Lessons Learned From Starting a Business In College

Starting a small-business in college may seem impossible. But the reasons for doing it are innumerable. The economy is lousy. Unemployment is hovering around 9% and might climb. Many businesses are restructuring in order to need fewer employees. And on the positive side, building a small-business builds character and proves future employers that you won’t be dead weight. But instead of sermonizing on why you should be an entrepreneur, the following post relays some tips and lessons I’ve learned on the subject.

Background check: my brother and I have started a small (tiny) business called “Tapity.” We make iPhone apps (theoretically). What we’ve learned goes as follows:

1. Choose your market wisely.

Before investing your blood, sweat, tears, and treasure in a business adventure, be sure you’re in the right market. Choose a market that you understand or that you can easily conduct research in. Choose a market that you have some direct connection to (this makes marketing much easier). And choose a market that is a “blue ocean,” avoiding the “red waters of competition.”

2. Go digital.

I don’t judge you if you want to start a bakery. May the force be with you. But the digital universe is where the money is in this day and age. As a history-major, I’ve come to see that at any given time our economy has a “cutting-edge” where money almost seems to fall from the sky. In 1880 it was in industry. In 1960 it was in the service sector. And today the digital universe is where money grows on trees. It behooves you to pick Benjamins where the picking is good.

3. Network, network, network.

The race is not to the strong, but to he who has the best connections. Fortunately, these days you can build connections via Twitter, Facebook, or events in your industry.

4. Execution is more important than ideas.

Many entrepreneur-types say, “I have a great idea that is worth millions.” No. Even the greatest idea means nothing if you do not have the genius or wherewithal to execute it. Thomas Edison said that “Vision without execution is hallucination.” So you have to ask, “Can I execute this idea?” And if the answer is yes, you then need to ask yourself how you will execute it.
Starting a Business in College

5. Don’t dream: do.

Don’t fantasize about becoming a multinational conglomerate. Don’t imagine becoming the next Bill Gates. Don’t envision yourself exiting the bat-wing doors of your Lamborghini to cheering crowds. Instead, think of how you can build your business. Being a successful entrepreneur demands all the mental energy you can devote to it. Dreamers and fantasizers don’t succeed: those who exercise ruthless mental self-discipline do. You have to spend every spare second strategizing and scheming on how to do what you’re doing better. The Bill Gates’ and Mark Zuckerbergs of the world are this sort of person.

6. Learn from those who have succeeded—and those who’ve failed.

Study super-successful companies like Starbucks, Apple, Microsoft, and Google. Figure out why they succeeded and distill the principles of success that you can apply to your small business. On this point I highly recommend the books and blog of 37signals, a perfect example of a smash-hit small business.

Josh goes to school at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte works at Tapity.

(photo credit: timsanoff)

6 thoughts on “Lessons Learned From Starting a Business In College”

  1. Edward - Entry Level Dilemma

    Great post. Completely agree with the digital. Even, if you are selling a physical item (like my kitchen knife guard that I’m working on), you are going to get the best time vs. money investment of selling digitally. Even the cupcake store with it’s own show on Food Network sells their product online!

    I’d also recommend starting small. Dropping a few hundred dollars on a website, pouring money into an AdWords campaign, quiting your job/school because “this is gonna be huge!” are great ways of making a big fool of yourself if it doesn’t pan out.
    One of my side-businesses that I’m starting is entirely self-funded. I’m putting together a basic website, on free hosting and a free sub-domain, until the business produces enough money to pay for a real domain, hosting, better design, etc.

    1. Totally agree. I’ve met some students who are very enthusiastic about starting a business; but they think they are going to be the next facebook and plan to take the world by storm in a short period of time. Starting small is really the way to go. Start small and build up. No VC required.

  2. Definitely agree with you Donny that starting my own business in college taught me how to fail as well. It also, however, taught me how to pick myself up again, so to speak.

    Great post, MD. Definitely agree with you on many of the points, including leveraging yourself to utilize the digital age as a means to make cash.

    “It behooves you to pick Benjamins where the picking is good.” Love this quote haha.

  3. Nice post, I’m a part of the entrepreneur club at school, but it really is nothing more than padding on my resume. I’m hoping to find a partner and get my idea moving. The club does help with networking with entrepreneurs, but that’s about it.

  4. My brother and I have an iPhone app business that we call “Tapity.” So far we’ve only made one app (it’s called “Grades” and is designed to help students get the grades they want). And we’re coming out with the sequel to Grades in March, right after everyone gets back from Spring break and starts panicking over their mid-term scores.

    It’s been a good, character-building (and white-hair inducing) experience. We have had major problems with pirating, since many highschool students help themselves to the app for free.

    Oh well.

    1. Edward - Entry Level Dilemma

      The thing about digital piracy is that it falls into two categories. 1)People who discover or try new products through pirated versions and later pay for it. 2)The people who would never pay in a million years. These people aren’t your audience anyway.

      But in both cases, piracy serves a function of free marketing.

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