Last Monday, March 7th, Social Business Consulting hosted an Evening with Entrepreneurs: a panel of five incredible student entrepreneurs from diverse backgrounds and experiences. The speakers included:
Siddhant (Sid) Sachdev (Econ and Gov ‘17) – Campus Rep, Morning Brew
Hawken Lord (AEM ‘16) – Founder, Atlas Consulting Group
David He (Econ ‘16) – Co-founder, Hyphen Connect (Read our exclusive interview with the Hyphen Connect team!)
The panelists answered these questions:
Tell us about your business.
Shaibyaa: Utthan aims to improve the quality of life for Nepalese. We invest in income generating products to meet community needs.
Sakib: I started Chitro as a freshman in high school. Basically, I created an e-commerce platform for people to purchase and have hand-crafted Bengali product arrive at their doorstep. Recently, I sold my company over to new owners.
Siddhant: Morning Brew gives a snapshot of finance-related news in a concise, convenient, and conversational style.
Hawken: Atlas Consulting leverages college students to assist firms. Just recently, we were able to sign a deal with a six-figure company.
David: Hyphen is a professional and social way to network.
What motivated you to start your own business?
Shaibyaa: Having been born in Nepal, I directly saw the inadequate allocation of resources and after the earthquake, I was focused on long-term rehabilitation. In addition, I had a drive to make an impact.
Sakid: Before coming to Cornell, I attended boarding school, and no one knew about Bengali culture. I knew that tourists were attracted to handmade products so I decided to form a business that would take traditional crafts to someone’s doorstep through an e-commerce platform. I also developed a contract with these women artisans who were making less than $2 a day in order to empower them.
Siddhant: I was motivated by pure experience. I had a sales interview, which was completely new territory for me. Once I heard about Morning Brew as a snapshot of daily news, I was hooked. Compared to articles by the Wall Street Journal that have technical jargon which can be hard to understand, the Morning Brew provide convenient and easily digestible news. This really helped me talked to interviewers about current issues.
Hawken: I was working at an internship and the boss assigned me two projects that were on the backburner of the company. They had a lot of value, but the company just didn’t have the time and resources to do it. Successfully, I completed these projects, increasing the company’s value. I was motivated to start a business centered around using college students to help companies with slow projects that had great potential.
David: Hyphen really happened by chance. One day, my co-founder, Ma, and I bumped into Cornell alumni in an elevator. From there, we wanted to create a social media platform that easily connected people in the professional world.
What were some of the challenges you had and how did you overcome them?
Shaibyaa: With social work there are a lot of legal and quota restrictions. In addition, even though I lived in Nepal, I thought I knew how everything would go, but it was completely different. I thought the men would be there to help, but they all left to me migrant workers. We ended up asking women to help us. It really taught me the importance of doing efficient market research.
Sakib: I started my company back in high school, and it was difficult to convince people to take me seriously. Most people would laugh and ask where my parents were and that I’m just a kid. I really had to establish credibility and persist despite negativity.
Siddhant: Similarly, as a promoter and campus rep, I needed to establish credibility for Morning Brew. It was important for me to reach out to people and get them to trust something new. We had to break into existing lifestyles and establish a social capital to get people to spread the word.
Hawken: Atlas provides a service. Like people have mentioned, we needed to establish credibility. How do we get companies to hire undergrads as oppose to those who have experience as MicKinley. In the beginning, we had to beg for projects. Over the years, we have greatly increased our credibility. Our tipping point was when a business owner in Forbes’ “30 Under 30” signed with us. In a group, it is also important to pick the right partners who you trust and compliment your skills. At first, we didn’t layout responsibilities and expectations, so having a clear roadmap is essential.
David: Since we are a social app, we have to show how we were different than Facebook and LinkedIn. Rather than email everyone a blurb about our company, we had to invest in social capital to promote our app. We also learned how to manage a team business and the technical sides to avoid internal difficulty.