People 07 January 2017
She might only be 24-years-old, but she is more forward-thinking and action-oriented than most. Sophia Parsa is the founder of Toot, an app that connects students to tutors in their area. Users requesting tutors range from high school and college students to young professionals and parents wanting to learn how to be a tutor themselves.
When you use the app, which Parsa started at 21, participating tutors pop up, complete with a 20-second video pitch, a bio and hourly rate. Alternatively, customers can email a request for a curated list of who Toot will think is a good fit, which Parsa’s team arranges manually. According to Parsa, the app’s rate of dissatisfied clients has not even reached 1 percent of users. So just how did Parsa end up starting such a successful company at such a young age?
Start Now, But Start Wisely
Companies don’t happen overnight, but ideas do. Parsa realized that she had hit the jackpot with her idea, and that she needed to make this idea happen. But she didn’t stop everything to start Toot. In fact, she stayed at the first company she started until she was sure she could execute – something she realized when she was introduced to her equally passionate co-founder Shaq, a self-taught engineer who had just emigrated from Iran.
Know Your Strengths
Parsa knows she’s not a technical expert, but she also knows she’s a marketing whiz. “While I agree I’m not technical, I’m the customer here. I’m the student who knows what the student needs in order to be happy and feel like this is a successful product.”
Have A Long-Term Vision
Parsa knows the process to expand, at least in terms of her business: get the required capital, visit a college campus to recruit tutors and Toot ambassadors, and then create a digital campaign to spread the word. “Hopefully, in 10 years, we’ll be international," she says. "That’s the dream, right? I’d love that, no matter where you are, no matter what you want to learn, if you were in Spain and you wanted a Spanish lesson, I’d love to connect you with a local,” she says.
Surround Yourself With Good Vibes
“It’s more about the team than anything. Show that you have a great team – and if it’s just you, that you can prove that you’re the one to do this,” says Parsa.
Find A Balance Between Supply And Demand
Parsa created a waiting list for prospective tutors in order to balance the overwhelming supply of eligible tutors with the growing demand of clients.
Don’t Let Anyone Build Your Vision For You“I would never suggest that someone just starting out [with their own company or brand] should hire an agency," she says. "You really have to build your own brand – that’s the most important part. I would hate for someone to build my vision for me.”
Prove Yourself To InvestorsStart “to build as much as you can without capital – to show what you can do with practically no money,” advises Parsa. Show that “users that really love [your] product and can’t live without it.” Once you can prove that to an investor, you can get them to really believe in your idea because they believe you’re going to take it to the next level.
Set Your Company Apart From The CompetitionStanding out as a business has perhaps never been more important. “This space is really noisy – every space is getting crowded at this point," she says. "People are being more and more innovative. Every day, there’s a new entrepreneur. I think it’s really, how do you set yourself apart? What differentiates you from the rest of the crowd, and why is it going to be you to be the one that makes [your company] successful?”
No Fun? No Point
Parsa doesn’t “want to be that person who is just working around the clock and stressed out all the time," she says. "That’s not the life.”
Starting a tech company is hard work, but it is certainly not impossible. College students especially are usually overwhelmed with homework and don’t think about cultivating any ideas or visions they may have, but that doesn’t have to be the case.
Parsa’s advice to everyone:
“If you have a vision… do a little bit of research, validate the idea, and start immediately.”
3 Min Read
"How did you ever get into a business like that?" people ask me. They're confounded to hear that my product is industrial baler wire—a very unfeminine pursuit, especially in 1975 when I founded my company in the midst of a machismo man's world. It's a long story, but I'll try to shorten it.
I'd never been interested to enter the "man's" world of business, but when I discovered a lucrative opportunity to become my own boss, I couldn't pass it up—even if it involved a non-glamorous product. I'd been fired from my previous job working to become a ladies' clothing buyer and was told at my dismissal, "You just aren't management or corporate material." My primary goal then was to find a career in which nobody had the power to fire me and that provided a comfortable living for my two little girls and myself.
Over the years, I've learned quite a few tough lessons about how to successfully run a business. Below are five essential elements to keep in mind, as well as my story on how I learned them.
Find A Need And Fill It
I gradually became successful at selling various products, which unfortunately weren't profitable enough to get me off the ground, so I asked people what they needed that they couldn't seem to get. One man said, "Honey, I need baler wire. Even the farmers can't get it." I saw happy dollar signs as he talked on and dedicated myself to figuring out the baler wire industry.
I'd never been interested to enter the "man's" world of business, but when I discovered a lucrative opportunity to become my own boss, I couldn't pass it up.
Now forty-five years later, I'm proud to be the founder of Vulcan Wire, Inc., an industrial baler wire company with $10 million of annual sales.
Have Working Capital And Credit
There were many pitfalls along the way to my eventual success. My daughters and I were subsisting from my unemployment checks, erratic alimony and child-support payments, and food stamps. I had no money stashed up to start up a business.
I paid for the first wire with a check for which I had no funds, an illegal act, but I thought it wouldn't matter as long as I made a deposit to cover the deficit before the bank received the check. My expectation was that I'd receive payment immediately upon delivery, for which I used a rented truck.
Little did I know that this Fortune 500 company's modus operandi was to pay all bills thirty or more days after receipts. My customer initially refused to pay on the spot. I told him I would consequently have to return the wire, so he reluctantly decided to call corporate headquarters for this unusual request.
My stomach was in knots the whole time he was gone, because he said it was iffy that corporate would come through. Fifty minutes later, however, he emerged with a check in hand, resentful of the time away from his busy schedule. Stressed, he told me to never again expect another C.O.D. and that any future sale must be on credit. Luckily, I made it to the bank with a few minutes to spare.
Know Your Product Thoroughly
I received a disheartening phone call shortly thereafter: my wire was breaking. This horrible news fueled the fire of my fears. Would I have to reimburse my customer? Would my vendor refuse to reimburse me?
My customer told me to come over and take samples of his good wire to see if I might duplicate it. I did that and educated myself on the necessary qualities.
My primary goal then was to find a career in which nobody had the power to fire me and that provided a comfortable living for my two little girls and myself.
Voila! I found another wire supplier that had the right specifications. By then, I was savvy enough to act as though they would naturally give me thirty-day terms. They did!
More good news: My customer merely threw away all the bad wire I'd sold him, and the new wire worked perfectly; he then gave me leads and a good endorsement. I rapidly gained more wire customers.
Anticipate The Dangers Of Exponential Growth
I had made a depressing discovery. My working capital was inadequate. After I purchased the wire, I had to wait ten to thirty days for a fabricator to get it reconfigured, which became a looming problem. It meant that to maintain a good credit standing, I had to pay for the wire ten to thirty days before my customers paid me.
I was successful on paper but was incredibly cash deprived. In other words, my exponentially growing business was about to implode due to too many sales. Eventually, my increasing sales grew at a slower rate, solving my cash flow problem.
Delegate From The Bottom Up
I learned how to delegate and eventually delegated myself out of the top jobs of CEO, President, CFO, and Vice President of Finance. Now, at seventy-eight years old, I've sold all but a third of Vulcan's stock and am semi-retired with my only job currently serving as Vice President of Stock and Consultant.
In the interim, I survived many obstacles and learned many other lessons, but hopefully these five will get you started and help prevent some of you from having the same struggles that I did. And in the end, I figured it all out, just like you will.