Therese Kuster, a University of Northern Iowa senior public relations major from Boone, IA, was named the Young Entrepreneur Council/Collegiate Entrepreneurs' Organization Student Entrepreneur of the Year!
This award is a first for the YEC to participate in, and is presented to a student entrepreneur with a currently active business generating sales revenue. The award is based on an essay and other submitted material such as recommendations and revenue statements, and was presented at the National CEO Conference Oct. 27-29 in Fort Worth.
Scott Gerber, founder of the YEC, was happy to take part in this award, stating "this award reinforces YEC's mission of both spotlighting the world's top, young entrepreneurs, and educating young business owners with all of the support necessary to launch successful businesses."
Kuster won for her business, TargetClick Marketing Solutions. In her essay she discussed starting the business with her partners and the challenges of being a full-time student and business owner. "Being a student entrepreneur is the most challenging thing I've ever done and it's great to be recognized for all the hard work. It was an honor to be chosen from a group of the nation's top student entrepreneurs," said Kuster, who kind enough to spend a few minutes with us discussing just that!
- What is the startup story behind your business? Where did the idea come from and what made you take the leap? I started working for another student entrepreneur toward the end of 2009. I wrote content for online marketing purposes and managed social media for his four e-commerce websites. That company was sold to a larger company and I took a job with them where my responsibilities grew to include more work in online marketing. After working there for about six months, a colleague and fellow student (a 2011 graduate) approached me about this business idea. We talked it over for awhile and ultimately crafted a business called SEO Solutions in October 2010. In February of this year, we met another entrepreneur who was providing complementary services to ours and we eventually merged (June 1, 2011) to form TargetClick Marketing Solutions. It's no secret that I never considered entrepreneurship prior to working for these start ups, and I had always been pretty risk-adverse so entrepreneurship was pretty far from my mind. After thinking it over and realizing the potential of this industry, I knew that there was no way I could pass up this opportunity. As my dad told me, I was 20 years years and had nothing to lose. Even if this business venture fell flat on its face, at least I would have learned a lot and had a great experience, plus plenty of time to start over.
- How did your parents, family, and friends feel about your venture into entrepreneurship? Everyone has been really supportive throughout the entire process. At first, not everyone really understood what the business was going to be doing, but nonetheless they were excited for this opportunity and encouraged me to go for it full speed ahead.
- Juggling school, a business, and a social life must be a challenge. What does an average day for you look like? Oh it certainly is a challenge. I just face the keyboard every day and remember that at the end of the day, the TargetClick office is exactly where I want to be so I know I'm doing what I'm meant to do. I don't have an "average" day, but some days looks like this: Wake up and try to work out at six -- sometimes I miss that and have to squeeze it in later in the day. Then, I either go to class or the office. I have class on Tuesdays and Thursdays and go to the office on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and usually Saturday. On non-class days, I head to the office, wade through emails, prep for any meetings and then start client work. I also try to dedicate time each day to growing the business through new ideas or strategies, publishing good content for our followers and fans online and working with my partners to make sure business operations are good all around. Usually we have meetings with prospective or existing clients to go over progress or propose new campaigns. If I've missed my morning workout, I get it in after I leave the office, usually between 5:30 and six. I like to spend evenings with my boyfriend or other friends, but my business partners and workout partners are my friends as well so I don't feel like I'm missing out on social activities. When I have class, I work out, then go to class, do homework for other classes during class, then do homework between classes, go back to class, attend various group meetings, go to class again and try to remember that with one semester left, there's no way I can NOT finish school. During that time, I'm constantly monitoring emails and trying to make sure my clients are taken care of. At the end of those days, I sometimes work from home, but I try hard to spend time with my boyfriend, friends and family. My partners, Greg Jass and Doug Drees, are vital to me finishing this last year of school. I know that when I'm away from the office, everything is still being handled and run smoothly and that our clients are getting what they need. They're understanding and supportive of the challenges of being a student and entrepreneur, although they do sometimes give me a hard time about "not even having a college degree."
- Where did you learn to run a business? Has their been anything or anyone in particular that has helped you along the way? I think I learned to run a business by running a business and I certainly don't claim to know everything. I try not to think about the things I don't know and just work through things one at a time. Whenever there's something I don't know, I have amazing resources to find the answers. My partners and I have a nice balance of knowledge and experience so I turn there first. Then, I can always turn to the advisers in the UNI Student Business Incubator. That's where our business started and those resources have been vital to our success. Now, we're in another incubator and that offers resources as well. To be honest, sometimes I feel like I've missed some of the "obvious" parts of a business environment because I never really had any "real" work experience. When that happens, I reach out to friends, family, my partners and peers to find out their experiences and try to decide what's best for TargetClick and our clients.
- What do you think has been your key to success so far? My keys to success have been willingness to work hard and all the support I've received from everyone in my life. My partners, friends, family and boyfriend have all been there to support me in my challenges and successes. In addition to that, I think my absolute refusal to give up is important when things get overwhelming. My success in the business depends on my ability to manage all the rest of my responsibilities as a student, a sister, a daughter, a friend, etc. Time management is very important when every day feels like it's got fewer hours than the last.
- Have you made any mistakes along the way that you have learned from? Of course! Because this industry is constantly changing, and because I've never run a business before, there are inevitably mistakes. When we first started, figuring out how to price our services, how we would manage clients and even how to organize our finances and files were challenging tasks. The best thing to keep in mind is that doing something is better than doing nothing so even if you're not completely sure it's the right answer, give it a shot. If it works, great, if not, you'll change it next time. No one ever started a successful business without a few stumbles and close calls -- if all the rest of the businesses out there have survived then so can we.
- If you could go back in time, what would be one thing you would change or do differently? If I could do anything differently it would be to change my perception of risk and chance. I've been known to avoid opportunities because they seem too risky and I think that's prevented me from participating in some great things, personally and professionally. A very wise and respected businessman once told me that there's a difference between risk and chance. You're taking a risk when you have considered your options and realize that there's a possibility it won't worked out as planned -- something that's necessary to grow your business. Taking a chance, however, is going into something without enough information and hoping things turn out well. Knowing this difference made me realize that it's okay to do things when you're not certain of the outcome as long as you're prepared to accommodate and learn from your mistake.
- Where do you see yourself in five years? Ten years? I don't know but I want to be happy. The biggest pull toward entrepreneurship is the control over my own future, but now that I'm doing it, I've realized that control isn't always a good thing. I'm learning to go with the flow of business and this industry and adapt to whatever comes along. I'm very aware that the online marketing landscape will change drastically and rapidly over the next five to ten years and we've got plans in place to help us accommodate these changes. I plan to still be in the Cedar Valley, be involved in Internet Marketing in some capacity and most of all, enjoying my life. If I'm going to work this hard, I certainly want to enjoy what I'm doing.
- What advice do you have for other 20-somethings looking to start their own business? Stop looking and start doing. Make a business plan, but don't follow every detail and make a long-term vision but not a long-term plan. It's really important to write a business plan because it makes you think about parts of business you maybe haven't considered, but it's more important to put that plan away when you're done building it. If you're a slave to a theoretical document, you'll never be able to adapt to the real world in which your business actually operates. You must have an ultimate vision, but if you plan ever step along the way, you'll go crazy and end up doing things that seem important, but don't really contribute to what you really what to achieve. Start looking for resources, build a great team and make things happen.
The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only nonprofit organization comprised of the country's most promising young entrepreneurs. The YEC promotes entrepreneurship as a solution to youth unemployment and underemployment and provides its members with access to tools, mentorship, and resources that support each stage of a business’s development and growth.