The reading level for this article is Novice
On November 14, 2002, I came to the conclusion in my article, ‘Should I Go to College’ that I had made the right decision in going to college. As I noted, however, this decision had not come easily. In fact, until early November, I was very much in doubt about whether I had made the right choice.
In late September I wrote in my journal, "Now in college, I have begun to develop a helpless, poor man’s attitude of dependency. I have not had the time to do interviews or make many business contacts here. I have lost all the momentum I had when I left Bradenton. If I would have stayed I could have made $200,000 this year, bought a house, invested in real world education, and traveled the world at my leisure. Now, I am just a normal college student. Why am I here?"
By the time I wrote ‘Should I Go to College,’ however, I had by then changed my mind. I noted that had finally met some young entrepreneurs, discovered the Carolina Entrepreneurship Club, and was learning how to take care of myself and live without my parents. Although I had given up a lot in going to college, I was beginning to see the value of college.
This article, one could say, is the follow up, the part two of ‘Should I Go to College.’ Now with the year finished, what do I think about my decision? Do I still believe that I was right to go to college? In the end, what did I gain and lose? Will I be returning next year?
First, let me unequivocally state that going to college was absolutely the right decision for me. What I have gained this past year has many times outweighed what I have lost. The relationships I have been able to build, the friends made, the fun had, the perspective gained, the learning done, the progress towards a degree achieved, and the personal development accomplished all have been invaluable to me. I have come out with better psychological health, a new philosophy on life, and a growing network. Let me analyze each of these.
Time Was Money
My senior year in high school was different from that of most. Each weekday I would wake up at 6:30am, go to school for four hours, and then go to work for eight hours. I’d then come home and talk to my girlfriend on the phone, finish any homework, and fall asleep at midnight. Much of my life was dedicated to building the company I was working with. Having a crucial role in building this company from $0 in sales to $1MM in sales during this year was a wonderful learning experience. It did, however, have some negatives.
Continuing with the company until the week I left for college, I was still in work-mode when I began university. All my friends, besides one, were over twenty-seven. I viewed everything in terms of opportunity cost, and this took a heavy toll on my psychological health. I honestly could not relax for if I did I would see myself as losing money. While it was good that I had a tremendous work ethic, I soon realized that all I was doing was working, either on school or business, eating, or sleeping. I felt guilty the few times I did relax as I felt that I as long as so many persons in other countries were suffering and did not have the opportunities that I had, I had no right to relax.
At this same time, I was confronted with a big challenge. For the first time in my life, I found myself having to take care of myself. I had no father to wake me up and no mother to make dinner for me. I had to buy my own food and wash my own clothes. I had no car and thus little freedom, and upon arriving in Chapel Hill did not know a single person. In short for most of August and September 2002, I was psychologically strained and a bit depressed. I was a workaholic and not all too happy. I was debating whether or not I had made the right decision. Fortunately, however, as I noted in my November article, things soon took a turn for the better.
A New Philosophy and New Opportunities
By January, out of necessity I had developed a new philosophy. In short, I stopped viewing everything as having a monetary opportunity cost and further realized the importance of relationships and psychological health. I realized that if I did not have a little fun and invest time in making friends I would never have the health or contacts to help anyone else. I discovered that I would be okay if I did not accomplish all my life goals before age 20. I took things much easier during the second semester and benefited greatly from it.
With the new semester beginning I had many new opportunities. I had finished with the dreaded calculus, accounting, and statistics classes and could finally take some humanities and economics classes that were much more attuned to my right-brained self (and that did not start at 8am). I also had developed a great relationship with Jeff Reid from UNC’s Center for Entrepreneurship and Technology Venturing. I had talked to him about doing an Independent Study in Entrepreneurship and working as a research assistant and volunteer with his organization. Beginning in January, these activities would prove to be a source of tremendous joy for me.
Through my Independent Study in Entrepreneurship I discovered many good books which will help me make Zero to One Million a better book including New Venture Creation, Entrepreneurship, HBR on Entrepreneurship, Innovation and Entrepreneurship, Political Ideologies and the Democratic Ideal, The Young Entrepreneurs’ Edge, The Young Entrepreneurs’ Guide to Starting and Running a Business, How to Win Friends and Influence People, and The Student Success Manifesto, among others.
With Jeff’s help I was able to sit in on three MBA classes this past semester—‘Venture Capital Deal Structure,’ ‘Legal Issues for High-Technology Start-ups’ and ‘Managing Small Businesses.’ I was also able to start an interview series with successful entrepreneurs and as Vice President of the Carolina Entrepreneurship Club build the fledgling club to over fifty dues paying members. I was back into the entrepreneurial game, laying the foundations with a new friend of mine for a software venture, and was actually going out on Friday and Saturday nights with friends my own age.
From these experiences I learned three important lessons. First, to have friends, one must invest time and be a friend. Second, life goes on. If you are depressed one moment, change a few things and your mental attitude and wait a few weeks. You’ll likely be better. Finally, if I had all the money in the world, I would want to be exactly where I was—in college, living in a dorm with all my friends. I should not have been in such a hurry to get out of there.
By the end of the year, while I still worked hard, I did not work all the time. I took time to enjoy life, built strong friendships, and made memories I will have with me for the rest of my life. Taking it easier and focusing on building friends and relationships made me a much happier person.
How I’ve Developed
This year at UNC has been very important in my personal development. I left Florida in August as someone who knew web marketing. I’ve come out the other end as a full-fledged entrepreneur that understands the entire process of starting a business. Incorporating my first company in October, Virante, Inc, taking accounting, reading two entrepreneurship textbooks, adding content to zeromillion.com, and sitting in on those three MBA classes has taught me a great deal.
I came to Chapel Hill as someone not all too confident in his public speaking ability. My body would shake when I talked in front of more than three or four people and I had to read off note cards. By taking a communications class first semester, and more importantly being the Vice President of the Carolina Entrepreneurship Club and speaking to the members at each meeting, I have overcome these fears and am now a very good, non-shaking, and confident public speaker.
With this year away from home, I feel I can now live on my own. I am ready to move on to the next stage of moving into an apartment and soon after a house. Going straight from living with mom and dad to the real world, without this year of apprenticeship in the dorm, would have been too much. Living in an apartment setting, I would not have been able to find friends, especially if I lived where I was in Florida, far from any good colleges. I am now a bit older, a bit wiser, an inch taller, and thirty-five pounds heavier.
What I’ve Learned
This year at UNC I have learned from both my academic classes and from experiencing life. I have learned about accounting, statistics, calculus, public speaking, organizational management, starting a business, interpersonal relations, personal care, Western History, psychology, venture capital, friendship, fun, economics, and life. Learning about double-entry bookkeeping, derivatives, standard deviations, the Freudian Id, the Reformation, the time value of money, and the Solow economic growth model has been just as important as what I have learned about how to deal with, persuade, and analyze people, how to make friends, how to enjoy myself, how to live without parents, and how to speak to a large group.
I have become a much more conscious person and much better at dealing with, being around, and talking with adults. Living with teenagers and having cable, I have learned about popular culture and how normal teenagers think. I now know about John Mayer, Dashboard Confessional, 50 Cent, Billy Joel, college basketball, and the importance of instant messenger. Most importantly, I have developed a knack for beer pong and a love of clubbing.
Building My Network
Leaving for Carolina in August my network was nearly non-existent. By focusing on building relationships this year I now have some very strong connections and access to nearly anyone I would want to get in contact with, only one or two persons removed. I’ve met three dozen millionaires, very good attorneys, heads of entrepreneurship organizations, future board members, venture capitalists, business professors, student entrepreneurs, media contacts, business partners, and some people who I can just have a good time with. I have built zeromillion.com to a site receiving 53,000 unique visitors each month and the Entrepreneurs’ Chronicle and Young Entrepreneurship Herald newsletters to 9,500 subscribers.
Progress Towards a Degree
If I had not gone to UNC this past year, I may never have made it through college. After just eight months of school and with AP and SAT II credits, I have finished half of what I need to do to graduate. I have 56 credits out of a needed 120 and can graduate with only four more semesters. I have earned a 3.76 GPA overall and furthered my immense interest in economics. Although I will be taking next year off of school to focus on business, writing, and travel, I will be able to graduate with my class in May of 2006.
I do feel confident that I will come back no matter how successful I am in my time off since I want to study economics, business, and history further, and also be able to have an undergraduate degree to I can do an MBA or Ph.D down the road.
But is College for You?
Just because it worked out as the best thing for me this year does not mean going to college will be the right decision for you. While I think at least a year in college would benefit all aspiring entrepreneurs, I must preface these remarks by emphasizing it is not for everyone. Let me quote part one of ‘Should I Go to College’ to further explain this point.
In case there is anyone reading this that is considering starting their own company and not going to college, let me say this. Be very careful. For most people I would say that both a college degree and the college experience would be extremely beneficial. I feel that I may have been part of a select group that already had such specialized skills and such knowledge about the way the world worked that I might have been fine without going to college. If you feel you are in this group by all means go for it.
However, make sure you have a mentor and a support team to help you along the way. Both of the two young adults I know who have been able to create successful companies without going to college had mentors that helped them with their businesses, developed a support team of lawyers, CPAs, and a board of directors, and hired top quality talent to help manage and grow their businesses. Further, you need a good idea. No matter how hard you work if you cannot provide a service or product that the market demands you will not succeed.
College can be a great time to refine a business plan and build the contacts needed to make it a reality, so choose carefully. However, at all but the best schools it may simply not be the best use of your time if you know exactly what you want to do and feel you have the means to achieve it. There are plenty of ways to network, develop as a person, and to learn what you want to learn without being in a structured educational environment. College is not a prerequisite for success in business by any means. However, if you have other goals such as becoming a teacher, scientist, engineer, or working in Corporate America a degree will be necessary.
On a final note, I have seen many motivated people not go to college and instead of building a support network and successful businesses have fallen into the hands of idleness and in some cases drugs. Do not let this happen to you. Either way, you will reach your dreams. Just keep at it and work hard.
Let me express further express view by quoting my friend and collegiate entrepreneur Ruchit Shah, "You’ve got all your life to be responsible, well mannered, practical, but you’ve only got four years to be invincible, to spend money with but a dime to your name, to live with your best friends in the world, to take chances with no care for the consequences, to sleep at sunrise and wake at sunset, to love with no regard for anyone but her, to be educated on what you want to learn, to experience what you will only attempt to describe in words later&ldots;to live as if you were to die tomorrow."
If you have the opportunity and are still in high school, work hard so you can get into a good college. It will be a time during which you will meet the friends and contacts you will have for the rest of your life, grow immensely as a person, receive free consulting from business professors, immerse yourself in what you are interested in, and learn about love, life, and people. If you do not or did not have this opportunity you can surely succeed without a degree. You’ll just need extra enthusiasm, diligence, and an ability to learn from life. The key to knowledge is to always know the right questions to ask and be prepared for whom you meet along your journey. The key to psychological health is to invest time in being a friend and having fun, while maintaining a good work ethic. Remember these two keys and you’ll always be okay.
Foundations of Success
Through I will always be a prolific traveler, Chapel Hill is my home now. I have found no truer saying than, "Home is where your friends are—people that know your name and care about you." I am physically and mentally healthy. I am happy. I have laid the foundation which will enable me to over the next fifteen months reach my goals and accomplish some very meaningful things. I have laid the foundation though which I will be able to publish Zero to One Million, build a million dollar company, start my foundation, and be learning from and engaged with life each and every day. I am $9,000 poorer but infinitely richer. I made the right decision.