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Should I startup while in college?

Siddharth Ram
2nd May 2016
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India produces over 1.5 million engineers every year. How many of the 1.5 million students actually want to engineer great products and dare to dream? This write-up aims to address these questions.

Recently, Wired published an article on how Andrew Rubin, the creator of Android, quit Google and started working on his next project based on Artificial Intelligence. And this could be inferred from the write-up that Silicon Valley is plunging into the yet-less-explored worlds of smart technology. This new path stands testimony to the growth mindset that the Silicon Valley has cultivated in students over the last few decades. It is this mindset that enabled Silicon Valley to see world-changing startups.

yourstory-CollegeStartups-Feature
CollegeStartups

While students there did all that and continue to do so, engineering students in India are still only learning how to code and build apps and attending redundant startup events and workshops at most. The country now needs scalable platforms and ecosystems that can be tried and tested; giving the 1.5 million engineers to think beyond their campus recruitments and evolve into:

a) Young thought leaders; b) young skilled engineers; c) first-time founders; d) problem solvers; e) hustlers.

The best way to build these skill-sets is to make them plunge head-first into the world of product development. Making them build real-time products while still in college, and then go about getting validation from consumers as opposed to just judging an engineer’s skill based on a thesis.

After having interacted with several students across the country, I came across one question in various forms; the gist of which is “How to be a first-time founder?” While this question seems simple and naive, it has a lot of connotations to it that also reflect the mindset that has been cultivated gradually over the last two generations. This mindset comes from a combination of misinformation, misconception and inability to go out of the comfort zone. But in my perspective and based on my experiences, being a first-time founder is an amazing experience. It gives you a glimpse into the journey of an entrepreneur; sowing the seeds of entrepreneurship into a person’s life. Some of the most common misconceptions are:

a) We need skills and experience to build a product

This misconception is in complete contrast to the growth mindset attitude in the Silicon Valley. This comes from how all of us are programmed right from childhood to add up grades and certifications. There is no actual skill development that takes place in the formal education scenario in this country. That is the reason behind the notion that one needs to acquire skills and experience before trying their hand at something new.

A better way to look at this would be to perceive a startup as an amazing opportunity for an undergraduate to build the skill-set that is required to actually build usable products. Whether it is the actual making of the product or the managerial aspects of handling team-work and sales, a startup will make you an all-rounder. An entrepreneur is a problem solver and a startup venture will turn you into a thought-leader, teaching you to solve a wide range of problems.

b) Starting something while in college is very risky

This, again, stems from the ‘grades-are-the-ultimate goal’ mindset that all of us have been tuned to. However, the point here is not against having good grades, it is imperative for the students to come out of their comfort zone and realise that there is something much bigger than a job at some outsourced company at the end of their four-year undergraduate course.

So instead of just studying and getting through the campus recruitments and landing oneself a job; if a student experiments with a startup while in college, he/she will end up: a) Getting funded, or b) Joining an accelerator, or c) Having their startup acquired, or d) Becoming self-sustainable. The student will have these along with the two usual outcomes of getting a job right out of college or opting for further studies.

Bluntly put, a startup will open a lot of new avenues as aptly put by Paul Graham

Don’t take any extra classes, and just build things. It’s no coincidence that Microsoft and Facebook both got started in January. At Harvard that is (or was) Reading Period, when students have no classes to attend because they’re supposed to be studying for finals.

With these avenues, the primary motto of budding engineers is not impeded, but is catalysed as they build necessary skills while starting up and this eventually, gives you immense confidence to shape your careers.

“Even if you fail to build a startup while in college, it doesn’t matter because your primary mission was to be a student and you didn’t fail at that. You still have the advantage of using their skills while pursuing higher studies.”– Paul Graham

All these experiences only make you better. And if your startup doesn’t work, it doesn’t mean you have failed; it simply is a learning experience.

Conclusion

If you are an engineering student and took the time to read this, it is clear that you have entrepreneurial aspirations. Form a team of three to five of your co-students, brainstorm till you get an idea and start working on it. Setting a time frame of six months, you need to move from being in the idea stage to rolling out a product that people will actually want to use. If it fails, you’ll end up learning what people actually want to use and you will either improve your product or give it a twist to increase its utility.

The mantra to build a Startup is:

Build a Product → Get Customers → Iterate your product → Scale the product → Make money for your stakeholders

If you can do the first two while still in college, you become a great founder that our country is in dire need of. We have to help such talented students become first-time founders.

(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)

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