Editor's Note: Snoop was a startup by Andrew Cercena and Nick Novoa that sought to help high school students find the right college. This guest article is the second in a two-part series that explores how one team's startup journey ultimately led to new pathways in entrepreneurship and interest discovery.
In the fall of 2017, I came into the University of Delaware undeclared with absolutely no idea what I wanted to do with my life. On a whim, I ended up picking marketing during my first semester of sophomore year, but I was still nervous over not knowing what I wanted to do after college. It wasn’t until the following semester that I was even introduced to Horn. A friend recommended that I take Startup Experience with Vince DiFelice, and after talking to the man himself I decided to step out of my comfort zone and take an entrepreneurship class – a 400-level one, in fact.
Startup Experience is a class that simulates the first 14 weeks of working on a venture: You choose groups based on startup ideas, brainstorm with one another, engage in customer discovery, and work as though you are starting a real company, as some groups actually had been.
On the first day, Andrew Cercena approached me and asked me to join his team to work on his startup, “Snoop,” an online platform for high school students to talk with actual college students, that are similar to them in major and background, about the schools they are applying to. It seemed interesting enough so I agreed to join.
Week after week I learned more and more about the startup world, the lean startup method, and what it takes to be an entrepreneur, all while actually applying my lessons to something tangible that my team was working on. It was exciting. I loved every minute of it.
Towards the end of the semester, Andrew had gotten accepted into Summer Founders, a program where students are given a stipend, advisors, and mentorship to work freely on their very own startups. He asked if I’d be interested, something I had to think about for a few days.
I had the opportunity for a well-paying internship for the summer, but it had nothing to do with my major. Additionally, Summer Founders meant I had to stay in Delaware for the summer. Being that I am from New Jersey, this was a tough decision to have to spend the summer away from my family. Ultimately, I decided on Summer Founders because I had spent an entire semester working on Snoop and wanted to see how far Andrew and I could take it. I had gotten a taste of what it takes to work on a startup and I couldn’t stop there.
My summer spent at the Venture Development Center (VDC) working in Summer Founders was definitely labor-intensive. Working 50-60 hour weeks was something I had never done before, but I was so invested in what I was doing that the hours flew by. I learned more about the business world in those 11 weeks than I had learned in my time in college.
There were so many people I learned from that summer, from Vince, who is probably the most supportive professor I have ever had, to Garry Johnson, a former Summer Founder himself. Garry is a great guy who mentored the Summer Founders by helping us develop our pitches and business models. But also, as a peer, he was always reassuring us that no matter how stressed or overworked we would get, we would get through it.
Then there were the other Summer Founders: Amanda, Abu, Hope, ChaCha, Kelsey, Darian, Sury, and Jimmy. I have to name every one of them because, even though we were working on different startups, we were all a team, always helping and supporting each other.
I was grateful to have worked alongside such amazing people. I value each and every relationship I made that summer. We all shared great times and I learned so much from each and every one of my mentors and fellow cohort members.
Now for Snoop. Going into Summer Founders, the entirety of my entrepreneurial knowledge was from Vince’s Startup Experience class. Andrew, on the other hand, had gone into school freshman year as an entrepreneurship major, so he had plenty of knowledge on the topic. I always respected him for his creativity, excellent work ethic, and dedication to Snoop. He was a great business partner and friend, who is always thinking ahead.
Andrew and I worked what Vince would call “half days” – literally, half of a day, or a 12-hour work day. We would call potential partners, and conduct research and customer interview after customer interview. In addition to the work we were putting in, we also had advisors come in twice a week, who were established professionals and entrepreneurs that would voluntarily help us with our startup.
I am beyond grateful to all of the advisors who came and helped us with our ventures; consulting with them every week was something we looked forward to. Andrew and I also went to a weekend-long industry conference in Hershey, Pennsylvania that was covered by the Summer Founders program, which was an amazing experience for both of us. Rather than being treated like college students, we were treated like professionals, which was a great feeling.
When Summer Founders eventually came to an end, Andrew and I continued to work on Snoop into the following semester. We would have weekly meetings, continue to reach out to our contacts, and search for a scalable and repeatable business model, all while studying full-time.
But unfortunately, at the end of our first semester of junior year, we decided to put an end to Snoop. Despite the countless hours we put into it, we couldn’t find a way to keep Snoop going and mutually decided to pull the plug.
It was difficult considering how hard we worked on it together the past year but we both felt it was best. Regardless, I would never say that the work we put in was for nothing, in fact, I’m glad we both worked so hard on it. I learned more about myself and starting a business, all while meeting amazing people and friends. I challenged and improved myself both personally and professionally while working on Snoop. I am beyond grateful for my time working on this venture and the love and support I received from the Horn faculty, Summer Founders, and advisors that helped me along the way.
Even though my time working on Snoop has come to an end, I now have the confidence, experience, and drive I didn’t have back when I came into school undeclared my freshman year. Vince likes to use a Winston Churchill quote that I think is very applicable not just to me, but for anyone who has ever failed at something: “Success isn’t final, failure isn’t fatal. It is the courage to continue that counts.”
About Horn Entrepreneurship
Horn Entrepreneurship serves as the creative engine for entrepreneurship education and advancement at the University of Delaware. Currently ranked among the best entrepreneurship programs in the US, Horn Entrepreneurship was built and is actively supported by successful entrepreneurs, empowering aspiring innovators as they pursue new ideas for a better world.