I want to be an entrepreneur, what should I study?

Make your own path, there is no one right way.

More than a handful of times, students have asked me what they should study to learn how to be successful in starting a business. I don’t really know the answer, I don’t think there is a right one.

The problem is that we’re conditioned to believe that we have to study the thing that we go on to do. We approach choosing degrees like our future is dependant on it. It’s not.

You’re future is dependant on the effort you put into going in the direction you want to end up in. You are influenced by the things you learn and the people you surround yourself with. So make your choices based on the person you want to become and what the best environment is to increase your chances of succeeding at that. If you don’t know what that is yet, no problem, focus on discovering it. Put yourself in the places that will help you to figure it out. Focus on trying different things and meeting different people, rather than choosing one thing based on other peoples views.

To emphasise the point that there is no one right way, I thought I’d share the diverse backgrounds of the founders of some well known companies. This doesn’t mean that you should do what they have done, it means that you should open your mind to opportunities outside of what your career counsellor or parents think you should do. I’ve included all the co-founders behind the company to help you understand that you don’t need to have all of the skills, as that’s why you have a team.

Note, there are less details for some of the founders because they were hard to track down.

Airbnb

  • Joe Gebbia, CPO & Co-Founder: Rhode Island School of Design, Graphic Design and Industrial Design
  • Brian Chesky, CEO & Co-Founder:Rhode Island School of Design, Bachelor of Fine Arts in Industrial Design.
  • Nathan Blecharczyk, CTO & Co-Founder: Harvard University, Computer Science

Facebook:

  • Mark Zuckerberg, C0-founder & CEO, Psychology and Computer Science, Harvard University.
  • Eduardo Saverin, Co-founder, Bachelor’s degree in Economics, Harvard University.
  • Andrew McCollum, Co-founder, Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science, Master’s degree in Education from the Harvard Graduate School of Education.
  • Dustin Moskovitz, Co-founder (later founded Asana), Economics major, Harvard University .
  • Chris Hughes, co-founder, Bachelor of Arts in History and Literature, Harvard University

Slack

  • Stewart Butterfield, Co-founder & CEO, undergraduate degree in philosophy from Canada’s University of Victoria and a master’s degree from Cambridge in philosophy and the history of science.
  • Eric Costello,Co-founder & Client Lead , English literature degree.
  • Cal Henderson, Co-founder & CTO, BSc (Hons) Software Engineering Enterprise and Innovation, Birmingham City University.
  • Serguei Mourachov, Co-founder & Server Lead, master’s in physical-chemistry.
  • I’d also like to highlight Anna Pickard, Editorial Director, theater degree from Britain’s Manchester Metropolitan University.

Science Exchange

  • Elizabeth Iorns, Founder & CEO, Biomedical Science from the University of Auckland and a Ph.D. in Cancer Biology from The Institute of Cancer Research, a constituent college of the University of London.
  • Dan Knox, Co-founder, Executive MBA, MIT Sloan School of Management. He also has a Master’s degree and a Bachelor’s degree in Economics, a Law degree and the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) qualification.

Wildfire Interactive

  • Victoria Ransom, Co-founder and CEO,BA Psychology, Macalester College, MBA, Harvard Business School.
  • Alain Chuard, Co-founder and CPO, studied mathematics and economics at Macalester College. He has an MBA from the Stanford Graduate School of Business

There is also a long list of successful founders who never completed degrees, including Steve Jobs and Richard Branson.

Conclusion

The purpose of this article is to demonstrate that there is no one pathway to success. People form perceptions on what you should and shouldn’t do based what other people have done beforehand. So the ‘right pathway’ only exists until someone creates a new successful pathway, and then that becomes the new ‘right pathway’.

You should study things that you find interesting, not what you think you need to do because it’s what someone else thinks you should do.

If you want to build a great business, find out what you really care about. You don’t do this by following anyone else’s playbook. Otherwise you’ll be finding out about what they care about. Your best chance of being successful is finding the things that you’re great at, which generally is the thing you love learning about and doing most.

Afternote

Researching to writing this article has reconfirmed my views on the misrepresentation of success when it comes to entrepreneurship and building companies. We celebrate the wrong things. Very few insights come from a companies valuation and the money they’ve raised, compared to what you can gain from hearing the stories of the founders and how their experiences have given them the ability to create something truely extraordinary. That’s the part that is really exciting.

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