Who wins in College v/s Start-up? Insider Secrets from the College Senior You Deserved But Never Had (Part 3)

April 09, 2023

Part 3 of 3-part series. Discusses the interaction between your college and your start-up. The ups and the downs of being a college founder.

This is part 3 of a 3 part series - Insider Secrets from the College Senior You Deserved But Never Had. In the first 2 parts we discussed in depth what a college experience looks like for an average Indian kid and how college start-ups function. In this part, we'll be focussing on the interaction between your start-up and your college life. This was an emotional rollercoaster for me and I hope you find some perspective into the nuances of an entrepreneurial journey. Find the other parts here:

  1. What is the College Experience?
  2. What's it like to Startup at 19?

Interplay of start-up and the college experience

We've discussed college start-ups and the campus experience individually. The key now is to understand how the two come together into an interesting and almost impossible-to-manage chaos and emotional rollercoaster. This is something that's incredibly close to my heart and is very difficult to express systematically. However, for the sake of my readers, I'll divide the experience into 3 primary sections:

  1. Losing friends
  2. Delayed gratification v/s hero worship
  3. Total and complete chaos

It's not all bad, stay with me through the journey and you'll end up with a real account of what an average college student's entrepreneurial journey looks like.

Losing Friends:

The first section is certainly the most emotional of them all. I incorporated my company in March 2022 (in my 2nd-year 2nd semester) during the final COVID lockdown. Days after the process began, the college opened and things got incredibly hectic all of a sudden. It was the first time I was attending offline college and hence work in the company had slowed down considerably in the first 2 months. We had a prototype ready but didn't have a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) ready. Given the slowdown, it made no sense for us to announce our new venture to the public. Time kept passing and soon my summer vacations arrived - I was interning at the Bombay Stock Exchange for 2 months. I announced the incorporation of Writee on LinkedIn during those 2 months. Given the fact that college was closed, my friends were all in their respective hometowns and we didn't meet each other much during that time. After my internship, when I came back for the new semester, I was taken aback that a tinge of jealousy had crept into their attitude because I had taken a progressive step ahead of them. I was pretty taken aback by this and it took me weeks to figure out what had changed in the equations we previously shared. It made me realise that growing up may not always be sweet, because when we get brushed up with the harsh reality of the world we always start questioning the people who are a part of our lives. It's hard to accept when the people we used to trust and rely on suddenly stand tall against us behind our backs. Through the last year or so, I have been constantly battling my friends, trying to remind them of the times we spent together and how I still am the same person they once used to be friends with. Now, it has dawned upon me that some people will never get back to being true friends with me regardless of how much I try. Jealousy is a powerful emotion and it doesn't mix well with sincere friendship.

Envy, one of the 7 deadly sins, drives this world and we have to accept it as one malignant force and deal with it. The question is how do we deal with it? I really do not have an answer to this question. Every roadblock hurt, but it was the silent disappointment of friends who no longer understood me that was the most painful. I will add that I still have a handful of friends who've stayed by me through it all, no matter what and they are the ones I treasure the most.

I realise that this isn't the most detailed account of a very emotional story and I apologise for it. I haven't evolved enough as a writer yet and will write another article soon describing this in detail.

Delayed gratification v/s hero worship:

The journey of a start-up founder is one of delayed gratification. But what does this mean? Gratification refers to the reward for a job well done. Delayed gratification is when you get the reward for a job you've done well after a prolonged period. When we see this in the context of start-ups, you spend months and years working on your product, business, and brand but the tangible reward (financial or otherwise) from your hard work will only appear months or years down the road. As a founder, you will be working day in and day out in anonymity before someone actually recognises your worth.  This is torturous for anyone in their college.

If you're from a moderately good college in India, you'll almost certainly get internships at a good company and eventually will be placed at a good company. When this happens, pictures of the individual will flood everyone's stories and WhatsApp statuses. All your juniors will go know that XYZ bhaiya or ABC didi got into this dream company. As a founder, until you get funded by a major VC (which is the standard metric for judging start-ups) you get no recognition or social validation. On the other hand, society is almost certainly going to judge you for going against the norm and trying to make something of yourself. It can be very embarrassing, especially early on when you have no money and the project seems to be going nowhere. Being in a college, you are forced to be in a social environment while you work on your start-up and it can be difficult both to stay focused and not to get discouraged.

On a more positive note, if you manage to get even a section of people to somehow believe in what you are doing, you'll be hero-worshipped. Everyone on campus will know what you're doing and will be eager to follow your journey to success. You become a role model for your juniors, batchmates and seniors alike. After we incorporated Writee, 4-5 other teams in college approached me and learnt more about the incorporation process. We now have about 5-6 student teams working on incorporated companies at the same time on campus. This is unprecedented. Jadavpur University has never seen more than 1 team working on a start-up at once. This has been possible primarily because of Writee. Once you see someone you know do something you thought was undoable, the feat suddenly seems achievable. In addition, the team at Writee helps teams across the campus through the legalities, paperwork and procedures which help streamline the process. This has been a huge help to aspiring entrepreneurs and makes their journey to becoming start-up owners smooth.

Being on both ends of the spectrum, I understand how disheartening and demoralising delayed gratification is. I still haven't received the necessary financial gratification from Writee. But, I also realise how I've had a life-changing impact on my university and my peers. Writee was instrumental in setting up and promoting entrepreneurship as a career option for students across campus.

Total and complete chaos:

This is the best way to describe what you're life will be like throughout college. Over the last year, I realised a very important lesson - You'll have all the time in the world to get professional success but ENGINEERING LIFE HAPPENS ONLY ONCE. Engineering as a degree has its own set of flaws but from personal experience, I can assure you that there isn't another degree like it. The benefit of engineering is that once you get in, you don't have to worry about the degree anymore. At the end of the 4 years, you will come with a degree and bear minimum skills to show for it. That's just how the curriculum is built. Through the 4 years at the campus, you'll pick up on experiences that will shape your life. From dealing with folks in the college, making friends, venturing out for extra activities and learning how to approach exams, you will learn a lot that will equip you in the real world. Something as simple as industrial training at major plants in the country can have a profound and lasting impact on the way you look at the world. You build an analytical and unique perspective that is a blend of both the scientific and the artistic. Also, you will have more fun than you can imagine.

It is important to not miss out on this once-in-a-lifetime experience. But, you've incorporated your company. The demands of a startup are strenuous, and it is nothing less than a full-time venture. You have to devote an extraordinary amount of time, effort, and resources to make it successful. This results in, you guessed it right, total and complete chaos.

The key now is to find your balance and figure out how you can make it work without sacrificing either. I'll give you the shorter answer to this conundrum and will then go on to describe how I tackled the situation. The shorter answer is - you will have to sacrifice the little things for the things that matter.

I'll give you an insight into a week in my 3rd year 2nd semester.

That's a week in the life of a college founder and I wouldn't trade it for anything. While I enjoy the process, it can be overwhelming often. I'm constantly looking for the perfect balance between college, company and fun, but there exists none. Every week you choose to sacrifice one of the three for the sake of the other two. It's a delicate balance of time, energy, and attention; and it's necessary to make sure all three feel fulfilled. That's the story of finding balance in life; understanding that opportunities can be fleeting and having the awareness to take advantage of what you have when you have it.

This brings the 3-part series on the journey of a student through college as a founder to an end. There are parts where start-ups seem to be the be-all and end-all of life and then there are parts where it becomes the bane of your existence. It is important to remember that it is neither. It plays a small but essential role in your massive story. I do not have an answer to whether you should start up or not, but I do hope you get a perspective into how this world of unknowns operates. As I mentioned above, this is my story and it's not meant to be a general guideline to anyone else. It's about making an informed and conscious decision for oneself based on what you truly want out of life and how much risk you are willing and able to take. You can reach out to me for anything you may want to discuss - here. All the best!

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