ASU student entrepreneurs share advice on sacrifice, success in startups

Finding mentors, time management key to launching a business


It takes sacrifice, hard work and maybe a missed class or two, but students can launch and nurture a business while they’re still at Arizona State University.

Four students who successfully launched startups gave advice during a panel discussion Wednesday night sponsored by Entrepreneurship + Innovation Ambassadors, a student group.

Here’s the advice from these student entrepreneurs:

Sometimes the journey is roundabout

Veronica Head, co-founder of Aquaponos, a kit that grows food by combining hydroponics with goldfish, and a master's degree student in sustainable engineering: “We built a community garden and totally failed. Our system kind of broke and melted down in a parking lot. We loved what we were doing and found a need for sustainable growing so we took a different spin and started with a five-gallon bucket and made a home system. We started off with a really big vision and took it to an individual level to make it marketable.”

Jonny Reiss, co-founder of SpotSense, a platform that enables mobile devices to determine location using unique wireless signal fingerprints, and a junior majoring in computer science: “I had been building websites since middle school and I had a buddy who took his parents’ liquor bottles and made lamps from them so I made a website for him to sell them. So then I decided I wanted to build a website for myself.”

Tyler Fellman, co-founder of Fellman Watch Co., which makes stylish watches designed for outdoor use, and an MBA student: “I didn’t wake up one day and say, 'I want to make money in the watch industry.' I had a job as an engineer and I started making a watch as a hobby. It transpired into a viable product once I started creating 3-D printed watches in small batches for people who wanted to buy them. Then I started working with suppliers. Then I got a Kickstarter that was successful. Then I got more inventory and started selling all the watches, and now it’s getting bigger and bigger.”

Scott Fitsimones, co-founder of AirGarage, an online platform that allows homeowners and businesses to rent parking spaces to people looking for parking near ASU, and a junior majoring in computer science: “In my freshman year I was excited to come to ASU — number one in innovation — and I found out that parking was the nightmare of my undergraduate career. I was getting emails game day saying ‘You have to move your car.’ So in sophomore year I decided to get more creative and I put a handwritten letter on a mailbox asking if I could park in their driveway and one neighbor said, ‘Yes, you can park here for $50 a year.’ I wanted more people to have that experience.”

Don’t wait for the money

Reiss: “You don’t need to wait for someone to give you permission. You don’t have to wait for that $10,000. You can find a way to make it happen."

Fitsimones: “It’s all about the mentors. A lot of first-time founders will say, ‘I need $10,000,’ but what you really need is a mentor to introduce you to the literature and the lean business model. A mentor will help you grow so much more than some money.”

Learn to live with discomfort and sacrifice

Head: “I wake up every day and say, ‘What am I doing?’ That feeling might never go away and that’s OK. Contrary to what your mother will say, it’s not a lot of risk. All we’ve invested is our time.”

Fellman: “Not having a partner has benefits but a lot of disadvantages. I have to do everything myself and I don’t have someone to bounce ideas off of.”

Fitsimones: “It’s a constant struggle on how hard we work on AirGarage. We like hanging out with friends and being social. It’s not like ‘I’ll build a platform when I get home.’ AirGarage’s success is a direct result of how hard we work.”

Academics don’t always come first

Fitsimones: “There were a lot of pitch competitions at the end of winter and it was starting to be really stressful. I finished one pitch and was literally running to my final. So now we’re taking independent studies to focus on AirGarage. I would argue that there’s a point where you need to focus on your startup full time, especially in your growth phase.”

Head: “I totally skipped class for my startup. I skipped turning in my senior capstone project. There are sacrifices you have to make. At any given time I’m working two jobs on top of the startup. I’m used to a high workload and I developed a strong sense of time management.”

Reiss: “I've missed class. The way I approach it is to let myself know I don’t expect an ‘A‘ on everything. It’s carving out the time. But it is important to get that degree at the end of the day.”

Take advantage of resources at ASU

Reiss: “The Innovation Advancement Program through the Sandra Day O’Connor Law School has been great. We got four or five legal documents for a few hundred dollars."

Head: “We went through Venture Devils and that was a huge help and linked us to a mentor who helped us with the business side. Changemaker Central has office hours and events where you can find out, ‘Are people interested in this?’ There are a lot of startup summits where you can find like-minded people. If you're passionate about an idea, the time to do it is now because ASU has so many resources.”

Top photo: Student entrepreneurs gave advice on how to succeed at business while still in school. From left, they are Veronica Head, Jonny Reiss, Tyler Fellman and Scott Fitsimones. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

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