In the two previous parts of this series, I wrote about why your college years are the best time to start a business, as well as responded to some common concerns about entrepreneurship. In this article, I’ll discuss how to become a student entrepreneur and what to do once you reach that goal.
The first step a student can do is to meet as many professionals and experienced entrepreneurs as possible. To answer the question "how do you start anyway?" you must actually go and find out. The internet is a valuable resource, but nothing beats networking with people. Go to as many professional and speaker events, and make sure you establish a personal relationship between these people. Get their business cards and contact information and email them. Make follow-up calls too if you don’t get a reply. The important thing is to be recognized as a young entrepreneurial person so they will share you the relevant experience they have. Sometimes they will even notify you of new business opportunities. Knowing who to ask for help and advice can open all kinds of doors for you, including finding funding from venture capitalists, angel investors, or private investors.
2. Intern in a small company
Despite popular thinking, I feel that if an entrepreneurial student were finding an internship, a small startup firm is so much more desirable than large companies. True, large companies look good on your résumé, but you don’t really learn a whole lot from internships that make you do data-entry and cold calling work, at least not for starting your own company. Working in startups though, will let you see the whole picture of the operations of the company, and when you have questions, the first person you talk to might be the Marketing VP, CFO, or even the CEO. Vast amounts of knowledge can be obtained through interning at smaller firms. This is one of the small risks one takes as an entrepreneur.
3. Find a mentor
Very similar to networking, but in this case it is directly a mentor-apprentice relation. As previously mentioned, professionals see students as the leaders of the future, and so they are often more willing to help them out. Since in business there are infinite possible problems that can happen, having a mentor to guide you through the pitfalls in starting and running a business can save you a great amount of money and time compared to choosing the trial-and-error method on your own.
4. Take initiative. Be persistent. Be confident.
I think these are the most important things in the business world. Even if you are incredibly intelligent, if you don’t have strong execution abilities, nothing will get done. Taking initiative means changing your thoughts into reality. If you think an idea is good, take action and do some research. If you think you should talk to someone, just go on and do it. Showing persistence means not giving up easily. I have learned that almost anything can be obtained through persistence, through never giving up. There are many doors in life that open for those who walk the extra mile.
5. Use your time wisely
As mentioned previously, college is the time where you can have a lot of control of your own time. It also means that you can waste it or use it wisely. Every moment should be used to be productive and create value. Time is too valuable to kill. Think of it this way. For the game addicts out there, if you were playing a RPG (Role Playing Game), you wouldn’t stay in town and be idle and just walk back and forth, back and forth right? Of course not, you’ll be outside killing monsters, getting experience, learning new skills, and getting better gear. So if you were your own RPG character, why would you be idle and let other people level up? Time is one of the only things you can’t accumulate more of through life, even if you become a millionaire or billionaire, so use it wisely. Make friends but don’t party too much and play fewer games that won’t help develop your future goals.
6. Observe. Understand people. Look for problems and opportunities
Entrepreneurs are people who recognize problems and find solutions. When you go through your daily life, observe your surroundings. Is there something that can be better? You should understand the needs of people, how people think and feel. After all, business involves dealing with people, whether they are your clients, suppliers or employees. Knowing what they want will definitely help you in all aspects of life.
7. Read business related material
There are a lot of great books on business, society, trends and such. Depending on your major, your classes might not be teaching what you want to do with your life. You need to find your own way to increase in business sophistication. From understanding marketing, managing a team, finances, strategies to overall trends in society, reading business related material can help students who lack real business experiences understand the how-to in developing a business. Also, there are many great business Podcasts out there that students can listen when completing other tasks. It is a great way to make better use of time and become more productive. Reading materials like Young Money magazine is a good start.
8. Study efficiently. Pay attention in class.
So the big question about being a student entrepreneur for most people, besides how do you start, is how do you balance school and work? First of all, I would like to say that GPA is possibly not crucial in being an entrepreneur. Many of the best businesses were started by people who didn’t even have a college degree. However, it is always nice to have a degree, and a high GPA never hurts, especially when it’s what your parents only care about. The key is to study efficiently. The key to studying efficiently is to pay attention in class. Assume you are studying for the test, such as the SAT, and you have a tutor. It also happens that this tutor wrote the test him/herself. He might give you a lot of reading material that other people wrote, such as 5,000 SAT words and such, but when he actively tells you "Oh, and know this and this, and these 100 words," you might want to do that.
Listening in class is "almost" like cheating, as you will know what the professor likes to focus on. When you follow what a professor says in class, those lessons will "marinate" in your brain so when you are actually studying for the exam (for me it is always an all-nighter before the test) everything will look familiar. You’ll only need to memorize some key facts, dates or equations. For some majors, you need to train your muscle memories and it takes longer, but the point is to identify that quickly and focus on it. Finding the optimal point between time spent studying and the resulting grade yield is of utmost importance for a student entrepreneur.
9. Have a flexible mentality. Attitude is everything.
The last piece of advice I would give you is to simply be a master of your mind and, as a result, your body. Think positively, take initiative and have a good attitude. There will always be a lot of obstacles in life, and it is our job to overcome them. For everything you do, have high hopes, try your hardest, and simply let life unfold before your eyes. Don’t get down due to short term issues, but be wise and think far ahead instead. In the big picture, all obstacles are not as bad as they seem. Develop the will and the mental toughness to face these issues and you will be well set on your road in becoming a student entrepreneur.
For more information, please contact Yu-kai Chou at Chou_yukai@yahoo.com.
© 2008, Young Money Media, LLC. All rights reserved.