JuniorBiz and I don’t go back very far but our relationship has become unnaturally deep. A lot has happened over the last year, so let me catch you up.
However, prior to JuniorBiz becoming a daily ritual in my life, I was a teen entrepreneur myself.
Nick’s First Business
Back in 2001, I was the atypical awkward and pimply middle school kid who had a lot of free time. One day, my mom convinced me to go down the street and mow a neighbor’s lawn for $20. It sounded like a good idea to me, so I did. Paul and Paula Berger were the first ever customers of Reserve Lawn Service.
Over the next 6 years I developed my freelance lawn mowing into a modest business, eventually mowing about 40% of the lawns in my neighborhood at one point or another. Looking back, I had no clue what I was doing. I operated on a purely word-of-mouth (WOM) basis and could’ve grown my business much larger had I known how to market my services.
Nick Moved to College
In August 2006, I relinquished the reins of Reserve Lawn Service to a worthy neighborhood kid down the street in order to continue my education at Colorado State University. While studying business administration, my true passion for entrepreneurship began to flourish. I thought my history as a lawn mowing entrepreneur was in the past but it was merely sitting on the backburner.
My sophomore year at CSU I enrolled in the Entrepreneurship Certificate and was instantly enthused by the idea of a business plan competition. Every spring CSU hosts the Venture Adventure Business Plan Competition and I have developed a perpetual yearning to participate in this event. I’ll never forget the day I sat down in Rockwell hall to observe the final rounds of competition.
I watched a few preliminary presentations the previous day and was unanimously impressed with some of the ideas. Then that evening I attended a complimentary dinner for the event at C.B. & Potts. Here I met Peter Olins, one of the Venture Adventure judges, for the first time. During our conversation I managed to squeeze in a short pitch for a business idea I had been toying with and he told me that it was good but needed work. But there was a problem; I wasn’t passionate about the idea.
How Nick Conceived JuniorBiz
That night I toiled my mind for a new business idea but came up empty handed. Then on Saturday morning, April 19th, 2008, I sat down in Rockwell 170 intending to watch the final round of competition. I sat through 2 presentations, but the third was one I had seen the day before. I realized that this particular team had developed a business idea based on knowledge and experience they had accumulated through their lives. Then it hit me.
Wouldn’t it have been great if I actually knew a thing or two about business before I started my first business? After the presentation, I abandoned the competition to go have lunch with a good friend and computer science major, Paul Gagliardi.
Previously, Trevor Clark (another good buddy), Paul and I had meddled with the idea of starting a restaurant business. Needless to say, that fell through. But Paul and I never dropped the dream of starting a business together. My original idea was to develop some sort of software to help young people start their businesses. Paul suggested implementing a website with Web 2.0 applications. And so it began…
Later that day I played a round of golf with my dad and he seemed relatively enthusiastic about the concept and built-on some of my ideas. Then that night I talked to my Uncle Greg, owner of a Web Solutions Website, and he set the original map of all the things I needed to consider. Side note, Uncle Greg conceived the name JuniorBiz.com.
Nick Gave Birth to JuniorBiz.com
Later that summer we secured the domain, JuniorBiz.com, and I began to delve into the seemingly impossible task of developing a website. Through the further guidance of Uncle G, I discovered Joomla; an award-winning content management system (CMS). I played around with the software one afternoon, but it was awhile before I realized all of the tools that Joomla provides.
A couple weeks later (while on the hunt for a “real” job) I stumbled upon an opportunity to work for Craig Lindstrom. He was looking for a web developer with experience in Joomla CMS. Besides the one afternoon I spent with Joomla, I had zero experience developing a website. But I was eager to learn. So I gave him a call and he assigned 2 relatively simple Joomla tasks which took me about 3 hours to complete. Nevertheless, I did and had an interview 3 days later.
In those 3 days I learned as much as I could about Joomla and HTML and somehow managed to seize the job. When Craig offered me the job, he must have had a lot of faith in me. He had 30 resumes from people who were much more qualified than me. Anyway, I am certainly glad he did.
The rest of the summer I utilized my continuously developing Joomla skills to build the foundation of what is now JuniorBiz.com. In addition I wrote a few articles for the site and began authoring the Official JuniorBiz Lawn Mowing Guide! However, almost all work on the website and guide was ceased in order to craft a comprehensive business plan during my Fall 2008 semester at CSU.
JuniorBiz is Chosen in Nick’s First ‘Real’ Entrepreneurship Class
Entering into the semester, I was especially excited to take New Venture Creation with Tom Dean. In this class, about 40 students gave 1-minute elevator pitches about their business ideas. Then the students with the top 10 ideas were chosen to be Champions! The “champions” were responsible for assembling a management team from within the class and the management team was responsible for writing a business plan.
Fortunately, JuniorBiz was chosen as one of the “champions.” Unfortunately there was not much interest in the idea from other students in the class. The only other person who wanted to work with me and JuniorBiz was a non-traditional student and mother of 2, Diane Ellsworth.
Originally there was a minimum of 3 people per team, but I could tell Diane was willing to work hard and we pleaded our case to Professor Dean. He said he would allow it but admitted that he wouldn’t expect as much from us as he did from a team of 5.
Nick and Diane Write the Plan
During the next grueling 12-weeks, Diane and I scraped out a comprehensive 41-page business plan and presentation. But certainly couldn’t have done it without a lot of help. Yann Ropars, Greg Jelniker, Paul Gagliardi, Mike Tart, Nick Scheidies, Craig Lindstrom, Peter Olins, Patrick Gill, Louise Feldmann, Seth Goings, Matt Costa, Lynne Lyell and even an entrepreneurship class at Rocky Mountain High School were all integral to the completion of our plan. Then there was our professor, Tom Dean, and the teaching assistant, Jacob Castillo, who offered advice and gave guidance on a bi-weekly basis (class was twice per week!).
At the end of the semester, all 10 teams gave a final presentation and the top 4 would be chosen to present at the Northern Colorado Entrepreneurs Network (NCEN). Presenting to 80+ entrepreneurs at the NCEN is a huge opportunity for a start-up business. Thus, this presentation was incredibly important to us.
Nick and Diane Present the Plan
JuniorBiz was the last team to present and then the judges deliberated for what seemed like 37 minutes. Finally, about 15 real minutes later, the judges returned with their results. The top 4 teams had been chosen…
Frontline Tools was the first team mentioned. The Box House was the second. Vibrant Living was the third. And with one spot left… JuniorBiz was the fourth!
Nick Presented to ‘Big-Time’ Entrepreneurs
About a month later, I presented JuniorBiz to the Northern Colorado Entrepreneurs Network. Thanks to the superb marketing efforts of founders Peter Olins and Patrick Gill, about 90 local entrepreneurs attended the event. I also want to thank Eric Larsen and The Neenan Company for hosting the gathering.
Here I met several people who were seemingly as enthusiastic about the idea as I am. Notably, Kris Jenkins, Dave Kramer, Greg Hernandez, Anny Randel and Peter Way all approached me with the utmost sincerity and willingness to help. I plan on contacting each of these individuals sometime in the next 4 months to gain advice from their collective entrepreneurial experiences.
Nick’s Second Entrepreneurship Class
Currently I am enrolled in Jeff Lewis’s class (as of Feb. 18, 2009), New Venture Management. I spent the last week developing a comprehensive project charter that encompasses the implementation of the business plan.
In addition, I met with Burt Deines and Laura Grette to try and get JuniorBiz featured in the Spring 2009 edition of the CSU Center for Entrepreneurship Newsletter (check it out!). Then next week I have scheduled a meeting with the owner of the local Ben & Jerry’s, Lee Swanson. He and I have some ideas on how we might be able to help each other with our businesses!