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#MySideProject: Two Startups in Two Years, Meet Student Entrepreneur Mike Eidlin

Ting Jung Lee
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Published on February 26, 2014

#MySideProject profiles awesome side projects from the InternMatch community! Working on something cool, or know of a friend who’s working on something awesome? Email: tj@internmatch.com  

This week, we chatted with a graduating senior at University of California, Davis who’s founded two startups in the span of two years. He’s a double major in Economics and Japanese with a career goal of bridging the gap between the United States and Japan. Let’s welcome Michael Eidlin, a student entrepreneur with grit, perseverance, and a whole lot of passion.

Hi Michael, can you tell us a little about yourself?

I came to Davis wanting to become a Doctor. That didn’t work out too well when I failed Intro to Chemistry and then Calculus (Shh, I don’t think my parents know about this yet). I decided to do something else. A big burden was lifted off my shoulders when I switch to Economics. Honestly, I would not consider myself a model academic. I don’t have a high GPA and I’m completely ok with it. I’m more of a hustler. I go for the experience and treading off the beaten path. Before founding my two startups, I got an internship with Morgan Stanley and with a startup hedge-fund. At the startup hedge-fund, I did frequent cold calling on top of a little trading, and this helped me to learn how to keep going after you receive thousands of nos. Much needed when you’re an entrepreneur.

How did you begin building your first startup, Greekdrop?

I was inspired by Gilt.com. I was interested in the flash sale business and looked into creating an ecommerce startup. I wanted to start with a niche so I started with Greek students because they happen to be wealthier on average, and more well-connected. The summer of my sophomore year I began brainstorming and developing the business model for Greekdrop. To really jump in and start, I made a list of brands and began calling. I had to solve the chicken and egg problem, which is how do you get customers to join without products, and how do you get brands to come on without users? Eventually, I worked with a developer and we created a minimal viable product through Shopify.com.

Greekdrop became the ecommerce website dedicated to offering Greek life students discounts on various lifestyle products. The mission was to increase brand loyalty for our brand partners, while offering students exclusive discounts.

What resources did you use to learn the ins and out of a startup?

I read A LOT. I’d recommend the following four books to any student out there looking to start something on their own:

  • Lean Startup by Eric Ries
  • Lean Entrepreneur by Brant Cooper & Patrick Viaskovits
  • Startup Owner’s Manual by Steven Blank
  • Business Model Canvas by Alexander Osterwalder

What were some of your challenges?

When you’re a founder of a startup, it’s you against the world. You don’t know where to go as a student entrepreneur. I had to build up a board of advisor through connections. There’s so much going on, building a product, getting sales, so we recruited a bunch of interns to join. Sometimes it can be hard to find a co-founder in college who is willing to sacrifice their time and education just like you are. I sacrificed and worked a lot, when you’re working on a startup, it’s 24/7. You never stop thinking about it and you just get so many e-mails.

Eventually we got an office, I took a quarter off from school, and everything seemed to be going well. I was just having so much fun that I got caught up in it and realized how much money I was spending. The diagnosis? Premature scaling. I was additionally under a time crunch, UC Davis allows students guaranteed readmission after only one quarter. I closed the office, and dissolved Greekdrop to get back to school in order to graduate.

How did you get started with BookBucket?

When I got back in school, I decided to enter into a hackathon in Sacramento. I recruited a buddy in freelance design, a Computer Science major at UCD, and found a retired game developer. We worked 10-12 hours first day of the hackathon, and another 10-12 hours the second day. By the end of the hackathon, we had a working prototype with a draft for the business model.

Bookbucket is a book discovery iOS app in development that allows users to share, and recommend books to their peers. Similar to Instagram for Books, users are able to upload books they’ve read in the past, books that they are currently reading, books that they’d like to read, and most importantly, view these selections from their peers and influencers.

We decided to continue with BookBucket after the hackathon it because it was a great product. While our backend developer did drop out resulting in a hiatus of a few months, we found a new developer to keep the project alive. Look for a release on the app store in a few months!

How has doing these two side projects aided you in finding a fulltime job?

It’s all about the interview, getting a job is a two step process. It’s getting your resume on top of the pile, and then nailing your interview. In a interviewer’s shoe, it’s “can this guy do the job?” and “do I want to work with them?” To get them to consider this, you have to get your resume on top of the pile. That’s all about networking. So that’s one way it helped: networking. Geekdrop made me very proactive about building my network.

The second thing is that these projects are a great thing to talk about during interviews. You can go on and on about something you’re passionate about (while being concise of course), and a recruiter is going to see how much you learned while building your own business. Any project you work on will become great speaking points later on. Don’t forget to practice your answers for the interview!

Do you have any advice for students out there working on their own side project?

I have a few.

  1. If you’re starting your own business or working on something that needs to recruit other people on board, you need to have your pitch ready. Have your 10-second pitch, your 30-second pitch, your 1-minute pitch down cold. Know exactly what to say so that you’re ready to pitch your product or idea to someone or anyone wanting to invest in it. Do your due diligence, be able to answer every question possible. If Mark Zuckerberg were in the same room as you next Tuesday and offered to fund you $100,000 for your startup, will you be ready to sell him your vision?
  2. You need to stay healthy. If you want to be able to perform well, you have to eat healthy and excercise daily. I especially recommend Yoga. It relaxes you, makes you strong, flexible, lean,  and more productive. There always need to be a balance between working and blowing off steam. Remember, it’s you against the world. Do everything you can to optimize your brain so that it’s functioning well. Your brain and mind is everything. Thoughts shape your future.
  3. To balance between everything that’s going on in your life, it’s important to have a planner. I have a paper planner for goal setting/ task-list, and I update my iCal, which syncs to my phone. I plan out every hour of the day on iCal to ensure that each hour I’m focused on one thing, and use my paper planner to keep track of my goals. Try to be more mindful, and less multitasking. Deleting snapchat, instagram, and facebook has been my favorite mini-experiment the last two weeks.

What are you working on now?
I am spending most of my time studying for the CFA (Chartered Financial Analyst) exam. It takes three years to achieve with four years of experience. I’m sitting for the exam on June 7th. It’s my last quarter here at Davis so I’m ready to graduate. I also have a full-time job lined up with Citibank in Japan. My ultimate goal is to bridge the gap between the US and Japan. Slowly but surely getting there.

InternMatch would like to wish you the best of luck Mike on all your future endeavors! A big thank you for sharing your story. We hope you readers got a good look at starting your own business, or any kind of side project. Until next week!

Ting Jung Lee

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