Jon Reifschneider is founder and CEO of 31Projects, an online platform that connects companies with talented students through short-term projects and crowdsourcing-style competitions. Prior to founding 31Projects, Jon assisted in the management of a corporate venture fund and led commercialization efforts for new service innovations in the U.S. and Europe for SES. He also helped incubate new business ventures at the Siemens Technology Accelerator and at W.L. Gore & Associates. Jon Reifschneider has an MBA from the European Business School in Germany, a Master of Engineering Management from Duke University, and a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Virginia.
What are you working on right now?
Right now I’m working on a venture I recently started called 31Projects. With 31Projects we’ve created a platform where businesses which need help on their projects can go to connect with top students interested in working on projects to gain experience solving real-world business problems. Having worked with a number of small businesses and being an entrepreneur myself, I recognize that most managers have a list of things they’d like to work on but don’t have the time or resources to tackle them all. Connecting with talented students is a great way for them to get help on their projects while getting new perspectives and a chance to “test-drive” potential future hires. For the students’ part, they have the opportunity to build their experience and skills, gain connections in industry, and earn a little side money at the same time.
3 trends that excite you?
1) The rise of the entrepreneurial society. In part due to the recent depression and slow recovery, there’s been a boom in entrepreneurship within the past year, especially among young professionals and students. This boom is great to see as it’s pushing new innovations into the market and creating jobs, and it’s also great for my business because entrepreneurs have been a major customer base for 31Projects, as few entrepreneurs have all of the various skills needed to start and run their business, and can easily get support through 31Projects on the areas where they need help.
2) Collaborative consumption. The patterns of consumption are beginning to change, with consumers making smarter decisions by choosing alternative methods of consumption such as renting and sharing. This is evident in areas from car-sharing to text-book renting for students to business equipment rentals. Also a great trend and ties in to the next one.
3) Increased concern about the environment. With increased evidence of climate change and media attention to the subject, consumers are becoming increasingly conscious about their effects on the environment, and this is reflected in their behaviors as well as purchasing decisions.
How do you bring ideas to life?
I do a lot of brainstorming- when I’m in the shower, working out, eating… When interesting ideas come to mind I make sure to write them down and save them for later, otherwise I’m sure to forget them. When I’m ready to get to work on a new project, I do a brief screening of the different ideas and look at whether they are feasible and make sense. If so, I go through the process of putting a business plan together (even if I don’t stick to it- important to have!) and talk about them to various people. Some people like to keep their ideas secret out of fear that someone will steal them, but this is exactly the opposite of what you should do- it’s crucial to get your ideas out in front of people to vet them and get new perspectives to help build upon them.
What inspires you?
I’m inspired every day by entrepreneurs and other people I meet doing great things. There are so many people out there pursuing ideas and new innovations not just for money but to create actual value for society, and seeing this inspires me to keep going.
What is one mistake you’ve made that our readers can learn from?
Trying to go it alone. I started my business as a single founder, and although we are still going and growing it’s been a difficult process. Having had a co-founder or team initially would have made things much easier and ensured that team members could keep each other motivated. I have a great set of advisers and this has helped tremendously, but if I could go back and do it again, next time I would find a partner or partners upfront to get started.
What is one book and one tool that help you bring ideas to life?
Book: Rework by Jason Fried & David Heinemeier-Hansson – this is a must-read for anyone who wants to be an entrepreneur. It challenges many of the traditional beliefs around work and entrepreneurship and puts forth a lot of actionable recommendations on how to do things better.
Tool: Google Analytics. As the owner of a web-based business, Google Analytics is an unbelievable help in understanding how people reach and use my site.
What is one idea you’re willing to give away to our readers?
A company that sells affordable, high quality mattresses. I’ve looked into getting a new mattress recently, and the prices for a decent one seem unreasonable compared to the materials and labor cost I would expect goes into them. It seems like there is room for a brand to shake things up in that space.
Who is the one person you’d love to see interviewed on IdeaMensch?
Probably Steve Jobs. The fact that he continues to roll out new innovation after new innovation amazes me. Most people have trouble doing it once, and he’s managed to do it over and over again successfully.
Where did the idea for 31Projects come from?
Before I started my MBA, I was leading the development and commercialization of a new communications service for a midsize technology company. We had a reasonable budget for market research, but when we approached consulting firms about the work we needed done the quotes were too high. We ended up engaging a team of graduate students from Duke University (where I did my masters) to conduct some market research for us, and it worked out great for both us and them. I created 31Projects a couple years later as an easy way for companies and students to connect through these kinds of arrangements.
What is one thing about you that makes you unique?
Although I’m fairly young, I’m fortunate to have lived so far on 3 continents: North America, Europe, and Asia. These experiences have given me a unique perspective on things which I didn’t have until I left the U.S. for the first time.
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