The 5 Most Helpful Learnings as Over-Enthusiastic Student Entrepreneurs

Create a business, they said. So, as you do, we got together, emptied a bottle of whiskey, and scribbled some ideas on about a hundred post-it notes.

A week later we found a post-it which only said: “Recipe recommendations”. This made us decide to build something (whatever something was) that would help people find recipes on a more personal level.

Now, 1,5 years later, we’ve won 2000 euros, lost some other pitches, and learned a ton of things. Let’s discuss some of the most important learnings we had as student entrepreneurs.

Meet Yosa

Before we start about these learnings, let us give you a little bit of background info. Yosa stands for ‘Your online shopping assistant’. As a chatbot — or as we prefer to call it: a companion bot — Yosa acts as an online conversational assistant.

It helps consumers that are trying to answer that one annoying question: “What are we going to eat tonight”?

Research in 2017 — 20 years after the domain was registered — showed that this was, in fact, the most asked question on Google in The Netherlands (within those 20 years).

Of course, you can go onto one of the thousand recipe websites, but is that as effective as it could be? Instead, you could ask Yosa for a recipe.

She makes sure it contains only tastes and ingredients you like and tells you the exact amount of ingredients you need for your family size. When it’s time to cook she makes sure you’re able to finish the recipe within your preferred time frame. Sounds a lot easier right?

Okay cool, so what did you learn then? Well, let’s dive into that now!

Winning and Losing Learning

It was a Thursday afternoon, we were anxiously waiting till the phone rang. Once the phone rang, the room filled with joy. We had won 2000 euros as part of a student entrepreneur competition. 

As this was the first entrepreneurial price either of us had ever won, you can imagine what kind of a boost that gave us.

You can't win 'em all

A couple of months later  - whilst battling our classmates -  we ended up fourth in another competition. Ouch! That must have hurt.
It did, but most importantly it was a good wake-up call and an even better moment to reflect on what had happened.

Yeah, it felt like we lost, but losing, failing or whatever you want to call it is part of the process. The ideas that ended on top, were ideas with low risk and a short time to market. Our idea didn't score high on those two factors at the time.

Take your time to reflect a bit

Should we focus on competitions which suit our idea better? Is there something in our pitch that we must change next time around? Should we focus on talking more about how we plan to mitigate risks or how we are going to shorten our time to market?

Those are the questions we tried to come up with whilst reflecting on what had happened. It was all about figuring out what we could or should do better next time.

Failure is not a problem. It is how you deal with these failures that determine whether your business will benefit. Made a mistake? Lost a pitch competition? Lost a client? Take a moment, reflect on what happened, and use those moments to learn and make your business better.

Focus on the core

We need OCR technology or AI to improve the back-end of the system! Well, but is your user already able to just ask for a recipe when he needs it? Uh, no? So why are you focusing on all things besides finishing the core of your solution?

It's called a MINIMAL viable product for a reason

As a beginning entrepreneur, it’s very easy to lose focus on what’s important. Whilst building and testing our initial MVP there were tons of directions to explore. It’s very tempting to put as much as you can into the first version of your MVP.

But let’s remember it’s called a MINIMAL viable product for a reason. If you start building a business and want to launch something very soon, try to focus on what’s important.

Do I need a very specific filter option to test my idea? Or can I only add functionality that allows people to ask for recipes from certain countries? We could always add more filters from there.

Focus, one of the most important words while building a business:

  • Start by making a list of priorities. This is a great and simple method to keep your focus on the things that are the so-called must-haves.
  • Continue to ask yourself if what you are currently doing is necessary to achieve the end goal.
  • try to always ask yourself if there isn’t a smaller and more effective step to take.
  • Finally, Try to make iterations as small as possible, test them as fast as you can, evaluate, and then pivot if necessary

Start by making a list of priorities. This is a great and simple methodology to keep your focus on the things that are the so-called must-haves for that particular phase of the product.     

The importance of coaching

When we started Yosa, we were 20 years old. As a 20-year-old you are this enthusiastic young professional with great ambition. Also when it comes to your ideas, it is very easy to become biased.

What if we combine ambition, enthusiasm, and biased opinions? Well, you will experience moments where you find yourself going too fast too soon. Often without grounded reasons.

Guidance is necessary to slow you down or give you a nudge in the right direction. Still, this won’t mean you aren’t going to hit a wall (because you are stubborn). But, if you have no one to guide you, you will most likely hit that wall at full speed.

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

We had the fortune of having people around us who would always make time to sit down with us. During these sessions, we would present where we stood, what we had planned, and what was next.

We had the fortune of having people around us who would always make time to sit down with us. During these sessions, we would present where we stood, what we had planned, and what was next.

More often than not we came out of those sessions thinking we should rearrange our plans. There always were some tweaks to make to not lose that focus discussed earlier.

Externals are more likely to say what they think and help you to keep your feet on the ground. Whether you want to start a business or you already own one, try to find someone who’s willing to help you.

This might not be the easiest task, but it is hands-down worth the effort. You will not regret spending time finding someone who will help you build a better business.

Validation, validation, validation

We started Yosa to complete an assignment. But for us, it wasn’t only an assignment we had to complete for our study. We wanted to try and actually build a business whilst we got the time to try and experiment.

On the advice of one of our coaches (outside of the university), we decided to not only write a business plan. We were going to build an MVP and validate our assumptions.

We asked users to send us their receipts so that we could understand what they liked. Then we could send them recipes according to those perceived preferences. After a while, users started to forget to send their receipts which made it harder for us to help them.

We called them up and had a short interview with them to understand their needs. We found out that analyzing the grocery receipts was not the ideal method to get to know the user’s preferences.

It entailed a lot of manual work for us and it was not easy enough for the user to keep sending receipts.

Photo by Quino Al on Unsplash

Now every user that joins gets a questionnaire when they first start a chat. In this questionnaire, we immediately find out what preferences they have. This way we have a better understanding of their preferences from the get-go.

Small iterations like these are a great way to validate your assumptions. It’ll help you see how your customers respond and decide if you’re on the right track. It will also let you learn if a necessary pivot is around the corner.

This method requires you to actually talk to your customers and hear what their needs are. Build a product with your customer, not only for them.

Have a bit of fun along the way

While being a business owner can be stressful, please do not forget to enjoy the ride. We know that this sounds a bit cheesy or cliche, but it is important. You are doing something not everyone can or is willing to do.

Having a couple of beers sometimes will help you realize that what you are doing is actually pretty cool. It puts things in perspective. This is also a great time to find out if everyone is still on the same page.

Outside of your work environment, new ideas can come to mind. During a diner meeting, we had a while ago, we came up with a new approach for the next Yosa MVP. This time we aim to keep it even simpler. As described above we added too much complexity, which led to a limitation of around 30 users. Yep, you read that right, 30 users. That’s way too little.

Now we’re approaching the MVP in such a way that there are limitations when it comes to scaling. Well.. that is not quite true, for now, we do have some limitations when we reach more than a hundred thousand users. That would be a good problem to have one day.

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