Innovation Destination Hartford Website Curator Nan Price spoke to Bridge Connection LLC Founder Patrick O’Connor about his experience as Hartford-area young entrepreneur.
NAN PRICE: Have you always known you were going to launch your own business?
PATRICK O’CONNOR: Yes, it’s something I’ve known for a long time. When I turned 16, I started working at a golf course and quickly realized working for people wasn’t going to be my long-term future plan.
When I was at Endicott College, one of the most influential courses I took was an entrepreneurship class taught by a young professor who had launched several businesses. He jumpstarted the idea that you can start a business right out of college, while you’re young. He reinforced that it’s the best time because there is so much flexibility and you don’t have any major life things holding you back.
NAN: When and why did you launch your startup?
PATRICK: I started Bridge Connection in March 2018. My original idea was to build an online networking platform for Hartford-area young professionals. Because, two to three years after college, I was looking to take the next step in my career. I was in that awkward phase where I wasn’t entry-level, but I also didn’t have five or more years of experience many jobs require for the next level up. I wondered: How can I get myself out there—and how can I help other people get themselves out there?
I came up an idea for a platform that was a mix of Match.com, Facebook, and LinkedIn, where you would add your information and match with similar professionals in different industries, whether its accountants, lawyers, estate agents, or insurance agents. The goal was to help them branch out and connect to potential new clients.
Trying to build a social media platform from scratch by myself was a little bit of an undertaking, so I’ve tabled that idea for now. I decided to go in another direction with Bridge Connection. What’s interesting is, I had a business model to follow and where I am now—in less than a year—is completely different business-wise.
NAN: Did you anticipate that?
PATRICK: I expected a little change. I didn’t expect to pivot so far, but it’s been a great experience. I’ve learned more in this year time period than I did in college and my first couple years out of college.
NAN: Tell us about that pivot.
PATRICK: The idea started with a colleague, Josh Detmer, who owns Go Golf Academy. He was getting so busy with his business and teaching golf lessons; he didn’t have time to focus on marketing and the business development and growth. While I was trying to figure out my own business direction, I started working with him on his business. I began to see other situations with small business owners who were doing well in their professions but needed direction on how to grow their businesses.
NAN: Was that a lightbulb moment for you?
PATRICK: Exactly. I realized: There is a market for people who have a great skill or a great product but don’t necessarily have the background to know how to grow their business. That’s where the Bridge Connection kind of took off.
Instead of being a resource for young people, I turned those skills into resources I offer to small business owners, from marketing to business development and bookkeeping.
NAN: Did you tap into any Connecticut business resources as you were starting out?
PATRICK: I’ve always been the person who puts my head down and wants to figure things out myself, but I’m quickly learning that that’s not the best way to success. So, I’ve been going to networking events and working on meeting the right people, including connecting with Hartford Young Professionals and Entrepreneurs (HYPE).
I found out about HYPE several years also, when I was Assistant Program Director at the First Tee of Connecticut and we were hosting the Travelers Championship. I met some HYPE team members through the event. I reconnected with Kim Bishop, who is now Executive Director of Talent Attraction & Retention at the MetroHartford Alliance, a few months ago.
NAN: What do you feel has been the biggest challenge for you launching this startup?
PATRICK: One challenge I’ve found is, I’m only 24 years old, and a lot of people aren’t as receptive to young people trying to pitch them. Sometimes I’m not taken as seriously as I would hope.
I want to build a business where, not only can I bring on a half dozen employees, but the businesses I’m helping can also grow to bring in employees. And I want to provide opportunities to young professionals, college graduates, upcoming college graduates, and potential interns because I think there’s a real need in Connecticut for bright young minds to take the next step and be leaders—and do so in an environment that’s not typical, working with small business owners. It’s all about connecting the right people.
NAN: Any advice for other younger entrepreneurs?
PATRICK: If you have an idea, you think it’s sustainable, and you think there’s a way to monetize it, write a plan, stick to it, and be ready to change that plan in an instant.
Also, I worked for a year out of college and saved, so I had that buffer to take a chance. So, I would say definitely be smart about it. Be strategic. Then go for it.