Meet Pat Petitti, 29 year-old co-founder of the Boston-based start-up, Hourly Nerd, which connects small business owners with to MBA students who offer consulting services. As part of their course work as students at Harvard’s MBA program, Petitti and four classmates were tasked with creating a business.
Petitti recalls the birth of their “baby” — their co-founder’s father is a small business owner who asked his son for help with Excel. Petitti says that the Excel work that co-founder Rob Biederman whipped up in minutes would take Biederman’s father a whole day’s work or more. The co-founders connected the dots for small business owners seeking project assistance to tap into MBA students’ abilities.
After the Hourly Nerds created their a website, MBA students and alumni were able to submit their résumés online but the master nerds hit a roadblock: Per class rules, students weren’t allowed to recruit fellow Harvard Business School students until the end of their first school year. Petitti recalls, “This forced us to be very creative and find ways to get MBAs from other top programs to join the site.” To sidestep the restrictions, they reached out to career development offices at other schools by positioning their site as an conduit for students to bulk up their résumés with work experience.
“MBA students often go into an MBA program to switch industries. It’s really hard to do if you don’t have experience,” Petitti says. “You can put this experience on a résumé and talk about it in an interview. We’re helping students get jobs while they make money.”
Hourly Nerd gets to make money, as well — they get a cut of each transaction. The highest budget for a project they’ve seen offered is $25,000 for the owner of a casino management software company who sought to hire a nerd for strategic guidance on how to best expand his business. Typically, projects range from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars.
As for building up their own Benjamins via investors, the founders originally spoke to the TV show “Shark Tank” but Petitti says that it didn’t make sense for the company for “a bunch of business reasons.” One of the co-founders suggested going directly to the star of "Shark Tank," billionaire, business magnate, philanthropist and investor Mark Cuban.
“We pretty much had zero expectations but he understands small businesses. I think it was less than 10 minutes later; he responded with a list of questions and said he was interested.” $450,000 later, he’s among the investors.
Although the foursome plans to work full-time at Hourly Nerd after graduating in May, they did consider dropping out but ended up nixing the notion due to their robust resources.
Oh yeah, their project aced the grade. On a scale of one, two or three (one being the best), their professor gave them a one.
Four tips for aspiring entrepreneurs:
1. Just do it. “Spend less time thinking about the right approach, theorizing and strategizing. Just execute.”
2. Don’t fly solo. “I would probably get 50 percent of the decisions wrong [on my own] but because I’m working with people whose opinions I really respect and value, we’re able to make all of the decisions as a group.”
3. Work with friends and family. “My three MBA co-founders are three of my best friends at Harvard; our CTO is my cousin. We can be extremely transparent with each other.”
4. Ask for advice and make it your own. “Everyone has an opinion but being able to take the different perspectives and dilute it down to what is right for your business is the trick.”