Guest Blogger: Caroline Stone

Though I have never run my own business, I’m fortunate enough to have the gift of curiosity. As such, I’m constantly inspired by entrepreneurial ideas.

Recently I wondered, “Why haven’t popsicles become as popular as cupcakes?”- this momentarily inspired me to turn those delicious icy treats into glamorous desserts, the way cupcakes have become boutique-baked goods. Needless to say, I’m still waiting for the right time to turn that thought into a reality. In the mean time, however, I’ve found it essential to learn as much as I can about start up businesses, small businesses, and what it takes to pursue entrepreneurial goals.

As I said, my experience in entrepreneurship is limited, other than a few lemonade stands and the occasional bake sale, only two professional experiences of mine bring me even remotely close to being an entrepreneur in my own right. Ironically, both experiences presented themselves to me at the same time.

Let me first rewind a little bit. At the end of my junior year and start of my senior year at the University of Southern California, my alma mater, I noticed a fundamental hole in my degree experience. I participated in clubs and worked on and off campus, but was frustrated to learn that my major did not have a department-specific presence as an on-campus clubs. History, Spanish, Anthropology, Political Science, you name the department; they had a club, all except Sociology. I took it upon myself to address the issue.

After meeting with advisors, department heads, and student government, I found a support system, learned the technicalities, and started the paperwork to establish the Sociology Honor Society. A niche student community within the department was thrilled by the idea, and together we built the club from the bottom up. The work I put forth and my proactive approach to working with my department, my peers, and the University, earned me an invitation to be a part of a hand selected leadership committee, formed by the school’s dean. My presence as founder and president was short lived as I soon graduated. But I was there just long enough to create a framework that I was proud of, and leave a small legacy with a school that had done so much for me, and of which I was tremendously proud to be a member.

Kick-starting a school club is just one small way to get experience with a start up. On campus clubs, like businesses, require community involvement, foresight, goal setting, paperwork, and a lot of energy. My experiences at USC sparked a small flame in me that still burns bright. I have a deep appreciation for any person who has an idea and fights to see it to fruition.

Now, fast forward. Shortly after graduating I realized that I wanted to be a part of a start-up business, and to more thoroughly learn what it takes to make something out of nothing. It is important to add, however, that at the time, I also knew I wanted to head to graduate school. Thus, quitting the full time job I had at the time served many purposes- to work in a more flexible work environment was also one of my many hopes. This flexibility tends to be a characteristic of start-ups, which tend to have odd working hours, especially in their fledgling stages. I found a posting on USC’s career services site that listed an opening at a local company, Vicaya. This new company, hoped to bring on board proactive, energetic, and eager workers. After interviewing and learning more about the company- a “think and do” tank with the initial goal of bringing affordable solar energy to Southern California, and Ontario, Canada, (then eventually working to address various other social issues)- I gladly accepted the opportunity to join the team.

Quickly, I learned that to succeed at a start-up I needed to be a self-starter. A core skill is being able to take ambiguous directions, information, and concepts, and turn those into tangible deliverables. Founded by two men balancing full-time day jobs with running a start-up, Vicaya was a flexible place to be. Basically, I was expected to produce as much as I could on my own time, with the office accessible to me whenever I needed it. Learning to sit down and do work without a deadline is still, to this day, one of the greatest lessons I have ever learned. In college, I was always working with a time frame, at Vicaya I had to set little goals for myself- daily, weekly, monthly- as a way of ensuring productivity.

While I was learning all of these business (and life) lessons, I was presented with another opportunity: the chance to write as a freelancer for an online publication. The same self-starter mentality proved vital. Researching, writing, and editing were easy to put off, especially when most of my work was done in a coffee shop. I channeled my inner-entrepreneur, however, and remembered that in order to get things done and fulfill my obligations I would need to make myself a schedule and meet my own deadlines.

Obviously, I was not, nor have I since been an entrepreneur, but I have learned some of the most important skills that an entrepreneur requires. No matter what you do now, or what your goals are for the future, a few imperative skills will make accomplishing your ambitions less daunting and more feasible: staying focused, staying driven, and working hard because you want to. Working towards something and for something you enjoy will make tasks feel less arduous and more fulfilling. Find purpose in what you do, even if it’s something mundane like stuffing envelopes. In order to be good at what you do, succeed where you are, and move forward, you have to know the big picture. What are you working for? What is the end goal? Have a milestones you want to reach daily, and before you know it you will find yourself much closer to the goals you set for your business, or maybe even your life.
So, my goal for today? Research the popsicle market. What’s yours?

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