In college looking for a job? Why not create one instead?

A question that has perplexed me recently has to do with the incredible brainpower that leaves colleges and universities only to be stuffed into a cubicle.  Why do college students, filled with risk aversion, swimming in ideas, surrounded by similar and opposite minded people, with access to incredible faculty, services and support gravitate toward a job?

It is hard to ignore the  stellar successes of business launched at/during college by people like Gates, Dell, Zuckerberg, et. al.  We know that like these successes, there exist failures of many businesses.   But are those successes and failures any different than those achieved in a job?  The risk of failure at this stage is worth the chances of success.

Many students are looking to start a life after poverty, one where they buy their new car, a house, get married and have babies, immediately launching themselves into years of loans and servitude.  A car and a house are liabilities and babies require a steady paycheck to pay for diapers and health insurance.   How about utilizing your skills in living in poverty to not just earn money, but rather CREATE money?  When you live the life of a startup, making a product with little or no resources, selling it to fulfill an unmet need, you can create something real, of value and learn critical life and business lessons at the same time.

Each job you create has a multiplier effect — you earn money from your work and off the work of others who choose to work with you.

Surely, the desire to go get a job is steeped in needing to make payments on the student loan that will start requiring monthly payments soon after graduation.  Make a short term compromise — work for someone else just enough to pay for rent on an apartment, gas for the car, payment on that loan and invest the remainder of your time in creating your product.    You already know how to live on 3 hours of sleep a night — find a way to bill the remainder to those who need your services.  Your skills may be in drywall finish, programming, taxes, accounting, retail, auto repair, gun maintenance,  brewing beer, valuation of antiques, writing, teaching, and more — all skills that can earn you 20 bucks an hour as an employee or 75 an hour as an independent business owner.

Parents, Grandparents, aunts and uncles will tell you that the risk isn’t worth it and a job is the ultimate reward — BULL!  Ever hear of LIFO principles — they apply to jobs too.  Last hired is first laid off with little remorse.  The jobs of your parents and grandparents went poof in the last economic downturn along with a large portion of their 401ks and more.  Rightfully, many businesses disappeared too, but the business owners are returning long before the jobs because they know that the skills are valuable, in-demand and worth money even today.  A drywaller still charges the same amount of money — just is available a little sooner,  my car’s oil change is still the same $29, the programming services in the US are still commanding VERY high $$, despite a billion programmers in India, Russia, China, Phillipines and more coding for <$10/hr.    Work is still being demanded and business owners are making more than employees.

A common piece of advice for budding entrepreneurs at colleges is — just do it.  Think of what a startup needs – idea, caffeine, computer, time.  What does it not have  – employees, money, fancy digs, nice cars.  Now think of what a college student has – ideas, caffeine, computer, time — with no  access to employees, money, fancy homes or cars.  As a student, you already have the trappings of a startup – leverage them!

So what can you do while shlepping between classes –

a) register your business – others will do it for you for as little as $139 per corporation.  Go to your state’s secretary of state’s website and lookup other companies public filings for startup.  Get your ideas, create your document and run it by a lawyer.  Barter services for the lawyer or pay for his time.  Register your business because the act formalizes the business in your head

b) Know what you know well.  Practice your elevator statement (one you can recite to a potential in 30 seconds or less) and forget about all other marketing statements.   Then WRITE DOWN what you DON’T know and don’t try to do what you don’t know.

c) get 3 customers and work for free if you have to.  To quote Steve Ballmer from 15 yrs ago – DELIGHT THEM.  Their references are worth their weight in GOLD.

d) ask these 5 for a reference customer and work for this customer for full price.  Delight them.  Ask for a reference.  Repeat until you can afford marketing and sales.

e) Hire!

—Tej Dhawan