Start a business while in college! It's a great opportunity for many reasons. However, be aware of some nasty challenges that are hard to accept and hard to deal with. Here are the one of the four greatest ones I have faced:
Startup, School, Sleep, Play : Choose 2.
Depending on where you go to school, there is likely enormous competitive pressure to follow the “conventional paths.” If you don’t spend your 3 summers doing research, publishing papers, and getting good grades, how are you supposed to get into good grad programs? If you don’t have internships at top-name companies and can’t master the interviews, how are you supposed to get nice industry positions after you leave? These over-simplified questions end up driving a lot of pressure to not let a startup put you behind your peers when vying for post-college options.
The added benefits you have getting jobs through college or going to some grad schools right out of college are substantial. Choosing to continue the entrepreneurial path may cause you to forgo these benefits in the name of your vision. There is a fine line between the undying passion of an entrepreneur and blindly following your goals.
If someone invests significant amounts of money into your business when you’re just a junior in college, that investor likely expects an exit to get his money back. Unless you have a very unique business, that exit is likely considerably after graduation. This implies that if you are serious to see your business to exit, that it should have a pretty drastic impact on your graduation plans. Coming to terms with this is difficult given the pressures of college norms.
The ultimate way to pursue your business you start in college is to leave to go full bore on it. If your college will let you return and get your degree later, then you potential risk of loss is much lower. If you’re gone for good, you have to make a decision about what a degree means for you. There is nothing more forcefully empowering than the knowledge that you’ve bet most of your future career prospects on the future of your college-dropout startup. On the other hand there’s the fear that without your degree, opportunities suddenly become harder. There is no rule of thumb for this balance since it depends on you, your skills, and your school.
Rules of thumb here are hard to express. Most of this is all about your own fundamental philosophies on life and your tolerance for risk.
Understanding what you’re willing to sacrifice for a startup can only be understood if you’ve tried it. With that in mind and coming full circle on this whole series: Start a business while in college!
Deciding that you’d rather take that Google job instead of continuing your startup is easier to do if you don’t have several millions of dollars of investor’s money on the line. The amount of baggage you have associated with your business will drastically alter your decisions on how you pursue your business. Be aware of this before seeking funding.
If this seems repetitive, that’s intentional. Seriously, you will not be able to think or plan your way out of it. Start a company and see what you naturally enjoy doing. If it takes off and that’s what you love, then you may end up ditching school. If you find yourself in a difficult position, you’ll have the startup experience under your belt and go off to get that job or graduate degree. Regardless. Start a company to find out.
It is possible to have a decent portion of the entrepreneurial experience while pursuing it part time at school and between summer internships. I would argue that it’s not the same as having everything on the line, but if this is how you choose to do it, then you simply have to be honest and realistic about your expectations of the business.
This is the last time I’m going to say it. Start a business while in college! All of this will become apparent to you quickly as you wrestle with the balance.
The one full piece of summarizing advice I can give is to be really honest with yourself about what is going on. If you think carefully about a lot of the proposed solutions and the root of many of the problems discussed here, you’ll find that it all has to do with honestly assessing the situation and matching that with what is right for you. For the philosophical of you out there, a startup is a bit of a journey towards self-discovery. I promise it’ll be the best trip you’ll ever take.
Evan Morikowa is CEO & Co-Founder of Alight Learning Inc., An online education startup making collaborative and personalized learning easy for middle and high school teachers and students. He is also a student at Franklin W Olin College of Engineering and director of Olin's student entrepreneurship program, The Foundry.
You can follow him on Twitter @E0M.