Entrepreneurship is on the forefront of America's psyche thanks in part to Obama's "you didn't build that" campaign speech comment and the Republican party's push back slogan: "We built that."
Innovation and entrepreneurship are core American values. While many of us have heard about how our enterprising ancestors built businesses from scratch years ago, this student-entrepreneur series will highlight contemporary Americans thriving in that spirit right from their dorm rooms.
First up: Jordan Easley, 21, and Austin Doerr, 23.
Both manage full academic and athletic loads at Indiana Wesleyan University, a Christian college in Marion, Indiana. Easley, a senior, is double-majoring in Accounting and Entrepreneurship while competing in Track and Field. Along with another student, he'll manage a multi-faceted operation, from reselling liquidated merchandise on eBay to renting bikes around campus.
Doerr, also a senior, is a Business Management major who spent his summer giving speeches on customer service at Cambridge and Harvard. This fall, he's juggling a competitive tennis career, classes and a start-up company based on a new form of audio technology.
What made you want to be in business?
Jordan: During my sophomore year at Indiana Wesleyan University, guys started wearing those bracelets that are supposed to help you have more energy and balance. They were being sold for $30, but I found out we could order them for $2 each. So a friend and I ordered a bulk amount and resold them for $10 each. We sold more than 400. That was my first taste of entrepreneurship: find a demand, put a little money out, and turn a profit. It stuck with me. I was an accounting major but started having people come up to me for business advice. Then I talked to more friends who confirmed my sense that I was called to be an entrepreneur.
Austin: My first dabble was by accident. I had plans for summer internship that ended up falling through. Back home, I had nothing to do until I found an opportunity with a small, Amish company that builds wooden structures. I realized they had a great product but no marketing, so I started marketing their products for them. Before long, I was adding on other companies and had started my own distributorship. I was really motivated by the fact that I only got paid as hard as I work and I enjoyed it. That's when I realized that maybe this was my calling.
You both have mentioned calling. What does that mean to you, to be called to entrepreneurship?
Jordan: As a Christian entrepreneur, I get to use my talents and gifts to start a business that I enjoy, to hopefully make good money, which gives me an opportunity to give money away and have an impact on this world for
Christ. Entrepreneurship provides an opportunity for me to have the job that I really want to do, to work with whatever I want, and to have an impact wherever I want.
Austin: I believe God wants to use the business field as a missionary field. As a Christ-follower, the most important thing you can do on earth is to tell people about Jesus' love. But if I try to tell that to someone who's in the dumps of life, I won't get far. But if I can give them a job and a chance at a better life, then maybe my words have a chance. It isn't about the money or the cars. It's that you can use business as a means to get people to the ultimate destination.
What's a day in the life like?
Austin: I go between classes to meetings to tennis practice. Sleep is generally a suggestion, not a requirement (laughing). It's harder to put things off and really gives you a sense of priorities.
Jordan: Besides my wristband project, this will be my first year running a business while attending classes and performing as a student athlete. This year, I'm a double major and I'm running track, but I'll be able to fit in work on my business during gaps between classes. Honestly, I try to integrate my business in whatever I do. Someone once told me that the life of entrepreneur is a lifestyle. Always be ready to work on your idea. Loosen up your schedule to integrate it into the rest of your life.
What are some hard lessons you've learned?
Jordan: You have to be willing to prepare for the bad luck. Set aside enough money and have a plan if the worst happens. My friend and I had this idea to sell some marked-down merchandise on eBay. We ran numbers that we had a 1.5 return on investment. So we went out and bought the inventory then the night we post it to Craigslist we got three emails. We thought we were on a roll, but those three were not good prospects. Ultimately, it took us a month to sell 4 speakers. I learned that It's easy to get lazy and wonder if you should get out, but you have to stick it through no matter what comes.
Austin: I've definitely learned that business relationships are most important. I had to learn that the hard way. My old roommate was one of my best friends for a long time, but we had to split ways because I wasn't investing time in our friendship. I had to choose what to spend limited resources on. I didn't choose that friendship and now it isn't the same. I don't regret the risk of going after my ambitions, but I wish I had not been so tunneled-vision.
Advice for other people who want to start a business?
Austin: Value relationships. Stay focused and use every minute to the best of your ability. Remember that the biggest risk in life is not taking one. Do what you enjoy.
Jordan: Stop wondering and start wandering. Do something small to get a taste. Look for a start up community and get comfortable networking. Don't be afraid about not having enough money, talent or time. The beautiful thing about entrepreneurship is that you get to make it as enjoyable for yourself as you want. Have a mentor.