Growing up in the social media generation, I was quickly exposed to the viral stories of student-entrepreneurs-turned-billionaires Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates. What particularly piqued my interest was how these three men had created products that millions of people all over the world use--and my dream to one day become an entrepreneur was born.
I came into my freshman year at college with the goal of learning how to become a successful entrepreneur. Each time I got a 'Eureka' idea, I went ahead and tried to make it happen. Along the way, I've faced numerous challenges and had moments where I felt like giving up on this dream but in every step of the way, there was a silver lining and takeaway that kept me going. While I experienced a lot of failure, I also learned a lot from each startup project and venture I've tried. Below are a few of the key takeaways I gained:
1. It's easier said than done.
I quickly learned that creating something that thousands of people use is far easier said than done. As a senior in high school, I tried starting a website called 'High School Confidential' after reading The Accidental Billionaires, a book about the founding of Facebook. One month into it, I gave up. I couldn't seem to get anyone aside from my best friends to use my 'high school' social network.
A year later, I tried launching a youth media website called The Global Youth Journal. While I was able to get over 50 contributors to write for the site, I couldn't seem to get any audience to read it. I had this expectation that once the site launched, people would just start visiting. I was clearly wrong. I started reading about all these alien words like Search Engine Optimization (SEO), Search Engine Marketing (SEM), keywords, linking and more. I suddenly realized that building an audience in the internet world was so much harder than I initially thought.
2. Keep trying, keep learning.
Being a student has given me the flexibility to work on different projects and to see which ones gain traction. I mean if you try shooting a basketball 100 hundred times, at least one shot will eventually go in right?
This would be the case with my startup project YouthHack, an organization that had the goal of helping students learn more about startups, technology and entrepreneurship. Since starting back in July 2014, we have grown to become an international organization, running programs in the Philippines, United States, Singapore and Hong Kong. However, this growth didn't happen overnight.
3. You have to start from somewhere.
One year ago, I knew nobody in the Philippine startup scene and I had no clue how to build a startup from scratch. But I wanted to learn and I wanted to solve this problem that students in the Philippines lacked opportunities to learn more about the field of startups, technology and entrepreneurship.
While we started out as a two-day 'startup weekend' type of event for high school students, we've grown to run multiple programs from a fellowship program and startup fair that connects students with startups for internships to an online media platform that features the experiences of entrepreneurial youth. Yet, we're only scratching the surface. There's so much more to learn and so much more to do.
I've realized that successful startups aren't built overnight but if you eventually want to build something meaningful, you have to start somewhere. At the same time, don't be afraid that your idea isn't good enough. Just do it. When we started out last year, we had no idea that YouthHack would grow to hold programs internationally but it just happened along the way. Crazy things can happen if you're willing to try.
4. You can't do it alone. Don't be afraid to ask for help.
Starting something is hard. There are so many factors to think about that it can become really overwhelming-so don't be afraid to ask for help.
I remember when I first came up with the idea of YouthHack, I didn't know what exactly to do. I didn't know anything about the startup scene back in the Philippines. How was I suppose to help students learn more about startups? Yet, one of the best decisions I made was to share the idea I had with my family, friends and mentors.
What did this result to? After asking my mentor how to get started, he sent us to attend a startup conference that would end up becoming our starting point for the network we needed. We started pitching to all these experienced entrepreneurs and before we knew it, we had all our speakers and mentors for our first event. Suddenly, what seemed like a daunting task of starting something from nothing seemed a lot more plausible.
Pro-tip: Don't be afraid to random message or cold-email people you want to meet or ask help from. The worst-case scenario is they will say no. That doesn't seem too bad.
5. It's okay not to know what you're doing.
When you're starting out, it's very easy to feel like an impostor. It's very easy to feel discouraged with the thought that you're not really doing anything concrete. You're always lost, wondering what to do next. You honestly have no idea what you're doing, but you go do it anyway. You call yourself a founder, the CEO of X company when in fact you actually feel deep down that you're just a 'wannapreneur'.
But that's okay; nobody really knows what they are doing.
While I still do feel like an impostor at times, I've learned how to enjoy being a student entrepreneur. It's allowed me to learn at an unparalleled pace, work with people from all over the world, apply the knowledge I gain in my classes to real world situations and most importantly, it has given me something to look forward to every single day.
6. Don't forget to take a step-back once in a while
It's the thank you messages from students that go through our programs that inspire me. It's the success stories of startups that come out of our startup challenges that excite me. It's the community that we're able to build that drives me. It's the potential to help so many more students around the world that keeps me at night and wakes me up in the morning.
It's so easy to get caught up in the everyday grind but taking a step back every now and then can really help you realize how much you've grown after taking that leap of faith.
Two years ago, when I first got interested in startups, I barely knew anything about the industry. Two years later and I've learned so much from both my successes and failures. Yet the exciting part is that I have so much more to learn. This to me is one of the best parts about being a student entrepreneur. The learning never stops.
I'm far from creating something that impacts the lives of millions of people, but someday I will get there. As a student entrepreneur, I have to believe that.