10 Essential Startup Lessons That You May Not Have Learned in College
Grow Your Business, Not Your Inbox
This year you may have attended a graduation party or two or even have recently had one of your own. Earning a degree is something that should be celebrated. But unless you are looking for certain technical skills, college is not always the best place for entrepreneurs.
That’s not to say that you shouldn’t attend college. It may even be a great place to start a business. It's just that educational institutions aren’t known for teaching essential startup techniques.
In an attempt to fill the gap, here are 10 startup lessons that I never learned in college:
1. Deal with failure.
An inevitable part of the startup experience is tasting failure. Almost all successful entrepreneurs have failed at one point or other. It’s a learning process that can help you make your next venture a success.
But you won’t learn about this in college. After all, colleges want you to succeed. They want you to graduate and become an esteemed alumni who donates money.
Colleges don’t prepare you for failing a class or not landing a job after graduating. They don’t prep you for failure. Truth is, it’s not the end of the world. This is something that you will have to discover and cope with when joining the startup world.
2. Raise money.
Relatively speaking, raising money for college is a cinch compared with funding a new business. While some people rely on parental support, others pursue loans and grants.
But raising money for a startup is infinitely more complex in its paperwork. Investors and banks expect you to present a detailed business plan that describes how a product works and how it will eventually make them a little something extra.
You may have to negotiate with investors and banks if they don’t at first understand your vision (another skill that you may not have acquired in college).
In college you probably did not handle considerable sums of money. You lived off student loans, a part-time job or credit cards -- not taxes, payroll, business expenses or office rent. If you had extra cash, you savored it, even if that meant living off Ramen Noodles for the next two weeks. You really did not have to budget your money.
Just try to do that with a startup.
Being able to understand a profit-and-loss statement or balance sheet is vital. You will have to be able to budget expenses for the next six months, a year or longer -- skills you may not have picked up in a college lecture hall.
4. Pivot if necessary.
College students often change majors and transfer to another school. That's not something widely advertised. But, in fact, 61 percent of students switch their major by the close of sophomore year at the University of Florida, according to The New York Times. And pivoting is something that startups are becoming familiar with.
5. Think outside of the box.
Often in school, there’s a right and wrong answer. But in the startup world, ambiguity rules.
“If you are not prepared to be wrong, you will never come up with anything original," author and educator Ken Robinson declared in a TED talk, “Schools Kill Creativity,” which has been viewed almost 27 million times.
6. Build the right network.
Connecting with people in college is not the same as engaging with people in the real world. A drinking buddy or roommate who may have been so crucial to you in college won't matter so much as you try to get a startup off the ground.
No matter how tempting it may be to hire friends, they may not be right for your startup. If you majored in business, though, how often do you cross paths with an awesome programmer? Probably never.
When running a startup, be ready and willing to reach out and engage with the right people, instead of just relying on those who are there. With the right network of people, the possibilities are endless.
7. Become a salesperson.
If you want your startup to succeed, then you must sell. You’re going to have to market the company's product to employees, investors and clients. But did you ever take a "Salesperson 101" course in college?
Being a top-notch salesperson isn’t hardly something that can be taught in a classroom. It’s a skill that must be refined over time through experience and that entails being able to read people well enough to get them hooked on your company's mission.
8. Mind your health.
Although your college's cafeteria may have stocked nutritious food and included gyms and wellness seminars, your health may not have been a focal point back then. Instead, staying out all night and then skipping class was fine occasionally.
But at a startup, you and your employees will put a lot of hours and hard work. You just can’t call in sick because you have the sniffles.
Since every day at your startup matters, take note that the Centers for Disease Control has found that overall healthy employees are more productive and call in sick less often.
9. Become a boss.
Some people are natural-born leaders. Others become great leaders in college, like that star quarterback. And still others take business classes that cover all sorts of theories for how to make a better businessperson. But being a boss -- that is, actually managing employees -- is something else entirely.
While great bosses may also be great leaders, not all leaders make great bosses. When that quarterback leaves college, could he look the father of five directly in the eyes and fire him?
Being a great boss means that you should be able to guide, inspire and even make tough decisions. There isn’t a class for that. It’s just another skill you’ll have to learn in the real world.
10. Manage your time.
In college, because of the abundant stretches of free time, you could enjoy leisure time and also make up for any goofing off.
That won’t happen at a startup.
There is no free time. You’re going to be working essentially 24/7, no matter how tired you may be. So while your friends are enjoying happy hour, don’t become upset about finishing up a business plan, doing research or having a late-night meeting with employees. That’s just the nature of the beast.
What startup lessons did you not learn in college?