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Best Advice I Ever Got: Jeff Berger

Jeff Berger, CEO of Doostang.com, didn't care much for school. But these three real-world lessons proved priceless.

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Jeff Berger--who is now president of Digital Media at the Universum Group and CEO of Doostang.com--learned the value of experience early in his entrepreneurial career. Here's how.

There were two constants for me growing up: my dislike for school and my curiosity for business. I never understood how learning about subjects like medieval literature would have a practical application in my future endeavors in the business world. I was more interested in learning about entrepreneurs who noticed market opportunities and turned them into innovative companies.

By the time I went to college, I was convinced that I didn't need the degree and would start a successful company before graduation. Thankfully, I stayed in school anyway, and graduated. I say "thankfully," mostly because my first start-up, Koda, did not go as planned. While our vision for the future of recruiting was well received,  turning an idea into a successful company is a tremendous challenge that needs both a little luck and great execution.

Along the way, I've received a ton of advice (both good and bad) and here are three of my favorite pieces:

1. "You don't know what you don't know." 

I was a 21-year-old college student the first time an investor put money into a start-up of mine, and no saying could have been more accurate. I thought I had all the answers, but the reality was that I didn't have the experience to even know the questions that I needed to ask. I learned then the value of experience and putting myself around people who have done it before and can compliment my strengths.

That doesn't mean more experienced people are always right, but they can often help you see potential issues that you don't notice. In even my most successful business ventures, had I known what I know now, I would have had even more success--or reached my goals quicker with previous experience.

2. "You can't put a square peg in a round hole." 

Whether you enjoy being a salesman or not, being an entrepreneur requires you to put on the sales hat at times. A part of me loves sales and it feels great turning a skeptic into a believer, but with limited resources early on, you need to balance the cost of time. Being able to analyze a situation and identify the likelihood of a sale or partnership is key to time management.

For example, I worked in real estate during college and I only had a limited supply of apartments, but renters or buyers could have unlimited demands. I earned four times more my second year when I stopped pursuing sales leads that had a low likelihood of converting. It can be hard to accept "no" when you're an entrepreneur who lives and breathes your start-up, but it can lead to more of "yes" in the short term--especially early on, when you need those wins the most.

3. "A good plan today is better than a perfect plan tomorrow." 

A lot of people have gotten rich off convincing entrepreneurs that you need a 40-page business plan before you can start a business. It's important to understand your market and the space you're entering, but the world changes so fast that your time is better spent developing a simple, minimum-viable product.

I spent too long during my first start-up developing a "grand plan" that was largely outdated by the time we got to market launch. The insights I got on the future direction of the product were driven from the feedback and actions of real clients--information that's impossible to gather when you're just building something behind the scenes. This philosophy has been a key to our success at Doostang, where the business model has evolved more than once since I joined the company.

Jeff Berger is the President of Digital Media at the Universum Group, the global leader in employer branding, and CEO of Doostang.com, a subsidiary of the Universum Group and a leading employment network for young professionals. @genyjobs

Last updated: Jan 11, 2013




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