On November 11, 2016, I embarked on a three-day journey of entrepreneurship through 3 Day Startup (3DS). It was an all-day three-day event, where entrepreneurial-minded students from all across Cornell University came together with a mission of starting a company in three days. The participating students were diverse in their entrepreneurship interest levels and their academic majors. Some students planned to start their own company by the time they graduated from school, and others were mildly curious about entrepreneurship. This student group represented majors in engineering, business, medicine, communications, and more.
After a quick event kick-off on Friday, students split into groups to generate business ideas. Everyone had an opportunity to pitch his/her idea, and then the top five most-voted ideas were selected to be worked on throughout the weekend. Then the students selected the business idea they wanted to work on and formed teams.
I chose to work on a women’s safety app. Our idea was based on an “Ask for Angela” initiative by a bar in the U.K. In this particular bar, a woman can get bar employees’ help if she gets into an uncomfortable situation by asking for Angela, which was a code word the bartenders understood. My team member who came up with the Ask for Angela app idea thought “why not build an app for it? By having an app, these situations can be addressed more immediately.” My five-person team got to work immediately: conducting customer discovery and surveys to quickly validate and eliminate target customers, building mock-ups to communicate our ideas visually, and building a business model and go-to-market strategy.
Building a business model was especially challenging because we constrained ourselves to not charge women. We had to be very creative in identifying another target customer who would benefit from our app and to whom we could effectively communicate our value proposition. After a long discussion and multiple sessions with our mentors, we decided that our customers would be bars, while our users would be women. In order for our product to be meaningful to the bars, we decided to build a complementary app that rates bars based on safety ratings, which are calculated based on how well the bars respond to women asking for help through our app. Our value prop was that safer bars will attract more women, and in turn more customers, and our app will facilitate the promotion of safe bars.
The event concluded with every team pitching their ideas to a panel of practicing entrepreneurs, fund managers, and entrepreneurship faculty members. Every team presented a very well thought-out pitch, of which the ideas ranged from an ocular medical device connected to a smartphone to software that presents users with news articles by media outlets with varying views to break the information bubble.
The 3DS event was an exhausting but a valuable experience for me, an MBA student with a long corporate career who hadn’t the faintest idea of what it was like to start a business. I learned that I need to carefully consider whom I partner with, because the partners and I will be spending a lot of time together. Second, I learned that not all good ideas make a good business, which ironically gave me encouragement and confidence. I had been worried that I didn’t have the technical skills to build the product I was envisioning in my head, and hence I might not have what it takes to be an entrepreneur. Through the 3DS weekend, however, I realized that it takes many different skills to build a successful company. As much as I cannot found a company without a technical partner who can build the product, the business cannot be successful without my business acumen and experiences.
I am so glad that I decided to apply for the 3DS weekend and stuck with it even though there were a lot of competing priorities, including the Finance prelim! I believe that experiences like this are a good litmus test to see whether you will enjoy what you are pursuing and a risk-free way to learn lessons that will be valuable in the long run.
- Jess Park Cornell MBA 2018