Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and Larry Ellison have a couple of things in common. Besides being tech billionaires today, they share another commonality. They were all once college students who dropped out of their university programs to take a shot at something they were passionate about: entrepreneurship. While all of them had brilliant ideas, what got them from their humble garages to become some of the most venerated entrepreneurs of all time was the innate drive and skills that they had to survive in the cut-throat world of business.
If you are a college student reading this, here are five skills you must have to succeed as an entrepreneur. And you don’t have to drop out of college to chase your startup dream!
Be willing to use the resources available to you
Sure, you have a million-dollar dream. But your frugal college lifestyle may not allow you the generous budget to finance your first startup. The good news is that university campuses are breeding grounds for startups. College students should leverage the resources at their disposal—the vast library system; smart and experienced professors who could become your valuable advisors and a strong peer network for support. Today, several universities also have on-campus incubators to help students launch their startups and seek mentoring and networking opportunities.
College years are probably the best years to take risks and be fearless with your entrepreneurial vision. More often than not, college projects convert into a startup idea for budding entrepreneurs. Larry Page and Sergey Brin were students at Stanford University when they conceived the idea of BackRub, which led to the birth of Google, one of the most valuable tech companies in the world.
So, yes, do keep the startup lightbulb on while you’re cramming for exams in college.
Be willing to learn
Entrepreneurship is no cakewalk. It teaches you life lessons that are hard to come by in your college curriculum. As a budding college entrepreneur, you need to acquire new skills and find innovative ways to learn about your startup’s industry and the business landscape at large.
If you are passionate about building a company, get out of your comfort zone and be hungry to learn about new sectors and innovations. Take the example of Jeff Bezos, founder, Amazon. From building an e-commerce empire, his sights are now set on launching people on the moon through his new startup Blue Origin.
Tata Group patriarch Ratan Tata exemplifies what it takes to be a lifelong learner and industry disruptor, despite the humungous success and laurels that have come his way. Tata’s post on Instagram at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in May 2020 captures the true essence of his entrepreneurial zeal: “In past difficult times, entrepreneurs have displayed far sightedness and creativity that could not have been believed to exist. These became the flagpoles of innovation and new technology today. I hope that the ability to find another way to build a product, run a company, run operations a better way, will emerge as an outcome of the current crisis.”
Be willing to collaborate
Collaboration is an essential skill for college students because while a single person may be able to found a startup, it takes a village to run a company. Entrepreneurs should be willing to work with others and embrace fresh viewpoints to scale their company. The strongest entrepreneurs are those who value the ideas and opinions of others and try to implement them in the larger vision for the company.
One might be a brilliant college student, but that doesn’t necessarily make the person a brilliant entrepreneur if he or she is opposed to collaboration and teamwork. Indra Nooyi, the former Pepsico CEO, believed in placing her team on a pedestal. “People are everything,” she once said. “The success of an enterprise usually comes down to one thing: the team.”
College students are used to collaboration when they work with others on projects or land their first internship. They should know how to leverage their skills as a team player in their role as a startup founder.
Be willing to hustle
If you are a fan of the TV show ‘Shark Tank,’ you may know that Mark Cuban, serial entrepreneur and one of the ‘sharks’ on the show, lauds entrepreneurs who are willing to hustle and be tenacious enough to make a mark in business. Budding entrepreneurs who are still in college, should be enterprising enough to put themselves out there to pitch their business idea to whoever is willing to listen. Hustlers understand the importance of aggressive networking to get ahead in business. The more people you know, the better are your chances at pitching your product, getting funding or finding new market opportunities. Essentially, the power of the hustle lies in growing a thick skin and keeping one’s chin up in the face of rejections. And, yes, there will be plenty of rejections.
But if you adopt a ‘hustler’ mentality, it will help you think on your feet, grab the right opportunities and make your startup dream a reality.
Be willing to fail
Show us an entrepreneur who hasn’t failed, and we’ll show you a leopard without spots. Industry titan N.R. Narayana Murthy had launched a startup called Softronics before he founded Infosys. Though the venture didn’t take off, Murthy refused to give up his entrepreneurial spirit—and the rest is history.
According to serial entrepreneur Ronnie Screwvala, co-founder, upGrad, entrepreneurs who stick it out when they’re hardest hit are the ones most likely to taste success.
Clichéd as it may sound, failure is often the stepping stone to success.
Budding entrepreneurs should be prudent and strategise for potential failure. The smart thing to do would be to have Plan B ready as a fall-back option. Even if your first startup doesn’t take off, the setback will prepare you for future growth. If you give room for failure, you will become more resilient and eventually pave the way to success.
College students should note that entrepreneurship will take them from the classroom to the real world, compelling them to acquire new skills along the way. However, what cannot be taught in a classroom are the innate skills budding entrepreneurs need to succeed in the world of business.
If you have the ability to see the bigger picture before chasing your unicorn dream and have the aforementioned skills to tackle on-ground challenges, you are already on your way to creating startup hist