It was the fall semester of 2009. I was a sophomore at Chapman, majoring in business and minoring in thinking I knew everything about becoming a successful entrepreneur. As it turns out, I was wrong.

I was stumbling my way through starting my first business, taking a full course load and jumping into a leadership role within my fraternity. I needed some serious advice on how to juggle all of these commitments and keep moving forward. Many of my professors would become that source of objective feedback for years to come.

You have all the tools at your disposal to achieve anything you want. Any claim otherwise is just an excuse. It’s a matter of figuring out how to use your tools, being willing to work ridiculously hard and learning from those who’ve already gone down the path before you.

That’s where I come in.

Here are 5 major lessons I learned from starting a business at Chapman:

1. Utilize Your Incredible Network.istash-trade-show
In choosing to be a student at Chapman, your close network of professors, alumni and fellow students became one of your most valuable resources, overnight. Learning how to properly utilize and interact with that network will be instrumental in your entrepreneurial endeavors. With my first business, I spent weeks online attempting to source a manufacturer for one of my products in China before asking my network for help. These were the days before Alibaba was popular and I kept hitting a wall. After just a few personal conversations, one of my fraternity brothers connected me with a cousin of his who had deep connections into the Chinese manufacturing world. That became the path by which I built my first product business and learned
How to Lose $6,537 and Create a Product Nobody Wants
. I was also fortunate enough to have some awesome friends that helped me pull off my first product launch trade show in Las Vegas.

2. Seize Every Learning Opportunity.

Whether you know exactly what you want to do after graduating or not, take initiative in learning useful skills and make an effort to explore different industries, technologies and career paths. This is the process by which you’re going to discover your true passions in life. One of the most influential classes I took at Chapman was Internet Marketing, taught by social media wizard
Niklas Myhr
. His class sparked an interest that would change me forever. From sitting down on the first day and purchasing domain URLs related to my name, to meeting fellow Chapman alumni and guest speakers
Melanie ’08 and Devin Duncan ’08
, I was able to develop a valuable skill set that would go on to define the future success of my businesses. If you know what you want to do after college, challenge yourself to take the most advanced classes in your program. It’ll give you a huge edge above your competition for top jobs or in the entrepreneurial space. If you’re unsure of where you want to start your career, take classes outside of your comfort zone. What’s important is that you
never stop learning

3. Find a Mentor.

You’ll need to find yourself a mentor while in college. I had several. This will help cut down on your learning curve as an aspiring entrepreneur and if you’re lucky, enable you to sidestep some of the roadblocks along the way. One of the largest appeals of Chapman to me was that so many of the professors in the Argyros School of Business and Economics have real-world experience. They’re not solely career educators, which means most of them have had valuable experiences in the world of business. What’s even better is that 99% of them are incredibly generous and love helping students, you just have muster up the courage to ask. My New Product Development professor, Clark Higgins helped me with creating the Computer-aided Design (CAD) mock-ups that my Chinese factory needed to start manufacturing my product. Without his help, I could have easily spent hundreds, if not thousands, on hiring a design firm to do that for me.

4. Take Huge Risks.

Let me elaborate on that. This doesn’t mean spending thousands of hard earned dollars on an untested idea you think is cool. I’ve done exactly that and
this post
may just save you a lot of time and money. You should, however, be taking large calculated risks at this time in your life as a young entrepreneur. In my experience, the best way to learn what works and what doesn’t work is by researching, validating and then jumping in as quickly as possible. The faster you can learn whether or not your new project has the potential to grow into something beyond just an idea in your notebook, the better. Don’t waste your precious time building something that nobody is going to use, but don’t let your fear of failure be what stops you from trying. Find the most inexpensive and least time-consuming path to validating your business idea and commit to testing it out. You can find much more on how to do exactly that over
on my blog

5. Develop a Winning Work Ethic.

This lesson is the most important of all, in my opinion. The work ethic and drive you develop while in college will set the stage for your level of future success. While I was at Chapman, I had to learn how to work incredibly hard (and smart) while I was launching my first company at the same time as being the president of my fraternity, Fiji, and starting Chapman’s first Entrepreneurship Club. Immediately after graduating, I found myself working 50 to 60 hours per week and traveling at least one week out of the month. Having this job meant sacrificing much of my time, but I was learning a lot of valuable skills and getting to travel around the world.In order to keep up with my personal projects and passions, I trained myself to get up at 4 a.m. every day so that I could put my best energy into the work I cared about most.


Ryan and his colleague exhibiting at a trade show.

Between those morning hours and weekends, I was able to launch my next business with fellow Chapman alumnus, Matt Feldman ’12 (MBA ’13). A lot went into painstakingly learning
How to Start a Business While Working a Full-Time Job
. We grew
Case Escape
to over $160,000 in revenue during our first year of business and Matt’s still continuing on with the company while I’ve joined a tech startup in San Francisco.

It’s easy to think of reasons not to try starting your own business, but if you have the desire to do so, I challenge you make the commitment and get started right now. The learning experience alone will be worth more than you can imagine.

Have you launched a business while at Chapman? Share the most important lesson you learned from that experience in the comments below.

I love helping fellow entrepreneurs make their ideas happen. If you’d like to get in touch, shoot me an email at or check out my blog with awesome, detailed content for entrepreneurs like you.