6 months ago, Shikha Sharma, Saliq Hussaini, Daniel Lim, Rey Tang, Henry Yu, and I came together and formed a team to compete in UCSB’s New Venture Competition. 6 months, sacrificed social events, and countless meetings later, we finished in 3rd place out of 40 teams as Wanderlease, the premier solution in permanently solving temporary housing. Working as a part of this team over the past few weeks has solidified my personal career ambitions and has given me valuable lessons on becoming an entrepreneur. I wanted to share a few of my thoughts:
1. Pivoting is a real thing
I have always seen in TV shows such as Silicon Valley that a budding startup inevitably pivots away from their original idea, but I never imagined the magnitude at which it would affect our company. We started as SubleaseStreamline, a software platform aimed at making the subleasing process transparent for the landlord, all the way to Wanderlease, a software platform that would securely and efficiently match subtenants and tenants. Obviously, our company will inevitably have to pivot in the near future, as no business plan is perfect, but I feel less stubborn in the prospect of welcoming change.
2. There is nothing you just “can’t do”
Although we had a very diverse team and broad skillset, none of us really knew anything about design. As a team, we had to learn design tools such as Photoshop and Illustrator in order to create the necessary graphics and wireframes to showcase our platform. No one was there to hold our hand; we just had to do it. Nevertheless, I think it is safe to say we were able to adapt to our situation and put our best efforts into learning something new. Below is a before/after picture of my design for the Wanderlease logo.
3. Simplicity > Complexity
Throughout the entire process, our team had plenty of ideas we wanted to incorporate. Amidst all these good ideas, it took effort to focus our product down to an understandable, feasible concept. Although ironic, working on the team pushed me to realize that it takes more energy to develop sound, simple ideas rather than to come up with many peripheral features. I saw this develop in our product, and I will try to apply this to my life too.
4. Detail is everywhere
Preparing for the NVC Fair and the NVC Finals meant preparing to pitch our product in front of investors and entrepreneurs. As a team, we spent many hours preparing answers to all the curveball questions that could potentially be thrown at us. Doing so not only helped us fully develop our product, but it also made me realize that straightforward concepts can still be challenged from multiple different angles. Our attention to detail, from our wireframe designs to our financial projections, played a significant role in bringing us deep into the competition.
5. A startup needs to solve a consumer problem
Often times as an engineer, I am caught up on the idea of developing specific features, as opposed to focusing on the essence of the problem I want to solve. As we moved further along with our product, we continued to narrow the scope of our product down to solve a specific problem. Rather than forming a “novel” idea, it became apparent that the fundamental role of our product had to revolve around a consumer’s pain point. Like how Facebook solves the need to connect with other people and Apple solves the need for reliable computer products, Wanderlease became shaped to save users time in the subleasing process.
6. People matter… a lot
I have never been a part of something where the value of personal connections was so apparent. As part of our market validation research, we interviewed people from all over the nation, from New York City to San Francisco. I found most of my interviews through mutual and old friends I had not talked to for years. People were more supportive than I expected, giving me 30 minutes of their time to help me understand a company we had not yet finished building. The verbal encouragement in my immediate surroundings from my friends and family was also incredibly evident. It sounds cliche, but I was backed by the support of those closest to me throughout the whole process. Thank you.
Moving forward, our team will be doing a summer accelerator program in hopes of further developing the Wanderlease product. The ultimate goal is to enter the market within a couple years and establish our product as the primary subleasing software. But who knows what will happen? We are all just buckling in for the ride.