College Students: How To Innovate Like Mark Zuckerberg In 10 Easy Steps

Josh Axelrod (College Park, MD) —

Thanks to The Social Network, the world knows that Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg isn’t an a**hole…he just tried so hard to be. But when you strip away the personalities, the parts that may or may not have actually happened and the whole Winklevii thing, you have the story of a brilliant Harvard student who started a multi-billion dollar business from his dorm room. You don’t have to be a genius programmer to follow in his footsteps. Here, I tell you how you can start a successful business from the comfort of your dorm room in 10 simple steps.

1. Get Motivated

According to Social Network lore, Zuckerberg’s first stab at establishing something resembling a social networking site was sparked by a bad breakup and some alcohol-infused bitterness. Chances are the reasons behind starting your business won’t be as dramatic as that. More likely than not, the motivation for starting a business in college will stem from the need for money, recognition and securing a job after graduation. Having a true passion for your idea will get you even further. If nothing else, girls dig guys who are driven.

2. Cement Your Vision

Zuckerberg knew he wanted Facebook to be a platform for sharing social information. Make sure you have a clear idea about what you want your business to be in the next three-to-five years before you do anything else. You might find that your ambitions were too big or small. Just don’t go into it cold.

3. See How Others Did It

Zuckerberg isn’t the only one to start something as big as Facebook while still in college. Alexis Ohanian came up with the idea for Reddit while still at the University of Virginia. Bill Gates laid the foundation for Microsoft while still at Harvard (he eventually dropped out to pursue Microsoft fulltime, not unlike Zuckerberg about 30 years later). Obviously these are unusual success stories, but who knows who the next Gates or Zuckerberg will be? It could be you.

4. Figure Out What You Need

Facebook needed a lot to get off the ground: programmers, advanced algorithms, money, etc. Make sure you know exactly what you need in order to turn your vision into a reality. If you’re planning on selling something, make a list of the raw materials you’ll need to make your product and how much all of that will cost. If you’re offering a service, do some market research to learn what your target audience will want from you.

5. Form A Team

If you’re technologically deficient, enlist a friend who isn’t. If you need help making the product you’ll be selling, hire (or bribe with food and love) a few people to maximize output. Maybe art is your weakness. Find someone with some skill in graphic design who can use Photoshop or InDesign to make your site stand out from the crowd. Just don’t burn any bridges – as Zuckerberg can tell you, it might cost you friends and money.

6. Take Advantage Of School Resources

Many schools have an entrepreneurship center or a business school in part to help students with aspirations of starting their own businesses. Unless your idea crashes your school’s servers in the middle of the night a la The Social Network, they should be responsive and willing to help you get your business of the ground. Worst case, they give you some advice and send you on your way. It’s a high reward and low risk situation.

7. Being Cheap Is Okay

Not everyone has a friend like Eduardo Saverin who is both rich and willing to finance just about every business expenditure you need. The goal is to test your business idea to prove that it works, and a high startup cost is going to make that task even more difficult. Do everything in your power to spend as little money as possible on getting your business up and running. When your business outgrows your dorm room, that’s when you follow Zuckerberg’s steps in pitching to investors…but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

8. Stay Flexible

If something isn’t working, don’t be afraid to scrap it. A start-up is a hypothesis of a successful business model. Just like that old science fair project, sometimes your hypothesis doesn’t pan out. Admitting defeat is sometimes the best way to strengthen your resolve so you can either start over or improve on the mistake. On the flip side, stay open to new ideas. Facebook is always adding new features to its already large repertoire of options. Worst-case scenario: it doesn’t work and, again, you go back to the drawing board. Sometimes trial and error is the best system for determining what works and what doesn’t.

9. Get Your Name Out There

Thank Zuckerberg for creating one of the greatest marketing tools in the history of advertising. Take advantage of social media to spread the word about your business. Create a memorable logo that you can put on flyers you’ll post around campus. Chalk up the sidewalk with links to your website. Get your friends to showcase your product or service and have them draw their friends to your business. Promote, promote, promote!

10. Submit To Win An Adobe Design Achievement Award

This contest honors students and faculty from around the world who submit projects created using Adobe software in three media categories: interactive (which includes browser-based design), video and motion, and traditional. Winners can earn trips, software, and cash prizes. Who wouldn’t want to say that they were in charge of an award-winning business? Take a chance, enter the contest and prove that your business is worthy of recognition.
Josh Axelrod is a sophomore majoring in journalism at the University of Maryland, and he is a writer for COLLEGE Magazine, where this article originally appeared.

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