Launching a Startup After College? Thinking About Dropping Out to Start Your OwnThing? Not So Fast.
So, you are about to finish college and are full of ideas. You want to be your own boss. You think how 9-5 is for losers willing to replace a life full of adventure for corporate security and down payment for a house they don't even like. You want the freedom to live anywhere and work from a beach, posting Instagram stories with your Mac, a Mojito, and a sunset in the background.
Oh yeah, we forgot to mention how you are all up for world peace, how we should all get along, and how we should all work together to end poverty and world hunger. That comes in the "I am launching my startup right after college" starter pack, which is similar to the "who needs formal education" entrepreneur #hustle package.
While there is nothing wrong with being your boss, there is a lot wrong if you look at any kind of (corporate) work as a fundamental defeat and the end of your life. In fact, it is exactly the opposite – if you want to start your own entrepreneur journey, one of the best things you can do is get some actual experience, and this article will be all about that.
We will give you reasons to take things slower, or at least not to go all in as early as possible. You will see a big difference between what gurus say and reality. We will mention self-starters we are all looking up to and how they were a part of large organizations at some points of their business careers, in one way or another. But, we will also give you some concrete ideas of what to do instead to improve your success chances and put your business trajectory on a much more solid foundation.
First things first: Do you need college after all?
Why would anyone think about spending a fortune to apply for a college just to get a degree after 4+ years of torture if they can learn anything over the web? With so many free YouTube tutorials and sites like Codeacademy and Khan Academy, you can gain a college-level education from the comfort of your home.There are even countless paid course websites such as Udemy and Skillshare where you can get a well-put and more structured experience. Ultimately, platforms such as Coursera allow you to take online courses of renowned universities across the globe and even get an actual certification.
So, why bother with college?
Seeing the bigger picture
Udemy is an excellent option if you want to learn something concrete, for example, Python. There are many highly-rated courses to choose from, and considering the price, you will get a lot of bang for the buck.
The trouble is that the only thing you will learn from the course is the programming language Python. While this is useful if you want to get a job, or at least apply for an internship if your goal is to launch your own company, Python alone won't be enough.
But, if you look at any software engineering college curriculum, you will notice that programming languages are just one small piece of a pie. You will also see mathematics (more than one), databases, subjects related to computer hardware, operating systems, computer networks, but also web design, software testing, mobile device programming, and more.
Getting exposed to so much information will expand your views, allowing you to comprehend what's behind the curtain fully. Therefore, if learning Python isn't your only life goal, getting exposed to a brother spectrum of knowledge and ideas will do you well long term. Your entrepreneur brain will have more ideas to process, and be sure the one you select after you
finish college will be much more mature and ready to go than before.
It's not just about learning materials
While obtaining hard skills and knowledge is essential, it is not the only thing necessary to start your own business. A successful entrepreneur needs many other things to succeed, and one of the most important ones is a network of like-minded people.
While not everyone you will meet at a college campus is a genius, the fact that you are around people pursuing higher education matters. Especially if you are lucky enough to study something in-demand – that competition will set the bar high, ensuring that the vast majority of students are there either because they genuinely wanted to be there, they are incredibly talented, or both.
As the time goes by and you start making friends in that competitive, but positive environment, you will likely realize that there are other people there just like you who are self-starters. Over time, you will cross ideas, and figure out who really wants to start something from scratch, and who is just talking what others want to hear. Those who have ideas and are willing to roll up their sleeves and grind are perfect candidates to become your future partners.
But what about all of those college dropout success stories?
First, yes, many college dropouts turned out to be successful. But, be sure that, on average, a person with a college degree does better in life than a person without it. Also, be sure that every single person on the planet thinks that being average has nothing to do with them, yet, here we are.
Anyway, some big names made it without a degree, such as Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and Elon himself, who dropped out of Stanford, right?
Yes, Elon did drop out of Stanford, where he was pursuing a materials science Ph.D. Prior to that, he obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree in physics at the University of Pennsylvania and a Bachelor of Arts degree in economics at the Wharton School.
Bill Gates, did drop out of college, after two years. But that college was Harvard. Imagine the level of education Gates obtained during those two years. Not to mention connections made. His childhood friend, Paul Allen, was also a college dropout, but instead of jumping straight to entrepreneurship, both first worked at Honeywell, a large multinational conglomerate that happened to be nearby college campuses. So, two business masterminds first enrolled in prestigious colleges, then worked in a strict corporate environment. They sure were stupid, lacked ideas, and didn't have guts.
As for Zuckerberg, he also dropped out of Harvard. But, while there, he launched Facebook from his dorm room, along with his roommates, who became his business partners. A prime example of how good ideas come to life faster when like-minded smart people surround you in an environment that supports growth.
But, what if higher education is not an option?
While college is a great place to obtain knowledge and skills and build a quality network, it also has some apparent downsides:
● Education is expensive – unless you get a scholarship covering all of your costs, you will need to spend a substantial sum to get through college. Working on the side is an option, but that is far from easy. Plus, working on the side will mean you will have less time for studying, which may add years to your studying, resulting in more expenses.
● It takes a lot of time to finish – it usually takes four or more years to get a university degree. This makes it almost impossible to do later in life, especially if you already have a full-time job, a family with kids, and other obligations. Plus, the cost of opportunity of education is extremely high – while you are studying, you are not spending time working on other things, but you are not spending time with your family either.
Truth to be told, not everyone who enrolls finishes with a college degree. Sometimes, dropping out is a smart thing to do. If you are failing again and again and are wasting away years to force finishing what you have started, finding something else might be the best thing you can do. Whether that's another university, a different major, or starting a new career, that's for you to decide. We have discussed how dropping out because education is useless and boring is not a good idea, but it might be different if you are doing your best, but things aren't meant to be.
Anyway, if college is not an option for whatever reason, what can you do? Should you quit your dreams of starting a business of your own?
Route B: Gaining real experience before going all in on your own thing
For most of you who are still young, or at least feel like that, the best course of action is to get some real experience and start building a network by applying for a job, or an internship.
If you don't have a college degree or any prior experience, it is a good idea to invest some time (and money, if you have it), into finishing a course or two. We have already mentioned Codeacademy, which is an excellent place to start for people who are looking to get into development. Google searching "learn to code for free"and going through Reddit will give you plenty of ideas.
Another option if you already have a degree that you want to "modernize" or "internationalize" is Coursera. There, you can enroll in any course completely free and listen to lectures. As for certifications, they are expensive, but Coursera offers financial aid to students who can't afford to buy a full course that would earn them a certificate.
However, don't spend too much time doing courses. Remember, you only want certifications to get through the door and start your internship/get your first job.
Finding the right opportunity
The idea is to start working in a well-developed system and to learn as much as possible. This will not only develop your work ethic, but the experience you will get working on important projects will benefit your career as a whole.
Plus, you will see how an actual organization looks and works, and how decision-makers collaborate with the rest of the team to reach company goals. You will learn teamwork, and build a network of acquaintances, not only in your company but also with partners and external associates you share meeting rooms with.
Even though money is important, try to stretch your budget as much as possible. It's better to work on more interesting projects you can learn from, surrounded by highly motivated and intelligent people, than to spend your time doing next to nothing just for better pay.
Then, after a while (after a few years probably), you will be ready to move on, go all-in and start your own thing. By then, you will have some money on the side, a much better credit score, a network of connections and potential business partners to work with, much more experience, and a brain filled with ideas backed up by all that you were doing in the years prior. A much better position than jumping straight into entrepreneurship waters without any experience, money, knowledge, and connections, don't you think? That doesn't mean you will succeed; it only means your chances will be much, much better.
Route C: Starting your own thing on the side while gaining real experience
Route B is relatively safe – if you get a job, even if you don't start anything independently, you still have a job. As long as you are working on progressing your career, everything is great, whether in a corporate environment or on your own.
But what if you have an idea you want to start working on ASAP? Working on an idea immediately is often necessary, as there's a lot of difference between being the trailblazer and setting the trend or the 100th person doing the same thing.
The same goes if you are older and don't have years to spare working low-paying jobs when you have a family to feed.
Then, Route C is a better option – start your own thing on the side while working a full-time job.
You can a similar approach as in Route B, start working, or get an internship in a company where you can learn and gain experience rapidly. But, this can also work if you already have a job paying your bills but have an idea you want to start.
Working on your project on the side will mean you will have your full-time career to cover your living expenses. But, it will also mean you will have funds to finance your side project. A full-time salary will also allow you to borrow money from a bank, which you can invest in furthering your business.
Testing in vitro
Entrepreneurship sounds great, but it is often different once you start testing the waters. As we said in the intro, everyone wants to be their own boss, at least in theory.
Once you start a business, you will quickly realize your obligations don't end when the clock ticks 5 PM. Even if you go home, your mind will be racing as you will worry about products, clients, cooperators, and a million other things you never thought existed before you decided to start your own thing.
And with more business growth, your responsibilities will exponentially grow too. Sure, you will delegate, but all those people won't care about anything else but their salary and bonuses, which are again your responsibility.
And then there's the market itself. No matter how brilliant of an idea you think you have, the harsh reality of the market will uncover everything quickly.
It might turn out that your business idea isn't brilliant, isn't new, isn't good, or all of the combined. If that happens, you will be left with a dilemma – weather the storm, or call it quits.
Even if you decide that your idea is a bust, you will have another dilemma – start something new or ditch entrepreneurship altogether?
It's much better to have all those dilemmas while having a steady job and a salary. If your idea turns out to be a golden one, you can go all-in and quit your job. People usually do this when their part-time income matches their full-time salary, which is a good turning point.
The key downside of Route C
While Route C does allow you some more flexibility, as you are not going all-in, and are still keeping your full-time job, it has one massive disadvantage: you will work two jobs simultaneously.
Even worse, your second job is your own thing, which will require a lot of energy and time if you want to get it working. And figuring out won' happen overnight. You will need to work in the morning, evenings, and weekends, consistently.
However, the required dedication will also uncover if you are meant for this or not. If you have the idea, you will feel anxious to get home and work on it more often than not, even after a full day of work. Also, if it turns out to be a good one, you will feel motivated more and more, knowing that the day when you will quit your day job and start working on your passion project is getting nearer.
In the end, it's great that you have an entrepreneurial spirit and are looking to start something on your own, kudos for that! The point of this article is not to discourage you; it's exactly the opposite.
We wanted to show how there's more than one way to succeed and how going to college and having an actual 9-5 job won't kill all of your dreams, no matter what internet gurus say.
In the end, hard work does pay off, whether it comes through side hustle grind, internships, college degrees, or just by trusting your gut, applying for a loan, and going all in into sleepless nights. Whether world peace and working with Mojitos from a beach comes in that package, we will leave it to you to find out.
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