December 13, 2011
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.