It’s awfully hard to learn entrepreneurship out of a book, or even out of Hacker News comment threads. Sometimes, you just need to pin down someone who’s been there for an answer. But not every newbie has access to a high-powered mentor. That’s where the Young Entrepreneur Council wants to help, with its #StartupLab initiative.
#StartupLab is a Facebook application built by the Young Entrepreneur Council in a partnership with Citi, which you can access here. The organization also gives it away to organizations ranging from Junior Achievement to local high school enthusiast groups, so they can embed it on their own pages and distribute to their members. Through, users can access videos, free ebooks, and free lessons.
But perhaps the most exciting prospect is the live Q&As. Every Thursday, an entrepreneur gives up an hour of his time for a live chat. Participants have ranged from Reddit’s Alexis Ohanian to Foodspotting’s Soraya Darabi. You can either ask a question during the chat, or in advance (in exchange for tweeting about it in advance, that is).
When Betabeat arrived at the Contently offices for a behind-the-scenes look at one such live chat, we were greeted by Young Entrepreneur Council founder Scott Gerber and quickly ushered into a small room with a hand-written “Recording in Progress” sign taped to the door. Contently cofounder Shane Snow was already cloistered inside, somewhat nervously reviewing his instructions for the livestream. (He quietly reminded himself to make sure it actually shut off at the end.)
“These are people asking him about what it’s like to be in the day-to-day of a real entrepreneur,” Mr. Gerber explained. “We think that there’s value in that, because peer-to-peer mentorship is pretty powerful for younger folks.” Viewers range from middle school kids to 40-year-old founders.
“Where we can deliver the best of both worlds is getting people who have a certain experience, that are relatable, that are not necessarily just the Steve Cases and the Jeff Bezoses of the world,” said. Mr. Gerber. “We can begin to build this bridge that really leads from the zero to sixty moment,” he added.
“We’re only a month in, and we’re already starting to see some traction, so I know we’re doing something right,” said Mr. Gerber. The number of views peaked at around 7,000. Mr. Gerber later told us that the average viewer watches for 30 minutes, and the program is growing by 200 percent month-over-month.
Finally, the clock struck 3 p.m. and it was time for the Q&A to begin. First Mr. Snow introduced himself: “I grew up tinkering with computers, tinkering with the Internet when it came to our dialup.” At 16 he started his own online greeting card business–and was promptly banned from Internet-based businesses until he moved out, by his parents, who didn’t quite buy everything was on the up-and-up and there was no hacking involved.
The questions came quickly after that, from “When do you know when to pivot the business?” to “How do you manage spending your own savings on a business?” to “I’m a newcomer to the startup business, what should I first?” (Mr. Snow’s answer: Join a startup, and start seeing how things work.)
In a brief chat afterward, we asked Mr. Snow what had inspired him to take the time out of his day for such a philanthropic endeavor. He admitted that, as a representative of Contently–which, as a platform that pairs publishers with writers for projects like sponsored posts, is very much surfing the content marketing wave–he makes a point of appearing on panels and the like. But it’s also part and parcel of a what-goes-around-comes-around philosophy. “Hopefully, I will be at, like, 10 levels higher than this five years from now. But in order to get to that, people will have to help me. So I got to return the favor,” Mr. Snow explained.
As for the future of the program, Mr. Gerber pointed out that, since folks are signing up via Facebook, YEC automatically gets a lot of aggregated information about the people participating. “Imagine if you’re able to create unlimited amounts of personalized tracks at mass scale–that would basically be a bigger opportunity than having any one-to-one mentorship opportunity, because that’s not scalable.”
In the meantime, though, there’re questions to be answered. Next at bat: Lucas Buick of Hipstamatic, who’ll be answering questions next Thursday at 3 p.m.