Leveraging Kellogg’s academics, alumni networks and more to launch a successful startup
When Steve Lane ’16 set out to choose a business school, he had one essential question in mind: Which school can get my startup off the ground?
After carefully weighing his options, Steve decided that Kellogg was the best choice for developing his startup FlyHomes.
“Kellogg’s resources are amazing for startups,” Steve says. “FlyHomes would not exist if it wasn’t for professors such as Carter Cast, David Schonthal and Linda Darragh.”
In addition to unwavering support from faculty, Steve cites Kellogg’s alumni network, experiential learning opportunities and coursework as additional factors that helped his startup flourish.
Below, Steve talks in detail about FlyHomes and how Kellogg empowered him to become an entrepreneur.
What is FlyHomes, and what inspired its creation?
FlyHomes is a flexible home buying platform for tech-savvy young home buyers that combines automated intelligence with advice from experienced real estate professionals. It has the best customer acquisition hook in real estate: Buy a home. Earn miles. We’re now operating in Seattle, San Francisco and Boston.
I started working on FlyHomes after my wife and I bought our first home almost two years ago. As someone who prefers to buy a TV using Amazon rather than walking into a Best Buy, the home buying process was counterintuitive and left me with many frustrations. After going through this process, I started talking with friends and realized that many home buyers in my generation had similar frustrations. Ever since, we’ve focused on reinventing this process.
How have Kellogg alumni influenced your startup experience?
The alumni network has been tremendous. They’re incredibly approachable, and they range from recent grads to prestigious global business leaders like the head of Starbucks’ Rewards Program. The vast range of alumni I have been introduced to is unmatched.
We’ve leveraged the alumni network in every stage of our growth. When we first started, we connected with Kellogg alumni from Alaska Airlines, American Airlines and more. An alumnus from New York made an introduction that led to a major business development deal for us, which we will soon announce. Seattle-area alumni have shared our company with their work colleagues. These are just a few examples of the progress we’ve made early on. Currently, the Kellogg venture capital community is helping us prepare and make connections as we begin raising our first round of financing.
If you walk into the door at Kellogg with the goal of starting a business, not only is there nothing holding you back from doing that, but also, there are a number of powerful people that will help you day in and day out to make your startup venture a reality.
How did Kellogg’s coursework prepare you for entrepreneurial success?
I came to Kellogg with the goal of starting a business, and I quickly realized that the curriculum Kellogg offers is pretty unique. You get to set your own path, so when I got here, I took every single entrepreneurship and marketing class I could; I knew it would help me get my business off the ground. I took courses in tech marketing, advertising strategy, marketing strategy, entrepreneurship finance and business law. All of these courses have been incredibly helpful in my entrepreneurship journey.
One class in particular that really shaped FlyHomes’ development was my New Venture Discovery course with Carter Cast. This course is designed to help students navigate the earliest stages of starting a new venture, and I had the opportunity to explore customer discovery, design thinking, rapid prototyping, bootstrapping methods and more.
Specifically, the JD-MBA Program and its curriculum are a great fit for entrepreneurs. As a startup founder, I do everything in my power to save money, and I’ve leveraged skills from Business Law for Entrepreneurs and other first-year courses to manage multiple legal issues without involving outside counsel. To date, I have probably saved $20,000 in legal costs by personally setting up our international entity structure, founders agreements, trademark applications, hirings and preliminary patent applications.
For business leaders, legal issues impact their strategy every day, and I wanted to be in a position where I could shape that strategy and make informed choices when it came to my own business. I never realized how applicable the curriculum would be to my short-term goals, however — almost every day I’m facing contract and property issues, as well as discussing corporate structures.
What other Kellogg resources did you take advantage of as a budding entrepreneur?
Kellogg’s resources are amazing for startups. There are a number of programs that Kellogg offers to help develop students’ startups.
The Zell Fellows Program, which is designed to help students develop market-ready businesses by graduation, provides students with approximately $25,000 for a variety of business expenses. In addition to funding, students receive leadership coaching and mentoring from seasoned entrepreneurs. FlyHomes was lucky to be one of the first companies selected into the Zell Fellows Program twice, with my co-founder Tushar Garg ‘16 participating this year. Thanks to Zell Fellows, FlyHomes has received free consulting from IDEO, met with prominent San Francisco investors and more.
FlyHomes was also part of the Pritzker Group Venture Fellows Program. Established in 2013 with the mission of accelerating Chicago tech startups, the Pritzker Group Venture Fellows invites two Kellogg startups each year to be entrepreneurs-in-residence. This program has further opened the doors for us with $20,000 in funding, unique networking opportunities, an affiliation with the Pritzker brand and a co-working space at 1871.
1871 is a great place to work because it allows you to be around other entrepreneurs. There is a great sense of encouragement that takes place when you see others working hard on their startups, and it inspires you to push yourself even harder. Additionally, as a startup, you will inevitably hit speed bumps, so it is helpful to be in a community of entrepreneurs who have faced similar experiences and challenges.
Northwestern also offers a co-working space called The Garage. Open to all Northwestern students – including Kellogg students —The Garage is a physical space for students to meet, learn and flesh out their ideas. FlyHomes takes advantage of this collaborative environment to connect with fellow innovators across a variety of disciplines, brainstorm business solutions and help each other out whenever possible.
Most importantly, The Garage provides an unparalleled, unique environment that is conducive to startups. Simply stated, it’s a fun place to work. It’s one thing to ask your team to meet at your house at 8 a.m. before they go to class to work. (Who wants to do that?) But when you’ve got an awesome space to work, your team just comes together and is energized. Everyday we’re mapping out ideas on whiteboards, coding, taking calls and holding meetings at all hours of the day. I don’t think the living room in my house could have created this culture for our company.
What role did Kellogg professors play in your B-School experience?
FlyHomes would not exist if it wasn’t for professors such as Carter Cast, David Schonthal and Linda Darragh. At critical stages in my startup’s development, they all invested and believed in me as an entrepreneur and went out of their way to help FlyHomes pursue and achieve several milestones.
When I take a step back and contemplate whether the JD-MBA Program was the right choice for me (at a time when I was deciding between offers from several different competitive business school programs), I am confident to say that Kellogg was the right decision. And that’s because of these professors and the lasting friendships I’ve built over the past three years.
Want to learn more about Kellogg’s entrepreneurship offerings? Check out our exciting Kellogg Innovation & Entrepreneurship Initiative (KIEI)