University Graduates Aren’t Worth Much

When I just entered the National University of Singapore, like 5 years ago, I was an idiot.

I wanted freedom, I wanted to make lots of money, and I wanted to do it by being an investment banker. Like I said, idiot. This was the depth of my ignorance — I thought a $3,000 fresh grad salary wasn’t good enough for me, I was gonna make $10,000. My ignorance knew no bounds.

Where I wanted to work.

5 years later, I’m into my 4th business, and I like to think I’m much less of an ignorant idiot. Now, NUS is one of the top universities, but it didn’t do much to cure me of that problem. I did it by jumping on opportunities, like becoming President of AIESEC, and joining a startup to do sales, and then leaving business school altogether to do real business.

Where I want to work now. SANTORINIIIII

Actually, I’ve always found myself on the second end of the employee-employer dynamic. As a business owner, I’m very selective of how I deploy my resources. One of those is money, and I’ve become very good at making money with no money. In fact, if I had thousands of dollars at the start, I probably wouldn’t be as successful as I am now.

Would I knowingly — in a sober state of mind — spend $3,000/month on a fresh graduate?

Not a chance.

Maybe I just can’t take off my business-owner hat. One of my earliest lessons was to never just look at price, but at value. If you can find the value arbitrage, when everyone else just looks at price, you win. Here’s what my mentor taught me:

Price is what you pay, value is what you get.

Sooo if you’re a fresh grad, and your price is $3,000 a month… what’s your value? To someone with a business owner hat, cos that’s who’s hiring.

If you don’t have real relevant experience,

(6-month internships are OK but anything else I wouldn’t bet on unless you had stellar results)

then here’s your real value as a business-hat-wearer sees it:

  • Your undivided attention 9am — 6pm Mondays to Fridays (sometimes Saturdays) (sometimes Sundays if your life really sucks)
  • Control of your time and energy
  • Ability to deploy you whereever whenever for business result i.e. control of your freedom
  • Your brain to learn skills that will help the business
  • Your hands to get shit done

This is where the arbitrage comes in… what’s your end of the value spectrum? What do you value for $3,000 monthly? Stability? Prestige? Career opportunity?

If it’s not in balance, the value arbitrage creates great things for the business owner. For the employee, it usually creates friction in the form of stress, resentment and feeling trapped. Imagine the feeling of studying for a heavily bell-curved midterm, only for the remainder of your life.

Wow this article got deep fast. I really wasn’t planning on heading there — but it’s what I see, day in day out. I hate complaining, let’s skip to the happy ending:

I’ve seen two ways to get on the good end of the value equation -

  1. Get an awesome boss
  2. Have awesome value

Imma cut out the middle parts and just tell you the best approach for each:

  1. Be your own boss
  2. Learn awesome stuff from awesome mentors for free for the first few years

Understand value arbitrage. Get in on the right side. Cash in later. It’s a long game. Start playing when you’re still studying.

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