Over 62% of millennials have considered starting their own business, with 72% feeling that startups and entrepreneurs are a necessary economic force for creating jobs and driving innovation. Yet, the idea of picking entrepreneurship over a university education is seen as a risky option that most young people tend to shy away from.
When we started our presentation design company HighSpark, at 19, I had a spot waiting for me in a university to complete a degree program in Communication Design. My parents were constantly egging me to pursue a university education for “a better future,” but I ultimately decided to forgo it and to run our business.
Naturally, the thought of forgoing a well-trodden path for one of uncertainty can feel daunting to most, especially when all your peers are heading in the opposite direction. That said, I have zero regrets making the choice because I’ve definitely gained more throughout the process versus many of my peers who did go to university.
Here are some advantages you get to experience when you choose entrepreneurship over university education:
Learn and grow by doing
Entrepreneurship can be scary, but it can also be wildly enriching. The bad news: there is no lesson plan and hardly ever a fall-back. The good news: you’ll benefit greatly from the independence. Not to mention, you get to save heaps on the increasingly hefty tuition fees that come bundled with the college experience.
Billionaire and Napster founder, Sean Parker even goes as far as to suggest you “skip college and Google your education.” For instance, to get your first customers, you’ll need to step out of your comfort zone to reach potential customers you might not be familiar with already.
As an entrepreneur, you’ll often have to wear many hats in the early days. You’ll need to manage different aspects of your business, including HR, Marketing, Sales, Product, just to name a few, all in a single role. You’ll have to upskill yourself in various areas that might not have been your major in school.
In our case, one of the most difficult lessons revolved around working directly with executives who were much older than us. Learning to successfully negotiate and sell our services to intimidating prospects is something that is best learned in-the-field.
There are some things a college education can do for you, but it simply can’t prepare you for every scenario you’ll face in your future career. The lessons you learn in practice and execution beat theories anytime. Even starting out as a freelancer can be a good step in getting your feet wet and picking up some of the necessary skills to run a business.
You’ve got less to lose
The great thing about trying these things out young is that you have a lot less to lose. You lost some money, so what? Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba wasn’t profitable in its first three years of business. In the beginning, they expanded too fast and almost imploded when the dot-com bubble burst. At one point, Alibaba was just 18 months away from bankruptcy. Today, they are the biggest e-commerce company in the world.
The truth is roughly only about 20% of new businesses survive past their first year of operation. Don’t be discouraged if you hit a roadblock early on in your journey, you’re probably in good company. The best thing is you can afford to fail because it’s likely you don’t already have kids or a mortgage holding you back.
You’ll need to grow up, fast
The idea of not having a boss or teacher breathing down your neck may sound attractive, but that also means there’s nobody to tell you what to do next. You’ll think twice about spending $8 on that latte from Starbucks and feel a tinge of guilt when you take a day off.
Suddenly, you’ll come to the realization that whether your business succeeds or not depend on the decisions you make right now. The Dollar Shave Club made a killing after their video marketing spot went viral, sporting 12,000 sales in a single day.
Leading up to their big hit was months of preparation and a $4,500 video production fee to founder, Michael Dubin’s meager savings after he quit his job to work on the idea full-time. When there’s that much riding on your habits, you have no choice but tweak your lifestyle and mindset for the better if you want to succeed.
Look forward to an income without a ceiling
The issue with immediately working in an organization like most college students do is that unless you’re in a profession like sales where your income scales proportionately to your effort, there will always be a ceiling on how much you can earn.
As an entrepreneur, once your business has a sustainable pipeline of deals and works to tide over seasonal periods, you can expect your income to increase exponentially based on how hard you choose to work.
Not having to pay off student loans that tie your financials down already puts you ahead of most of your peers. Coupled with the potential income you stand to gain from your business if you succeed, you can look forward to a financial and career head start while the rest of your peers are still battling examinations back in school.
Self-education can make you a fortune
College education is no longer the be-all and end-all for a young person’s foray into his or her career. With the amount of quality free education and free online courses available online in today’s age, starting a business coupled with self-study on the internet can be just as enriching and possibly even more financially practical as a career option in the long-run, as compared reading a degree full-time in a university.
Besides, the universities are here to stay. You can always decide to go back to being a student some other time if your business ideas don’t work out.
Should I skip college and start a business?
To the question of whether you should start a business instead of heading to university first, that’s up to you to decide. If you consider yourself a self-starter with the discipline to manage your time and self-education, starting a business might bear more fruit.
If you’re more comfortable with a structured environment of learning and more risk averse, heading to university might be the better option in the short-term. You could always explore entrepreneurship at a later time too.
Have a different opinion? Leave it in the comments!
Eugene Cheng is Partner and Creative Lead at HighSpark, a strategic presentation design company that also provides presentation skills courses to Fortune 500 companies. In his free time, he also manages a blog on freelancing: FreelanceFuel. He also advises for a corporate video company: MotionSauce. Connect with @itseugenecheng on Twitter.
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