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Do high school students make better entrepreneurs than MBAs? - DROdio

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Entrepreneurship Is Taught Through Life, Not In The Classroom

Yesterday a group of students from my alma mater, the University of Virginia's McIntire School of Commerce, came to visit. They were spending a week in Silicon Valley as part of their spring break.

I've long privately urged McIntire to become more entrepreneur friendly. When I was a student at U.Va. in the late 90's, it was a very unfriendly place for entrepreneurs. It seems that things are finally changing, and the fact that these students were in California on spring break says a lot about their enthusiasm for tech startups. I've also written in the past about how high school students have seemed more receptive and responsive to becoming entrepreneurs than college students. It's almost like if one doesn't get introduced to the hunger to be an entrepreneur at young age, it becomes hard to impossible to stoke it later. But this trip made me feel like there's hope for helping people find a passion for entrepreneurship later in life. No matter what, though, I stressed to the students that came to visit that the passion had to come from within them. The best a school can do is support those that want it badly enough to try.

We spent an hour together, and I shared stories with them about how I paid for college by making UVa-branded Frisbees, and sold a card called the Hoos Savings Club Card. (It was way ahead of it's time -- basically an analog version of a daily deals service like Groupon). Here are some related pics:

I'd go around to shops in the Charlottesville area, get them to agree to provide discounts to students for the school year, print the discounts on the back of the card, and sell the card for $20 to students. For anyone in college today, it's a concept that would work just as well now as it did 15 years ago, and it's a great way to make $20k to $50k while you're in school, if you're willing to have a little bit of hustle.

Life Benefits of Employing the Self Discipline of a Buddhist Monk


As an entrepreneur for the past 12 years, I haven't collected a paycheck from any employer other than a company I own.  In theory this sounds great, but there are few things in life that apply more pressure than being responsible for not only your paycheck, but the paychecks of employees.  Most of these companies have done well, but some haven't.  It's also quite taboo to talk openly about the emotional and mental stress that startups create, but privately almost every CEO I've spent time with has shared similar feelings with me.  When Sebastian and I discussed posting on each other's blogs, I figured this was a great opportunity to open up about what it's like to be the CEO of a technology startup along with several previous companies, and specifically to discuss the self discipline that's required to successfully navigate the stresses of startups, because these same lessons apply in anyone's daily life.  As you can tell by the title, I liken it to having the self discipline of a Buddhist monk.

But first, some background:  When I was 22, I graduated from college with an offer from General Electric to work in their Technical Leadership Program.  It was a sweet offer -- a fast-track to management role where a select set of college graduates were rotated through various parts of the company.  It gave me the opportunity to work in Latin America.  I was sent to GE's Crotonville leadership campus, where I'd see Jack Welch, GE's CEO at the time, fly in and out on his helicopter, and senior GE executives would train us in leadership seminars.  It was like being a golden child, a chosen one.  We knew that we were being groomed to be the next generation of leaders at GE, and GE did everything it could to foster that confidence in us.  

This leadership program was just two years long.  It was going very well, but something was nagging at me:  Growing up, I had to be very entrepreneurial out of necessity.  I had to pay for college myself. I'd always been very independent and self sufficient.  Suddenly, I was part of a huge machine.  Although I was being treated very well, I felt that I wasn't being true to myself and my entrepreneurial spirit.  I knew that I could do more, and that if I didn't quit then, I would get sucked into the trappings of corporate life.  So I quit GE six months before I was supposed to graduate from the leadership program.  It was 1999 and the tech bubble was going in full swing.  I felt that staying even six more months would be too long.

Going from GE's leadership program to a startup company is a bit like going from the comfy cigar chair at country club to washing dishes in the back.  It's a jarring experience, but one that I was thirsty for.  I soaked it up, and quickly learned my first lesson in startups:  If you're not really, really passionate about what you're doing, then don't do it.  Although being an entrepreneur is romanticized in popular culture, the road is so long, and the pain is so great, that unless you're really passionate about it, you'll be crushed by the pressure.

Passion for what you're doing in life applies beyond startups.  It's easy for any of us to become trapped in the constructs we create.  We feel like we have responsibilities to those around us to be risk averse.  Maybe you have a mortgage.  Or kids in school.  Or a spouse depending on your income.  But I'm here to tell you that you are not trapped by your environment.  You are never a victim of your circumstances, and you have not only a right, but a responsibility to live your life in a way that inspires passion inside of you.  Those around you will benefit far more from that passion than from your fear of pursuing it, and they will be inspired themselves to seek out the things that they are passionate about.  You only live once.  No, seriously, you only live once.  If you're not doing something today that you're passionate about, then quit.  Take that scary plunge into the unknown.  You will be so happy that you did.  It won't be easy at first, but it well be better immediately.  

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