10 June 2020

Want to launch a startup next to your studies? 5 practical lessons I learned along the way

Nowadays everyone talks about startups. Whether it is in the news, the latest episode of shark tank or someone you know who pursues some sort of entrepreneurial path.

Startups are exciting. Teamwork, progress, innovation, funding. Buzzwords that we instinctively connect to the startup world. With the power of the internet, everyone can call himself an "entrepreneur". Although it is great to see how many people take the courage to pursue their ideas, it's more important than ever to not jump on the hype just for the sake of calling yourself an entrepreneur. There is more to it.

As a student, you are in a unique position to bring your ideas to life. Although University can surely be challenging at times, you have the freedom to pursue your ideas and create something useful in the world you live in. In the center of it all is something quite simple. Learning.

"Learn early, learn often" - Drew Houston, Co-Founder Dropbox

Why embarking on your own business journey is the best way to learn

Being a student at the School of Business and Economics at Maastricht University studying international business, learning is an integral part of my life. Our courses enable us to dive deep into the workings of the global business world. Combining theoretical insights with practical case studies that are discussed in the problembased learning approach, enable students like me to understand more about the business world everyday.
Although studying business-related courses in an academic context leaves you off with practical insights, this is might not be enough for everyone. Sometimes you just want to go a step further and experience what it's like to be active in the business world first-hand. The best way to achieve this: Launch a business!

For me, being entrepreneurial is closely linked to the active journey of learning. To a given extent, startups can be seen as a series of experiments with the sole goal to (in)validate certain assumptions - in more human words: Learning.

The only way to win is to learn faster than anyone else. - Eric Ries, Author of the Lean Startup

Great. You're ready to put your knowledge you attained at University to work and kickstart your first business project with the intention of learning. What now? Here are five lessons I learned along the way that might be helpful for you. Let's go!

Lesson #1: Talk about your ideas.

A common pitfall many first-time founders face is to think that their idea is so great that if they talk about it too much, people will steal it. Then they become afraid and keep the idea to themselves.

When I first started pursing startup ideas, I had the same mindest. Although some of my mentors early on told me that this was the wrong approach I didn't listen and thought that I should keep the idea to myself. In reality though, it is most likely that someone has thought of your idea before you. Seldom, there are truly new ideas. What I learned along the way is that great execution beats a great idea every day of the week.

But why should you talk about your idea? Talking about something is the quickest way to gather feedback. Most likely your friends and colleagues have different perspective and enable you to see your idea in a new light which in turn helps you adjust more quickly.

The best thing you can do when starting out is to talk to friends, colleagues, your target customers and people that are a few steps ahead of you with their business endeavours. Critical perspectives that challenge your idea is what you should seek. Avoid talking to people who just tell you what you want to hear.
 

Lesson #2: Team up with your colleagues.

Although there are many successful solo-entrepreneurs, most great businesses have been built by a team. That's why choosing great teammates for your business endeavours is key to staying motivated, focused and positive throughout your journey.

Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence wins championships. Michael Jordan

It's important to choose team mates you enjoy working with. People who take responsibility and are eager to learn and share the same intrinsic motivation like you are great matches.

Additionally, it is important to align your team with the right mission. Before you start implementing your ideas, reflect on the purpose of your business and the reasons why you want to solve a given problem.
 

Lesson #3: Solve a real problem.

Great startups are centred around solving problems. Instagram solves to problem of not knowing what your friends are up to. Dropbox solves the problem of sharing files. Zoom solves the problem of difficult video conference calls. The list continues.

One lesson I learned the hard way is not solving a real problem. When thinking about your idea, consider the underlying problem that you are solving. The truth is, if no one really cares about the problem, you won't build a successful business around it. That's why an important part of any early-stage business is to validate whether you are solving a real problem people care about.
 

Lesson #4: Build your product and talk to customers.

When launching a startup next to your studies at University, you quickly realise that time is a huge constraint. Especially when you have assignments you need to prepare every week, time is a scarce resource. That's why focussing on the tasks that matter and allocating your time accordingly is of significant importance.

It's not about ideas, it's about making them happen. - Scott Belsky, Founder of Behance

The only two things you should spend your time on in the beginning of a business is either building your product or talking to users.

Famous accelerator programs like Y-combinator repeat this lesson over and over again. You should either spend your time building (new) products as well as improving your existing ones or talking to users by doing sales activities, customer interviews or pitching your ideas to your target customers. This is one of the secrets that the world's most successful startups shares in the early days of their founding.

Lesson #5: Don't quit your studies.

As mentioned earlier, startups are exciting. Working on your own ideas and creating something useful that impacts people is one of the most rewarding feelings for many people. After you succeed with the first versions of your product, have inspiring talks with cool people and get helpful feedback from customers it is tempting to think life is easy from here. But bear with me, it's most likely not the best decision to just quit your studies and follow what you're passionate about.

Of course, the thought has crossed my mind many times before. Yet, remember the intention of your entrepreneurial activities: Learning. Although learning might seem a lot more fun in the real business world, the courses you take at University shape the way you think and solve problems. Whilst this might not seem too apparent, University is a great place to learn and sharpen your skillset.

Taking an uncalculated risk by just quitting and following what you enjoy at the moment might be exciting but at the same time is perhaps something you regret later. Always remember, there are plenty of great business opportunities out there and the journey of entrepreneurship is characterises by hard work and persistence with a long-term perspective.
 

A final word

Getting a business from the ground is an extremely hard job. It requires working long hours as well as persistence and a commitment to creating something useful for people. While being faced with many struggles, launching a startup is one of the greatest ways to learn quickly. It is a unique opportunity to put what you've learned to use and to grow as a person.

"The best time to start way yesterday. The next best time is now."

I hope the lessons I shared with you today help you get a better idea of what matters when embarking on the journey of entrepreneurship. Of course those were just some of the many lessons I learned along the way but in the end I can just recommend to take the initiative and start working on your ideas. Who knows where this path might take you.

If you want to reach out and have a quick chat about your ideas find me LinkedIn, Twitter or my personal website.