There is a lot of media buzz around entrepreneurs that dropped out of college to become startup founders. It’s a storyline that has resulted in companies such as Facebook, Apple AAPL -0.56%, and Microsoft MSFT -0.79%. Since founding Pixlee after graduation, I understand why so many founders step away from their education to pursue entrepreneurial aspirations: You simply cannot be a good student and a good startup founder at the same time– there just aren’t enough hours in the day.
While dropping out of school makes sense for some founders, it’s a serious decision that isn’t for everyone. I once contemplated it myself, but I found that there were some real benefits for staying in school.
1. Starting earlier doesn’t guarantee you a head start
One of the things that keeps ambitious college students up at night is the fear of falling behind their peers. When a dorm-mate gets covered in Techcrunch or raises a round of funding for their startup, waiting until graduation can seem like an eternity!
However, the thing you don’t always hear in the glamorized storied of young entrepreneurs is that startups aren’t like other career paths. Starting earlier doesn’t guarantee you a head start. Other careers have more fixed timelines and clear next steps for promotions and advancement. For instance, law school is a fixed three year period, medical school is a fixed 4 year period. In finance and consulting you spend 2 years as an analyst before you become an associate. There is no such thing as a linear path to success when it comes to being an entrepreneur.
You shouldn’t drop out of school just for the sake of building a startup. You have no real idea how long that opportunity will last: You may be dedicating the next ten years of your life to that company or you may be searching for a new job in 10 months. There is no fixed timetable and path in entrepreneurship and getting started a year earlier doesn’t mean you’ll be a year ahead. It’s better to take your time, make sure you build the needed skills and relationships to found a company, and find a team and opportunity you really believe in.
Sure there’s a time and place where you might find yourself in where leaving school to become a founder makes sense– but far too many people are rushing to leave school without a clear understanding of what they are walking into.
2. College provides important time to explore your passions and find a product/market fit
Some argue that you don’t need to go to college to be a successful entrepreneur. I agree that it doesn’t help with some of the tactical aspects of entrepreneurship such as fundraising, articulating a vision, selling customers, or negotiating partnerships.
However, as a young founder, you’re not going to be successful because you know a lot about fundraising. Your success will be driven by being an expert in a particular space. As Paul Graham wrote in his essay Before the Startup, “The way to succeed in a startup is not to be an expert on startups, but to be an expert on your users and the problem you’re solving for them.”
One of the main benefits that college provided me was time to explore my passions and the time to find the best product/market fit. While you don’t need to go to college to learn about a subject area (especially if you’re accumulating college debt), college gives you an opportunity to access the resources that can help set a true vision for your startup.
For instance, I used my Senior year at Stanford to develop and iterate the idea forPixlee. Because I was a student, I was able to set up a series of short 10-15 minute informational interviews with alumni to better understand problems in their space. I also pursued some independent research and enrolled in a few classes that would push my thinking. When I graduated and started working on the company full-time, I had a much better understanding of our users and the problems that we were solving for them.
3. You can’t buy back your time
No matter how many millions or billions you make, you can’t buy back your undergraduate experience. College is an amazing experience that helps develop more than just your career skills. It’s hard to put a price tag on making lifelong friends, identifying your interests, walking with your classmates at graduation, or finishing what you started. Even if you take a leave of absence and go back after a few years the experience still won’t be the same.
There are the scenarios where there is a billion dollar opportunity to work on an idea that you’re deeply passionate about where you’re in a land grab scenario that requires you to drop out. While I’m sure Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg are doing just fine, they are the exception and not the rule.
Stanley Tang, founder of the fast growing startup DoorDash, raised his Series A from Sequoia Capital while he was still a student.
“Unless it’s pretty obvious the startup you’re working on is blowing up, I wouldn’t recommend dropping out of school because of the opportunity cost,” Tang said. “I definitely wouldn’t recommend dropping out to pursue an idea that hasn’t even launched yet.”
A college degree isn’t a requirement for building a successful company, but neither is dropping out. It’s nearly impossible to be a good student and a good founder at the same time. Entrepreneurship is a long zig-zagging journey,and you will want to set yourself up for success in the long term. While there are some very successful founders that dropped out of college, you shouldn’t drop out of school for the sake of building a startup. There are some real benefits of staying in school and the decision to drop out shouldn’t be taken lightly.
This article was syndicated from Business 2 Community: Why I Didn’t Drop Out To Create My Startup
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