Entrepreneur Profiles–Shelby Clark

What is the name of your company:
The jury is still out on the name. I worked at a very successful startup before HBS called, and the President has advised me that we want a short, meaningless word as our company name. This didn’t make much sense to me at first, as I thought the name should relate to the business, but then I realized that a meaningless name gives you complete ability to define your brand. Think of many of today’s strongest brands – Amazon, Pepsi, Target – the name itself says nothing about the business. Unfortunately, most short, memorable domain names have already been taken, so the search continues. Any suggestions?
What industry/ sector would you classify it in?
Web 2.0

How long has it been running? How many people are involved?
I came up with the concept for the business last year, and things really got going in the fall. I’ve been joined by two sectionmates, Tara Reeves and Nabeel Al-Kady, who fill in the holes in my background and round out the necessary skill sets for the business. We make a great team, if I do say so myself.

What is the business idea?
We’re not talking publicly about the idea yet, but may choose to compete in one of the business plan competitions, depending on how the company progresses

What challenges did you face balancing your HBS course load and starting/ running your business? How did you manage this?
In the fall I could have hardly imagined adding a startup to the endless list of things on my plate. Although things are a little more manageable this semester, it has certainly been a major challenge to continue to make progress with the startup while staying on top of the academics. I think it all comes down to priorities. Coming to HBS, starting a company was one of my main goals, so I aim to keep my focus on entrepreneurship and keep other activities and commitments in the back seat. This has meant missing events and keeping other commitments to a minimum. I’ll also say it’s really tough to coordinate a team. We all are busy and have so many different commitments, so its definitely a challenge to find times to meet to keep the team working together and making progress.

How did you leverage the resources available to you in HBS for your business?
HBS has been fantastic, and I’ll certainly say that it provides a great environment to launch a business. We joined the Rock Center’s “Venture Creation Program” in the fall, which gives us access to meeting space at the rock center, a network of other entrepreneurs, an advisor, and some free legal advice. Meeting with other entrepreneurs in the VCP has been very useful as many of us are at similar stages in our businesses and are experiencing similar challenges. The informal information exchange through this network has been great. Also, we’ve met with over a half dozen professors who have given us great input. One thing you quickly learn as an entrepreneur is that you don’t have all the answers, so having access to the right advisors is an invaluable resource. Lastly, we plan to apply for a Rock Entrepreneurial Fellowship to work on the business over the summer. It’s amazing that HBS will support students to work on ventures over the summer, and for me that means that I don’t have to choose between starting my business and cleaning out my bank account.

What HBS class/ case/protagonist/ professor was most helpful in starting/ running your business? How?
The case that has had the largest impact on me so far was probably Vermeer Technologies, mostly as a source of motivation. Although starting a business is a lot of work, the process of building a company from scratch is really exciting, and reading the Vermeer case got me very excited that I’m actually working to start a company.

What’s the worst part of being an entrepreneur? Best part?
Entrepreneurship has a lot of ups and downs, so I’d say the immense uncertainty would be the worst part of being an entrepreneur. We have regularly come across information that seems detrimental to our business, but we’ll also stumble across great news from time to time as well. The best part may be the optimism that I’ve developed as an entrepreneur. You’ve got to believe that your idea has a chance of being something really huge, despite all odds, in order to really invest yourself in it. It feels great to think that you’re a major underdog, but you just might make it.

What is the most important piece of advice you’ve been given regarding starting a business?
The best piece advice that I’ve been given so far was from an ’06 HBS grad who started a tech company a year out of school. She had a good deal of success at the beginning – she was able to raise money, launch her business, and become cash flow positive, but unfortunately the business was no match for the economic downturn and has struggled since November. At this point, the future of her business is uncertain, but she told me that she’d do it again in a heartbeat, and that I should go for it too. She told me that she learned an incredible amount in her first venture, and that she wouldn’t make a lot of the same mistakes the second time around. Also she asked me, “what do you have to lose?” She helped me realize that this is probably the most risk-free time in my life to start a company, so it’s worth it to take the chance and see what happens.

March 2, 2009
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