The M&T Community extends far beyond current students and includes faculty, staff, donor, parents, and M&T alumni. Current M&Ts make use of the strong connections between students and alumni, gaining advice, earning internship and full-time job opportunities, and more.
M&T alumni Krishna Kaliannan (’13) lends his expertise to the M&T Community with the following tips on starting a business.
- Find the right partner
Unless you are very lucky, the first product you ship won’t be a hit. Your messaging won’t resonate with your target customers. You’ll try to acquire customers through the wrong channels. Your product will have an incomplete set of features.
For most, it’s psychologically challenging to fail over and over again to align those variables.
That’s where a great co-founder comes in. The right co-founder shares the psychological weight. When you’re feeling down, often they’re feeling up, and vice-versa. The “we are in this together mentality” is very powerful.
During this struggle, it’s imperative to work with someone you deeply respect. You must trust them fully. Choose carefully.
Luckily, in the M&T program, you are surrounded by extremely smart, hard-working and ambitious individuals. My first co-founder was a fellow M&T ‘13 alum, Varant Zanoyan. I was very lucky to have him by my side.
- Forget seed funding
When you’re just starting out, the deck is stacked against you. You have no connections, no partnerships, no employees, no track record. Not much at all.
At this stage, it’s important to ship a product and start acquiring customers. If you wait on funding, a partnership, or “that one big deal,” you won’t know what to do when you wake up each morning. It’ll severely handicap you.
Along your journey, you’ll find many people who have an idea but no engineering. They’ll spend months raising “seed” money and hiring others to build their product. That’s who seed funding is typically for.
As an M&T student, you have many of the skills required to both build a product and acquire customers. This is a huge advantage. You likely don’t need seed money, as you can build a product yourself. Take full advantage of that. Full steam ahead. Pay no attention to TechCrunch.
- Meet new people
There are two ways to solve any problem. One, solve it yourself. Two, find someone else to solve it for you.
Keep option #2 open by meeting and helping as many people as you can.
I’ve had to solve problems I didn’t know existed when I was at Penn. Meet great people on campus and help them out. You never know when you need their help. It might be the person you least expected who will want to fund you or hire year just a few years from now.
- Use your talents for good, not evil
When you start working, you’ll realize there are whole job functions, businesses and even industries built on ethically shaky bedrock. Pay attention to your gut and stay away from people or places that ask you to do things that just don’t feel right.
Utilize your M&T Community if you’re unsure. You’re surrounded by a group of driven and caring individuals who will help steer you in the right direction.
Best of luck, M&Ts! Go out there and make your passions come alive.
Krishna Kaliannan is a member of the Class of 2013, graduating with a MS/BS in Electrical and Systems Engineering, BS Mathematics, and a concentration in Statistics.
Krishna started his career as a researcher at AQR Capital Management and is currently making auto insurance more affordable for low-income Americans. In his spare time, he works on EscapeYourBubble, software to help individuals break out of their political filter bubbles and build bridges with “the other side.”
His advice to M&Ts: “Appreciate the people. You’ll struggle to find another group of individuals on the planet as high performing as those in M&T.”