Budding Entrepreneurship

Ross Mayfield's Weblog: Budding Entrepreneurship


If you were about to graduate from college and had an interest in becoming an entrepreneur, what would you do?

That's the gist of an I received in an email from Taylor Brooks, an entrepreneurship major pondering the big questions and asking for advice. With permission, I am answering this openly and hopefully drawing in better experts than myself.

Change your major. I am kidding, but seriously, the best undergraduate studies can give you are critical thinking and communication skills. Entrepreneurship can give you exposure to concepts of risk so you might take the right ones. But surveying different disciplines from politics to art to science gives you different ways to look at the world, helps you understand different people and makes life more enjoyable. Innovations and business opportunities happen where disciplines collide.

Start a business. Lots of people will give you advice to just get out there and start doing it. The smallest of ventures will teach you big things.

Connect with the Net. Your business doesn't have to be in Tech, in fact, most things are not. But dorm room ventures that leverage the Net can produce, market and distribute with a minimal investment. You don't have to be Michael Dell to do this. Even a simple service with a web front-end can get you going. And in absence of code, elbow grease will get you a long way.

Take responsibility beyond your years. I have never had a job I have been qualified for. Strive to put yourself in difficult situations. Go work with a non-profit, where they treat and trust interns as full-time employees out of necessity.

Go abroad. Not only is the world a very big place and has much to teach us, but expatriates are given greater responsibility because who you are is of greater difference. Go teach and practice entrepreneurship in a developing country.

Experiment at the margin. This is what Al Osborne at Anderson, my professor of entrepreneurship, says entrepreneurs do. Start with what you know and can do, then extend it a little bit. Right now you at least know the market of students and their parent's money. Tweak the idea, implement, take stock and tweak again. Iterate.

Have fun with failure. Make mistakes and make them often. Make them early, because the only consequence decisions have early in life is what you learn from them. Persist.

Take time for strategy. When you are in the midst of blocking and tackling, its hard to step back and gain perspective. Understanding trends and focusing your mission can not only save you time, but even save your business.

Pay yourself. Its so easy to forget to pay yourself when you are driven by passion, but don't forget that is why you are working.

Service the desire. When I was a kid I bought a book, "how to make money with your Apple II+," written by some other kid. None of the business ideas made sense to me. Except publishing that book.

Do different. No matter what you do, do your own thing. Differentiation is perhaps the most important attribute of a successful venture. Not just for standing out in a crowded marketplace, but doing the little things inside the company in a way that is better than your competition. And if you can't invent a great positioning or process, you can always excel at personal service.

Work with good people. Life is too short for anything else, and good people do good things.

Stick to ethics. Money isn't worth getting into trouble or ill repute. And you will soon find out how small the world really is and how it iterates upon you.

Be a businessperson. In his last years, my grandfather told me: the difference between an entrepreneur and a businessman is that while an entreprenuer is in it for the fast buck, a businessman makes a lasting contribution to his community. Times and terminology have changed, but the difference between a social entrepreneur and a self-interested entrepreneur has not.

Start a weblog. Had to say it, see below, follow the links, you get the idea. Have a learning journey with other people. I would recommend a bunch of books, but get to them in context.

Now by some measures, I'm not an expert, just a guy passing on a few learnings of my own. I'm hoping that some of the Entrepreneurs and VCs in blogspace can chip in their own.

February 29, 2004 | Permalink

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Tracked on March 1, 2004 10:50 AM

Great advice to *all* undergraduates. It seems that there are few jobs out there (at least interesting ones) that don't require a degree of entrepreneurship, if not a degree *in* entrepreneurship. I've just printed it out and hung it on my door in the hopes that someone will read it and be inspired!

Posted by: Alex Halavais at March 1, 2004 05:45 AM

Students and new grads have a bit more flexibility on the "pay yourself" clause than 40-year-olds with kids and a mortgage. This offers the opportunity to do more with less money...


Posted by: Bill Seitz at March 1, 2004 08:59 AM

Great letter! It's funny because I dropped out of college to start my own company and when faced with the decision to either go to grad school or start her own company, my wife opted for giving it a shot rather than more schooling. Years later that was obviously the best choice, you learn things no one could ever teach you.

Posted by: sean bonner at March 1, 2004 09:23 AM

i'm nowhere near being an undergraduate anymore, but i find the advice helpful, or at least affirming.

Posted by: denise at March 1, 2004 12:22 PM