W. P. Carey Alumni Share Advice for Starting a Business

We asked W. P. Carey Alumni: What advice do you have for students wanting to start their own business? 

Here is what they shared:

  • Start With a Solid Plan and Strategy
  • Set out to Solve a Problem
  • Fail on Your Terms
  • Put Customers Over Content
  • Find Your Passion
  • Stay Nimble, Be Flexible and Listen to Your Advisors
  • Just Start

Start With a Solid Plan and Strategy

There are three lessons I’ve learned about starting a business since graduating from W. P. Carey. Starting with a solid plan and strategy is the most important lesson. If you don’t have either, you’re sure to fail. While both are slightly different, having a plan and strategy before you set out should be your top priority. And depending on your long-term goals, the second lesson would be to know what you’re selling.

Since COVID, it’s made me think a lot about physical vs digital mediums, and what could be better for the growth I want. COVID made it difficult to acquire physical products, while software and eCommerce industries boomed. Keeping these changes in mind is part of the second lesson.

The final third lesson is, when making your team, be mindful of each person’s values and culture. Be sure you know who you’re working with before hiring them. I like having working interviews over a week to test out our compatibility and their style of learning to make sure I’m making the best team possible.

Zoe Jirgens, Computer Information Systems ‘20, Marketing Associate, Mberry

Set out to Solve a Problem

Starting a business is difficult and costly. But, it has the potential to be deeply rewarding, especially if your business solves a real problem people encounter. Here’s a prestart-up due diligence question: “What problem can my skill set solve for people?”

Answer this question, and then move on to the second phase which is answering: “What is the value of my solution?” I believe; if you’re offering a quality solution to a real problem in the world, the world will beat a path to your door.

Tony King, BS Business Management ‘83, Founder, Personal Financial Strategy

Fail on Your Terms

“Done” is often better than “perfect”. Yet when it’s your own business, failing can really hurt… your ego. Realizing no one will think about your muck-ups more than you, the sooner you learn to embrace “failing” and do so on your terms—the sooner you’ll be learning from said failure. So go be brave, be humble, be willing to admit you don’t know much, but you’re betting on yourself to find out.

Juan Kingsbury, BS Globall Business ‘04, Talent Strategist, Career Blindspot

Put Customers Over Content

I started my business the first year out of W. P. Carey, and I now have a very successful company, which is now one of the biggest in my industry–all within 10 years since graduation. One of the reasons I was able to do that while others failed is because I focused—and still do—on what my customers want and need. Most of the people I meet are so stuck on their own creative content that they forget that they’re in business to help their customers solve their problems and fulfill their desires.

If you want to be successful in business, find a serious problem in the market, find people who have challenges or desires that aren’t being serviced well, and then focus on getting to know those customers and helping them more than anyone else does. Once you focus on putting customers over content, you’ll be successful at what you do.

Matthew Coast, BS Marketing ‘12, Owner, Commitment Connection

Find Your Passion

It may sound cliché, but I really do think a successful business has to start with a passion. Without passion for the product or service, the business will eventually decline due to lack of motivation. Once you find that passion, always make sure your customers are the first thing you’re thinking of when it comes to your business strategy.

Maddie Hayes, BS Marketing & BA Business Communication ‘18, Corporate Communications Specialist, Avnet

Stay Nimble, Be Flexible and Listen to Your Advisors

When I began this business, it looked much different than it does today, but I always knew that I wanted to be an entrepreneur. As soon as I realized my original model wasn’t working, I pivoted and leaned into the most profitable part of my idea. 

Stay nimble and be flexible, listen to your trusted circle of advisors, and always be willing to make changes to be better tomorrow.

David Freedman, BS Commercial Real Estate ‘05, Founder, Freestar

Just Start

What you do in life doesn’t all have to be perfect. You don’t have to quit your job right away, but you do have to start somewhere. Make your plan and execute something daily that gets you closer to where you want your business to be. Over time, you’ll be quite proud of the progress you’ve made.

When I created my card game, Cruel Tunes, I didn’t even have a logo, but I wrote out all the cards and printed off a very low-quality version to get a prototype and test the game with family and friends. You’re going to come up with lots of ideas for businesses but when you find one that you feel passionate about, just go for it!

Mason Ford, Sports & Media Studies ‘18, Founder, Cruel Tunes

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By W. P. Carey Career Services Center
W. P. Carey Career Services Center