November 8, 2016

Polsky Center Entrepreneur-in-Residence Shares Advice in Entrepreneurship

Former leader of two successful start-ups, SurePayroll and The Tie Bar, shared five pieces of essential advice in entrepreneurship to a group of students on Thursday.

Michael Alter, who is an entrepreneur-in-residence at the Polsky Center, co-founded SurePayroll, a business that provides payroll support to small businesses, and was the former CEO of The Tie Bar, an e-commerce site for men’s accessories. Alter's talk was part of the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship’s Lunch n’ Learn workshop, where students learn from entrepreneurs-in-residence about various aspects of launching and growing a start-up over lunch.

Alter’s first advice was to embrace failures and to learn from them. This echoed many start-up communities’ positive sentiments toward failures as stepping stones for growth. “Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, but make them quickly,” Alters said. He compared business ventures to baseball, where even the best hitters fail around 70 percent of the time.

While the small size of start-ups poses some disadvantages to companies that compete with larger corporations, Alter suggested that students think of being small as an advantage. He said that small size allows for a customized approach to customer service that bigger companies often overlook.

Alter emphasized the importance of focusing on the start-up’s business model. He said entrepreneurs should be extremely conscious of what they are saying yes and no to, instead of trying to capitalize on every opportunity that comes their way.

Alter also advised students to identify their strengths and primarily do what they are good at, while outsourcing work they are not as passionate about to others who are. “You are not good at everything. The sooner that you can learn what your strength is and concentrate on that, the more successful you will be,” he said.

Finally, Alter encouraged budding entrepreneurs to take advantage of today’s technology. He said that through new technology, start-ups have the same access to the resources large corporations use, citing customer relations products such as Salesforce. Through leveraging such technologies, Alter suggested that start-ups could appear bigger and more established.

The workshop was capped at around twenty people to foster discussion and to address unique problems students faced in building their companies. The talk drew a diverse audience from interested undergraduates to Booth M.B.A. students with previous entrepreneurial experience.