If there is one thing I’ve learned as a student entrepreneur it’s to put “failure” in air quotes. The roller coaster ride of the business startup is both enhanced and condensed in a laboratory like Boise State’s Venture College, a competitive, extracurricular program for college students with business ideas. In the past year, my wheelings and dealings, trying to start a business while in college, have taken me from the top of the world to the bottom and back. Though it sounds cliché, I’ve learned more from “failure” than from success.
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Below are 10 things I have learned while trying to start a business during college. Some of my biggest challenges (such as #5 and #8) took courage and confidence to overcome. Taken together, here are 10 tactics to achieve your own version of entrepreneurial success before you graduate.
Play the student card.
Using my student status as a way to open doors worked to help me land huge interviews with CEOs and upper level management at several companies, and to get valuable advice from business leaders in Boise. Most people love helping students.
Get mentors — fast!
The best way to learn is from others who have been down the road you are traveling. I spoke with more than 30 people before I found someone who was trustworthy, had the heart of a teacher and wasn’t trying to sell me on their services. I prefer having mentors from different industries to provide diverse perspectives. Some of my mentors include a former educator, a CEO of a supplement company, entrepreneurs and directors at the Venture College, the former CEO of a large foundation, my fiancé and most importantly, my mother. My advice for gaining a mentor is to interview a lot of people and ask them about their experiences. If they are a good fit, bluntly ask for 30 minutes of their time a month.
Create a support system.
I’m eternally grateful for the Venture College. Venture College has a unique setting in downtown Boise surrounded by colleagues with widely divergent interests all working toward a common goal — starting a business. Read more about Venture College. I have created some seemingly unlikely partnerships with many of my colleagues. Find others in similar stages of business development and collaborate in some way.
Burnout is frequent and that’s okay.
As a student and entrepreneur, I find that I burn out on energy occasionally. I view my burnouts positively, as an indicator that I am pushing my boundaries. However, I recognize when burnout comes on and take a weekend to recuperate by going to a movie, meeting a friend for coffee or sleeping in. A day or two of doing nothing usually has me itching to get back to work.
Everyone projects their model of the world on you and your business.
I learned this the hard way in spring 2014, after receiving great-but-conflicting advice from mentors, customer interviews, family, friends and books. One day I was told to create online workshops and then it was suggested I keep my workshops in-person. I had to remind myself that everyone has their own opinion; they are projecting their view of how they would run the business on me. I listen to everyone’s valuable advice and ultimately ask if it makes sense for my business vision or if I can incorporate some of their advice while staying true to my vision.
Inspiration is everywhere, especially in the classroom.
I am surrounded by highly educated, intelligent professors and classmates who care about my success in and out of the classroom. I use every opportunity in class to work on my business and gain feedback. For example, I used a business law assignment on intellectual property to apply the law to my business. The classroom allows me to think about areas of my business that normally might not interest me.
It takes money to make money… is a lie.
Almost everyone in the Venture College is a broke college student. We are all living on a dream and lots of coffee. The Venture College taught me to not spend a single dime until I validated my business idea. Validating a business idea is a fancy way of saying I have talked to enough people to know there is a need for my service and someone will pay for it.
Success comes when you get out of your comfort zone.
Starting my own business has pushed me to do things I’m not necessarily comfortable with such as public speaking, directly asking for what I want and interviewing people I’ve never met. By getting out of my comfort zone, I won $250 in a business pitch, have taught six different workshops and am becoming a better public speaker.
Prioritize your MITs (most important tasks).
I am currently balancing a full time job, graduate school, being president of a student organization, friends, life, my fiancé and dog, and I’m starting a business that consumes every ounce of my thought process. I accomplish all of these priorities by keeping a daily schedule of my MITs. I write down three MITs every morning. When I create my MITs, I ask myself, “what are three things I can do today that will help me grow my business?” As a student, studying for tests usually takes priority. The writer’s nascent company provides money management training to high school and college students.
Always put yourself first.
This is the most important lesson I have learned while trying to start a business during college. My health comes first. In undergrad I pulled all-nighters, spent too much money on coffee and eating out and even skipped the gym. Never again. I can fill every second of “free time” with tasks, work, school and creating content for my workshops or blog. My best creativity, thoughts and work come when I’m fully rested, eating healthy and getting to the gym every day. Starting a business has been the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I try to take “thankful walks” – walks along the Greenbelt — to appreciate nature and life. It’s too easy to get caught up in the day-to-day activities.
The views and opinions expressed here are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of Boise State University, the Center for Idaho History and Politics, or the School of Public Service.