Starting your own business is the most rewarding choice you can make during your four (perhaps five) years in college. The personal growth and opportunities you get to be a part of is a completely life altering experience. Here are six lessons I learned while starting a business in college:
1. Turn down the internship
Especially if it’s not for your dream company. Just be prepared for a lot of conversations about what you are working on from friends and family. And know these questions get even more annoying when you aren’t sure how things will play out in the future.
Had I taken the technical sales position I was offered, I wouldn’t have over-drafted my checking account, but I also would never have been able to interact with some of the greatest entrepreneurs at TechCrunch, no less been there with the support of Red Bull Launchpad, a national collegiate startup competition we won this year, which helped catapult our startup and put us in front of other entrepreneurs and investors at TechCrunch.
2. You will question your sanity
You will question your sanity… a lot. Although this is what you should be doing in your twenties!
3. You’ll have to put yourself out there
You will gain skills that are impossible to learn without putting yourself completely out there. I had zero public speaking skills previously. Now, I can speak in public without relying fully on Powerpoint slides. And I can tell at least one mediocre joke.
4. Embrace the fact that you’ll be misunderstood
It can be hard to talk about what you are working on at parties, in class, or to friends and family. It only gets harder when there is money on the line, and you need to pay rent or buy some shiny (or weird looking) equipment to prove that your technology works.
Take the practice–and the weird looks–in stride. It pays off when you pitch someone completely unprepared. One time, we showed up to a VC’s office expecting two minutes of their time and ended up giving an hour presentation!
5. Some professors will respect your goals and others won’t
Some of your professors will get and respect what you are working on, some won’t. Don’t take it personally. People who doubt you can be the best source of inspiration – and the best place to find areas where you can improve. Be grateful for their honestly; it’s a lot more useful than shallow words of encouragement (although a pass on an assignment because you were sleeping every other day to get everything done is nice).
6. Be grateful for people who allow you to do what you do
Whether it be your parents, friends, professors–thank those who share in or inspire your journey in their own unique way.
My co-founder Dave and I were inspired by his sister’s recovery from a cycling accident. She was riding her bike through the intersection of Park & Diamond when she was the victim of a hit and run accident. She spent the next four months in a coma. While she has since recovered and graduated from college, Dave and I learned that his sister was one of 85,000 Americans to suffer a traumatic brain injury from cycling-related accidents that year.
One of her professors lit the spark for us to explore how we could prevent cycling injuries in the future with a heartfelt email shortly after the accident when a positive outcome wasn’t certain. From there, Virginia Tech’s entrepreneurship culture and ecosystem gave us the channel to turn a chalk drawing of our foldable bike helmet into reality.
The common thread in all of these lessons is that entrepreneurship isn’t something you accomplish alone. The only trophies you get are from winning. That happens when you engage (the broadest potential) network in a humble and genuine way.
Jordan Klein is the Co-Founder and CEO of Park & Diamond, a company on a mission to improve cycling safety and this starts with the helmet. The ultraportable helmet is innovating in a market where current bicycle helmet design hasn’t changed since the ‘90s. It seamlessly fits into your life by having a compact form factor that can be stored on the bike when not in use or easily carried in a backpack or bag. In addition, the application of composite material allows the helmet to have a thin profile, transforming helmets from stigmatized for being bulky to a stylized form of self-expression. Current helmets offer outdated designs that are bulky and ugly, and Park & Diamond is creating a helmet that you’ll want to wear and is always where you need it when you need it.