Student Entrepreneurship

I was recently invited to speak on ‘Student Entrepreneurship’ at TIE Entrepreneurial Summit 2010 in Delhi. My co-panelists,  Vijay Shekhar Sharma (One97), Ashish Kapur (Yo!China) and panel moderator Mahesh Puri (Outlook)   shared their journeys as young entrepreneurs. It was heartening to see that almost 80% of the audience were composed of students and all of them were eager to start their own business. Awesome.

I was unable to share all my views on this subject, so here we are. Lets start by defining ‘Student Entrepreneurship’ (SE). SE is a business started by a student while pursuing his/her education.A bit of background on how I qualify as a ‘SE’. I and my partner Abhinav founded Practo in 2008 when we were studying our final year engineering at NITK, Surathkal. We graduated in June 2009 and have continued to build the company full-time since. We are today a strong team of 10 spread across Bangalore, Mumbai, Chennai and recently Delhi with over 500+ paying customers.

So lets get right to what are the most important things which helped me start and run the business while in college :

1. Join your E-Cell. Became Aware.

My seniors in college, started an Entrepreneurship cell in 2006. My partner (Abhinav) and I were one of the first few (four) to be selected for the E Cell. This was the first time I came across the concept of ‘Entrepreneurship’. This association with the E Cell was very helpful. E cell gave me access to alumni who had stared their ventures, got me to events across the country where I was inspired by some awesome entrepreneurs. It also gave me a group of passionate people who were all inspired to become an entrepreneur someday.

2. Get Started. Nothing to lose.

As a student, you have no responsibilities (apart from passing your examinations). Not much is expected from a student. This is the best time to get started. People say that the most difficult part of starting a business is getting started. And as a student, your inputs (cost of living) are taken care of and its the best time to maximize your outputs. Even in the worst case you – failure,  you can always find a job.

3. Family. Family. Family.

Parental pressure is one of the main reasons why students interested in startups, entrepreneurship cannot stick with it. Most parents feel ‘This is what life has taught me and I wont allow my children to go down that road’. Yes that is correct but life changes, world changes. Starting a business or joining a smaller company in todays world works. Students need to get their family on their side of the equation from  Day 1. After working hard on my startup for 1 year, my parents told me, ‘if your business can occupy your restless mind 24 hours a day for months together, then you truly are passionate about it, we are with you’. I am lucky.

4.  Startup Mentors.

I made the mistake of not having ‘Startup Mentors’ early on and it cost me big time. When you are young and inexperienced, its an advantage – ‘Nothing seems impossible to you’, ‘You feel can rule the world’ and this is needed for SE. But a disadvantage is that it makes you commit really basic mistakes which can easily be avoided. This is why you need ‘Startup Mentors’. When you need medical opinion you trust a doctor, legal issues go to a lawyer, similarly you want to startup go get few startup mentors. Startup mentors are those who have done what you are about to do, they have walked the path you have choosen, –  learn from their mistakes. When choosing your Startup Mentors, dont go by flashy character, designations or companies, spend time with them and be choosy. We got our mentors in 2009 – The Morpheus. It enabled us to take our business to the next level.

5. Money should be the last thing on your mind.

If you want to make money take a job, want to make a lot of money become an investment banker. There is a big misconception that entrepreneurs get rich.
Want to learn how the world works, become an entrepreneur.
Want to create, build something new become an entrepreneur.
Want to change the way world works, become an entrepreneur.
Never chase money, if you are doing something worthwhile it will chase you. Trust me, be patient. Common startup excuse – ‘My idea needs money’. If you really need money to startup, invest your own. If you can’t, get your friends and family to invest.  If you cant do that as well, you aren’t even worthy to be entrepreneur. Monetary constraint helps build valuable companies. Innovation happens best with monetary constraints.

6. What should I do. My idea sucks.

This is the other most common reason why people do not startup. Entrepreneurship is something you learn by doing,  not by reading or imagining. Smart people figure out the way as they walk. Your measure of entrepreneurship by learning, talking, imagining will be 1% of what you see in the real world. So start. Start now. Your time is already running out. Your idea is good enough to start. Go to market, learn, change. Go start now.

I would like to make a mention of NEN here, who have really helped students in colleges understand and experience entrepreneurship. Thanks to TIE for having me over, it was good fun.

Also, thanks to Nandini for reviewing this post.

Student Entrepreneurship

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