From College Dorm To Series A: Scaling Your Startup

At the Forbes Under 30 Summit last week, RDV student founders shared the dos and don’ts of starting a company while in school.

Rough Draft Ventures joined Forbes in celebrating young entrepreneurs and talent at the Forbes Under 30 Summit in Boston last week. More than 5,000 emerging leaders and game changers from every field (including 200+ from the Rough Draft community!) convened in Boston for three days of panel discussions, networking, and recruiting events.

We’ve been huge fans of the Under 30 Summit since its inception back in 2012 —The Summit echoes Rough Draft’s mission of building an active community for emerging young founders. Fourteen of our Rough Draft Ventures portfolio founders have been named Forbes Under 30 honorees across consumer tech, enterprise tech, finance, and education categories. This year, we took things up a level.

In a panel discussion titled “From Dorm Room to Series A,” Rough Draft portfolio founders Rebecca Liebman of LearnLux, a digital personal finance platform for millennials, Alok Tayi of TetraScience, an IoT startup connecting scientific instruments to the cloud, and Nikhil Srinivasan of Pavlov, a product marketing engine for mobile commerce, shared the dos and don’ts of starting a company in school.

Missed the panel? Don’t worry, we took notes! Here are some highlights from the discussion!

How did you know it was the right time to start a company?

If you wait until you’re ready, you’ll be waiting the rest of your life.” — Rebecca Liebman, LearnLux

“The work I was doing on the side [with Pavlov] started engaging me more than school. I took a leave of absence… and I’m still absent.” — Nikhil Srinivasan, Pavlov

What’s been the biggest advantage of being a young founder?

“I hadn’t worked in finance before so I didn’t understand how bureaucratic financial institutions are. I don’t have ‘analysis paralysis’ that comes with experience. I can always hire people with experience and build a strong advisory board but not having industry experience was refreshing.” — Rebecca Liebman, LearnLux

“When we say we’re a big data startup everyone says, ‘You want to make sense of data? Google’s gonna beat you.’ We were really scrappy in how we found customers. We really leverage our interaction with our customers, which doesn’t happen at Google and at scale. That’s the beauty of being an early stage company in the space.” — Nikhil Srinivasan, Pavlov

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced as a founder?

“The toughest time for me wasn’t the time we didn’t have any money in the bank, it was lack of form in our founding team. Hashing out work ethics and personality fit — things people don’t like talking about — early on is really important. Those were some of the toughest conversations I’ve ever had. That was our time our opportunity to build a company was most at risk because if we didn’t see eye to eye, we would go different ways.” — Nikhil Srinivasan, Pavlov

“We landed a huge customer that was about to bring a drug to market with a $2.2 billion potential and would treat 200,000 patients. The technology we were using was brand new and just did not work… literally every other day it would break. But anytime something breaks is an opportunity to have phenomenal customer service. They realized we were as committed to their success as they were.” — Alok Tayi, TetraScience

“The hardest moments are the micro-deterrents. You can plan for the big mistakes like deals falling through. I rely on these things I call ‘startup crackers.’ Starting a company is like being on a boat with no food or water. You’re so hungry and thirsty but then you get a cracker and that keeps you going. I look for that cracker each day whether it’s talking to a happy customer or landing a new contract.” — Rebecca Liebman, LearnLux

How did you leverage university resources?

“The dot edu email address was a huge point of leverage. People are disarmed when they have a student email them. Open rates were 80% and the first to second meeting conversion rate was 30–40%.” — Alok Tayi, TetraScience

“We were able to understand how we were presenting ourselves to the public but with a shorter feedback cycle. I can present to a group of talented engineers or product designers right on campus at Berkeley.” — Nikhil Srinivasan

What’s your best advice to founders in 140 characters?

“Build something and talk to your customers about it.” — Nikhil Srinivasan, Pavlov

“When building a company, character and values matter.” — Alok Tayi, TetraScience