Bert Gervais is the CEO of Success Mentor Education, a leadership training company that provides leadership and mentee training for emerging young talent and new hires.
Gervais was the east coast student entrepreneur of the year in 2006 and 2007 and was featured on Inc.com, Fox, and USA Today.
He shares his entrepreneur experience.
The Challenge: The most stumping moment in starting a business was getting funding and deciding what to spend the money on.
In my first business, a student housing website, we dumped a bunch of our money into product development without properly surveying prospective customers and seeing what they would pay for.
Part of the challenge was that we did not know who our customers were. Students and property managers used our site, however because craigslist was so cheap it made it hard to charge property managers for our offering.
The Solution: We got funding by entering in business plan competitions such as the global student entrepreneur awards and asking friends and family for small loans.
We decided to spend the money on developing a service where we charged property managers. This didn’t generate enough revenue. So we ended up building customized software-as-a-service housing solutions for Universities.
The Aftermath: When we started building the service around Universities we started getting the most momentum. After signing up a few flagship schools we got increased credibility and visibility that helped to attract more property managers and students.
Unfortunately it was too little too late. We had depleted so many resources on experimenting with revenue models and adding features that people weren’t willing to pay for that competitors started catching up and we have little left over to market and scale the business.
The Lesson: The main lesson I learned was to be clear about my revenue model and to dig deeper into questions such as “who is our customer, and what are they willing to pay for.”
In hindsight after looking at the numbers we could have surveyed our property managers to find out what high end services they would pay for and offer a white glove service. We could have made the website free from the beginning, and offered equity to a major University to help us build a University-centric solution that would scale.
The Young Entrepreneur Council (Y.E.C.) provides its members with access to tools, mentoring, community and educational resources that support each stage of their business’s development and growth. Our organization promotes entrepreneurship as a solution to youth unemployment and underemployment.