CSUN alumni and business leaders answered questions for aspiring entrepreneurial students in the Grand Salon Thursday night to encourage and inform them about the process of starting a business.
“I’m hoping to hear about how other CSUN alumni were able to take their business ideas and bring them to market,” said Gena Williams, a member of the Association who graduated in 2012. “I have a feeling that it’s going to be unique since we’re such a large and diverse university and we have such a great business school here.”
Her private medical practice is still in the planning stages, she said, with “very little on paper,” and attending the panel was one of the first steps she was taking to set it in motion.
“In Obama’s State of the Union, he was talking about personalized medicine and the funding, the billions of dollars that are going into it, hopefully, so that’s our market,” she said.
The panelists had various pieces of advice for approaching the often uncertain world of creating a business as well as personal traits that are important for aspiring entrepreneurs.
“The three important personality traits that will be crucial are to have self-worth, self-belief and self-confidence,” said Eddy Waty,” If you don’t have those three then no matter how much passion and vision you have, no matter how persistent you are, you won’t have the confidence to attract investors and to convince your customers of your products.”
Waty is currently the Acting Director of Finance for Natural Machines, LLC and earned both an undergraduate and graduate degree from CSUN. Her specialization in finance, she said, gave her a good framework for helping entrepreneurs with financial strategy.
Max Aram, the Co-Founder and CEO of Pick My Solar, graduated with a Master’s in 2012 from CSUN and spoke about his experiences with several failed startups and a couple of very successful ones.
“I had to learn that I can’t afford to be shy and I put myself in many tough situations,” Aram said. “Whenever I hesitate to call someone, I just dial their number. When I hesitate to approach someone, I just call their name. There’s got to be something in you that you want to be an entrepreneur because it’s tough, not easy.
Aram told the attendees about his decision to work a 36 hour day each week, followed by 12 hours of sleep in order to work more efficiently.
While he got more done, he said it was detrimental to his morale and it was his business partner that kept him motivated. Having a good business partner was one of his biggest pieces of advice, to provide balance and control in a career with many moving parts.
Susan Conner-Steeb, who graduated from CSUN in 1987 with a degree in Accounting Theory and Practices, said that the people she worked with were the source of her inspiration.
“My goal is to surround myself with people way smarter than me,” Steeb said. “They give me the passion and the drive and, to me, that’s what makes me the entrepreneur.”
Kevin Randoloh, currently an Executive in Residence for Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator, said that entrepreneurship starts with passion.
“Find something that you really ought to stay up 36 hours and do and concentrate on what you’re doing not how much money you’re going to make doing it. Money is an outcome,” Randolph said.
To start, though, a business needs to know how big it will be and it needs to solve a problem, the panelists said.
“Once you kind of have that figured out you have to find a problem that matches your desire to build a business,” Randolph said. “How is that problem currently being solved? Who are the competitors and what’s the math?”
He recommended looking at a 9-cell matrix to determine the strength of a business model, but also to do the necessary research on the product, its investors and its consumers.
“The percolation is important. You as an entrepreneur have to get out of the house,” he said. “You have to think about the problem you’re solving and the features and benefits you’re going to present as solutions to that problem and be prepared to change direction.”