Looking to start a company while in college? It’s definitely a good idea given the amount of resources. But there are a ton of pitfalls. What if you could avoid the common pitfalls and jump over the mistakes that others have made? The following entrepreneurs share the lessons they learned while starting a business in college.
1. Devote Time And Clear Thought To Big Decisions Like Closing A Business
I started a computer business, in the 1980′s while I was still in engineering school (Northeastern). I was making so much money in the business that I didn’t see the point in continuing with college, so I dropped out. During one week I got depressed, and decided, irrationally, to close the business, which I did. I didn’t make it back to college to finish a degree until about 25 years later.
Thanks to Ben Coleman of OrigamiBonsai.
2. Take Some Business Classes, Ask for Help
In late 2009 I was unemployed and decided to go back to school for chemistry. To make some money I began selling soap and started Wilson’s Soap Co. The second semester I took an intro to business class to get a better idea of what I was doing. I was quickly amazed at all the great help I got from my professors and was able to get tons of (free) help with everything from marketing to how commerce works. Professors would stay after to help me with my problem-du-jour and even gave me the opportunity to use classes for focus groups, and all it cost me was teaching the class what I had learned. Since being at Philadelphia Community College, a very ethnically diverse school, this also gave me feedback from many groups I would have had difficulty reaching out to. It’s been a great experience and has made me more confident going forward.
Thanks for the lesson Don Wilson of WilsonsSoap.
3. Your Classmates Should Be Your First Customers
Rather than going out and trying to find the first customer in “the real world,” I focused on trialing my service with the 17 other companies started by my classmates. The first two customers for my business were both classmates. I learned a ton from these two client projects. These lessons allowed us to make a number of changes to our consulting process. These projects also provided case studies and examples of the impact of our consulting service for future client meetings.
The bottom line is that your classmates and the people around you at school make a great place to start selling your product or service. You will learn a lot from these customers, improve your product or service, and do it all in a low-risk environment.
Thanks to Kyle Hawke of Whinot.
4. Age No Bar And Appearances Don’t Matter!
I started my first company, while I was still in college – approx. 10 years ago. As far as appearance goes, I’m not tall and neither am I heavily built. I used to be quite concerned about whether my clients and employees would take me seriously enough given my chocolate boy kind of looks. However, once I got into work, I realized that I was unduly concerned. I knew my stuff and I soon realized that my clients and employees were only concerned about how well I knew what I was doing rather than my looks. My age actually proved to be an advantage and people started admiring me for having achieved so much at such a young age. Today when I look back on the last 10 years, there is not much to regret. My latest venture is Rent A Smile – an online virtual assistant / personal assistant company with which I’m making the benefits of outsourcing available to individuals and very small businesses. It has got me as excited all over again as I was 10 years ago.
Thanks for the lesson Nikunj Mittal of RentASmile.
5. Entrepreneurs Don’t Learn In Classrooms
And we don’t learn well from teachers who’ve never run or built a company. In fact, over the years I’ve heard from countless entrepreneurs who basically tuned out in business courses as soon as they realized their professors had never done anything that was explained in the text book, they were simply pushing theory. I had this exact experience in a 3rd year Management Organizational Behaviour class. The professor was teaching us about interviewing & hiring. I put my hand up, asked if he’d ever interviewed anyone, and when he replied no that he hadn’t, I tuned out, skipped half the remaining classes, took my B grade, and ran. Experience trumps theory every day.
I ran a College Pro Painters franchise for 3 summers where I earned approximately $60,000 in profit. I had 12 full time employees at 21 years old. I ran sales, marketing, advertising, operations, production, hiring, etc. I paid 100% of my own way through University. And at 23 years old I invested the remaining money I had in my first house. Sure glad I didn’t go on to get an MBA, I’d likely be stuck in middle management at some boring company, with a bunch of people who learned theory.
Thanks to Cameron Herold of BackpocketCOO.
6. Culture And Complementary Skills Should Drive Co-founder Selection And Early Hires
When a mutual friend introduced me to what would become my co-founder for Turbo140.com (a social marketplace for offering and finding one-off and part-time jobs), I met a person that a) I could see myself working with for the long-term and b) that would compliment the skills that I bring to the venture. Too many times we simply choose our friends to go into business with and often times they offer neither the right culture or skills fit for the company. Just because you enjoy spending time with people in a personal setting does not mean that person is who you want on the front-lines as you launch and grow your start-up. Additionally, having five developers or three marketing people is not ideal for a founding team. With so much to do in so little time, your selection of co-founder(s) and first hires should compliment your strengths rather than overlap.
Thanks for the lesson Jonathan Hegranes of Turbo140.
7. Always Be Over Prepared!
When I started my business last year, I had trouble getting other business owners to take me seriously. They did not believe a 21 year old could run a business at such a young age. I worked extremely hard to change that perception. I started to over prepare for every meeting, event, or networking function. The more professional I appeared, the more they trusted me.
Thanks for the lesson Chelsea Logan of LuxeInnovations.
8. Distractions Are Everywhere. Success Requires Constant Focus And Commitment
When I started Pricefalls.com I was in my Junior year of college. It was at this point that I acknowledged two facts. First, I realized that it was important to exert a sufficient amount of effort to my studies in order to do well in school. And secondly, building a successful company would not only take a significant amount of time, but also effort. I needed to find a way to stay committed to my studies and to efficiently develop and nurture my business.
In order to stay on top of things, I found it extremely helpful to focus on organization, effective time management, and proper planning. Furthermore, it was critical to use my surroundings and establish relationships with knowledgeable people that were capable of assisting me in my venture. That way I could keep my business growing even when I was putting time into my school work.
Thanks to Elliot Moskow of PriceFalls.
9. Think differently.
This is not just for Apple. In this day, almost anyone can make a business (but it takes a lot to have a successful business!). In my case- Everyone thinks they can be a DJ if they have an iPod and a speaker. So our company was forced to take a different outlook on events, and we transformed our traditional DJ service into a full service entertainment, production and planning company. We took it to another level, and stopped doing corporate events, weddings, and adult parties, and stuck to do just teen events like school dances, sweet sixteens, mitzvahs, ect. Result? Our sales went through the roof and we became the teen event experts. Now when people think teen events, they come to us.
Thanks to Will Curran of Arizona Pro DJs.
10. Juggling School And Business
I have learned that time management is very important in order to balance out school and running a small business. School and a business requires my full attention! When I noticed that I couldn’t be two persons I decided to work on school during the week, then on the weekend. I would focus on brainstorming or working on things that needed to get done for my business. Making time for my priorities helped make me less stressed. Although, I have to deal with some obstacles, I am willing to work hard and follow my dreams because eventually I’ll get some where in life.
Thanks to Cherlene Ceneus of CC’s Closet.
11. It All Starts With Sales. Period.
In college, I ran a student painting franchise and I was scared. I bought a ton of equipment and had no contracts. I knew I could get them, but I didn’t even have painters hired! I told myself I would knock on 20 doors every night until I landed a contract. After that I knew I could get contracts at will. At first, I wore a suit to door knock but people thought I was selling religion! So I wore shorts and a golf shirt and I made a ton of sales. Until I sold deals, I was just a kid with ladders. Once I had contracts, i was a paint contractor. Its still the same today. I only get to do what i love when I’ve sold who I am and what I do.
Thanks to Dominic Rubino of FocalPoint Business Coaching.
12. Real Education Comes Only From Applying Knowledge
Some people will try to impress you with their degrees. Some people will try to give you advice about things they haven’t done or even tried. Beware of that advice. Real education comes only from applying knowledge. You don’t really know something until you are living the result of that knowledge. In business, just “knowing” that “the customer is always right” is one thing. Designing and operating a system that always treats the customer with respect and goes above and beyond for the customer is something entirely different. Entrepreneurship is about taking simple fundamental knowledge and applying it to a business to create value in the marketplace.
Thanks to Tom Corson-Knowles of JuiceTom.
13. It’s All About Marketing
When starting a business in college, you need to think about how you will represent yourself to the rest of the world. Some clients could be put off by the prospect of doing business with a college startup. On the other hand, some clients may be thrilled to do business with a college whiz kid. You need to strike this balance on all of your touch points from your website to client meetings.
Thanks to Alex Moazed from Applico.
14. Relationships, Work Experience And Common Sense = SUCCESS
While school is important to learn the basics of business and fundamental strategies in order to run a company, true knowledge that will help you succeed comes from real life experiences. In order to keep up with the quick expansion of UNCL, I had to make a decision – I chose to take a semester off school in order to focus all of my energy on this clothing line. I received a lot of criticism even though I still plan to continue my education, but for right now the work experience and relationships that I have built thus far since my time off created a larger opportunity in growing the business.
Thanks to Ahmed Mokhtar of UNCL.
15. Social Experience Is The New Resume
I found myself struggling to get taken seriously as a student in the financial industry. I know I cannot get paid for giving certain kinds of financial advice, but there had to be a way to become credible. I did so through social networks, blogging, and forums…the social experience. My experience in my field may not come from working at a financial “institution”, but that hasn’t stopped me from amassing two years of real-work experience. This work has lead me to help college students start their savings accounts, elderly couples figure out retirement strategies, and other entrepreneurs figure out financial strategies in international drop shipping. Starting a financial consulting firm (that does projects for free) didn’t seem like the smartest business choice at first. However, by leveraging cloud technologies my overhead is minimal. My work has grown my knowledge-base significantly. And my resume now boasts more experience in financial planning than the majority of my undergraduate peers.
Thanks to Stephen Alred of Cloud 9 Financial Consulting.
16. An Entrepreneur’s Education Is Unique
Many business students study with the intent of attaining good grades, a diploma, and a good job. This is where the education of an entrepreneur is different. Rather than the paramount focus of one’s education being centered on grades and a diploma, an entrepreneur is concerned with the real-world application of knowledge and the advancement of skill. Just as a first-time skydiver is certain to know where the parachute cord is before jumping out of the airplane, the fear of failure and the solitude of success have caused myself to demand knowledge before applying it. This has no doubt enhanced my education as a student entrepreneur.
Thanks to Sterling Morris of AidVenture.
17. No One Knows What Is Going On
Starting a business in college has helped me realize that no one knows what is going on in the real world. As a college student we are made to believe that ‘professionals’ know everything, but when you are an entrepreneur you deal with ‘professionals’ all the time, and realize that they are just as uncertain about things as you are. Learning this lesson while in college is priceless.
Thanks to Josh Light of CupAd.
18. In The Beginning, Recruit Partners, Not Employees.
When I started my venture, I knew it was important to recruit competent friends to grow the business. I made the mistake of naming them employees, rather than partners. And as a result, they delivered employee kind of work. By naming my friends partners, they were encouraged to take ownership of their tasks and did them passionately. I quickly understood that three smart partners working on a tough start-up problem yield better results than one partner and a few employees.
Thanks to Curtis Webb of CurtisWebbJr.
19. Just Because You’re Stuck Doesn’t Mean You Can’t Keep Going
When you’re waiting for an audience to pick up on your incredibly ingenious idea, it can feel like you’re sitting in front of an endless buffet with no plate. When I first started Today’s Teen Online I had a blank canvas. No writers, no content, no design. I took a deep breath and took each project step-by-step. When I felt like I could do no more–I waited for my audience to come. After a few days, I felt discouraged, sitting around waiting to be successful wasn’t a good plan.
I had to stay productive. Now I know that when you get stuck and feel like nothing is moving–you can’t stop. In fact, the best thing to do is expand. One day you’ll miss those quiet weeks of slow progress. Take advantage of them by using that precious time to move onto the next step in your business plan. Whether that’s marketing, publicity, expanding your staff or moving onto the next project–never stop moving forward.
Thanks to Ilana Jacqueline of TodaysTeenOnline.
20. Have A Life!
It’s very easy to fall prey to the mindset and schedule of working day and night to make your startup, the next big thing and hence it is not a surprise that many college entrepreneurs actually start loosing touch from their fellow students and friends… Make sure you do not end up being the no-life-nerd on the campus; take a break, party, shake hands, make friends… Make sure you make plenty of friends and party as hard as you work on your startup because A. this your time to have fun and make life lasting trusts and relationships and B. your peers would go out and join bigger companies as employees or start their own businesses, in either case you want to be connected to them and be known as a friendly guy, because it’s all about who do you know and who knows you!
Thanks to Devesh Dwivedi from EntrepreneurInMaking.
21. Entrepreneurial Mindset = Big Picture + Execution
The entrepreneurial mindset is an equation. Big picture + Execution = the Entrepreneurial Mindset to succeed in a venture. You can have the ideas, but if you can’t execute on them, the idea can’t grow. If you have the execution but not the big picture, you can easily lose focus on the future of your business. To handle the growth of a business or nonprofit during school, you need to find a way to do both. During the school year, this is really based on how you manage time and priorities. The biggest challenge in starting your first venture while in school–not knowing what you don’t know due to limited experiences or lack of mentors. Network as much as possible and find someone to look up to and learn from–makes the ride so much easier (and fun).
Thanks to Mona Olsen of iMADdu.
22. Tightrope Walking
At Penn State, a good friend and I started the Center for Wilderness Safety, an organization that specializes in wilderness & remote medicine and rescue education. Since we started CWS five years ago, I’ve started to realize why people look at me with big eyes when i tell them that I’m the co-founder and owner of a successful business. Successfully operating in a corporate environment is like an acrobat doing all kinds of elaborate tricks on a high wire. Sure, it’s impressive, but he’s got a safety harness on. Where’s the danger in that?
You have to realize the risks are very different with starting a business of your own. Entrepreneurship is like performing a steady walk across a tightrope between two 40-foot high platforms. It doesn’t have to involve fancy footwork; it can be just moving slowly and steadily along that high wire, strung 40 feet above the ground. What makes the performance impressive is the lack of that reassuring safety net. Remember: do your research before you start your company – and start saving up a lot of pillows and mattresses just in case!
Thanks to Clifton Castleman of Center For Wilderness Safety.
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