By Shirley Chen
A friend of mine once jokingly said that the most successful place to produce prominent business leaders is in a garage. And, surprisingly, the founders of some of the most successful businesses, including Amazon, Apple, Disney, and Google did start their initial operations in their own garages.
Similar to those success stories, the co-founders of DrawSplash, Gary Rodrigues and Hyunbin Lee, two ambitious business students, started their company as a small scale T-shirt printing operation in their garages in London, Ontario. Within three years, they quickly learned about the entire distribution network and challenged the inefficiencies in the industry. They have now transformed their original operation into a one-stop solution to schools’ merchandising needs, offering a much simpler and more user friendly ordering system to their customers.
When the operation first started in 2009, Gary and Hyunbin had very little help, so the two of them were in charge of every aspect of the operation - ranging from acquiring sales contracts to printing T-shirts. Leveraging their social network on campus, the two best friends first secured orders from student clubs; then they were able to gain orders from student councils and eventually became the supplier for Western University’s Orientation Week.
Since the transition from a small printing company to the current version of DrawSplash, the tasks of everyday work have changed for the two founders. As the company grew, so did the need for more high-level coordination and leadership. Now on a typical workday, Gary and Hyunbin are likely to be booking meetings and talking to team members, and occasionally traveling to various cities for sales meetings.
When asked to reflect upon the best part of his job, Gary replied that it’s “[the] freedom and the satisfaction from being responsible for your own success” and knowing that “[you are in] total control over your future”. Indeed, unlike many office jobs students get after graduation, where much time could be spent idling, the job of an entrepreneur requires the two founders to be highly focused. They spend every minute of their working hours trying to be efficient and productive in order to reach their goals.
Although experience is not necessarily required to be an entrepreneur, Gary recommended starting early. By starting while still in school, you will have something to fall back on if your business tanks. Additionally, starting early will give you the ability to learn about the industry before fully committing yourself to it. One of the perks of being a student entrepreneur is that you could talk directly to your competitors and find out what they are doing without being perceived as a threat or as a serious competition.
Finally, some direct advice given by Gary: “Make sure you are doing what you want to be doing. Think about the job you are in and see if you would do it for less pay. If you’re doing it only for the paycheque, it’s not going to be worth it.”