From One College Kid to Another
90 percent of startups never see the light of day.
To put it into perspective, only 1 in 10 startups succeed.
One misstep and you could be off the game.
It may sound bizarre but that’s the risk you should be willing to take.
As a business student trying to apply what I’ve learnt in class to a real-life business, I can relate to your desperation. Technically, desperation is not a good feeling to have, but it could be the driving fuel for entrepreneurs — or so I’ve been told.
Here’s a bunch of things I’ve learnt so far and I wish someone had told me sooner. But here we go, from me to you.
01. Stay up to date
College is great, but the course materials? Not so much.
Most of the course materials and reference books are based on outdated information — which is no match for the pace at which the business world is evolving.
If your teachers aren’t teaching you today’s trends, today’s failures, today’s techniques — seek them out on your own. Know the world you’re about to step into. Otherwise what’s the point?
I wasn’t taught about customer personas in class, but my business plan would have been an utter waste without a solid customer profile. That’s only one of the many things I had to learn from scratch, and I couldn’t help but feel a bit lost. I was, after all, reading for a business degree but didn’t know the basics to get a business off the ground.
Here’s a checklist you can use to expand your knowledge.
- Subscribe to a business news website and read it the first thing every morning.
- Take up free online courses, there’s plenty out there — you just need to dig around to unlock a treasure trove of information.
- Talk to successful businessmen you know of, or can find in the vicinity. Your college ID might even act as a free pass to get in touch with them.
- Subscribe to YouTube channels of successful founders, or industry specialists. Some of them have useful nuggets of wisdom to share.
02. Go narrow and deep
Researchers are often encouraged to adopt a diver’s mentality in their research. Unlike swimmers who cover a wider surface, divers go deep within a narrower surface. It’s pretty much the same for a business that’s just starting out.
At the initial stage, focus on no more than five product ranges and direct your energy on perfecting your offer as you go. Narrow down the channel, geography and distribution of your products while spending time learning who your customers are and what more you could do to bring them more value.
03. Build a Team
Jack of all trades is a master of none.
Juggling a college degree with a business is far from easy, especially if you have allotted time for volunteering as well.
You may feel confident enough to handle all business functions all by yourself — don’t listen to your hormones. Instead of spreading yourself too thin and missing out on taking your business to the next level, build a team.
“No matter how brilliant your mind or strategy, if you’re playing a solo game, you’ll always lose out to a team.” — Reid Hoffman
Pool in a skillset by teaming up with your colleagues. Get people on board to cover the functions they might naturally be best at.
That guy who steals the show in college might as well be a good marketer. The girl who’s good at number-crunching could oversee your finance function. Similarly, spend some time finding the right people and set yourself up for success early on.
04. You’re on this Alone
Creating a team doesn’t make this any less true.
You’re on this alone — the sooner you accept it, the less disappointed you would be.
Not everyone in your team would stick with you throughout the journey — and that’s totally okay.
You should be the rock, the anchor for the business. You should be the unshakable place of refuge that sees things through in your business. Having the bandwidth to handle the loneliness of running a business shrouded in uncertainty and partners walking out on you is essential.
Because sadly, businesses aren’t for softies.
05. Find a Mentor
“A mentor is someone who allows you to see the hope inside yourself.” — Oprah Winfrey
Trying to run a business without having someone to look up to is like jumping into a pond without knowing how to swim.
You need a mentor to stay afloat.
By mentor, I don’t mean a professional with an excellent track record who’d obviously be way out of your budget.
A mentor is someone with sufficient industry-specific knowledge, experience in running a business — or just about anyone whom you could turn to when the going gets tough and rely on to keep you sane.
06. Forget Easy
‘Starting a company is like eating glass and staring into the abyss.’ — Elon Musk
Did you know that even Elon Musk at one point had to borrow money from his friends for personal expenses? You might as well be prepared to forget easy.
We are made to believe that founders have it easy. Founders get to ride limousines and Ferraris and sip wine while employees work at their beck and call right?
Nothing could be further from the truth.
No founder who built something from the ground up had it easy. Just read up on startup stories and find inspiration for your own - the internet is full of that.
07. Practice Persistence
Persistence has time and again been the universal recipe practiced by all successful entrepreneurs.
There will be times when everything — exams, assignments, relationships — might feel like they are in the way of your goals. But persist in the face of adversity, and hit your targets regardless.
Always remember the rule of thumb; Learn to sacrifice or you’ll end up sacrificing your startup instead.
You are, after all, born to be persistent. Had you decided to give up every time you fell as a kid, you’d never have known how to walk.