5 Reasons Why College Is The Best Time To Start A Business
High achieving college students have a lot of options for how they spend their time. The average student spends about 15 hours per week in class, which leaves plenty of unstructured time to manage
As often as we seem to read about the stereotypical young dorm room founders like Evan Spiegel of Snapchat, Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, or Susan Gregg Koger of Modcloth, the reality is that the average age of a startup founder tends to be closer to 40 years old. One explanation for this is that older founders are more experienced, and have more of a financial cushion to justify taking bigger risks.
Well, I’d like to make a case for why college is the best possible time to start a company.
1. What you don’t know can help you
Believe it or not, there is a benefit to inexperience. When you don’t know the limitations or rules that exist in most industries, you’re more likely to take risks that others would not, because you don’t perceive them as risks. It’s easier to find creative solutions to problems when you’re not biased by previous experiences.
In fact, you can use your naivete, and your status as a student, to learn about the very markets and customers you’re trying to sell in to, just by asking people for help. Which leads me to my next point.
2. It’s easy to get mentors
Not only are you likely surrounded by many faculty and students who are doing incredible things, you automatically get access to a huge network of alumni. Most schools have an alumni database, but you can also reach out to alumni on LinkedIn by simply asking for advice about a certain topic. You’ll be surprised by how many people will respond.
Students should also feel empowered to reach out to non-alumni professionals in the space they’re interested in learning more about, especially people a few years ahead of them. Many people are happy to give some insight to someone younger than them, and if they’re close enough to your age, they will likely be more empathetic because they will still remember what it was like to be in your shoes.
3. It’s easy to get free stuff
Not only do you automatically get access to free office space, in the form of your library or unused classrooms during nights and weekends, you also get tons of resources all around campus for free that most businesses have to pay for.
Access to clubs that are looking for projects to do in marketing, investing, sales, entrepreneurship etc., and often access to future collaborators or co-founders interested in the same things as you are. Access to events with speakers and other entrepreneurs who could help you. Access to discounts on technology and services for students. Even Amazon Web Services offers free credits for students. And if you can’t find something you need, try emailing some companies and see if they will offer it for your school.
4. It’s easier to get customers
Depending on what you’re selling and who you’re building a solution for, you might already have a big subset of customers available to test demand with right across the hall from you. Many successful startups started selling to fellow students first, before expanding to a broader audience. Household names like Facebook, Snapchat, and Tinder all started off by building a simple piece of technology and asking friends and students in fraternities and sororities to be their early adopters, helping them popularize their apps.
Odds are, if you’ve ever joined any sort of club or student run organization on campus, you have access to an email listserv with dozens, if not hundreds, of people who might be interested in the product or service that you’re trying to provide. Emailing students in various groups is a great way to test your value proposition across different student demographics to find that initial group of customers that will take a chance on your nascent business.
5. If you fail, you can always graduate and get a job
When you get a bit older, the stakes get a bit higher. You might have a mortgage to pay, or a family to support, among other responsibilities. But the risk of starting a company when you’re still in college is quite low. What’s the worst that can happen? It might not work out and you either try something else, or you finish your degree and get a job like you originally planned.
In fact, as a student, having entrepreneurial experience is often the one thing on your short resume that is exciting to employers. Shortly after graduating and deciding to take a job in sales at a growing startup in my home town, I recall that the only thing my future boss asked about was the failed business that I tried starting during my junior year. Employers value entrepreneurial experience because it shows that you have the ability to own a process end to end, and to figure out how to solve problems even when you have minimal information. That type of resourcefulness is attractive to any company.
There are many advantages to starting a company as a college student, but perhaps the most overlooked one is that the sooner you start, the faster you can learn about what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur. Most founders don’t succeed on their first run, so why not get a head start and jump into it as a young adult? After all, it might not be quite as risky as you thought.
Sergei Revzin and Vadim Revzin , CONTRIBUTOR