Lee Schneider was nice enough to interview me on the latest of episode of TechSmart Podcast to ask – Should Entrepreneurs Go To College?
Listen here (or see the transcript below) –
Or download the mp3 here
Does College Help Entrepreneurs?
Is it still helpful for entrepreneurs to go to college?
I don’t think so…
But my father, a self-made entrepreneur who attained 3 Master’s and 2 Bachelor’s degrees before the age of 23, felt A LOT differently.
As I progressed through the school system I felt I was outpacing it, eventually feeling it had a negative effect on me and my future as an entrepreneur.
That idea, previously an extremely controversial one, is brought up increasingly often as our school system begins to implode.
So much so, that even my father has come to the conclusion that it may not be good for entrepreneurs to go to college.
Listen to the podcast above to head Lee and I speak more about the effects of college on a young entrepreneur.
Here is a transcript of our conversation-
Lee Schneider: It’s TechSmart; I’m Lee Schneider. We’re focusing on entrepreneurs in this edition of TechSmart who have a once uncommon but now increasingly common route to success: they left college to pursue their dreams. With me today is Will Mitchell, director of marketing for affluence.org and founder of StartupBros. A 22 year old entrepreneur who dropped out of school to pursue his entrepreneurial dreams. Welcome to the podcast.
Will Mitchell: Thanks Lee. Glad to be here.
Lee Schneider: So tell me a little bit about Affluence.org and moving on to StarupBros. How did that play out for yo
Will Mitchell: I got started with Affluence.org through my father actually. My father was the founder of Affluence.org so he kind of took me under his wing there and at the time when I was involved with Affluence, that was my freshman year of college; so it was really discouraging almost to go to classes every day and then come home and work on a really exciting start-up and doing what I love, which is building businesses. So in that company, that’s when I first started to see where my route would go with college and everything. So I stuck with Affluence for a year or two – and Affluence, by the way, is a social network where you have to have a verified net worth of over $1,000,000; so when people apply, we had a team that would basically go out in the public records and try to verify their net worth and that was the application process for that. In 2010, we sold Affluence and we ended up selling it I think for 1.9 million so it was a pretty decent two year, you know, launched it and two years later sold it for 1.9 so definitely, when I started seeing numbers like that, I really started to just lose my nerve almost with college, but from there I became pretty deeply involved with Internet marketing and became an offline marketing consultant, and eventually launched StartupBros. StartupBros is basically just an educational community for entrepreneurs to share what they are learning through their business experiences so, yeah, that’s kind of my route.
Lee Schneider: You talk about college, kind of comparing going to courses and seeing what college was like versus the excitement of doing something you really loved at that point it was Affluence.org. Is there a bigger reason why college wasn’t right for you that you could pass on to others – in other words, is there kind of a paradigm here because lots of people would say yeah I really liked skateboarding so I want to do that instead of college; but obviously, that wouldn’t be a good enough reason to leave college, so, is there a big reason or a big connection that you could make with your experiences in school and then your experiences in the business world?
Will Mitchell: You know, you say “is there a big connection?”. I wish there was a connection. In my perspective, I don’t see a lot of connections between the things that I learned in school and the things that I learned in business and entrepreneurship, but again, I don’t think college is inherently harmful for all people but if you’re an entrepreneur who knows what they want to do with their life and knows that they want to change the world and has that boundless passion, that energy, I don’t see how college is going to help someone with that mindset.
Lee Schneider: So then, it’s possible that there are things that you learn in the real world that college doesn’t touch?
Will Mitchell: Absolutely.
Lee Schneider: So, what might some of those things be?
Will Mitchell: I would say almost everything that I’ve learned and apply on a daily basis and apply to increase my earning potential; increase my ability to build a business or change the world… I think I really can’t put my finger on many things at all that I picked up in school from that, you know, to that end ; but again, you know, school can give you structure. It can give you basically a structure – a set of rules and things like that, and I think it can be good for people that don’t have that structure yet. Again, if you’re an 18 year old entrepreneur and you already have been launching businesses for a couple of years – you see the potential, you see the disconnect between the material that you’re being forced to cover and regurgitate. You’re going to see the disconnect between that and the real world and what you’re actually applying in the real world, so I think it’s just going to get harder and harder for anyone with a real passion to get anything good out of college.
Lee Schneider: Wouldn’t that be an argument, though, for fixing the curriculum? Like, let’s say, I made an unlikely proposal to you: I want you to be a teacher. You could tell other people what you , well you’re probably not going to do that – but, you know, someone might argue if college isn’t relevant, if college isn’t providing the information that these entrepreneurs have leapfrogged to because they’ve already found success, why shouldn’t we fix college? Or do you think that it’s not worth it to fix college and people just do real world experience?
Will Mitchell: Again, I don’t think that there’s no use for education for entrepreneurs, of course,; but when I was in college, I would have to go to some business class and read a book, not even study a book freely,- but go answer a whole bunch of questions about a book that I had read five, six years ago and understood better than the teacher in many cases. If you go to the source material and, you know, one of the things I like to do is to take two directly opposing ideas and go the source of those ideas and then really read yourself independently what those people’s opinions are and how they formed those opinions and then freely and independently come to a conclusion and have your own internal debate in your head between those two opposing ideas, which again, I think it’s possible for college to re- form itself into something like that but until they show some sort of initiative towards it, I’m not really confident in their ability to because it’s just so monopolized at this point and so controlled by a few big companies and things like that.
Lee Schneider: Well it’s also a thought process which has sort of stopped, meaning that things are changing so quickly in the online world and the business world, and the courses that they’re teaching in schools are sort of the same things and the same principles that they were teaching a while ago. Now, it’s true that certainly there are eternal verities and eternal principles that aren’t going to change but so much has changed that I think that people look at that and go “huh? why do I need that?
Will Mitchell: Right
Lee Schneider: Let’s say, if you were going to look at the universe of people out there thinking about this – they are entrepreneurs, or would-be entrepreneurs and they believe themselves to be the next Will Mitchell or the next Zuckerburg, Jobs, Dell or Gates and let’s say they’ve decided “oh, I don’t really need to continue with college; I know what I need to know”. Well, how do you know that? Let’s ask that question a different way. What characteristics does a startup person or entrepreneur really need to make it?
Will Mitchell: It’s an entrepreneur and it’s someone that comes to that conclusion when they’re going into college that’s able to say to themselves confidently and not arrogantly that I am or I could be the next Mark Zuckerberg, I’m reasonably confident that I can make a lot more of myself and my life by not going to college. I think the only thing you need to look at is yourself. You need to seriously analyze yourself and figure out if you’re willing to do what it takes to be an entrepreneur – like a real entrepreneur because now it’s becoming a trendy thing, but you have to understand what being an entrepreneur means – the daily grind that for some reason that class of people called entrepreneurs enjoys and other people don’t like.
Lee Schneider: Right. I think that’s a really good point. One thing you’re saying is self-examination is important; a really clear view of yourself. But you’re also saying that there’s this kind of glam image of the social network style entrepreneur where everything is a lot of parties and getting bigger and bigger offices and what I can see is the reality is: it’s a lot of time spent and a lot of roller coaster stuff emotionally, financially and otherwise – not only from the bootstrapping people but from the people who are backed with a lot of money – you know, it’s kind of a roller coaster.
Will Mitchell: You have to be an entrepreneur as a person. An entrepreneur can’t be your job; your profession. You have to be an entrepreneur and I think many people are starting to see entrepreneur as a sort of profession and I don’t think that’s what it is. I think it’s a lifestyle choice
Lee Schneider: Yeah, right, like kind of a calling or something like that.
Will Mitchell: Yeah, because your whole life is, you know, pretty much from the moment you wake up until the moment you go to bed ; at least the really good entrepreneurs I know – they’re thinking of ways – how can I possibly fill the time I have; how can I get more out of that time, all the time
Lee Schneider: Yeah, right
Will Mitchell: Because it never ends.
Lee Schneider: Right. Are there a few things that you’ve learned from real-world scenarios that did never come up in college? Are there are few like five or four things that you could tick off that were real world things that you found when you got into this for real?
Will Mitchell: There are probably four or five main things but like I said before, almost everything I learned about entrepreneurship and business was learned in entrepreneurship and business and not in college. I would love to say that college made me more sociable but it only makes you more able to fake conversations with random people who, in the long run, only serve to pull your career down, for the most part. What I really learned in college was how to hold my booze. What I learned out of college was literally everything else I know rely on, not just in business but in politics, economics, sociology, psychology. Almost everything I learned was while avoiding school and self-guiding my education. I’ve yet to meet the economics- finance major, that was my major, I’ve yet to meet the econ major who knows anything close to what I know about economics – and I don’t say that in any bragging or arrogant way but it’s a saddening experience to talk with an economics graduate these days because they simply just repeat things out of the books they’re given and call it knowledge. They don’t even understand the point of knowledge or thinking anymore. It’s all just regurgitation of this information and then they feel that they’re smart for that, and it’s sad to see smart people end up like that.
Lee Schneider: Well what gets tested really fast is the, I guess the term is the ability to think on your feet, which really means the book learning is great and for some people I think college is a very helpful form of incubation. They’re hatching something, they’re thinking about something, they’re deciding on directions and all of that I think is really valuable, but if someone has already decided on a direction and probably has the chops and passion to make that happen arguably then you need to experience that, you need to think on your feet, you need to react to things and you need to really know what you know and just taking a test or something like that doesn’t really tell you what you know. It tells you about the ability to take a test.
Will Mitchell: Yeah. I couldn’t agree with you more there, especially because like you said if they don’t have that passion, if they don’t have that clear path already, that calling, I think that’s one of the main functions of college these days is to find your calling and find your purpose, but again if you’re sitting there at the front of it saying well I already know what I’m going to do on the other end and you’re just sitting there trying to think of how to make it worth your while, then it’s probably not going to be a good experience for you.
Lee Schneider: Yeah. What would you recommend to somebody thinking about dropping out and thinking about getting into their tech or doing their startup. What factors should they consider when they look into themselves. What should they see?
Will Mitchell: If you’re going to be an entrepreneur, you have to know that it’s a complete lifestyle. It’s not a profession, it’s not a hobby. It’s a complete mindset. You’re going to think differently than 95% of people you meet out there, and that’s just how it is. I think entrepreneurs need to have an undying passion to be the best entrepreneur they can possibly be. They need to have a burning passion and need to change the world. Entrepreneurs are the type of people that are somehow born thinking about their legacy and what people will think when they’re gone. They are out there to prove to the world that their ideas and their action alone can make the world a significantly better place. Anything less than that feeling, I think they’re going to be missing; I think it’s going to be impossible for them to hit the second most important thing for an entrepreneur, which is persistence. So if you don’t have that undying passion and that undying need to change the world – and you won’t stop until you do it – then I don’t think being an entrepreneur is for you
Lee Schneider: It’s also this ability to really see into yourself clearly in the sense of, it’s not like you get up in the morning and say hey I feel like doing this but you can really say I feel like doing this for the rest of my life.
Will Mitchell: Right. They’re very in touch with themselves and their desires and why they desire things and how to set up their lives in the future. They’re very forward thinking and very analytical of themselves.
Lee Schneider: Tell me a little bit about how this tracks into StartupBros and how that’s helping people and what you really want to get out of that – and what you want people to get out of it.
Will Mitchell: Me and Kyle, who is the other founder of StartupBros, this is probably our sixth or seventh business together and we’ve been launching businesses together since our senior year of high school; so we’ve always kind of made businesses that throw – I don’t want to say throw it in the face of college but that’s kind of what this business is StartupBros, it’s kind of us, our statement to the world, saying you don’t need college to be a successful entrepreneur and to try to show people how easy it can be to be a successful entrepreneur because the way people are brought up now in American society is they’re basically conditioned to believe to a certain extent that college is necessary to do anything great, and it’s just not like that at all. I think every person out there has greatness in them. They just have to figure out how to let it come out and how to optimize it.
Lee Schneider: You could look at the money capital part of college and that there is a statistic you quoted that you can a million bucks more but of course most people are paying a lot of money to go to college even more and more, so that offsets the so-called million bucks more, and then there are the unseen things like the social capital and connections people make with each other and there’s the people who need to learn how to learn and need to learn how to find a passion and I think college serves people in many ways, but I think that’s one way that it serves people well.
Will Mitchell: Yeah, I absolutely agree. I’m sure after everything I just talked about I’m sure I come off as someone who is just completely opposed to college but I think college does have a lot of good use still, just not, if you’re an entrepreneur, like I’m sure you were at that time and I was at that time and a couple of my friends were at that time, you can see the difference between the mindset of a true entrepreneur at that stage and someone who doesn’t really know what they want in life. So I mean, specifically for entrepreneurs, I think college is probably harmful
Lee Schneider: Why harmful, though? It is useful, but why harmful? I mean, what’s it going to hurt?
Will Mitchell: You know, from my perspective, I see colleges as a shell of what they once were. Colleges used to encourage independent thought, they used to encourage original, disruptive thinking and of course it really depends on your opportunity cost and your aspirations because there are a lot of respectable jobs that need college for arbitrary reasons but nonetheless they need the college degree, but for entrepreneurs it’s just not like that and the opportunity cost for an entrepreneur is always going to harm them. Business is a real world activity that I think needs to be learned through experience and can’t be learned in the classroom and even if it was learned in the classroom, you still wouldn’t be under the pressure you would be if you were taking real entrepreneurial risks. So, I think the way I saw college as an entrepreneur looking into myself like you said when I was 20 and looking at dropping out, I didn’t see that it was going to be worth it for me. I saw it as an excuse to not go out there and take the real risks that I should be taking. So I guess if you’re an entrepreneur, just make sure you’re not making that mistake because if you know for sure you’re going to be an entrepreneur, and you’re going to start launching businesses, why wait 4 years?
Lee Schneider: Well this is very thoughtful. Thanks for joining us on the podcast today.
Will Mitchell: Oh yeah. Thank you, Lee
Lee Schneider: That’s it for the podcast today and thanks for joining us.
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