Alexis Ohanian at UT-Austin, October 2013
Like many students at this university, a lot of us in the Longhorn Entrepreneurship Agency are starting new companies. It makes sense – we’re a group of entrepreneurs making this university a more accommodating environment for student startups. And while as entrepreneurs we haven’t been nearly as successful as many of the professors, alumni, and mentors we’ve had exposure to, that’s no deterrent at all; in fact, it’s incredibly encouraging.
Entrepreneurship events are going on all the time here, and they hold immense value. We could be listening to world-famous entrepreneurs speak, or simply talking to other students about our business ideas. No matter what event may be going on, we get inspired all over again every single time to keep pushing in our quests to build worthwhile companies. And we know there are thousands of others on campus just like us. So while it’s impossible to replicate those inspiring conversations we’ve had with fellow students – you’ll have to create those for yourself – we want to share these bits of (paraphrased) wisdom from entrepreneurs that students like us have found to be the most insightful so far this school year:
Consider your major
John Arrow, former UT-Austin student and founder of MutualMobile, shared this idea with the LEA’s Freshman Founders: if you really want to start a company while you’re in college, think carefully about your major and the time you’ll spend studying daily. Filling your requirements by taking 18-hour semesters for 4 years may get you a stellar job when you graduate. But if you’d rather start a company of your own, be cognizant of the time it will require on a day-to-day basis. Being a student entrepreneur is hard; don’t overload yourself.
Take the challenging professors – not the easy ones
Even if you take the advice above, it’s important to take advantage of the knowledgeable people you’ll encounter in college. When Oliver Shuttlesworth, former UT-Austin student and founder of social enterprise Esperos, was giving advice to college students this past semester, he recalled his time in classes just a few years ago. He said in classes that GPA-focused students didn’t like to take – ones with the “more difficult” professors – he learned much more than he ever did in classes where professors were known to be easy graders. And he’s a better person and entrepreneur for it, so keep that in mind next time you’re scoping out MyEdu.
Learn to code
Alexis Ohanian, co-founder of reddit, closed with this point when he visited the UT-Austin campus on October 30th: becoming computer-literate is one of the most valuable things a student can do, and you can do it for free. It truly is a language, and it offers up an endless number of opportunities for those who understand it. He drove home this idea when he said, “Any one of us with an idea, an internet connection, and a laptop can change the world.”
Right now is the best time to be a software person
Jeff Lawson, co-founder and CEO of Twilio, shared this thought when presenting in the Longhorn Startup seminar. He emphasized to the crowd that software developers have greater potential than they’ve ever had before, and with their ability and the constant emergence of new technologies, the possibilities for creating new businesses are endless. But he also said just understanding the basics of software and how it can be utilized, without being the engineer yourself, is absolutely worthwhile. And in his book that still counts as being a “software person”.
Cam Houser, former UT-Austin MBA student and founder of 3DayStartup, had a similar point. He stressed that college students should be aware of all that their university can offer, and how they can best utilize that to start, or grow, their companies. He used the example of a student starting a basic web business: if you want to learn web development, take some computer science courses. If you want to make a quality logo, take a class in graphic design. Look around you and extract all you can in this environment, because it’s very likely you won’t be in college the rest of your life.
Entering the corporate world when you graduate is okay
This one gets attributed to a lot of people, and it sounds odd coming from the college startup community, but it’s an important point to make. Yes, a lot of entrepreneurs want to start companies in college and work for themselves their entire lives. But everyone has unique goals and encounters different circumstances at different stages. Experience in the workforce can benefit future ventures in the form of industry knowledge, specific skills, or even just a hatred of working for others. Plus, it’s been pointed out that many successful entrepreneurs don’t start companies until they’re well past their undergraduate days. Stay innovative and entrepreneurially-minded.
Jason Seats sold the company he co-founded to Rackspace and is currently the Managing Director at the TechStars Austin accelerator. But he started his career in a corporation. When speaking to UT students, he described the corporate world as a treadmill. When you work for big companies, he stressed, you will always be chasing a new achievement, a new challenge, a new title, or a better salary. And often, you won’t be fulfilled. Before he quit he even bought a book that was supposed to teach him how to love his job. Then he realized the corporate life wasn’t for him. He warned that it’s difficult to get off this so-called treadmill and start a company, even with the best intentions. Consider yourselves warned!
It’s all about effort
Does Mark Cuban need an introduction? When being interviewed at the Longhorn Startup Demo Day on December 4th, he kept saying that in order to be a successful entrepreneur, you have to put in all the effort you can; there’s no way around it. There aren’t any shortcuts, and it’s often an uncomfortable lifestyle. You may even put forth all the effort in the world and still fail. But if you don’t give your startup all the effort you can, you’re not going to see it succeed. This is especially important in today’s world, with the startup lifestyle being glamorized more and more via movies and media. Always remember: there’s no easy path to the top. Let’s trust the billionaire on this one.
If you’re a student at the University of Texas at Austin, and if you’ve ever wanted to start a business, we encourage you to put yourself out there and see just how much this startup community can offer you. There are so many different organizations, students, and mentors with different specializations that can benefit your ambitions immensely, whether you’re a freshman in Engineering or a senior in English. At the LEA, we’re bridging as many gaps as we possibly can and putting on a few events while we’re at it. If you want to get more involved, check out our website, utlea.org. Our Portal tab connects you to different startup programs within the UT-Austin community. Our Connect tab allows you to keep up with us on whatever platform you prefer. Our Classes tab showcases entrepreneurship-related classes at our university. And that’s only the beginning, because as the former students above can attest: what starts here changes the world. Hook ‘em!