I recently wrote a post about how the US really needs college students to be entrepreneurial.
I should've addressed it to high school students instead.
I've challenged Georgetown MBAs and others of college age (and older) to get out of the classroom and do something entrepreneurial. I've shared an easy litmus test method for people to get a handle on whether or not they have what it takes to be entrepreneurial. And yet it was this talk at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology ("TJ" for short) that's gotten the greatest response.
Not college students. High school students.
Here's what the student leader of TJ's Future Business Leaders of America club just emailed me:
Hey Mr. Odio,
Hope you've been well. FBLA has been going great this year, and we've
actually been using your challenge to go out and buy something from Costco
and sell it as a focal activity for the year. Most of the members refer to
it as "the Daniel Odio Challenge".
That's awesome, and it makes me wonder if the place to really encourage students to be entrepreneurial is in high school, not college. While I know that being an entrepreneur is a skill that can be learned, apparently it's something that may need to be learned earlier than college age. Well done guys. For more incredible examples of TJ high school students being entrepreneurial, take a look at the comments section of the post where I gave an entrepreneur talk at TJ.
Reem, agreed re: opportunity cost.
It's just a shame that those who gain the tools to be great entrepreneurs don't have the motivation to utilize them.
re. why MBAs aren't more entrepreneurial, if I may use an MBA/economics term, it's opportunity cost. The opportunity cost is higher for MBAs than for college students, and higher for college students than for high school students. (MBAs are presumably foregoing big salaries, and college students are burdened by debt, while high school students have neither.)
I run a website created to help high school and college kids find local jobs (helparoundtown.com). The only correlation I have seen with drive, and entrepreneurial drive in particular, is the culture at home. Not wealth and not education.
Speeches such as yours will help create a critical mass of high school entrepreneurs, which is particularly important at an age where peer-defined social norms matter so.
Yeah I actually have a lot of experience here. My dad was an immigrant from Costa Rica, and for whatever reason (we didn't have a lot of money, or he had different values, or more likely both) I *stopped* getting an allowance when I was about 8 years old. Even when I was getting an allowance, I remember I was getting a quarter a week when my friends were getting a dollar a week.
I asked my mom later, when I was a teenager, why she stopped giving me an allowance and she said "because you didn't need it." That was due to my dad often pointing out to me ways to be entrepreneurial. That's what really made me entrepreneurial -- my dad pointing out the needs of others to me in a way I could understand as a child.
Example #1) We lived in a suburban neighborhood of single family homes that was still being built out. For years there was construction going on just blocks from my house. Driving by one day my dad said, "I bet those construction workers are thirsty -- why don't you sell them sodas?." And I responded, "gee dad, I bet you're right" and he took me to Costco (then called "Price Club") to buy sodas. I rigged a wheel barrow up to have wheels from a skateboard in the back, so I could just push it down the street, and put a cooler in it, and sold sodas to construction workers for a solid 2 to 3 years, making $8 to $10 each time I went out.
Example #2) In high school, I had an hour-long bus ride to TJ from Herndon to Alexandria. My dad again commented that the students were probably hungry on the bus, and for several years I bought candy at Costco and sold it in the afternoons on the bus ride home. I had to pay the bus driver off with a Baby Ruth candybar to look the other way, since I wasn't supposed to be selling anything on a school bus. (The public school system's attitude towards entrepreneurship is fodder for another blog entirely)
I also sold parking spaces at TJ when prices shot up to $100 for the school year (I figured neighbors weren't using their driveways during the school day).
Lots more examples -- I had to pay for college myself, so I sold Frisbees, and the Hoos Savings Club card, and other things, but it did in fact all start for me in elementary school.
Makes me think that an entrepreneurial curriculum should be taught at those younger years to truly have an impact -- that's also often when kids are least afraid to make a fool of themselves, a skill an entrepreneur needs to have in spades to take risks.
Why stop at middle school? I know that I - and many others bitten by the bug - were trying out (failing, in my case) entrepreneurial ventures since elementary school. Right now our "best practice" in child rearing includes using an allowance to teach children about money, the importance of saving, etc. What if instead of (or maybe in addition to) giving a child $1 in return for doing chores, we invested $1 in the child and took a return from the profits of, for example, buying a ticket pack at CostCo and reselling individual tickets for a profit? I'm sure that people much smarter than I am have already gone this route and learned the "do"s and "don't"s of such an approach.
Bryan, good to hear re: adjunct at Rice Univ. re: entrepreneurship.
Yes I wrote a blog awhile back on why MBAs won't typically work for small companies: http://www.danielodio.com/2010/03/15/my-stance-on... -- the gist of it is that they can't maximize the ROI on their MBA schooling costs financially, which is what you're saying too. But the irony is that someone with an MBA theoretically has a greater toolset to allow him or her to be a successful entrepreneur. Sadly, more skills often equals more aversion to risk in the MBA world.
re: MBAs and undergrads -- funny enough, though, that it's specifically the high school students that have shown the biggest response (by far -- see comments section on the original TJ post) to being entrepreneurial. The blankest slate is apparently the youngest one. Makes me wonder how middle school students would do.
As a TJ alum and entrepreneur, clearly I love to see posts like this. As an MBA, though, I also don't find the results surprising. MBAs [generally] teach students how to be corporate managers, not entrepreneurs, which is a very different skillset. MBA students tend to romanticize entrepreneurship "some day" but the overwhelming majority take corporate jobs upon graduation (got to pay off those student loans!) and very few will ever actually launch a venture. One of the biggest obstacles to entrepreneurship that MBAs face is that great, high-paying companies come to recruit them for corporate jobs. If you REALLY want to foster entrepreneurship among MBAs, take away that option by dissolving the career services department (and maybe finding a way to restructure student loan repayment).
Also, it's important to distinguish between "college students" and MBAs, which represent very different demographic and psychographic sets. MBAs have all but self selected themselves out of the entrepreneurial pool but undergrads have a much more blank slate. If we can't inspire undergrads to be entrepreneurs (I'm currently working on that as an adjunct prof of entrepreneurship at Rice University.) then we're really missing something and need to re-think our entire approach.
Hey Tommy sorry to hear it but sadly I experienced this too, when I was at college at U.Va (which I detailed on the other blog I wrote on the topic).
Somehow, being entrepreneurial is very threatening to the status quo. It's celebrated in spirit but when it comes down to brass tacks, people get very scared when it requires them to change their ingrained habits.
Hope it didn't keep you from pursuing your dreams.
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.
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.