Aditya Bali on Entrepreneurship

Last week we were thrilled to host Aditya Bali, the co-founder of BufferBox, for a talk on his experiences as an entrepreneur. What began as a project for his undergraduate mechatronics course became a Y Combinator-backed startup before being acquired by Google in 2012 for $25 million.

Aditya shared his thoughts on launching a company with students at Bitmaker Labs, here are a few of the highlights.

Don’t let school get in the way. Leverage it.

Don’t let whatever framework you’re stuck in dictate how you make decisions. Whether it’s school or a full-time job, figure out ways to hack around it. Aditya and his co-founders took a fourth year design project and used it as an opportunity construct the prototype for BufferBox.

Talk to people. Get validation. Plan your business.

Ideas are a dime a dozen, you shouldn’t be afraid of sharing them with the world. Founders should gather feedback early on and let others poke holes in their business model. BufferBox used business case competitions as a way to develop and iterate upon their original business plan, and used the winnings to fund their early prototypes.

Know what you don’t know. Ask for help!

Don’t be afraid to reach out to experts within your industry for advice. The team at BufferBox used LinkedIn to strike up conversations with experienced executives in the shipping industry. That led to a tour of the FedEx sort facility in Toronto and gave them unique insights into the challenges they’d have to overcome in building and scaling their business.

You don’t have much. Use what you have.

Accepting the fact that you have limited resources and operating within those constraints forces you to become, in the words of Paul Graham, “relentlessly resourceful.” As poor undergraduate students, the BufferBox team couldn’t afford office space. Instead of raising money, they turned a small apartment into their corporate office, hardware lab, and living quarters.

Launch, launch, launch. Build a Minimum Viable Product.

If you have a product that can offer the smallest utility to the end user, ship it. Don’t wait until you’re completely happy with what you’ve built. Aditya cited Mark Zuckerberg’s mantra: “Move fast and break things. Unless you are breaking stuff, you are not moving fast enough.”

In the case of BufferBox, the team started out by offering concierge package delivery to students at the University of Waterloo. They’d have products shipped to a room on campus and charge students $3 for delivery. It was proof that demand existed for such a service and further reinforced their belief that people would pay to use a convenient and secure parcel pick-up station.