Most recent graduates are scrambling to get a padded resume together to enter the professional workforce. Not Sarah Haselkorn—who left the parking lot of Washington University in St. Louis with a degree in Systems Engineering and Entrepreneurship. Not only is she working for herself, she’s doing some hiring of her own, and lots, lots of mentoring and advising. Not that working in the advisor and mentor capacities are anything new to her. She founded a salad wrap bar she called The Green Bean—while still in school and was a Global Management Trainee at Amheuser- Busch.
In addition to being a start-up advisor, investor, and entrepreneur, she is an entrepreneurship journalist who regular contributes to Entrepreneur magazine.
Tell us more about yourself.
As a kid, I was always very interested in business and found ways to make money in the neighborhood – from lemonade to car washes to running my own summer camp. During my junior year of college, I opened a fast-casual salad restaurant near campus, which was my first major jump into entrepreneurship. Throughout that process, I became very involved with entrepreneurship both on and off campus – I became an adviser to a student startup, began working on an e-commerce startup with another partner, and invested in a media startup. Senior year, I competed in the Entrepreneurs’ Organization’s Global Student Entrepreneur Awards and was a finalist. I recently began a rotational management program with a large corporation in order to gain more experience.
When you were in high school, were you part of any young entrepreneur club or association?
At the time, my high school didn’t have an entrepreneur club, however, if they had, I would have joined!
A lot more people would start businesses while in college, if they didn’t have such a hefty course load to deal with. But as a junior at Washington University, you started Green Bean, your very first company, in spite of that. How did you manage that?
It was a lot of work to be a full-time student entrepreneur, but I have always been more productive when I am busy. There were definitely times that I prioritized my business over my classes—shhh, don’t tell—but for the most part I just had to manage my time very carefully and effectively. I also put a huge emphasis on hiring hard-working and responsible individuals. Without my amazing team, I wouldn’t have been able to do both.
Knowing all you know now, would you have skipped college?
College has opened up a lot of doors for me that made me the entrepreneur I am today. Washington University has amazing resources for entrepreneurs – professors, competitions, organizations, funding – that I would not have had access to without going to school. I would not have been able to compete in the Global Student Entrepreneur Awards. There is also a lot to be said for the experience of being a student entrepreneur – it does foster a strong work ethic and create unbeatable time management skills. I am also a strong believer in having a backup plan. At the end of the day, I wouldn’t trade the connections, resources, and friends I made in college for anything.
The quote “Entrepreneurship is living a few years of your life the way others won’t, so you can spend the rest of your life as others can’t” is the header of your website. I read it a couple of times and pondered on it. It would seem logical that being an entrepreneur is a good investment in one’s future. Why do you think so many people let their fears get in the way of their entrepreneur dreams?
Entrepreneurship is inherently risky, and most people know that. The trick is to mitigate the risk as much as possible by investing wisely in your idea and having several backup plans. I believe people let fear get in the way because that fear is a fear of failure. If you can put systems in place to prevent failure—or at least to make failure survivable, then the fear will naturally be prevented as well.
Would you recommend that new entrepreneurs invest in seminars and conferences?
The best investment is to join an organization that will continue to support you as you and your company grow. The Entrepreneurs’ Organization—a global organization—has a wonderful program called EO Accelerator for young growing companies and business owners. They also put on events and programming to supplement the program. While individual seminars and conferences can be very informative—and a good opportunity for networking—they are most valuable when they are very relevant to the industry in which you work.
As someone who ran Green Bean, which was an essence a salad and healthy eats restaurant, what are some of the lessons you learned about the food industry?
Lots of lessons! A few notable ones are. One, restaurants require hands-on commitment twenty-four seven. Plan to be there every waking moment if you except things to run smoothly! Two, food is fun – no matter how hard you are working, at the end of the day you’re making people’s lives happier and healthier. It’s a pretty great feeling to watch someone sit in your restaurant and enjoy food that you’ve served them.
Is there a book that you found particularly of use to you during your journey as an entrepreneur?
I read a lot of articles when I’m trying to deal with a specific problem – some of my favorite publications are Entrepreneur.com, Inc., TechCrunch, and FastCompany.
One book that had great ideas for systemizing my business was: The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right.
One day I will write a book that I hope will be particularly useful to many people as they begin an entrepreneurial life!
Does the fact that you are involved with green-focused startups, your biggest source of satisfaction as an entrepreneur?
That’s definitely part of it, but it wasn’t the reason I became an entrepreneur. I’m very interested in environmental change and plan to stay active in the industry and work on ideas that have either a positive impact or low impact on the world we live in.
“My business plan is all in my head.” You probably have heard someone say this before. Do you think startups can do without business plans?
I think it depends on the stage of the business. If you are seeking funding, you need a way to communicate your idea and your plans to potential investors. I don’t think a 50-page document of writing is the right avenue, but a concise and engaging deck is crucial at that stage. If the business doesn’t really need funding and just needs to be executed, I don’t think a business plan is necessary. I think a company strategy is important, but a documented business plan isn’t a must.
Do think you’ll ever long for the predictability of having a standard job?
I don’t think so. I’ve had standard, predictable jobs and they don’t seem to engage me as much. While the security is nice, I’ve never been someone to sit in any one place for long. Life should be exciting!
If you could spend the rest of your life as an entrepreneur, startup advisor, or investor, and you couldn’t overlap in any of those roles, and you had to stick with one, which one would you choose?
You ask all the hard questions! If I absolutely had to choose one, I guess I would say an investor. That is because I would get the opportunity to interface with dozens of ideas, instead of just my own. Investors often act as advisors as well, so in the cases where I wanted to have a bigger role in the concept, I could. Did I cheat with that answer?
You didn’t cheat. What’s next for you?
Hopefully, lots of exciting things! I’m currently working on launching a Kickstarter campaign for a new e-commerce concept, as well as advising a very promising student-led startup in St. Louis. I’m currently in this rotational management program, but what’s next after that? Only time will tell! Maybe it will finally be time to write that book. I’m just happy to have a very busy life and career full of incredibly smart people who are doing amazing things. I honestly couldn’t be luckier.
Connect with Sarah! Visit her website HERE.