Running a startup in college

Why Age Doesn’t Matter in 2019

In the age of entrepreneurism, you cannot be too young to start a business. This fact has been given headlines due to business titans like Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Michael Dell of Dell Computers having started these businesses from their dorms. Many argue against young entrepreneurism as a concept with the counterpoint focusing on the sentiment that experience is king, but the amount of tools available to the creative and business minded can compensate for virtually any deficit in experience–that is, if you know where to look.

In fact, research indicates that the reason entrepreneurs and their businesses fail is due almost entirely to business dynamics and market trends that have very little to do with the entrepreneur’s personal characteristics. CB Insights analyzed 101 business failures to compile 10 of the top reasons why entrepreneurs fail. The reasons for failure span from a lack of need within the market (42%) to running out of cash (29%) to poor marketing (14%). None of these failure-catalysts, however, show any direct link to age or life experience.

In reality, the primary factor that is limiting many of the young would-be-entrepreneurs is the perception that their education is fundamentally at odds with their entrepreneurial pursuits. I have seen this dynamic play out in my personal life, through the decisions and career trajectories of my friends, many of whom had great business ideas and the tools to make them a reality but chose instead to commit fully to their education. Unfortunately they did not realize these paths are not mutually exclusive.

Having started my first business at the age of 23, while pursuing my master’s in research psychology and holding two jobs, I have experienced for myself the trials of launching an entrepreneurial career amidst a demanding education. This guide will give you everything you need to know to balance your startup and your education.

Young entrepreneur working hard to achieve success

Step 1: Draw Your Line in the Sand

While balancing your education and your entrepreneurial pursuits can be managed successfully, it is a titanic task and can be made very intimidating by exacerbating circumstances. Thus you have to decide from the outset what you are willing to sacrifice, because you will definitely have to make some. School typically takes up a lot of time and energy, and starting a business can realistically absorb every other drop of spare time. So before you start anything else, decide how much time and energy you can devote to your entrepreneur life, and commit to it. Not giving yourself enough runway is a detriment to any business pursuit, and is a commonly reported component of failure.

Step 2: Have Realistic Expectations

According to the Small Business Administration (SBA) Office of Advocacy’s 2018 Frequently Asked Questions, about 80% of small businesses survive the first year. Encouraging right? Well, unfortunately that stats only get apocalyptic from here. Only about half of business survive the five-year mark, and beyond that only about 1 in 3 businesses will live to see their 10th birthday.

It’s not all doom and gloom though. In an industry defined by pervasive failure rates, the act of failing becomes a stepping stone to success. In Nuray Atsan’s paper study entitled, “Failure Experiences of Entrepreneurs: Causes and Learning Outcomes,” failure is explored as a potentially necessary step for evolving as an entrepreneur, and so it is definitely not something to be feared.

Mentoring college students who started a business

Step 3: Combine Your Business and Your Education

Probably the single most important thing you can take away from this guide is the necessity of viewing your business and school as a single endeavor. The goal here is to translate as much of your schoolwork into work for your business as possible. Obviously there will be a need for well-mannered discretion here, but if done correctly this will catapult you forward in your endeavors while also removing much of the complications associated with starting a business in school.

If you have a research paper to write, see if there’s an opportunity to write it about something you needed to research for your business. Don’t be duplicitous about this; setup a meeting with your teachers or professors and let them know what you’re doing. Take this as a first opportunity to convince an authority of your project’s value, and ask he or she has any ideas on how to create a symbiotic relationship between your classes, assignments, and your entrepreneurial pursuits. You may be surprised to find yourself making an early and crucial ally.

Step 4: Use the Right Tools

It’s 2019. There are literally millions of tools and resources that can directly and indirectly guide you on your path as an entrepreneur. Even if you are a ‘once in a generation visionary’ who is setting out to do what no one has done before, you will inevitably build on what came before–and there are countless tools with which to build. To choose the correct tool, however, you do have to fully understand what is needed in the first place.

So the first thing to nail home here is this: do your research. Put yourself in whatever mindset is necessary for your to value knowing every little detail of not just your craft, but also those related to it. For instance, in an age defined by the world wide web, knowing how to build a website can only be a good thing, and depending on your project, it might just be a godsend.

Even if you decide to deliberate the backend work, you will still want to know what the relevant information is to consider in choosing and building your website. For instance, even if someone builds everything for you, the day will probably come when you have to edit or fix something on the website yourself–at which point having chosen a beginner-friendly hosting service will probably be saving your life. I used this blog to decide what best suited my needs.

An entrepreneur has to be ready for anything, and so the tools you make available to yourself should exemplify this truth. Here is a list of 15 free tools that every entrepreneur should use, and it’s a great place to get started. The final point here is that small businesses have a sort of advantage in their size and location. That is, by being smaller and locally centralized, they are able to create bonds with local communities. Some of the best resources you will have as a small business entrepreneur will be your state’s business services facilities.

If you’re lucky you might have a small business development center in your city. If not, it will be worth the trip to make an appointment and make connections. Many of these centers offer free mentorships, training seminars, and other infinitely helpful resources. Another gold mine of support can be found in your area’s local startup incubators and related communities. Many of these companies operate under state-given grants that facilitate community outreach and also often lead to classes, coaching, or other means of support that are open to the public.

Studentpreneur Working hard

Step 5: Master the Clock

The last step of this guide focuses on one simple truth. Time is money. And this age-old axiom is truer by several orders of magnitude for entrepreneurs than for those in other careers. To succeed as a student and as an entrepreneur you will have to master your habits within the 24 hours you have available to you each day. While school and degree program schedules are rigid and unforgiving, you can design the schedule of your business to maximize your efficiency and decrease burnout.

Forbes has an excellent article that breaks down how the world’s most successful people make their schedules and stick to them. These are three of the best takeaways:

  1. Live on auto-pilot: The goal of your schedule-making is put yourself into a rhythm where both your creative and physical energies can thrive. This means removing as many micro-decisions from your hour-to-hour day as possible, so that the brain power you would have spent on them can instead be directed towards the more pressing tasks at hand.
  2. Prioritize values: This point is inline with the first step in the guide, drawing your line in the sand. Successful people are successful because they stick to their values. In other words, they successfully maintain whatever is important to them–be it health, productivity, or something else. The subtext here is that to successfully navigate these decisions you will also have to know yourself in order to know what is truly important to you.
  3. Delayed gratification: This point is simple. You will have to deal with a very hard and trying phase in your life while you balance your education and a startup. When it gets hard just remember the words of the wise men and women who came before you, “It’s worth it in the end.”