Cornell University’s Black Entrepreneurs in Training program hosted a community dinner on March 10 to foster connections among aspiring entrepreneurs. Jalil Evans ’21 gave a virtual presentation at the event titled “The 7 Things I Wish I Knew Before Starting a Company” as part of the Role Model Speaker Series.
During his time at Cornell, Evans co-founded Bloom, a community organization platform, with Rami Abdou ’20. Without any prior business knowledge, Evans built the application and helped develop the company through eLab. After about two years, Bloom closed, but Evans said he does not consider the venture a failure because he is proud of the work he put in and learned a lot.
“The sheer amount of learning that we took away from this experience more than accounts for the time we put in,” Evans said. “The experience prepared us for our careers way more than any internship ever could because we had to wear so many more hats. We had to understand how businesses work from the inside out. We weren’t just designing, we weren’t just engineering, we were being salespeople, we were being businessmen, we were being managers, we were doing everything.”
Evans is now a product designer at Meta. In his presentation, he discussed the two years he spent as a co-founder of Bloom, the challenges he faced while building the business, and what he wishes he knew beforehand. Read the main takeaways that Evans gained from his experience co-founding a startup.
- Don’t start coding too early. Evans said that as a designer or engineer, it is hard to resist the temptation to build the platform right away because they want the practice and experience. However, when it comes to building a business, other priorities come first. “You’re going to want to spend more time validating your problem and understanding your customer,” he said.
- Test your assumptions ASAP. “You’d be surprised just how many assumptions you make when it comes to building out your product and what you think would be the right thing to build, what you think your customers want,” Evans said. “Make sure you test those before you actually act on them.”
- Identify with the problem you’re solving, not the solution. Multiple solutions can exist for the same problem, Evans said. It is important to focus on that problem while being flexible about how to address it. “The problem always remains constant,” he said. “It’s important that you ground your business and your company on something that’s always going to be consistent. That’s probably the most stability you’ll have in a startup.”
- Listen to your customers frequently. Evans stressed the importance of reaching out to customers to hone in on a problem and find solutions that appeal to them. “If you’re listening to your customers, you’re by default testing your assumptions as well,” Evans said.
- Don’t hire unless you absolutely need to. Evans recommends that new entrepreneurs make sure they have product-market fit before hiring new people. He said the hiring process and providing mentorship can be too time-consuming and expensive early on.
- Prioritize ruthlessly. Entrepreneurs must decide for themselves what is best to do for their companies, so they should focus on the most high-impact actions, Evans said. “If it’s not making you money or it’s not getting you customers, then it’s not worth it,” he said.
- Focus on building a great relationship with your co-founder.
- Don’t wait until you feel ready. Evans said he never felt ready to co-found a startup. “Rarely in your life are you ever going to feel 100% ready for anything,” he said. “You’ve just got to put yourself out there. The raw experience, even if you do make mistakes, the raw experience from making those mistakes is going to improve you and prepare you way more than any preparing for it could.
By Bridget Hagen