Great ideas can take root at any age, including your college years. Perhaps your role in an on-campus activity inspired you to create an events management firm, or your experience as an intramural sports captain encouraged you to pursue an idea for a health club.
When I began Varsity Tutors, I was a junior at Washington University in Saint Louis. Like other college-age entrepreneurs, I was learning as I went along—both in and out of the classroom. Deciding to start my business in college led me to a path that, although not always easy, has taught me many important lessons. Here are four insights gleaned from my collegiate years:
1. Numerous campus resources can help you in this journey
From career counselors, to professors, to visiting industry professionals, your college campus is a hub for experts from a wide variety of fields. Network whenever you can and actively seek advice. Academic and extracurricular experiences can provide fantastic resources, too. If your school offers entrepreneurship courses, an on-campus incubator, or startup competitions, consider participating. Many universities with business schools hold “elevator pitch” contests or full-blown startup competitions with cash awards.
Moreover, your peers can help you tremendously. You can recruit team members for your startup from your college’s student body and test product ideas on your classmates. What’s popular with your demographic? What’s not? Your campus can be the perfect place to search for answers to these questions. With so many people concentrated in one geographic area, there is a density of perspectives and ideas that is not always easily found elsewhere.
2. It’s easier to start something when you have fewer commitments…
The most difficult part of starting a business is often the simple act of kicking it off. As time-consuming as college can be, life after graduation can be even more demanding.
Your years in college can provide you with just enough free time to pursue extra interests. Once you set your startup in motion, you can continue to grow your business after college—even with a 9:00-5:00 job on your plate. Capitalize on the relative freedoms that you likely have as a college student (e.g., no full-time employment, no family to support, etc.) and launch your company now.
3. …But it still isn’t easy
Founding a startup is not simple, regardless of when you choose to begin your business. Building a successful company is the product of accumulated hard work. Even though you may be a college student, your clients will be concerned about the products or services you promised to provide, not your exam schedule or homework load. Great college-age entrepreneurs must rely on their time management skills to balance the growth of their startups with the necessary progress toward earning their degrees.
You might find it helpful to decide in advance what you can and cannot deliver. Chances are you have less time to devote to certain projects than someone who is running a business full-time. Try to under-promise and over-deliver, rather than the opposite. Identify what your constraints are to help you decide which projects to pursue and which to decline.
4. Managing your team will be a challenge now and later
Your startup will more than likely involve multiple people. They might be college students with the same academic and extracurricular obligations as you, or they might be working professionals. Every team member you hire—both now and when your business becomes a full-time occupation—will have unique interests and agendas. As a CEO, you will have to motivate your staff to work toward a common goal. Gaining this organizational and management experience during college, instead of later, can be beneficial to the continued growth of your startup. Develop your leadership skills through the experiences you gain while working with others in your classes and extracurricular activities.
The experience, knowledge, and skills you develop while in college can greatly strengthen your business expertise. Find the lessons to be learned in each activity you participate in and each position you hold, and remember that the “tools” you master here can benefit any company in the future—including your own.
Chuck Cohn is the CEO and founder of Varsity Tutors, a technology platform for private academic tutoring and test prep designed to help students at all levels of education achieve academic excellence.
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