Why You Should Become a Startup Founder As Student
In the last few years I had the chance to closely observe the success stories of many early startups, either as part of the product team in fast-growing SaaS companies or as an ambassador at First Momentum Ventures. I talked with and listened to many inspiring founders at events like the biggest tech conference, WebSummit (Startup in 2019–4 Steps to Get Started. Inspired by WebSummit 2018), or while meeting more than 25 founders in Shenzhen and Hong Kong on a startup tour with PionierGarage (Why Shenzhen is a startup heaven — Three learnings from talks with founders). All these experiences and the pile of entrepreneurship books next to my bed lead me to say:
We need more student founders in Germany.
The Campus Playground
At the beginning of my studies, I didn’t value something that turned out to be a core benefit of studying in general: the freedom of managing your own time. As a student, I had mornings when I woke up and planned my day a minute after the alarm went off. I thought about what I wanted to do and how I would enjoy the day. I also thought about my long-term goals, but my few responsibilities gave me the flexibility to plan almost without constraints.
At the same time, my school and established network allowed me to tap into free or almost free resources on campus. I could learn about anything in the library, listen to any lecture, discuss ideas with experts, buy cheap coffee, do free sports, and have a free desk to work on campus (now that everyone pays for co-working space in trendy offices).
Most importantly, there are so many talented people to learn from and work with on campus. From professors, to grad students, to super young undergrads who are desperate to get some experience, there is always someone who can help you. If you want to pull together a team of people to make something happen, the campus is the best place to do it. If you need help with accounting you can talk to someone in the business program, if you need design work you can connect with a designer. it’s so much harder to do this in a professional setting. It’s an accessible microcosm of the actual world of business. You have a built-in community that wants you to succeed.
It took me a few years to really appreciate these resources and the flexibility to spend time freely. I believe there is no more affordable time than school to experiment with ideas, especially in Europe, where tuition fees are really low compared to the US.
As a student you don’t know much about limits
Let’s face it: new grads without practical experiences are pretty much useless. It takes several years of work to be able to fully contribute as a professional. That’s why companies are consistently looking for young, aspiring talent with 3–5 years of experience.
But inexperience isn’t always a bad thing. It requires you to ask questions and trace your way to the root of why things are the way they are without simple accepting of the current state and continuing what other people had done before you. This is what I see in student founders. They ask themselves, “Why does X not exist? And what does it take to make it happen?” No prior knowledge and a high curiosity is a great starting point for student founders to pursue new approaches in solving big problems.
“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.”
The worst case might be not so bad
Step back from the idea of becoming an entrepreneur for a minute and follow my thought here: imagine yourself as a hiring manager. Your company is a well-known global player and receives a high amount of applicants every day. It’s your job to filter the best talent and find the innovators who will drive the future success of your firm.
You look through ten applications with a rather similar experience level, all new grads or with only a few years of experience. But one stands out. One applicant showed proactiveness and ambitiousness by working on a new startup. Who would you want to become a leader in your firm?
I think that students tend to fear the negative consequences from building a startup, and I agree that Germans often lack an open mindset towards financial failure. But as a student, you are starting with nothing, so there is nothing to lose. The worst case would be applying to companies like fellow peers at the end of your school programme.