The Worst Enemy of Student Entrepreneurship

I advocate a lot for student entrepreneurship because I think it is a unique way to have a real world impact and learn some really valuable skills before you are in full on career mode.  I have explored in other posts some of the strategies for being a student and entrepreneur (Tips for Student Entrepreneurs; Reasons for Entrepreneurs to Stay in School ; MBA or PhD; Essential Courses; Working and Studying), but I think it’s time for me to address the challenge that is most likely to derail your entrepreneurial career as a student. 

The worst enemy of student entrepreneurship is not the fact that you need to study.  It’s not that you are young.  It’s not that you have to be on campus or go to class.   These factors often make it a little bit more difficult to be an entrepreneur while you’re a student, but they do not make it impossible by any means. 

The worst enemy of student entrepreneurship is the mental attitude of being a student. 

The number of times that I’ve seen abject failure to deliver results being excused with “I’m a student,” is mind boggling.  When people say “But I’m a student,” what they really mean is “I am exempt from normal professional behavior and it is therefore acceptable if I don’t get work done… because I am a student.” When I get involved with a student organization to encourage them to pursue entrepreneurship, by giving talks or workshops, or by mentoring students, I meet some students who are really good at getting things done.  But many others just supply weak deliverables, and excuse their lack of delivery by the fact that they are students. 

The problem with that attitude is that it completely misses the mark.  Entrepreneurship is not an add-on activity to have fun or be cool.  You are taking somebody’s money and time, which is money. Your objective is to deliver value in return.  To do that, you need to execute professionally and competently.  Being a student just means that you happen to take some university courses while being an entrepreneur.  Just like any other entrepreneur, you will need to consider your resources and make sure you can deliver on the commitments you make. 

Variants of “I have an exam tomorrow,” don’t cut it when you are late on a deliverable (including those of your own startup).

Similarly, variants of “We are just a student organization and we just couldn’t get this organized,” make you sound incompetent (which, if true, means that you will fail as an entrepreneur. Or, if just an unfortunate impression, will cause you to fail to convince investors, customers and collaborators – leading again to failure as an entrepreneur).

Unfortunately, there seems to be a culture around university life that fundamentally excuses unprofessional behavior.  This cultural attitude that excuses unprofessional behavior ultimately kills more student ventures I see than any other reason. 

As an entrepreneur, don’t expect forgiveness for sloppy work simply because you are a student. Your customers, in most cases, don’t really care whether your organization is run by students, adults, seniors, or children.  They want to buy your product, and they want to be treated professionally, because they are paying money for it.  In fact, if the only reason that you are getting traction is because you are a student, and people think that it is nice that ‘a kid like you’ is doing something entrepreneurial, then you are in dire straits.  Eventually you will stop being a student.  If you haven’t been able to build a sustainable business without student good will, then your business will crater the second you graduate. 

Yes, you are going to make mistakes while you are in the process of learning.  No, this is not an excuse to do a poor job.

7 Responses

  1. I’m a student and we have a business plan subject. We are all really interested in making our business plans and hopefully being able to set it up. Unfortunately, because of our academics (e.g.subjects, exams, quizzes) we can’t give our 100% to our business plans.

    1. Thanks for the comment Audi. To be blunt, you will always have other obligations in life. Right it is courses and exams, later it will be your job, your family, and so forth. The key in entrepreneurship is to have the discipline and energy to get stuff done despite of these obligations. Try to team up, cut back on lower priority activities and focus on clear deliverables for your business.

  2. Although I agree with the article, but the same people will often come up with other excuses when they are no longer students.
    It’s a type of person, and there are many. When you are a real entrepreneur, this excuse making is not part of your DNA, otherwise you wouldn’t be an entrepreneur. It’s too hard already, with too many easier options.

    1. Thanks for the comment. I agree that there are always people who excuse rather than deliver. That said, school and university is one of the few environments in society where this culture is actively reinforced (government is another). Student are systematically conditioned that nothing matters. For example, I find it mind-boggling that you can go through 4 years of universities without seeing any material impact of the only performance metric available (grades, as flawed a measure as they are). Think about it. What changes in your student life if you go from first to fourth year with an A average versus a C average? Nothing. You take the same classes, learn the same stuff (or not), graduate the same year, etc. That doesn’t happen in the real world. A top performer will, over 4 years, have much higher level/pay/influence than a low performer in most professions.

  3. Jade

    I completely agree with this article. I am a high school senior and I have just now developed the mentality that just because high school seems to be my life 24/7 doesnt mean that entrepreneurship has to take a backseat. Now I am applying for colleges, and none of my prospective majors focus in business/finance/entrepreneuship, etc, so I have been trying to find schools based on whether or not they have a high number of student entrepreneurs so that I can surround myself with the right environment and the people with the right attitude, however, many people, like my parents, think that what really matters in a college is whether or not they produce students with high gpas. I want to put entrepreneurship first. Its been very hard for me determining what schools seem to have students who care more about their grades than about being entrepreneurs, or who even know what an entrepreneur is. I know for a fact that Arizona State University has a very high number of student entrepreneurs (in fact, one of their mottos is “More entrepreneurs than an Ivy League”), and it has many resources for student start-ups, so I find this very appealing. I have been accepted, and even though they are offering me a 4-year scholarship, my parents still do not want me to go, due to its so-called “reputation” and the fact that it is not a “brand name” school. But I wonder if this will really matter when I am networking like crazy and building the right kind of mentality, confidence, and inspiration through the people I meet. I feel so new to the idea of being an entrepreneur (my parents are far from it) that I feel like that’s what I need. But my parents would have to disown me first before I can go to a school like ASU. How can I make sure that, where ever I go, I will be sure to meet the right people? I don’t want to get in the trap of thinking that I am “just a student” like I did this past year.

    1. Thanks for the comment Jade. Congratulations on trying to break out of the conventional path. From personal experience, I can tell you that people, not institutions, are the key. If you meet professors and fellow students with entrepreneurial energy then you will most likely come across your own entrepreneurial opportunity as well. That was certainly the case for me.

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