How Going to State College Prepared Me for Entrepreneurship
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There are many stories of entrepreneurs that start companies in their dorm rooms and then drop out of college to work full-time on the business. These types of stories are exciting and sensational reading.
However, the vast majority of entrepreneurs finish college and even go on to work in their chosen field until the desire to strike out on our own becomes too great -- or the opportunities too irresistible. At least, that is what happened to me.
I grew up in Seattle, so when the time came to choose a college, all I could think about was getting as far away as possible. I wanted to explore and be on my own. My father, however, had different ideas. Although it was on my list of chosen colleges, I was forced to attend University of Washington -- it was the best value (in-state tuition) for the best education (top 25 ranking in U.S. News & World Report).
Perhaps fathers do know best, because those four years were arguably the best of my life. I loved being a part of a huge state school and quickly saw my innate personality traits being honed by the communities I found and the course work put before me.
State colleges are a sink or swim environment. With large class sizes and perpetual limited administrative oversight, no one holds your hand on the road to success. I quickly realized that going to football games or partying were not fun unless they were earned. I learned that much of what I wanted to achieve depended on using my free time productively.
Years later -- as I was spending my days as a hedge fund executive and my nights and weekends as a tech startup founder -- I relied upon these lessons in time management.
Building a network
I joined many student clubs and organizations in college, from Beta Alpha Psi (accounting) and Dow Dawgs Finance Association (finance) to becoming a member of the Undergraduate Business Council and president of the Undergraduate Management Consulting Association.
Through my involvement in these organizations, I gained exposure to a variety of people, personalities and aspects of life that I had never experienced; my horizons expanded and I learned a lot about myself in the process.
As an entrepreneur today, I rely on a vast network of mentors-at-large. At least three days a week, I go to coffee with someone new to exchange ideas and information and to simply hear his or her story. Through these conversations, I get advice and -- much like my communities in college -- the benefit of a new perspective. My network is always expanding and my thinking stays agile; not to mention, the change of environment (getting out of the office) is great for my mental well-being.
Developing a team
When the time came to recruit new talent to Blueprint Registry, I leveraged my network to build the team. The time I spent embedded in the communities at the University of Washington prepared me to evaluate potential new hires. It is not enough to find someone that fits in terms of personality and skillset -- truly successful teams require more. We only hire someone if we will both be better as a result of working together, and if we can accomplish more than either of us would be able to do on our own. We look for partners, not employees.
Like most finance majors, I had a few internships while in college. I spent time working for Merrill Lynch and Smith Barney dealing in private wealth management. Instead of feeding a spark, this experience showed me that private wealth management was not right for me at that point in my career. My internships taught me how to evaluate opportunities and understand my own passions.
It wasn’t long before I had the chance to apply this skill again when I made the decision to leave finance and pursue tech full-time. It was a tough call to make; I loved my job working at a hedge fund, but ultimately decided that my true passion was exploring big ideas, like changing ecommerce.
So, while the “dorm room startup” narrative is a popular one, I firmly believe that without going to college and actually finishing, I would not have the experiences and skills I needed to find success as an entrepreneur. From getting the right advice at the right time to building a team that is greater than the sum of its parts, entrepreneurship is challenging, and college prepared me to overcome those challenges with an open mind and lots of hard work.
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