What's it like to Startup at 19: Insider Secrets from the College Senior You Deserved But Never Had (Part 2)

April 06, 2023

Part 2 of 3-part series. While entrepreneurship is glorified in our society, it's not all roses. There are a lot of sacrifices to be made to attain success.

As TV shows like Shark Tank India and large-scale venture capital investments become more prevalent, the growing entrepreneurial culture is pushing college students to pursue their startups. There is a fine difference between a start-up and a college start-up. The difference lies in the sacrifices and necessities you face as the founder. If you chose to pursue your own venture while in college, you have the advantage of not having anyone dependent on you but you risk losing out on "The College Experience". The answer to this conundrum is more nuanced than any pros and cons list and requires deep introspection. This is part 2 of a 3 part series - Insider Secrets from the College Senior You Deserved But Never Had. Find the other parts here:

  1. What is the College Experience?
  2. Who wins in College v/s Start-up?

What is a College Start-up?

A college start-up is like all other start-ups, except it is a venture created and run by college students. How does that change anything? Starting a company as a college student means that there are a few advantages and disadvantages that come with the job. The advantages can include having access to resources like mentors and professors, networking with fellow students, free workspace at the college, and being able to build a company while still getting a degree. On the other hand, the disadvantages can include not having enough resources or start-up capital and the difficulty of balancing studies and running a business. These are all obvious things which anyone with a knack for thinking can figure out. The question to be answered is what are the advantages and disadvantages from the perspective of a real 20-something-year-old student who is traversing a massive maze which experienced individuals fail at. Like with the college experience section, I'll pick up some common themes faced by most student founders and detail my perspectives.

Experiment with entrepreneurship before starting your career:

The biggest risk an entrepreneur takes is getting tagged as one. Startups in the early stages are barely humane enough to stay afloat mentally, let alone glamorous. As an early-stage founder, you lack every possible entity required for success:

  1. Money (Funds for product development and growth)
  2. Experience (To chart out the correct course of action for a new company)
  3. Connections (To help get the first set of users, employees and investors)
  4. Others (The necessary resources required to survive in the market)

The task at hand then is to go against the norm, against the market and against yourself to design a winning roadmap. The saddest part here is that almost everyone who tries this fails. People with experience and wealth unimaginable at their disposal also fail when they are met with Mr Market's cold and hard punches. So, as a student in your 20s, you enter a battlefield with the odds stacked against you and yet this is not the biggest risk you undertake. The biggest risk is that if you fail, you will always have the tag of an entrepreneur (failed) with you.

The tag of an entrepreneur is difficult to live with and requires nerves of steel to face people who judge you and your decisions. The benefit of being a college student is that apart from the employment issue, almost everyone will underestimate you and consider you a child playing at his/ her fancies. While I understand how hurtful being underestimated and considered a child is, it is the superpower that allows you to fail and fail as miserably as possible. Whatever happens to the company won't be your fault in the eyes of the world. You are a child finding your path. It is important to use this superpower to experiment freely without fear.

With entrepreneurship becoming a buzzword, a lot of people are choosing an incredibly frustrating and lonely career path even though that isn't something that makes them happy. As a student, you have no dependents, no expectations to meet financially and no pressure to perform. It is essential to use this opportunity to find what excites you in college itself. Experimenting with entrepreneurship this early in your career and life helps cement some major life decisions. I learn through my time with my company that I love building companies and products. I love the thrill of creating something that people use to help ease their lives. I love to use the products I build. About a year back, I was considering becoming a data scientist, and now it's a career choice I cannot even imagine for myself. A year back, I hated the idea of being a consultant and preferred something in finance better, but I now believe advising different companies is more my thing than randomly creating financial models. You get to know yourself and the world better after a serious taste of entrepreneurship. If you do it right, you develop a sense of empathy towards people with little risk to your career. You can always shut down the firm and take a job on campus if things don't go according to plan!

Learn more skills faster:

It is a running joke that early-stage founders are the Chief Everything Officers of their organisations. This means learning skills faster than anyone else in order to stay afloat. As an entrepreneur, you are responsible for every aspect of your business and must quickly pick up the necessary skills to succeed. Before I started up, I knew the basics of web development, I knew some bit of designing and had done a small course on financial accounting. A year since starting-up, I know the following:

  1. Accounting: Managing the finances & preparing GST and IT Returns (financial accounting + 1)
  2. UI/UX Design: I always hated designing. I found it to be a tedious/ uninspiring job, but when you make a full-fledged SaaS application you must intricately plan out the entire user interface.
  3. Development: From planning out the Database Schemas to developing the front end to designing the flow of the entire product, I understand the nuances of product architecture a lot more now.
  4. HR: Interviewed 50+ people, sent out 14 offer letters, got them to sign NDAs, and handled people resigning. For somebody with 0 legal & HR experience, I managed decently
  5. Sales & Marketing: I learnt all about Search Engine Optimisation, marketing channels, sales channels and how to create a symphony of all those channels to drive revenue.

The biggest skill of them all was managing people. The greatest challenge any leader faces is managing the priorities, biases and ambitions of your team, and getting them all on board to build a successful venture. People often forget that you must manage your co-founders too. They are your team too and they are the most difficult to manage because it's their company as much as it is yours. Having done the job right, you come out of an entrepreneurial venture a much more well-rounded and extremely skilled individual that has the capability to create real change in the world around.

Earn big bucks:

It is no secret that founders stand the chance to get exponential returns on the effort they put in. Not only can they create a stream of monthly income, but they can also potentially create generational wealth if their businesses soar above the clouds. An acquisition/ sale of assets is always an option if things don't go as planned. Thanks to multiple online platforms, selling businesses has never been easier. You can read up on how to boost your valuations in case you choose to go the valuation route here.

Earning wealth enough to secure your life before even officially entering your professional career gives you the safety net to do what you enjoy in life. You have the freedom to choose careers, locations and companies which excite you. That's a freedom people in their 40s are still waiting to get.

This brings us to the end of part 2 of a 3 part series - Insider Secrets from the College Senior You Deserved But Never Had. In the next part, we discuss how college and your company interact with each other to form an explosive mixture. Check it out here!

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