I’m always amazed by how many people think that college isn’t a good time to start your own company. If there is any time in your life to start something new, it’s during college. Not only is it the time of experimentation, but it’s also when you’ve got the best resources available to you.
And sure, you’ve got some hurdles. You’re probably don’t have that much money and you’re also a little low on experience. You don’t have that many connections yet and the ways of the business world might still be a little opaque. At the same time, whatever point of your life you’re in, there will be obstacles.
If it isn’t financial then it’s family. If it isn’t experience, then it’s obligations.
What’s more, the tremendous advantages of being a student with a startup cannot be overestimated. Making the best use of them takes some planning, though. So let’s look at what you have to get sorted out to best prepare you for building a startup.
Yes, I get it, you’re probably fed up with the student life and ready to leave it behind. Still, it would be a serious mistake to cut all the ties you’ve got to your university. After all, many universities are chock full of great resources that will make your life far easier when building a startup.
Check out these examples:
- Professors can offer you invaluable advice and will often gladly do so for free. This is a phenomenal way to get advice and expert know-how for little money. Remember, the moment that you’ve got to start paying consultants for advice on how to fix the problems you’ve got is the moment you break the bank.
- Many universities now have programs set up to help incubate new startups. These are phenomenal opportunities where you can get legal advice, financial support and a huge amount of other forms of help. Heck, some of these programs even offer you loans that you don’t have to pay back if your company fails!
- Your fellow students give you a startup market by providing you with a huge audience that is fairly homogenous.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of benefits! By staying connected to the university and to your fellow classmates you’ll be in a position to find new people who might take a role in your company – be they professors or fellow students – and keep your finger on the pulse of what students are up to.
Continue living like you did
Another place where you really want to try to hold on to is how you used to live. Okay, I’m not talking about the diet – definitely improve the diet. Don’t, however, feel that you’ve got to rent a mansion, buy two cars and order five sofas.
Instead, continue to live like you’re living. Rent a cheap apartment and share it with a few people. Continue to go to the student bars when you go out. Find ways to live cheaply. This will let you stretch your resources and therefore gives you more time to work out whatever growing pains your startup might go through. And that can mean the difference between success and failure.
Don’t make your startup look like a college dorm
Of course, you don’t want to take that living like a student thing too far. While you should certainly save costs on how you live and what you buy, one place you shouldn’t scrimp too much is how your startup looks.
With that, I mean that you do actually want to build a web page that looks like you’re serious. You want to select professional photographs, get your text edited by professionals and make sure you have your own domain name. You do want to wear a suit to meetings and if you’re going to meet investors you do want to rent an office space for the occasion.
Appearance matters and right now, if you’re fresh out of college, you appear young and inexperienced. That’s already going to be problematic enough if you dress like an entrepreneur. If you dress like somebody who still hasn’t quite figured out how to use the washing machine, you’re really going to struggle.
Focus on what you know
The best startups are almost always those that fulfill a need of their founders. Why? Because having a need that you have to satisfy allows you to not only understand the dimensions that form that need but also how to market it to your audience.
What does that mean for you? It means that you should focus on the people around you. Not only can you understand them better, but you’ve also got access to them. Avoid trying to create a new product for a baby boomer. Sure, it might be a good idea, but unless you’ve got somebody that would actually us
e the product on your team, there is a much bigger chance that your product will miss.
What’s more, how are you going to get your product in front of baby boomers when you hardly know any? Most companies invest about 20% of their budget in marketing – more if they’re just starting out. That’s a lot of money! Wouldn’t you rather keep that in the bank and reach out to an audience organically?
You can do that, by making sure that you can get your ideas and your products in front of your friends and acquaintances for free. That will give you an initial market that will give you invaluable feedback that you would not have access to otherwise.
Ideas fail. So do startups. In fact, 90% of new companies fail. For many, that’s a sobering statistic. It shouldn’t be. Why? Because failing doesn’t need to be the end of the world. The true entrepreneurial minded individual will see ‘90% fail’ and think ‘well, then I need to start 10 companies’.
You probably don’t even need to start that many. After all, you’re taking the knowledge of the ones that didn’t make it into the next adventure. Therefore, you won’t make the same mistakes. That means every new startup will have a better chance than the last one.
The trick is to know when something has failed and to stop investing in it when it does. Avoid the sunk cost fallacy and get out of dodge when the Cowboys start shooting. The best way to do that is to listen to the people around you. And here I’m not talking about your family. I’m talking about your customers. If they aren’t interested or were interested and no longer are, it is time to reconsider your position. Perhaps you were part of a trend that’s no longer hot. Perhaps your product has evolved away from what it was supposed to be into something less exciting. It doesn’t really matter. What matters is that marketing can only take you so far and if people don’t immediately see that your product has a serious use for them, it will be hard to convince them otherwise.
In that case, it’s time to get out. After all, you’re young. You can try again. What’s more, failing doesn’t make you a failure. It makes you a person who is willing to try in order to be a success.
Eliza Medley is a blogger, expert in marketing and educator from Orlando. She is fond of entrepreneurship, marketing, tutoring, and education. Follow @Eliza_Medley on Twitter.