Entering senior year, I thought I had a big decision to make: work for a firm or start my own. Looking back on the time I spent mulling over which way to go, in the back of my mind I knew there really wasn’t a choice. Of the conversations I had, I remember two: Andy [Greenfield ‘74, founder of TIA] telling me not to overthink a simple question, and my parents who were surprised I even asked, “We thought you were going to do it anyway.” With that, we turned EcoCampus, the company I started my first year of Thought Into Action, into a legacy company and sold the firm to a group of Colgate students. Second semester I started Trupoly.
Those last few months of school felt brutally long. I could not escape the feeling that I was wasting time. Between classes, I began deeply researching real estate investing, structuring private equity investments and crowdfunding. I reached out to industry professionals, journalists, lawyers, alumni, and founders of companies in those spaces. In March I incorporated Trupoly, lined up office space and hired a developer; we were going to build a crowdfunding platform. When I say “we” – Trupoly was still a one-man outfit.
That summer I met with 57 real estate sponsors, developers and investment firms. Anyone that would take a meeting, I was there. We were still developing the MVP (minimally viable product) but I had to begin pitching the idea of crowdfunding to these firms. With only a handful of exceptions, the meetings usually ended with either a “Not interested” or worse, “Let’s keep in touch” which really means they aren’t comfortable saying the “No” they’re thinking. Regardless, I pushed on and financed the acquisition of a rental apartment in Manhattan with investors we managed on Trupoly’s platform. Although I was still a one-man team, every meeting was worthwhile; it was my opportunity to hear the industry’s pain points. Based on those meetings, we decided to build an accompanying Investor Relationship Management (IRM) software product alongside our crowdfunding platform. We began gaining traction immediately with our IRM product and given the value of the subscription agreements we were signing, Trupoly was able to secure a large angel round quickly. With that capital I was able to hire Trupoly’s full-time team, ramp up our development sprints, and begin churning out additional sales.
Of those seven investors, five were Colgate alumni. Here, the Thought Into Action connection cannot be sufficiently stressed. Five years ago I was a freshman in Thought Into Action and there were five students with Andy. Then a few months in, Bob [Gold '80] and Wills [Hapworth '07] came on board and through the three of them, TIA became an institution. Within TIA, I started and sold my first firm all while part of the program. After school, I tapped into the same mentoring network that supported me from launching a small project such as EcoCampus through to Trupoly’s recent acquisition by a large, publicly-traded company.
There is something remarkable happening in Hamilton called Thought Into Action and I’d like to congratulate all the new teams in this year’s class. If you do this right, if you attack every challenge with the same force you would use if someone was trying to drown you, then you’ll create something.
Good things don’t just come, especially if you wait.
Three things I’ve learned and confirmed this year:
- There is always money in doing things people don’t want to do. If you aren’t sure what they don’t want to do, ask them. Then charge them for your solution.
- Don’t fall in love with an idea. If you aren’t willing to change, you will fail.
- Business ideas are worthless; execution is everything.
Ryan Smith graduated in 2013 with a major in International Relations. He launched Trupoly in the TIA Student Incubator his senior year and, in the course of one year, went from student business owner to having that business acquired by a large, publicly-traded firm. He is a passionate entrepreneur who has a very promising future ahead of him. Ryan may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.