Entrepreneur Office Hours - Issue #114
Is school the worst place to learn about startups?
School is a terrible place for learning how to become a startup founder. I realize that’s a strange statement coming from someone who literally teaches entrepreneurship at a university, but it doesn’t make the statement wrong. Sure, schools around the world are filled with great entrepreneurship teachers, classes, and program (I like to think I’m involved in one of them), but those represent only a tiny fraction of the student learning experience. Most of the rest of school seems specifically designed to subvert and otherwise destroy any sorts of entrepreneurial qualities. You’ll see an example of what I mean in this issue’s first article where I discuss how the type of teamwork taught at schools is horrible for startups.
Along similar lines, in this issue’s Q&A I also touches on the relationship between school and entrepreneurship, though in a somewhat different way.
If you’re looking for something to read that has absolutely no relationship to school, I can also help you there. I’m sharing an article about fundraising pitches because… well… who doesn’t like learning how to give better fundraising pitches?
Like a lot of the experiences you had in school, that group project you did in 10th grade taught you lots of bad habits if you want to build a successful startup.
Despite what you’ve heard or read about building pitch decks, in a fundraising pitch, only one slide really matters. Do you know which one?
Office Hours Q&A
Around when you’re reading this issue (assuming you’re reading it roughly near the time it was published) I’ll be participating in a panel at a startup conference titled “How to transition from college life to startup life.” To help me prepare for the panel, the moderator sent a list of questions she plans to ask. One question, in particular, struck me, so I thought I’d use this space as an opportunity to think through my answer. Her question is this:
“Should you start a business in college?”
As someone who’s spent the majority of the past decade literally paying his bills by teaching college entrepreneurship classes, I feel reasonably qualified to address this question. My first instinct is to think it’s the wrong question. Specifically, I worry it’s a question that epitomizes a lot of what’s wrong with how people view entrepreneurship education.
For reasons beyond my control, the world has decided to conflate “entrepreneurship” and “business.” In our current zeitgeist, they’re not exactly synonyms, but the idea of entrepreneurship seems to live almost exclusively inside the business world. However, I believe this understanding of entrepreneurship completely misses the purposes of entrepreneurship education.
When I tell someone I teach entrepreneurship, I don’t mean I’m only focused on teaching people how to build startups. That’s because Entrepreneurship isn’t only about building businesses. Entrepreneurship is about helping solve problems in better and more efficient ways than what currently exists. Sometimes the best way to solve a problem is by building a business; however, when you stop to think about it, businesses are generally inefficient ways of solving problems. Because of this, I often find myself reminding students that most problems can (and probably should) be solved without building new businesses.
In general, I argue that if you can address a problem without starting a business, you absolutely should. Launching a new startup should be more of a “last resort” than a “first choice.”
If, after careful consideration, you determine the best way to solve a problem is by launching a business, that’s 100% fine. But the thing that determines whether or not you should launch a business isn’t whether or not you’re in college. The only factor that should determine whether or not to start a new business is if you’ve identified a problem you’re passionate about (and committed to) solving, and you believe the best way to solve that problem is by starting a business. If that happens when you’re 20 and in college, great. If that happens when you’re 65 and on the cusp of retirement, so be it.
The point is, entrepreneurs shouldn’t start businesses just to start businesses. Entrepreneurs should start businesses when starting a business fulfills their ultimate purpose/goal of solving a problem.
Got startup questions of your own? Reply to this email with whatever you want to know, and I’ll do my best to answer!