Hourly Nerd: Turning “That Will Never Work” Into Small Business SuccessMario R. Kroll
Identifying small and medium sized companies with business challenges, connecting them with graduate students who could help solve them seemed like a pretty great new company idea to Petitti and his teammates.
Part of the curriculum at Harvard involved each teams pitching their business idea to the rest of the class. At the conclusion of all the pitches, dubbed “IPO Day”, the class would vote on and invest in each other’s ideas through a mock stock purchase.
During HourlyNerd’s pitch, a classmate form another team quickly deflated their confidence: “We actually tried to do this same thing and realized it wouldn’t work,” said the classmate. “What makes you think you’re going to be able to do it?”
This was not exactly the reaction team HourlyNerd had hoped for.
The pitches ended and “IPO Day” ensued. HourlyNerd didn’t fare well. Out of 150 teams it traded in last place, achieving the lowest valuation and effectively earning a vote of no confidence from their classmates, suggesting their idea would never become a viable venture.
At this point, many might have given up on the business idea, deflated by the negative class vote.
Not so with Petitti and his team: “We actually got really competitive, wanting to do better for the next stock evaluation day. We started to obsess over how to make this a real business and prove the other sections wrong.”
Each day after classes, the team would go to nearby Cambridge, Massachusetts. There they would speak with local business owners, inquiring about their challenges, offering to find graduate students that could solve the businesses’ toughest problems. The response was overwhelmingly positive from the business community.
To keep things fair, Harvard students could not help with any of the projects and could not do the consulting themselves. Petitti and his team instead visited nearby MIT, creating and distributing “nerdy dollar” fliers. These directed interested Sloan School of Management students to HourlyNerd’s website to sign up as consultants. The influx of potential consultants was likewise very positive.
The next day of stock trading occurred six weeks after the mock IPO. Petitti’s entire class had generated $15,000 in revenue during this time. It turns out, HourlyNerd had generated two-thirds of that amount alone. Proving that their idea actually could work, HourlyNerd jumped 150 spots and went from receiving the lowest valuation six weeks earlier to being an investors’ darling, trading in the overall top spot for their class.
Less than two years later, HourlyNerd has built a very robust, scalable platform with roughly 10,000 experts signed up and vetted as consultants. It has expanded from the original model of only including graduated students. Now consultants also include experts from all walks of life, many with decades of hands-on business leadership and operational experience.