5 tips to start your own business as a student

This article originally appeared in Upstart Business Journal.

Plenty of college students want to be the next Bill Gates of Mark Zuckerberg, both of whom launched their companies while in college. But what does it take to be a BFOC — Big Founder on Campus?

Starting a business as a college student can be an excellent way of fast tracking a career and learning invaluable business skills on the ground. But the entrepreneurship path is not an easy one — it’s full of obstacles that can make even experienced entrepreneurs falter.

Plenty of today’s well-known, new economy companies got started by students. Take the example of Microsoft, which was founded by Bill Gates and Paul Allen in 1975 while they were studying at Harvard University. Or how about another Harvard student three decades later who created what would become the world’s most popular social network. This, of course, is Mark Zuckerberg, who dropped out of Harvard to develop Facebook.

Want more examples? There are numerous other examples of companies that started from humble student quarters. Google and Yahoo have roots at Stanford University. Reddit was born at the University of Virginia. And Wordpress sprung at the University of Houston.

This isn’t to say that any college student’s startup ultimately will end up being worth billions. But the more aware you are from the outset of some common pitfalls and difficulties you’re likely to face, the higher your chances of succeeding as a young business owner in the long run.

Here, then, are five big truths to remember if you want to be a BFOC (Big Founder on Campus):

Be original

You have the key advantage that you are full of fresh, creative ideas. Use this to view the market from a different perspective; try to highlight any problems and consider possible solutions and alternatives. It may well be that you need to take risks. Ensure that you remain authentic and original; a copied idea is simply a diluted concept and is likely to end in business failure.

Validate your idea

It’s not a coincidence that some of the most well-known online companies out there were built by students. Rest assured though that these entrepreneurs spoke to as many influencers as possible in order to validate their ideas and obtain valuable feedback before launching their business. Passion and creativity are vital but it must be balanced by careful planning and advice from a strong, experienced network of contacts. Mentors can prove to be a great asset from concept to launch and throughout the growth of the business.

It’s not only tech

From a technical point of view, it’s easy for a trained programmer to sit down and build an app or website. But just as importantly, a digital entrepreneur must be clear about how to market and sell their product or service after the technical platform has been built. So many fail at the first hurdle, when they realize they have no go to market plan. So before you start, build a team, which can support and compliment those technical skills.

Use the community

Students have the distinct advantage of belonging to a very active community where products can be tested and business models easily analysed and adjusted. From this perspective, it can be relatively simple to begin to build a significant user base, even at this early stage. Take full advantage of this opportunity.

Consider finance

The consequences of not having a business plan from the outset can be significant, not least when it comes to looking for funding to start up your business. Family, friends, investors or lenders are unlikely to ask you to build a detailed business plan worthy of a global corporation. However, you do need to have an idea of realistic forecasts and budget requirements, to understand whether you can actually afford to start your own business. Be prepared to live without any income at all for a few months or identify whether you will need to find employment, while your business finds its feet.