B-Start: 7 lessons learned from going through a pre-accelerator

Mike Trotzke & Wes Wagner, Demo Day

Four months ago, I was accepted into B-Start, a pre-accelerator program for student startups in Bloomington, Indiana, with just an idea.

Through participating in the pre-accelerator’s workshops, leveraging its resources, and most of all, getting help from my mentor, I turned my concept about a better way to facilitate student-business relationships into Intask.

Before the program, I had worked for a few startups in marketing roles, read several books on entrepreneurship, and participated in various events about building a business. However, growing a startup from an idea was more impactful than any of these experiences.

The pre-accelerator recently finished, and as I reflect on the last few months, I want to share a few lessons I learned to help any new or aspiring entrepreneurs planning to undertake a similar journey.

1. Act as the “man behind the curtain” to get started.

At the beginning of B-Start, I tried various marketing messages to get businesses to sign up, but I did not actually have anything ready on the back-end except the “Wes processing engine,” which consists of myself, Google Drive, Typeform, and WordPress.

In other words, I was the “man behind the curtain” that made the Intask platform work. Through this process, I was able to find out exactly what businesses wanted, so I could start to build on, improve, and automate what worked instead of spending time guessing what I thought businesses wanted.

While this worked–and continues to work–as I build a SaaS (Software-as-a-Service) product, the concept of doing work yourself before investing in something else to do it is fundamental for any new business.

Prepare to get behind that curtain and hustle.

2. Plan minimally, but stay focused, to reduce waste.

When I told my mentor about my first idea, he told me to work backward–to write a one-page press release about the theoretical business.

Working backward forced me to define important aspects of the business early–the problem, the value proposition, the customer–and helped me stay focused without spending time writing a business plan full of uncertainties.

And hey, if Amazon can create more than a $10 billion business with this style of new product development, you have to try it.

Recommended reading: The Lean Startup

3. Constrain your time to save time.

This may seem obvious, but there is still a fallacy that time spent working always equals work done.

Throughout B-Start, I grew more keen on following Parkinson’s law. The adage goes “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”

Applying the law, when I gave myself less time over the last few months, I was incredibly more productive. When I asked for shorter meetings and put myself on a time-crunches to compose emails, configure Typeforms, and organize files, I accomplished my goals in a fraction of the time I would use otherwise.

However, this is not a guaranteed productivity hack. As an optimist, I found it difficult to guess the amount of time needed for every task, and that can hurt when you need to meet a deadline.

4. Seize motivation to get more done.

In his book Rework, Jason Fried advises that you should take advantage of motivation when it presents itself and that this natural, fleeting phenomenon can do wonders for your productivity.

As I followed Jason Fried’s advice, I occasionally felt like I was in the movie Limitless and had just taken that little clear pill.

Motivation hit me while I was in bed, so I sat up and quickly wrote an email template on my phone. Motivation hit me while I read, so I went to my computer and pounded out some messaging on the Intask website.

While I did not rely on motivation to get work done during B-Start, I realized that it is a shame to underutilize this momentary productivity gold.

Recommended reading: Rework

5. Engage your community.

I attend Indiana University in Bloomington, and it is no secret the majority of students plan to leave after graduation.

However, as I immersed myself in the local, off-campus startup community throughout the B-Start program (and events like Startup Mic Nite and Verge), I met an excellent mentor, forged new friendships, connected with potential clients, and had great conversations with amazing people.

I urge other student entrepreneurs to engage your local startup community to see what is out there, and I encourage other students–regardless of your interests–to go off campus and join your respective communities too.

You have little to lose, and a lot to gain.

6. Prioritize your work-life(-school) balance.

The last few months showed me that finding a work-life-school balance can be tough.

Intask invaded the “life” and “school” arms of my balance–I thought about Intask when I was with family, at parties, on vacation, and in the middle of the night. I pulled out my phone to jot down notes, send emails, and tweak small things all the time. I could not get away, and it led to doses of minor burnout.

“Invest in as much of yourself as you can, you are your own biggest asset by far.” Warren Buffet

Working on Intask made me realize I needed to prioritize my work-life-school balance, specifically the “life” arm. So, I refocused on my physical, mental, and social health.

Physically, I tried to sleep more, eat healthier, and keep up an exercise routine. As I got better at finding this balance, I felt that I had more energy, dealt with less stress, and worked smarter, more creatively, and more productive than when just focusing on Intask.

Mentally, I had a two-week backpacking trip that fell about three-fourths into the program. The trip helped me reflect, recharge, and gave me plenty of ideas for when I came back. Celebrating Intask’s small wins also helped.

Socially, taking breaks, hanging out with friends, and just playing “typical college student” kept me level.

7. Stay in love with the problem to keep yourself on track.

When I hit setbacks or felt disheartened, I remembered why I was working on Intask: the relationship between businesses and students is outdated, and the future of work fascinates me.

You are bound to have setbacks and periods of burnout, so find that core idea or problem you are passionate about. Use it as fuel to keep you going when you feel stuck.

I cannot reflect on the B-Start program without thinking about everyone who made it possible. Thank you to the BEDC, my mentor Mike Trotzke, and Bloomington tech community.

To any new or aspiring student entrepreneur, I hope these few lessons might be able to help you get started. If you have similar experiences, or you would like to like to chat about what you are working on, please reach out by sending an email to wes@westonwagner.com or tweeting at @caffeinatedwes.

Wes Wagner is an entrepreneur-in-training, student, and freelance digital marketer with experience in content, social media, and ads. Currently, Wes is building Intask, a platform to help businesses & students flexibly connect & engage. Interested in trying it out? Sign up here.


Originally published at westonwagner.com on January 27, 2017.