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Why Bartending and Other Odd Jobs Can Help You Start a Business

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You might have started your first company when you were 14 or you might have spent 25 years at a big corporation and are now considering whether you should startup. Deciding when to become an entrepreneur is different for every person.


Research suggests that the right time to become an entrepreneur, on average, is after you have 10 years of work experience -- ideally, at a well-regarded company. The logic for waiting 10 years is that in this time, you will develop the skills to get a startup off the ground, meet people who can help and identify opportunities.

In my case, I enjoyed some entrepreneurial success when I was in college. I took a summer course at Harvard's architecture school, but the real value I got from Harvard that summer was a Masters' in Mixology (MM) degree.

I'm not kidding. Harvard offered a course that taught students how to mix various drinks. For my final exam, I had to mix a Mai Tai for the instructor.

That fall, I decided I would start a bartending business. Wielding my Harvard MM, I spoke with people sponsoring on-campus parties and offered to buy the alcohol for the parties, take delivery, mix drinks, and return the extras to the liquor stores. Nobody else was doing that and it was lucrative.

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But after college and business school, I followed a more traditional career path and got a job at a consulting firm, hoping to rise up through the ranks to become CEO. While I was able to survive getting a new boss about every 12 to 18 months, I had no clue how I would make my way up the organization. As far as I could tell, there was something called "corporate politics" and I did not know how to navigate it.

When I left corporate America in 1995, I realized that my entrepreneurial activities in college were good practice for starting my company. But without my experience in consulting in corporate America, I might have lacked the skills and self-knowledge to know what to do.

In short, I became an entrepreneur 10 years after I earned my MBA. But maybe what really happened was that I had an entrepreneurial mindset well before then and it took a few more years for me to feel comfortable enough to take the risk of starting a company.

If you have proven to yourself that you can create and seize opportunities, you have the right mindset, regardless of where you are in life. Depending on your skills and interests, it might take schooling and 10 years of experience to get to the point where you're ready to take the entrepreneurial plunge. Or you might be ready right now.


Peter S. Cohan

Written By

Peter Cohan is president of Peter S. Cohan & Associates, a management consulting and venture capital firm. He is the author of Hungry Start-up Strategy (Berrett-Koehler, 2012) and a full-time visiting lecturer in strategy at Babson College in Wellesley, Mass.