Advice from the 2008 Dorm-Based 20 Winners (series one)

(At StartupNation's request, the following words of advice were provided by Zach Vruwink, a winner in the 2008 StartupNation Dorm-Based 20.)

At the age of 15 and a high school freshman, I was interested in getting a summer job like most kids my age.  I had two choices, well actually three. 

The first, get an after school job working a minimum wage job at a fast food restaurant, two, start my own business doing something I love, or three do nothing at all. The answer was simple.  I wanted to choose my own future.  I wanted to do something that relied solely on my commitment that could be measured in my success or failure.

The amount of time, energy and attitude that I was willing to put forward in making this venture a reality.  I understood that the stake in the other option of punching a clock for someone else may be the safest journey; however, the economic situation forced me to view my future differently, and realize that my job prospects were slim.  With only $500 in my savings account at the start of my summer vacation I opened a retail store in the downtown area and Zach’s Computers was born. 

Having recently celebrated our 5 years in business specializing in personalized services and products for consumers, learning things the ‘hard way’ has been challenging.  Below are some that have been influential in my success thus far:

Harness your passion. 

For me, starting a business may have been unthinkable, but doing something I love changes the whole picture.  Having built not only a business but a lifestyle, my journey as a young entrepreneur has taken me places across the world that I would have only dreamed of seeing while working for someone else.

Become actively involved in the community. 

By giving back through time, and money it has allowed me to connect with many individuals on a local level.  Additionally, a strong community presence builds credibility for you and your business, after all, the community is where you came from.  Share your experiences with fellow business owners by joining a local chamber of commerce.  Volunteer your time in an organization or area you are passionate about.

Work at the grassroots.

As a student entrepreneur, starting with very little resources has taught me to look for alternative ways in accomplishing my goals.  On campuses across the country, business resources are everywhere.

Diversify.

In my business offering just the right amount of complimentary services has allowed us to become somewhat resistant to economic uncertainties.

Establish a brand. 

This has been instrumental in the success of Zach’s Computers over the years.  Through aggressive marketing, we have differentiated ourselves and our services against competitors.  We call it the Zach’s Advantage.

Join an entrepreneur network. 

Over the past year I have had the privilege to become a member of the Entrepreneur Organization’s Accelerator program in Chicago.  This opportunity has allowed me to further grow my business through access to some of the best business mentors and resources.  I suggest locating the chapter nearest you as they have chapters across the globe.

As a dreamer, aspiring or successful entrepreneur you have the power to create something out of nothing, to change your life and the world around you.  The time for change is now, to have the courage to believe in yourself and your abilities. 

Dr. Seuss said it best, “You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself in any direction you choose.” 

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