5,000 Hours Later: 8 lessons from starting a company at Kellogg (Part 1 of 4)

My central focus while at Kellogg has been starting a company. What follows is the first part of an article I wrote for The Merger, Kellogg's school newspaper. It recaps, in brief, my experience at Kellogg.

5,000 Hours Later: 8 lessons from starting a company at Kellogg

My central focus while at Kellogg has been starting a company. I skipped the recruitment rounds, Tuesday nights at the Keg and many other quintessential aspects of the Kellogg experience so I could work on this project. Three business ideas later, these are some of the lessons I’ll leave Kellogg with.

Lesson 1: The team comes first

On a Tuesday evening in December 2009, a Kellogg classmate and I huddled around a table at Pomegranate, the Evanston eatery. Three undergraduates from the McCormick School of Engineering joined us. We were about to to start a company called Adaptly. By May 2011, in the span of fifteen months, Adaptly had raised $2.7M in venture financing and made headlines in tech startup publications across the US. Unfortunately for me, I dropped out of the team weeks after that first meeting at Pomegranate, before Adaptly’s story had even begun.

I did not realize that it takes particular skills to start an early stage web company, and that there is even a skill in identifying people with those necessary skills and bringing them together. Worse, I did not realize many of those skills already lay in the Adaptly team. I made the mistake of putting the idea before the team.

Lesson 2: Pursue the idea that others will throw resources behind, rather than the one that takes your fancy

The idea I arrived at Kellogg with, in Fall 2009, was to aggregate hyper-local news, so a person could – on one website – see everything that was being written around them, from blogs and local newspapers, to Twitter steams and Flickr photographs. When an opportunity arose to run the school newspaper, The Merger, I figured it would give me direct access to one of these sources, so I jumped at the opportunity. Yet, I little realized that my grand plan had one fatal flaw – I could muster few resources around my idea.

As I wandered around the halls of the Ford building, in search of student software developers that could help me build out the product, I struggled to enthuse anyone around my idea. I was unconvincing in answering the question, “What’s the path to revenue?” This included the Adaptly team, formed out of the NUvention Web class, who pursued a different idea without me.

In the meanwhile, I could not fail to notice that some professors at Northwestern seemed to enjoy lucrative consulting engagements with corporations. Since these engagements seemed to materialize sporadically, I wondered if there was an opportunity in creating a website that could more efficiently connect professors with consulting engagements. This passing idea hit a nerve with a professor at Northwestern’s computer science department. He quickly dispatched a team of undergraduates to start building the website.

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