For several years, Cari Sommer and Lauren Porat dreamed of starting a business together. Sommer was a trained litigator, and Porat worked for IAC in the Mergers & Acquisitions department. The two were friends and had also both done volunteer work on the board of the non-profit Step Up Women's Network. "I had long admired the way Lauren approached problem-solving as a board member of Step Up," says Sommer.
Sommer thought a personal assistant business was interesting: "I was working long hours as an associate at a law firm. I had all this stuff I needed to get done in my personal life. It would have been great to get help with that." But after writing a business plan and mulling it over, she and Porat ditched that idea.
Over coffee at Starbucks in 2008, they decided that UrbanInterns was a better idea. "We liked the idea of matching people who have a need with people who can fulfill the need. We looked at marketplace businesses. We put the pieces together," Sommer says.
The two professionals had enough in savings to move forward without seeking investment. The next step was to build the product and test the concept further. By October 2008, the duo had hired developers to build the initial product. Spending less than $20,000, they launched a rudimentary site by February 2009.
Within a few months, UrbanInterns.com, which helps employers find part-time help and interns, had 3,000 site visitors and dozens of job listings. "Yes, we launched in the middle of a recession, but that may have worked in our favor," says Sommer. "When employers can't afford full-time labor needs, they have to make do with part-timers." Today there are 250 listings, and UrbanInterns gets 50,000 visitors per month. The database of users has grown from its initial 40 people to 25,000, who receive emails from UrbanInterns. Sommer says they hope to reach break even this year.
Teaming up isn't always easy for entrepreneurs, but Sommer and Porat have learned some crucial lessons along the way. Says Sommer, "Be sure you know what you do well and what you don't do well. Then, make sure your partner has complementary skills." She also suggests spending time with the person in a work setting: "Our work for Step Up gave us both time to see one another in action." Finally, you'll want to define both your work and your relationship in a document. "We have a partnership contract that clearly outlines what happens if one partner wants to leave the business," Sommer explains.
We had a great discussion about finding "Smart Angel" investors and word-of-mouth marketing as well. More here: