GLP – Zipcar talk by Robin Chase (12-06-13)

19 Jun

The MIT Leader Series program happens every Wednesday, where a top entrepreneur or leader graces us with his/her digital or physical presence, and then gives out gold nuggets of wisdom. Today, we spent an hour enthralled by the sincerity and stories of Robin Chase, co-founder of the hugely successful Zipcar (check it out at http://zipcar.com), a business that basically parks cars where you need them.

Here, we summarise 5 Tips by Robin Chase for people who want to start something:

1. Don’t be afraid to ask for feedback

When Robin was considering various names and slogans for her company, she drew them on cards and asked complete strangers for their opinions. The key is that strangers ARE the ones you will eventually be reaching out to. Their feedback matters.

2. Luck = preparation + opportunity

Preparation: Just after Robin’s first Minimum Viable Product (MVP in the startup world is a lean version of your idea, something you can do tests with), she used shiny green mini coopers with zipcar logos on them. This ensured that even though her product was not yet officially launched, each car had maximum visibility.

Opportunity: When a prominent reporter saw the cars, she called Robin for an interview, which would eventually be the jumping board to her global recognition.

What can we learn from this? Always be prepared!

3. Get users on board quickly, and get to know them Very Well

Just as in point 1, users are the ones who can make or break your product. By analysing the way that the first users interacted with her cars, Robin knew that there was something wrong with the per-day price point. Because she was still pretty early in the game, she was able to make it more meaningful, and move on.

4. Grow your pie by sharing it

Each time you bring someone on board your company/team, your share decreases but the size of the company grows (of course, that’s only if the additional brain and hands you invited value-adds). Think about it: would you rather have 50% of a $1mil company or 1% or $100mil company.

5. Make use of excess capacity

Excess capacity is something that others have already paid for.

For example: a street lighting company might make use of excess capacity. At night, cars already drive with their headlights on. An alternative to lights that run on electricity and disrupt natural environments would be reflectors. These bounce back headlights, delivering safety to cars that drive by.

Another example: Robin made a call to her alma mater, MIT Sloan, to include a message about her startup in their pre-existing email announcements to all students, faculty, and alumni. To MIT, this incurred very little cost, and they were more than willing to talk about an up-and-coming startup by one of their graduates. Robin was thus able to save much time and effort she would have had to bear if she tried to reach these thousands of users all on her own.

In all, Robin Chase was an engaging speaker brimming with wisdom. Her heart for people has touched us and we can’t wait for more MIT Leaders Series!

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