How Founders Learn
For this week’s post I asked founders if they studied entrepreneurship in college and if not where they learned to be a founder. I’ll say I was a little surprised by the answers from ten fairly young founders. Entrepreneurship is a super-hot topic on college campuses these days. My son is going to be a freshman next year at WashU St. Louis, and entrepreneurship is one of the eight potential majors alongside traditional options like accounting, finance, and marketing. Most undergrad biz schools offer the major now, and every school my son applied to also has an entrepreneurship center. These centers offer business advice, mentorship, pitch competitions, grants and more. It’s all really cool stuff.
However, none of the founders I spoke to studied entrepreneurship in college. While a few did general business degrees, others majored in areas like communications, political science, and English. I heard from founders that these disciplines helped the founders learn important skills that have served them well running their companies, things like “understanding the importance of positioning and leverage”. I am a fair bit older than the founders I spoke to for this post. I graduated from Wharton undergrad B-School back in 1995. There was a management concentration back then that had an entrepreneurship focus, but I don’t remember anyone thinking that was a great idea. My studies focused on finance and multinational management, which served me well in my first career act as a global capital markets guy.
I have seen a lot of posts deriding the concept of studying entrepreneurship in college. The hecklers say that the only way to learn to run a startup is to do it yourself, not read books and talk about it. While experience is a fabulous teacher, I doubt this is the right answer for everyone. I know I would have benefited from this type of coursework before my first startup. There was just so much I didn’t know about setting up and running a business. I also knew nothing about the venture capital world and how it operated. Certainly, I would have benefitted from courses on product development and marketing a new offering to users. I picked up most of this information by listening to way too many episodes of How I Built This, Masters of Scale, and other podcasts. I also read a bunch of books like The Lean Startup and Zero to One. These helped too.
From the founders I spoke to, their learning came from experience. I loved when one founder told me he came from a long line of entrepreneurs, from his great grandfather to his father and uncles. He shared that he learned at an early age to “always put people first, to never stop trying” and also that “nothing worth it in life comes easy or without risk”. His family dinner table gave him a “front row seat on how to be an entrepreneur”. This was awesome, and it tied back to my post from a few weeks ago where I learned that many founders have parents with entrepreneurial experience.
Thanks for reading today’s post. I hope this helps you think about different ways to learn to be a founder.