Entrepreneur 2 Entrepreneur: Team Runerra On Dropping Out Of College For The Cause



The Runerra team L-R: Niel Patel, Sam Lerdahl, Josh Chang, Bharat Pulgam.

In this Entrepreneur 2 Entrepreneur series curated by Sean Higgins and underwritten by Router Ventures, we hear from the four college dropouts who recently gave it up to go all in on their startup, Runerra.

Runerra is a 2018 Minnesota Cup student division semifinalist, a Techstars + Target 2018 Retail Accelerator Startup, and one of our Pre-Revenue Tech Startups To Watch.

What is Runnera?

Bharat Pulgam: Runnera is a community driven marketplace that connects buyers and shoppers that are leaving or coming back to your community with people that need stuff to get people what they need when they need it.

It’s basically like, “Hey, I’m running to Target. Does anybody need anything?” but in app form. We’re trying to get people their everyday essentials without having to spend a bunch of money in the process.

And you initially launched Runerra when you were still in school at the U oF M…how did you balance?

Bharat: You switch your mentality. It’s not about going to school, doing the homework and then watching a couple shows. It’s about waking up at this time, I have my classes here, I have this time in between and you have to lead the schedule and that’s part of gathering the courage to do that as part of entrepreneurship.

Sam: Yeah, you gotta do that. You wake up and you have 18 hours, that time flies by really fast. Your time is so limited and, all the time you spend on your phone, all the small things that you don’t really think about, they really really matter. Doing Runnera the first year of college was really difficult, it’s not easy, but it’s doable and it’s a matter of waking up and doing a little homework before class, and I’d being lying if I said I didn’t cram before finals.

Bharat: I think what’s really important here is, regardless of the time, regardless of your schedule, it’s really about what are you passionate about, what’s your priority and where are you going to make the most impact. Are you going to sweat this, breathe this, scream this? If you can do that then yes, invest as much time as you possibly can because now you are the startup. In early stage YOU are the startup. Taking that leap is the first step.

Then Runnera was accepted to the Techstars + Target Retail Accelerator and everyone decided to go all in on that route; what was your parents initial reaction to quitting College?

Josh: Their initial reaction was definitely skeptical. They asked how this was going to benefit me 5-10 years down the line. But, once I showed them the program, the history, the success stories they realized that this was the place to be if I wanted to get mentorship through this.

Niel: For me it was a little different because neither of my parents went to college so they really really wanted me to finish college. My big thing is being prepared, so when I was in high school I made sure to take every opportunity I could to save time in the future. At the time it didn’t feel like it was much because I was taking all these online college classes but when they all transferred and I had a couple semesters to just play around with and still graduate in four years that’s a year and a half that I just saved. So, when I went to my parents and told them, “Hey, this is an opportunity that came up and I really think it’s worth exploring and spending my time with,” they understood that I prepared for that and they understood that I had worked to save that time and now I could use that time where I deemed necessary.

Bharat: So, I had an interesting conversation because most of this stuff happened when I was deciding to go to college. During my first startup my parents saw the struggle and the effort and the terrible lows and the great highs, just the entire process of me changing from this shy kid who didn’t want to leave his desk to this guy who’s trying his best to be called an entrepreneur. I think for my parents it was a big step for them because, in my family, you went to engineering school. It’s funny because my parents didn’t want to tell their parents that I wasn’t going to school because it’s a given. I’m blessed to have parents like my mom and dad because really were there for me every step of the way but they gave me my space.

Would you ever go back to school?

Bharat: Probably not, that said I plan to keep learning every day I possibly can. I think to be an entrepreneur you need to find the best way to learn that works for you.

Sam: College is a place to meet people your age and bond over similar subjects. I love meeting new people and learning, so if the timing was right, I think it would be exciting to go back with a new perspective.

What have you learned about yourself?

Bharat: I’ve learned that there is so much more to learn, the deeper I get, the longer I spend time with people that are so much smarter than I am. I am challenged to be better and do better every day. It’s an exciting time and I’m fortunate to be surrounded by some incredible people.

Sam: Being involved in the Twin Cities startup scene has changed me for the better. Being surrounded by people that inspire me to do my best, has pushed me out of my comfort zone and into a space where I am always learning and failing. I’ve learned to take life a day at a time, and to keep an open mind, because you never know where you’ll find the missing piece of the puzzle.

What do your friends/peers think?

Josh: My friends are in two groups. They either either understand the opportunity I was given or think I’m crazy.

Sam: They are super supportive!

The Takeaway:
Entrepreneurship can come at any age and while it may not get any easier to burn your boats over time — it still boils down to communicating expectations. Let your stakeholders know what your plans are for going part time or full time, and let your friends and family know the same. This way, as you make progress in the business, there are no surprises about your level of commitment. This in turn creates accountability and helps you get you off of the starting line.