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College and the Young Entrepreneur May 5, 2007

Posted by Brad in College, Entrepreneurship.
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There’s a panoply of information out there on the new developments in the field of education in regards to the budding the entrepreneur. Schools and Institutes have sprung up within colleges and universities and success stories abound. Few, if any, now argue college is not an essential element in the educational path of a person and college and graduate school are great incubators for entrepreneurs. What strikes me as I read these pieces is that few of them come from the people involved; those in college or those who have just completed it. Thus, since I feel that its important to gather different insights I’m going to lay out a road map of sorts based on what I have recently experienced. Hopefully I will be able to provide some interesting pointers for those going through it or contemplating going through it. Here Goes:

College Is Not a Four Year Vacation (At Least It Shouldn’t Be)

Coming into College as an athlete, dealing with injury, and then no longer being an athlete made for an atypical college process. However, I can honestly say that I believe these difficult beginnings were the catalyst to learning some life lessons far more quickly than a typical student. After the initial period of realizing I was at school to learn and advance myself I took to finding what this college thing was all about. College is definitely a time to explore and develop. College is also a time to make mistakes, but college definitely serves the self-aware. As an entrepreneur you possess a built in advantage. I’ve met several confused entrepreneurs but rarely have I encountered one without some semblance of an idea or plan as to where they ultimately want to go.

College is a Great Incubator for the Calculating and Confident

Knowing that it’s good to have a loose plan, I would also argue that it is relatively harmful to have a definite one. The loose plan enables the latitude to learn and explore, the definite one constrains and sometimes traps you if other avenues or interests begin to appear. An interesting debate occurs when it comes to the idea of a broad-based Liberal Arts education versus a highly-focused Technical Skill based education. In my opinion, having experienced both ends of the spectrum at times, the adaptability of a liberal arts degree holds great advantage over a technical degree; at least at the undergraduate level. As I see it the technical skill is the lens through which the broad based education and ability to think should be focused. Both should be developed but it should be a calculated process. This progression from well rounded to focused and specialized seems to serve the general entrepreneurial population quite well and, yes, I’m aware there are exceptions. Again they are the exceptions and not the rule. Specialization doesn’t necessarily prepare you to lead and develop.

Learning to Learn is Important

The one thing most students are not taught in high school amongst the endless memorization and college admissions frenzy is perhaps the most important thing they’ll need in their lives. The knowledge of how to learn gets imparted in college and that, if nothing else, is an excellent reason to go and to do well. Advanced college coursework forces you to refocus in a way that shows you how to learn new material rather just memorize it and repeat it on a test. Yes, it is possible to skate by while running a company or doing other things but if that’s your goal then maybe you need to consider why you’re paying so much to do so.

College Truly is What You Make of It

Realize that college is a wonderful time (best four years of your life? hopefully not). It is often dismissed as clicheed when the advice that “it is what you make of it” is doled out. When it comes right down to it, choosing a college is an act of consumerism and you can definitely take steps to maximize the value of your purchase. No other place that people typically encounter has the resources both in knowledge and skill of the collegiate setting. For the entrepreneur ,college is a gold mine of information, a laboratory, and contained marketplace all rolled into one. It’s often said that one shouldn’t let their schooling interfere with their education. Perhaps in the case of the young entrepreneur one should look to balance the two simultaneously. Hopefully its the first in a long line of successful balancing acts.

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Interesting Discussion May 4, 2007

Posted by Brad in College, Entrepreneurship, Ideas.
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Blogger Ben Casnocha put a thought provoking post up today regarding the need, or lack there of, to have a degree or certification when entering the business world. The gist of his post is this:

Can you imagine if there was a law requiring all wannabe businesspeople to have MBAs (or some other degree)? It would be pure madness.

Why, then, is there a law requiring someone who wants to be a lawyer to have a JD? Why is there a law requiring someone who wants to be a public school teacher to have an education certificate? Why is there a law requiring someone who wants to be a doctor to have an MD?

Why wouldn’t we just let the market self-sort itself like we do in the business world? Some people get MBAs, some don’t. Some people value MBAs more highly, some don’t.

Obviously it hit a nerve as it has sparked quite a discussion on Ben’s blog. As I’ve written in the discussion over there, I feel the major reason is that the consequences of a failed business are far less than the consequences of a failed court case or failed education. It is interesting then, now that the discussion has begun to focus on the free market, that two reasonably educated people can come to incredibly different conclusions regarding the same subject. My opinion is that Reflexivity plays too large a role in the market in the short term for society to be able to weather the ups and downs without at least a little market regulation. What do you think?

An Interesting Case of Finding and Need and Serving It May 3, 2007

Posted by Brad in Entrepreneurship.
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I was walking down the street today and by chance I saw an incredible work of entrepreneurship. Out in front of one of the small businesses along the street I live on was a big white truck with a logo on it that said “shred-it”. Upon closer inspection I found this truck to be an apparatus which pulls up in front of a building and handles the document destruction for the company that contracts it; a giant mobile shredder of sorts. When I got home I did some further research and found Shred-It to be a Toronto-based company with branches all over the world.

It got me thinking about how some of the best business ideas are the simplest and the one’s that you’d normally overlook. I don’t know about you, but I can’t say I would have thought to create a company like Shred-It. Up until now I would venture that most people took document disposal for granted. When you look at it though, this company follows a very typical model for a thriving business. I believe it is the Heinz Company who’s motto is “To do a common thing uncommonly well brings success.”

In a world of increasing specialization it is important to seek out under-served niches. Shred-it has successfully done this by creating a simple solution to an ever-pressing problem. They chose to satisfy a common need and that provides them with a large market. When Shred-it’s service combined with new found fears of identity and data theft, you end up with a blossoming company. In looking to Shred-it as an example I think the major points a young entrepreneur should take away are:

1. Find a common need and specialize (at least initially)
2. Develop an uncommon solution
3. Make it cost effective for the companies you serve

In the future, by following this model, I believe business service contractors like Shred-it will take up an increasing portion of the market as companies look to gain efficiency by farming out non-central tasks to specialists. If you’re looking for further information on how it all works, check out Shredit.com or for another example of a company doing the same type of thing check out AccounTemps.com; a California firm that provides accounting services for companies not yet large enough to worry about the hassle of it all on their own and larger companies who would like extra piece of mind through transparency.

Learn To Sell Yourself May 3, 2007

Posted by Brad in Career, Entrepreneurship, Life Entrepreneurship.
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No, no, no, of course it wasn’t meant like that (got your attention though didn’t it?). So you’ve probably heard something about this from your career center or your parents and probably brushed it off. In this case though, you should have listened. For starters, if you have an entrepreneurial take on the way you live your life, it is likely that you’re already familiar with the importance of being able to convey an idea or to present yourself in a way that motivates others to work with you. If you don’t think of yourself this way, you should consider starting. You would be surprised how important this way of thinking can be when it comes to separating yourself from the crowd.

In light of my recent experiences in the the post-graduation world, I have come to believe that knowing how to sell or knowing the process of making a sale is an invaluable skill to have. A sale is inherently more complex than someone deciding to make a transaction. A sale involves researching to find and target prospective buyers, developing knowledge and understanding of what it is you are selling, and then articulating this knowledge in a persuasive manner so that the buyer decides that your product or service is a worthy or functional purchase.

Now I bet some of you are wondering how in the world this applies to you, after all you don’t want to be a salesperson. You might be surprised to find out that transactions like this happen all the time in areas that you wouldn’t necessarily think of as the world of commerce. Ideally, the ability to sell is quite helpful in what could be referred to as human commerce. An excellent example occurs in the process of job searching.

Effectively, when searching for a job, you’re selling yourself to potential employers. If done correctly, you will have taken the time to sit down and decide what skills you actually possess, to research and find companies that are in need of those skills, and once you’re knowledgeable of your skills be able to tell these companies that you are in fact capable of fulfilling their need. This is an example of why it is vital to know how to sell and is where it becomes a skill that can translate to many facets of life. If you’re an entrepreneur this applies to you as well and is probably even more critical to your future success. Many would argue that a little sales knowledge could have saved many failed start ups. Its important to realize that everyday interactions can benefit from sales experience. Getting a loan from a bank, convincing your extended family where to take this years family vacation, and pitching your business plan are all examples of sales you might make.

This may be a bit of an extreme position in the interest of playing devil’s advocate but I do believe that the ability to sell can serve you many times over and is essential life skill for anyone, no matter their business or occupation. How important do you think it is to know how to sell? Am I using the correct terms when applying it to real life situations? What experience have you had with this philosophy? Has it helped you?

Reconciling the Real World May 1, 2007

Posted by Brad in College.
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Coming out of college, today’s students are faced with some distinct realities. More and more students are struggling with the balance between what they want to do and what they need to do to stay afloat and increasing numbers are simply refusing to settle for the latter. Much has been written about this balance but a few standout. As someone who has been contemplating this a lot lately here are some of the things I have found most helpful.

The Brazen Careerist

Penelope Trunk is a former corporate worker who has done extensive thinking into the subject of a balanced life and is one of the few out there who are actively, consciously, and thoughtfully taking steps to do something about it. Her blog should be required reading for anyone but especially those just starting out into the world after graduation.

IWillTeachYouToBeRich.com

The tongue in cheek title of this blog should not take away from the content that’s provided within. In the absence of a real life mentor Mr. Sethi would be a good online starting point. Ramit takes the time to logically organize and disperse tips on how to face the difficult battle between finance and enjoyment in the real world while producing some sound financial advice and providing some great tips for entrepreneurs at the same time.

Feld Thoughts

For the entrepreneur, Feld gives interesting insights into the world of venture capital and high tech entrepreneurship along with some poignant writings on business and life as well. If you’re looking for inspiration check this blog out its always good to see how the mind works of someone who’s already “been there and done that.”

In the vein of inspirational blogs that everyone should read, Ben Casnocha’s might take the take. Ben has done more than most and hasn’t even entered college yet. His blog possess a personal and conversational tone and is a great look into the mind of one of America’s most fascinating young entrepreneurial minds.

Life of Meaning

Steven Tomlinson’s Blog may be quite different from what you expect out of a blog but it definitely shouldn’t be overlooked. The blog consists of one post; one very long post that should be read over and over again. Tomlinson’s discussion of the balance between passion and career comes from a high school commencement address given in 2002 and while this may seem interesting and trivial, readers should be slow to dismiss these words coming from one of the instructors at what is arguably the worlds most innovative and rigorous entrepreneurially focused business school; The Acton School of Business in Austin.

What’s going on here?! April 29, 2007

Posted by Brad in What's Going On Here?!.
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If you’ve found this blog you likely have an interest in business and entrepreneurship. Being that this is a new blog, it is probably a good idea to start you off with a little primer. The writing and conversation here will stem mainly from my journey as a newbie in the “real world” that occurs when college ends. Posts will revolve around the questions, concepts, and barriers that arrive and form tangentially to the things I encounter in the business world as a newly-minted college graduate. I welcome all feedback and suggestions. I am constantly looking to improve what goes on here in order to be of better service to everyone involved. I’ve found that writing helps me to sort my ideas out and keep track of what works and what doesn’t. Hopefully, publishing it will inspire others to entertain the idea of think like an entrepreneur in their own lives even if they never intend to start a company or enter the world of business.