recent alumni entrepreneurs and making it possible. I am so glad I had this opportunity to build something amazing with a genuinely great team and support from an absolutely amazing school.
Thanks to UC Davis, I have gained an entrepreneurial state of mind.