Dear students, please do not do a startup
Heroic tales of students dropping out of college to start a company have been littered all over the tech-centric media. Such tales of young blood braving the treacherous world of startups have been celebrated long enough. Yet, more often than not, the portrayal of such tales have been rather lop-sided, highlighting the good more than the bad parts.
As such, I’d like to have a go at setting a realistic picture for ‘aspiring entrepreneurs’ (An overrated term that belongs in a fairy tale with words like ‘Fairy Godmother’ and ‘Knight in shining armour).
Here’s brief background on me. Like many of my peers, I aspire to start something cool on my own. After going through some online pre-incubator courses and experimenting with some ideas, I knew I had much more to learn. And so, I began my journey doing internships in 2 startups and it has been 8 months and counting since I first began. Throughout this time, I’ve witnessed the ups and downs of startups at the growth as well as pre-seed stage.
As such, this is a note to self, as much as an article for you guys to read. This is a note to self to remind myself the road ahead will not be easy, and to constantly evaluate whether this road will take me where I wish to go in life. So, let’s begin.
Pretty much everything in the hall of fame of college-student startup founder is nothing more than an over-publicised and over-glorified pile of fluff. First, let’s put aside and acknowledge the following things about entrepreneurship.
Entrepreneurship is tough because:
- What’s required to even smell success requires more than your blood, sweat, and tears.
- Even with your blood, sweat, and tears, you’ll fail 9 out of 10 times.
- There are countless intricate parts that need to be perfect, just like a fine timepiece.
- Even if you got the intricate parts right, you’ll fail 9 out of 10 times. They need to be perfect, in terms of “the-stars-are-alligned” perfect.
- There is no right answer to your 99 problems, and sometimes there seems to be no answer.
- Even if you chose the best answer, you’ll fail 9 out of 10 times.
The list goes on, but you get the idea. Entrepreneurship is tough because of a gazillion true hard reasons, and these reasons are often million-dollar questions that seem to have no answer. Worse still, even if you manage to answer all those hard questions, the odds are never in your favour. Just image yourself as a tribute in the Hunger Games.
Putting that thought aside, to get from idea to product to revenue, there are many things you’ll need, such as money, advice, hires. While it may seem easy to mention these three broad categories, the time during my internship has shown that they are more significant than they seem.
- Money: Money is oxygen. Without oxygen, you die.
- Advice: Advice from mentors and people who’ve been there, done that are like your senses. They guide you and show you flaws, new directions and the answer to your many million-dollar questions. Without your senses, there are many ways you could die.
- Hires: Hires are like your organs. They each play a crucial role. Without one you could die or be ill. And without more, you’d most likely die.
After my time in the startup space and speaking with many, having money, advice from the right mentors, and hires that are competent and passionate really is easier said than done. In most cases, most usually have only two out of the three, and the fatality is quite evident. If startups are human, we could be dying from suffocation, internal poisoning, organ failure, and a plethora of mishaps and accidents related to lack of senses.
Worse still, this is tough for entrepreneurs with prior working and even entrepreneurship experience. What more for students?
It’s infinitely worse. Why?
You have no connections.
How are you going to raise funds? Attending events to warm up relations with VCs, just to speak to analysts and associates, leaving plenty of room for your pitches to be filtered out before the decision makers hear of your kickass idea.
With a limited pool of connections, how are you going to talk to people who’ve been there, done that? How do you know you’re not driving off a cliff, and if there’s actually a right turn just ahead that could possibly lead you to paradise?
You have no money and savings.
With no money and savings, you have barely any breathing room nor runway to test and iterate your ideas. How are you going to prove anything about your kickass idea?
With no money and savings, how are you going to hire the competent people, not to even mention the best, to work on your idea?
You have no technical expertise.
With no technical expertise, how are you even going to work on a MVP that’s good enough?
With no technical expertise, how are you going to convince VCs and angel investors to believe in you and your team?
With no technical expertise, how are you going to convince hires that whatever you’re ‘building’ is not a bunch of illogical and incoherent fluff? How do you hire a team to even start building your product?
You have no experience and wiseness.
With no experience, how are you going to raise money? Do you know where the right money sources are, and how to approach them? How are you going to convince them that they’re investing in more than children doing play-pretend?
With no experience, how are you going to convince the competent people, not to mention the best, to entrust their time and future to you? How do you work with your team to get from A to B?
Get my point?
Entrepreneurship is tough.
It might seem that my message to myself and all is to give up entrepreneurship and to seek something else to do with our lives. However, it is not so. There are ways which young entrepreneurs can still find their ways around the treacherous world of startups, entrepreneurship, and business, from incubator and accelerator programmes to school initiatives to aid entrepreneurship.
Yet, it is of utmost importance that we bear in mind the true nature and rigour of entrepreneurship, and not get lost in the glamour and glory of starting a business. It’ll be a better way to assess our priorities and whether this is something we truly want for ourselves.
Finally, if it is, we’d just have to give more than our sweat, blood and tears. We’d just have to work harder to answer the 99 million-dollar-questions that we have. And finally some day, hopefully, we’ll be able to smell success. Till that day, it will be a tough way there, and we’ve got to endure and persevere to get there.