Leaving School To Build A Startup.
As a 19-year-old sophomore, I left the University of Delaware to pursue my e-commerce startup full-time.
I’ve read glamorous stories about what it’s like to be a successful young CEO — and while the being able to tell someone that I sold a startup gives a small dopamine rush, the reality was that it was a year full of self-doubt, isolation and constant fight against depression.
This post is meant to serve as a non-BS resource for a founder who has just made the transition. I’m hoping that you’ll avoid some (of the many) mistakes I made at a young age.
A reminder that all advice is autobiographical.
Lesson One: Surround yourself with like-minded people. While working full-time, I spent most of the year living with people I couldn’t relate to. When the day was over, I didn’t have someone who could listen and understand.
This was a mistake. There is a direct link between community and happiness.
Lesson Two: Work on yourself before your startup. At anearly stage, your startup is a car and you are the engine. If you don’t take care of the engine then nothing else will fall into place. Building a startup is really about executing on the little details and in order to do that consistently you need to show up every day.
If your mental health is off, the startup will suffer. If you’re having a big problem at home, the startup will suffer. If you’re lacking sleep, the startup will suffer.
Leaving college to work on a business is no easy task. By doing so, you’re foregoing a more fun, less stressful college experience.
Lesson Three: Don’t do it alone. This goes back to being isolated and not having a sense of community. Find someone who has a complementary skillset and will motivate you to make shit happen during the highs and lows. More on finding a co-founder here.
Looking back at it, I’m embarrassed to say that I was happy being the sole founder so that I’d have all the profits. It’s better to have less of something then a lot of nothing. I can only imagine how much more the 1,000th employee at Facebook made than my small exit with my fancy CEO title.
Lesson Four: Find someone who you aspire to be like in the near future (< 3 years) and learn from them. Mentors are very valuable, and I was blessed to have a few. With that being said, there was a missing gap in the context of advice to me as a 19-year-old founder with a successful CEO twice my age.
Lesson Five: Talk about your business and be vulnerable. News flash: Anyone who is talented and ambitious enough to execute the startup you’re working already has five other opportunities on his plate. Also, if you’re worried that the person is unethical enough to take your idea than you should reconsider talking to that person.
Don’t afraid to ask for help. You won’t know who can add value unless you give people a chance. Dropping out of school to start your own company is a bold move. People respect that and want to help. I was so concentrated on what I was doing that I never gave the right people a chance to help. I tried to so hard to not be vulnerable, and carry that “startup CEO” persona when I would have been 10X better being more honest about my situation.
P.S. If anyone reading this is thinking about making the gap and has anyone questions or just wants to talk, I’d love to help. Shoot me an email at email@example.com