5 Reasons College Is Worth It for Entrepreneurs
Real-world experience vs. book smarts: is college worth the time and expense?
As student loan debt continues to mount, entrepreneurs have come to question the importance of college. Many have said that building their companies were far more educational than school itself.
But college still might be the best option for aspiring entrepreneurs. It turns out that although college is far from emulating the business world, succeeding in school and business have a lot more in common than one might think.
I chatted with five successful entrepreneurs, who collectively shared the five most important skills they honed in their college years that have been critical to their success.
Universities often have a ton of opportunities. Career fairs, club meetings, professional fraternities, campus jobs, guest speaker events and meetups are often unique opportunities for students. Though there's a lot of noise and events that aren't a good use of time, there definitely are opportunities that could be tremendously helpful. So finding the needle in the haystack is essential to finding valuable opportunities in college, and even more important in business.
I discussed this idea with Ryan Harwood, CEO of Gallery Media Group, a subsidiary of VaynerX that was formed after he sold his company, Purewow, to Gary Vaynerchuk. Part of being resourceful, he said, is finding the right people to work with and truly be an asset to them. The right relationship can often lead to workarounds when money is tight. "In the early days, PureWow had no paid marketing dollars to grow audience and email subscriptions," Harwood said. "We would barter exposure with like-minded publications to get in front of the right demographic."
More often than not, entrepreneurs fail. But the reason they do isn't necessarily because of a lack of market fit or disagreement between founders -- it's that they lack persistence in making their vision work.
I spoke with Shark Tank entrepreneur Shaan Patel, who runs Prep Expert, a multi-million-dollar test preparation company backed by Mark Cuban, to get his take on the importance of grit in building companies. Patel told me that being focused was the no. 1 reason he was able to balance Medical School and USC and an MBA from Yale while doing business.
He adds that the ability to focus still helps him today, saying: "I often will work on my business with my phone out of sight and my internet turned off so that I can be completely free from distractions and get incredibly productive work done." Clearly, being focused is a skill school that helps to hone and remains crucial throughout one's entrepreneurial career.
College is rarely a homogenous environment. Students vary in gender, ethnicity, socioeconomic status and many other factors that make schools diverse. This diversity is what makes college a melting pot of ideas, a place where ideas can different yet accepted. Hence, adapting to ideological differences among peers is crucial.
Adam Mendler, CEO of The Veloz Group and USC and UCLA alum, learned this first hand. He told me, "There was not much diversity in my neighborhood or in my junior high or high school. My time in college [at USC] was my first real experience in a diverse setting, and fortunately, I spent a lot of time on group projects working with diverse teams." He added, "In the real world, a lot of people don't look like you, speak like you or think like you, and at every level professionally it is critical to be able to work well with people who are different than you."
Being able to truly consider different ideas in making decisions is crucial in business -- it's often a group effort. School is the perfect place to gain exposure to a wide variety of ideas and leverage them to one's advantage.
4. Strong interpersonal skills
Having excellent interpersonal skills means being clear, concise, and likable. People who have interpersonal skills can often work well with others, regardless of who they are, while still being forthcoming.
I discussed this idea with Michael Lisovetsky, co-founder of JUICE Labs and an NYU Stern School of Business alum. He told me, "College was the ideal environment to hone interpersonal skills and use them as a foundation for relationships moving forward." Being able to communicate and work together with his classmates at school prepared Lisovetsky for working with his company's clients today, who include Paris Hilton, Kenneth Cole, and others.
Clearly, interpersonal skills might be one of the most important skills out there for those wanting to become entrepreneurs, and school helps hone it.
5. Time management
Both in college and in one's career, unstructured time far exceeds structured time. That is, you're rarely given instructions to do specific tasks at specific times of the day. Consequently, it's pivotal to be able to constantly keep the end goal in mind and stay productive even when deliverables are unclear.
To get some more insight, I spoke with Elliot Choy, who runs a highly popular YouTube channel among high school and college-aged students. He has been able to acquire over 140,000 subscribers and over 6 million views from his dorm room while balancing a business degree. He told me, "It really helps to visualize free time throughout my day with a calendar and fill those gaps in with simple tasks that still need time and attention. Breaking down large tasks helps me make small progress during the day whenever I have free time."
Achieving success in business works the same way. As a founder, you often go into the office knowing what needs to get done but without a strict set of rules to follow, and sometimes, nobody to report to on a day-to-day basis. In these cases, being able to manage unstructured time is practically mandatory.
Entrepreneur Editors' Picks
If You Focus on Problems, You'll Only Find More Problems. Here's How to Focus on Solutions.
Apple Asks This Jarring Interview Question as a Secret Way to Evaluate a Candidate