(At StartupNation's request, the following words of advice were provided by Vinne Thomas, a winner in the 2008 StartupNation Dorm-Based 20.)
I think one of the most important elements to being a successful entrepreneur is having a genuine passion for whatever it is you are doing.
One of my favorite hobbies is to comparison shop online, and to find the best deals on whatever it is I plan to buy. I knew I wanted my first big web venture to involve shopping, and finding bargains. Once I arrived at Virginia Tech and learned first hand how expensive textbooks were, the idea for Affordabook popped into my head. Although there were already some price comparison sites on the web, none specialized in college textbooks. If you already have some knowledge or experience with the industry you plan on working on, things will move a lot smoother.
Another important part of starting a new business is to be realistic with your expectations. Everyone wants to come up with the next big thing, but when their business or idea doesn’t take off over night, they get frustrated. Affordabook did not generate its first book sale until its sixth week online, and did not really generate any considerable sales for a good nine months.
During the nine months, I would visit my site daily and just go through all of the pages to see what I could improve upon. I still do that on a daily basis, and come up with new ideas all the time. Making the best possible website has become an obsession to me. Asking some of your peers at school/work or online is also a great way to get feedback on your business. There is a giant community at StartupNation ready to give you constructive criticism on your ideas, and steer you in the right direction if you need help.
Although I am very proud of Affordabook, I know there is still tons of room for improvement and expansion. My goal for the next year is to expand into DVDs as well as video games. I like to focus on products that I normally buy myself, as it makes it easier for me to put myself in the shoes of the consumer.
Love What You Do
My secret to success is that I absolutely love what I do. Being an entrepreneur allows me to make my own hours, and steer my company in whatever direction I see fit. Having this kind of freedom keeps me very enthused while I work, and gives me the freedom to spend time with friends and family when I want to. I have never had put up a page or feature that was not working 100 % because of a deadline, and never will. Working a nine to five never came naturally to me, but staying up until four in the morning (or until the task at hand is completed) always has.