5 Questions to Consider When Making the College vs Startup Decision

5 Questions to Consider When Making the College vs Startup Decision

School vs Job vs Startup

Not long ago Gwen (my spouse), Joshua (our teen entrepreneur) and I went through the process of deciding whether Joshua would attend college right out of high school or run his angel funded tech company full time.  It was not an easy decision at the time and the conversation continues.  I wrote about this in an earlier post.   We get quite a few questions on this so I thought it might be beneficial for both parents and teens if I walked you through the process and the key questions our family considered.

Let me set the stage for this commentary with some background.  Joshua’s company was selected as one of three finalists in the ARK Challenge business accelerator when he was a junior in high school and acquired $150k in angel funding as a result.  This was great but the company would need more funding to be successful so it was only the beginning.   Gwen was pretty strong in her opinion that Joshua should go to college.  Less risk and he’ll need the degree to get a job someday.  I had come around to thinking that college was still a good idea but didn’t have to happen in the traditional time frame given his current business opportunity.  Joshua placed a high value on his Catholic High education but was far more interested in product design and development than tolerating what he thought was an inefficient higher education system where he would get very little of the practical experience he needed.

  1. IF HE DOESN’T GO TO COLLEGE RIGHT AWAY, CAN HE MAKE IT ON HIS OWN?  In Joshua’s case, we had little doubt about this one.  He’d been making his own money since he was 13 by hacking the iphones of his class mates (a practice Gwen and I stopped when we found out), repairing smart phones and computers, and editing pictures and videos.  He never asked for an allowance.
  2. BEYOND SURVIVAL, DID JOSHUA HAVE THE SKILLS, KNOWLEDGE AND MINDSET TO LAUNCH A SELF-DIRECTED CAREER?  No!  He still had so much to learn about technology, project management, dealing with people, and a whole host of soft skills that come only from experience.  Yet, he had a burning passion for the work and a drive to succeed.  We had little doubt that, while it would be a struggle at times, he would figure it out.
  3. WERE THERE COLLEGES AND UNIVERSITIES WITH MAJORS THAT FIT HIS BROAD INTEREST IN TECHNOLOGY AND ENTREPRENEURSHIP?   Yes, some, at least on paper.  The number of universities offering entrepreneurship programs has exploded right along with the public’s interest in technology, high profile entrepreneurs and the new found cool factor in being a geek.  What we found in our research was that very few of these programs incorporated real world experience with academics and even fewer had a culture where science, engineering, design and business were truly integrated.  As much as they touted that students and professors in various colleges did joint projects, the typical silos still existed.
  4. WAS IT IMPORTANT TO ATTEND A COLLEGE IN AN ENTREPRENEURIAL CITY?  Absolutely!  Because I am somewhat familiar with entrepreneurial cities around the country and the resources they offer, I knew it was important that the school be located in one of these cities.  Even if the academic program proved to be less experiential than anticipated, access to the entrepreneurial community would provide access to talent, opportunity and experience.  Our research of colleges focused on highly ranked programs of study where science, engineering, design and entrepreneurship were highly integrated in schools located highly ranked entrepreneurial cites.
  5. WHILE STILL IN HIGH SCHOOL, WAS BUSINESS OR GOOD GRADES FOR COLLEGE THE TOP PRIORITY?  This was a tough one for us.  There was a constant balancing act between spending time on the startup and studying.  Catholic High was demanding and Joshua took great pride in doing well there.  We felt our role as parents was to help Joshua learn how to make these decisions on a case by case basis, with the help of some basic guiding principles, so that he could learn the skill of prioritizing multiple things that all seemed important.  Thus, school was not always the top priority and we accepted lower grades and test scores that we knew might keep Joshua from being accepted into certain universities or hurt his qualification for scholarships.

So what did we decide?  In our case, Joshua’s passion and drive to pursue building his own tech startup was very strong and the opportunity, including a $150k initial investment, was too great to pass up.  College can wait for now.  As I stated earlier, this is a bit of an ongoing decision since Joshua has not abandoned the option of going to college. When and if he does go, one thing is for certain.  He will do it on his own terms in a program that allows him to customize his educational experience to focus on the applied knowledge and skills he needs to make him a better entrepreneur and leader.

THE TAKEAWAY:  This was, and still is, a challenging situation for us all.  Like most tough decisions, you have to ask yourself the hard, penetrating questions and not be afraid of the honest answer.  Having some guiding principles to help you decide and keep you on track are important.  Parents and teen entrepreneurs must honestly assess each path and the preparation, passion and skill it will take to be successful with each one.  As with most situations in life and business, if you don’t manage them, they will manage you.

Think the Typical Entrepreneur is Young, Single, Geeky and Highly Educated?  Think Again  {INFORGRAPHIC}

Think the Typical Entrepreneur is Young, Single, Geeky and Highly Educated? Think Again {INFORGRAPHIC}

Signs of Entrepreneurship

If you get most of your news from social media and MTV, you might think that entrepreneurs are the new black – cool, sexy, hip.  Much of the attention goes to graduate students from Stanford or MIT who have just received a gazillion dollars from multiple venture capital firms to fund their new tech startup.  The reality is that most entrepreneurs are around 40 years old, married, children, they may or may not be a tech geek although they certainly see the world differently, and they have a bachelor’s degree from a college or university you likely aren’t familiar with. This inforgraphic was originally published on http://startupbros.com/infographic-successful-entrepreneur-facts-stats/

Does The 10,000 Hours Rule Apply To Entrepreneurship?

Does The 10,000 Hours Rule Apply To Entrepreneurship?

Signs of Entrepreneurship

In his book “Outliers”, author Malcolm Gladwell focuses on external factors that pave the path to success.  Along with these external factors he also suggests that it takes approximately 10,000 hours to “master” a skill or set of skills.  He cites a variety of examples in sports, music and business to support his theory.  I believe this theory also applies to entrepreneurial success.

10,000 hours.  That’s approximately 15 hours per week, every week for thirteen years.  Most well-known athletes started playing their sport from five to ten years of age, and with lots of practice and good coaching, reach the “master” level in their late teens and mid 20’s, just as they are beginning their pro career or making an Olympic team.  The data tells us that most entrepreneurs are around 40 years of age when they start their first company.

Most people begin their entrepreneurial training in college with the exposure to business courses, some cool technology, or other experiences that get them thinking entrepreneurially.  It takes another 15-20 years of education and work experience to develop the vast skill set, relationships, connections, maturity, risk tolerance, and confidence for entrepreneurs to start their own company.

If it really takes 15 years or more to hone the skills needed for entrepreneurial success, then parents and educators should make a more purposeful effort to identify potential entrepreneurial talent early.  Once identified, young would-be entrepreneurs should be exposed to opportunities and surrounded with the resources they need to “master” the broad array of skills, and prepare them for the startup life by the time they are in their mid to late 20’s.  This also coincides with scientific data regarding brain development and more mature thinking.

Joshua, our young entrepreneur, is well on his way down this path.  Once we realized he was displaying entrepreneurial traits at around age thirteen, we became more intentional about nurturing his passion and gifts with opportunities for business education, programs, contacts, and experiential learning.  He was doing this on his own before we finally realized his entrepreneurial traits and he has continued to educate himself and gain experience.  Despite having been at this for six years now, I suspect he will be in his mid 20’s before he has attained the skills and experience that will significantly increase his odds of success in the startup life.  He is on a faster track than most at his age because he is not in college at this point and fully focused on his business endeavors.   Fifteen years may seem like a long time to a teenager, but it is still a decade or two earlier than most first time business owners feel confident enough to go out on their own.

Although Joshua is on his own now, we continue to enjoy watching him grow in knowledge and experience and do all we can to help and support him, along with the network of mentors, advisors and supporters he has developed on his own.  When he hits his mid 20’s, look out!

THE TAKEAWAY:  While there are exceptions, the 10,000 hour theory seems to apply to young entrepreneurs.  There are simply too many examples in comparable areas of mastery to ignore it. Young entrepreneurs – this is much more challenging than you probably thought it was at first.  So what!  If that’s all it takes for you to give up, you weren’t going to make it anyway.  If you have the drive, passion and willingness to do what it takes to build on your gifts and develop the necessary skills, mentors, advisors and supporters, you can live the startup life.  For those of you who take up the challenge, “Welcome to the Community”.