Thursday, September 17, 2009

We’re not in Kansas anymore…

Life changes frequently in your last year of University but my biggest change was deciding to start a company. In January 2009 I was debating working abroad after graduating or starting EasyPlug. As we progressed through the rounds at Enterprize Canada I told my girlfriend that if EasyPlug placed in the top 5 I was probably going to give it a shot if my team members were also interested once the school year finished. Days later we placed 2nd and were on stage accepting a 10 thousand dollar cheque. We continued to work hard, place well in competitions and made sure our name were mentioned as much as possible in UBC magazines and faculty newsletters. Coming to the end of the school year we were on cloud nine with 16 thousand tucked away in a bank account and 3 Company Awards. The great aspect about starting a company after graduating is that you are new on the scene and people are often very receptive and willing to help. For example, I have met many people in the local technology industry through EasyPlug. Whether the product succeeds or fails in the long run I will still have my established networks. EasyPlug scheduled our first company meeting for the day after exams ended, quickly making the transition from students to managers. We discussed our summer goals and set a timeline which in retrospect was very ambitious. Early the next week we were scheduled to present at a luncheon at the 4 Seasons to showcases 7 of UBC’s new start ups, with audience members including the head of an Angel Forum and multiple seasoned entrepreneurs it was a great experience.

Shortly after the presentation we met with 3 law firms to pick our legal representation. We quickly realized things had changed, legal estimates climbed and we went from one of UBC’s stars to the new kids on the block. Everything was new, incorporation documents, entrepreneurial organizations (VEF, VEF Momentum, etc) and prototype manufacturing quotes.

During May we prepared for our last student competition which was in Hong Kong and a week before departing received news that the competition had been postponed due to Swine flu. Three of the team members were busy graduating, another was moving apartments and several were working part-time. Starting a company with limited funds, and limited relevant experience was definitely going to be an uphill battle. That month I met with several people for coffee as it’s important to build a network and get your company’s name out right from the beginning. (I plan on doing a future post on the importance of 15-20 minute coffee meetings.) Meanwhile during the post student transition my girlfriend accepted a 6 month internship in Cambodia and was busy preparing for her departure only two weeks away.

It took EasyPlug until about the middle of June to really begin to pick up the pace. During the initial months simple tasks including the incorporation, a corporate bank account, assigning performance metrics and company internal communications were all areas that took time to establish norms. Meanwhile we realized that our team had graduated in the worst recession in 20 years, and most funding was drying up for long term development projects. Although this was not a significant factor since we had planned to bootstrap the business and push off raising capital for several months. Gradually things began to roll and months later our business is progressing at a steady pace.

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