student entrepreneurship

My TEDx Talk for Student Entrepreneurs: "Why Wait 'Til You Graduate?"

This is part of my Series on University Entrepreneurship.

I gave a TEDx talk on student entrepreneurship in November of 2011. It sort of sums up how I feel about the extraordinary opportunity student entrepreneurs have at their disposal in this day and age.  I contrasted the environment of 25+ years ago (when I was a college freshman) versus that of today for a fledgling student entrepreneur.

What Every Student Entrepreneur Needs to Know to Succeed (1) Just Win, Baby

I've had the privilege of mentoring lots of student entrepreneurs over the past years and based on this experience I've decided to lay-out the roadmap I believe every student entrepreneur ought to have in place in the interest of increasing the chances of seeing their venture succeed. 

The map above (which I shall be improving upon over time) lays out the major high-level ingredients required to maximize success for a student entrepreneur. In this mini-series of posts I'm going to flesh-out each step in more detail. 

By way of preface to this deeper dive here are a few preliminary points having to do with awareness and perspective I'd like to make:

For a multitude of reasons student entrepreneurs are in the greatest position in the history of the world to launch new ventures. I have called this period University Entrepreneurship 2.0 :

  1. the cost of starting a new business has plummeted due to revolutionary developments in bandwidth, cloud computing and open source software
  2. investors are lining up to discover the next gen of great young entrepreneurs
  3. many universities are now providing real support to student entrepreneurs  
  4. there are tons of contests/competitions/organizations targeted to student entrepreneurs at your disposal now  

Think about all this. Take it all in. And remember- there is something that actually hasn't changed that's greatly in your favor too:

Launching a company during your student years is the best time in your life to do so because there is no downside. You can only learn, meet people and sharpen your skills. You can't lose...

But actually, I want you win.

That's right- I said it here. Just win, baby.

For Part (2) of this Series click here

What Every Student Entrepreneur Needs to Know to Succeed (2) Get Connected!

This is part of my Series on University Entrepreneurship.

In the first post in this series I encouraged you to take stock of where you are and to understand your unique position in world-history as a student entrepreneur. Your awareness of the surreal advantages you have over every student entrepreneur that has come before you is massively important. So let's assume that this has sunk-in. Now what?

Very simple. All the folks on the side-lines have been talking about startup bubbles these days. How about your own bubble? That's right- how about getting out of the bubble that you are in. 

Steve Blank and Eric Ries and the whole lean-start-up crew tell you to "get out of the building". They're right...

But I'm telling you to actually get the heck off campus and go to where the startup action is. (If you're in New York that means downtown by the way.)

What do I mean? You need to dive into the startup community of your city or town wherever you live. Get a list of all the events each Monday morning and go to as many as you can possibly attend. Meet everyone, be friendly- have fun and get involved- don't be a wall flower. The best way to get to know people is to work with them and engage. So, I'm talking about you jumping all over the various meetups, hackathons, startup talks, startup weekends, lean startup competitions, entrepreneurship talks, conferences, cocktail parties, entrepreneurship weeks, breakfasts, dinners, societies, roundtables available.

When I tell students to do this, some say: "But what do I say to people when I'm there?", or "I don't really know anyone, it's a bit intimidating".

Actually- the reality is that the startup ecosystems are an incredibly welcoming and warm environment. People in the startup community aren't a bunch of uptight careerists decked-out in suits. For the most part it's comprised of people like you who want nothing to do with corporate personalities and environments. If you're a student they're typically extra-welcoming. Just be honest and tell folks you are a student and are diving-into the startup community. You'll typically get high-fives.

And remember- the key is this: Roll-up your sleeves and participate. Pull an all-nighter at a hackathon with a makeshift team, sign up for a leanstartup competition, present your un-baked ideas at incubation events. Before you know it you'll know everyone and they'll know you. You'll feel that team spirit and esprit de corps and it will change you forever. 

You'll be out of the campus bubble now and will be part of the world you need to know intimately if you want to be an entrepreneur.

You'll be Connected

For Part 3 of this Series Click Here

What Every Student Entrepreneur Needs to Know to Succeed (4) Social Media

This is part of my Series on University Entrepreneurship

In the previous posts in this Series we established the mindset and awareness required as well as the immersion you need to initiate in your local startup ecosystem, and what you need to do to acquire subject matter expertise all with the objective of greatly increasing your chances of success as an entrepreneur.

In this post I'm focused on making sure you develop a robust on-line presence as I truly believe it to be an essential ingredient of your overall approach. I've noticed, however, that when I bring this up to student entrepreneurs I am mentoring, any combination of the following three questions and/or protestations typically arise. Here they are:

  1. Not sure why I need this? Sounds like a waste of time
  2. I wouldn't know what to blog about anyway
  3. Even if I agreed with you, I'm just too busy

Allow me to respond: 

1) Not sure why I need this? Sounds like a waste of time

If you're in this to win this, you need a robust online presence because entrepreneurs are only as strong as their networks. A strong online presence comprised of an active blog and/or twitter presence, etc. is simply mandatory in the world we're living in. Everyone's online, everyone will be looking you up online and if you're not there when they look- or hard to find- you essentially don't really exist. That's the opposite of what you need to have going for you if you aspire to running a company where you'll be depending on the good graces of a multitude of people including customers, service providers, potential partners, online tools, investors, etc. Work in obscurity and you're company will most certainly fail.

2) I wouldn't know what to blog about anyway

This may be the highest hurdle of all for most people. It is the virtual equivalent of the real world aversion certain fledgling entrepreneurs have about actually speaking to potential customers. 

Here's the thing- don't worry if you're not a subject matter expert in your field yet. The cool thing about a blog is you can write honestly about what you are actually going through. Turn your perception of what blogging is about on its head and think of your blog as an actual vehicle to learn about areas that interest you! For example, as you study the topic, why not post about certain things you have learned, about articles or books you have read, about lectures or conferences you have attended! Take photos and post those along with your written content. Be insightful, thoughtful, original. Before you know it your blog has become a workspace for you. Get a blogroll of all the blogs you follow, archive your posts and categorize them. Have fun with it and be authentic. In time, you won't ever look back.

3) Even if I agreed with you, I'm just too busy

Wow, ok. I always need to take a deep breath when this is said. And I think I've maybe been a tad too polite with certain folks who drop this one on me (which is a disservice to them actually). I know other folks like Gary V that would probably flip out at this point. Here's why:

As busy as you feel you are, you'll actually never have as much freedom (read: time) on your hands as you have right now. You probably aren't married yet, don't have kids yet, don't have a full-time job, etc. Obviously there are certain students who do have difficult situations on their hands and concommitant obligations and I'm not disrespecting anyone in this situation. But if you are not burdened by such obligations, then the real problem is probably that you are just not cut out for entrepreneurship. I know that *sounds* harsh, but it really isn't. If you aren't prioritizing the things that give you every advantage possible as a fledgling entrepreneur, your heart's probably not in it. And if this stuff isn't making sense and seems like a burden to you, that's totally fine, but I think it may be best for you to start thinking about getting a job somewhere. 

For the rest of you, look forward to seeing you on twitter and to reading your blogs, because....

You'll soon have a robust social media presence... 

For Part 5 of this Series click here