Entrepreneur Rebecca Gilbert has successfully launched and grown three companies. She offers young entrepreneurs some tips and basic business strategies for starting a company and managing its early development.    

Photo credit Startup Weekend Pittsburgh

By Rebecca Gilbert

College is an opportunity for self-discovery. It is the perfect place to develop your entrepreneurial skills. Entrepreneurs blaze trails, redefine the possible and upend the status quo to materially change our world. Entrepreneurs are goal oriented, and that goal is to make a difference, to do the world’s work better. Entrepreneurship is the road less traveled. Will this be your path?
It’s exhilarating, freeing and mind-blowingly exciting to have an idea, create a team and execute a personal vision into reality. Entrepreneurs know this. We self-identify with the thrill of the ride and work countless hours to grab the golden ring before the music stops.

I started my first company in 1998. I made some good decisions, I made some bad decisions, and I learned a lot along the way.  I’d like to share some lessons learned that may help you on your path.
1) Leverage your network.

You have experts all around you: faculty members, business partners in the community, friends, and alumni. Someone you know most likely has real-world experience in the target market you’re exploring. People love to help students.  Ask for 20 minutes of an expert’s time and gather his or her lessons learned. You can learn as much by asking what didn’t work as you can from the stellar successes.
2) Be adaptable.
Perhaps start-up funds will only last six months or the team can work only part-time. It doesn’t matter. Stay focused, execute your plan, and be nimble as new doorways open. We can’t predict what will happen tomorrow let alone six months from now. New outlets may open for your product, or your product may need to change. It’s critical to have a clear vision, to execute based on that vision, and to understand that the vision may need to change in the future.
3) Know your strengths and weaknesses. 
Make sure the team is complete in all the necessary skill sets. Even pure software companies still need sales people, marketers and a support team. A team of rock star developers is necessary, but it’s not sufficient. Create a team that has all the skills you need.
4) Define the vision as a team.
Create a common vision about the product/service being launched and the factors which will define its success. Which market(s) are you serving? Clearly define it/them. How will you measure success and what are the time points for measurement? If half of the founders measure success by user acquisition/ market penetration, and the other half measure success by revenue, there’s no common metric to guide the company’s development.  Clearly define the goals before you start the project.
5) Be clear with your teammates/employees about standards and expectations.
Build trust as a manager: set clear goals and hold team members accountable for their work.  It’s important to communicate a firm timeline that details your expectations of the critical tasks and completion dates.  Set your employees, and your company, up for success with well-defined goals and positive acknowledgement of achieved outcomes. 

College is an exciting time; it’s a unique and fertile environment to stretch, grow and reach for the stars. Go build your dream!

Rebecca Gilbert is an entrepreneur based in Pittsburgh, PA. She has a degree in psychology from the University of Pennsylvania and an MBA from Emory University. Rebecca is the founder of RJG Translations, a company providing written document translations, and Yummy Plants, a global vegan community. Rebecca has presented the basics of a vegan diet around the world.  Several of her speaking credits include Vegetarian Summerfest, the NYC Vegetarian Food Festival and Paris Vegan Day.

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