Advice for incoming college students interested in building products/companies

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Essays

I was asked “what advice would you have for incoming college students genuinely interested in building products/companies?” on Twitter this summer, and stalled in my response, because I wanted to tell them “any advice I give you is, at least subconsciously, my way of either validating or repudiating my own random choices. My advice is take lots of advice, listen to none of it.”

But I couldn’t resist answering eventually. And here’s what I said.

1.  Read as many books (not blogs) relating to robots, cities, medicine, food, finance, etc. as you can.

Reading books is, in and of itself, a way to build discipline, no matter what the subject matter. It is also a way to learn how to write. But most importantly of all, it is a chance to ruminate, meander, and actually go deep in a given topic, even though the thesis could probably have been summarized in a snappy HBR or Medium post.

2. I’d relentlessly pursue the most passionate science students in your class, and I would invest in getting to know them.

Most business, if not all, is applied science today. And while you’re young and impressionable, building a foundation (or at least a network) of science training is invaluable.

3. Avoid fraternities (if you can), but don’t be afraid to be social. Practice it! You never know what you’ll learn from classmates.

For some people being social takes practice. But it’s so important, so work on it. Even if you do decide to join a fraternity or sorority, don’t let the comfort of a built-in social network limit you.Meet a new person, get good at small talk, break outside your comfort zone! 

4. Start writing, and try to write down an observation about the world every day. Share those with people who will engage you on them.

Reading and writing are the two great discipline-builders, and the most brilliant and successful entrepreneurs I know are prolific and expert at one or the other of these. But it’s also a way to do primary research, and to start to develop your observational skills. If you encourage your curiosity and build discipline, you will see 300 problems out there which could, and should be solved.

5. Save some money! Personal cashflow is a critical component of successful entrepreneurship, especially if your family or immediate network isn’t wealthy.

Angel investors who can write a $25,000 check here, or a $75,000 check there go a LONG way if you’re starting a company, or even joining a pre-funded startup. If you can be your own angel investor, all the better. Save that beer money you made doing alumni association calls.

6. Don’t worry.

You will sometimes feel like you have all the time in the world, and other times feel like you have no time left at all. Both are true.

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