In my sophomore year of high school, I started a small, scrappy student-run online publication. That was the first “entrepreneurial” thing I did.
At the time, all I knew “entrepreneurial” was how to build a website…barely.
In the last two years, I’ve been involved in a few attempts (both successful and… educational) to start and run companies. I’ve usually been involved as the main design/software/writing person.
And I’ve learned more from starting companies than from any other activity I’ve engaged in, from professional skills to subjects traditionally eschewed by the STEM crowd, like history and writing. What follows is an inexhaustive list:
First, to start a company, you need to know what a “company” looks like (besides a product and a logo). You need to know about C-corps and LLC’s, about stocks and shares, about members and boards.
So I went and read up on them.
Running a company in 2017 means you have intellectual property — patents, trademarks, and copyright (which are not the same things!). It means you need to know which are assets to your business, which you need to protect, and how.
So I went and read up on them.
Second, starting a company means you need people, because even if you have all the million skills required to do it, and even if you don’t ever sleep and dedicate 24 hours to do so, it will wear on you. So you need to learn how to write emails, how to talk to people, and how to make people interested in your idea. You need to learn how to form relationships and stop wasting other people’s time.
I’m still learning how. But I can tell you definitively that I’ve improved.
Of course, you can’t keep a company running without knowing a lot about what you’re making, how it works, who wants it, and why. That means lots of intereviews, lots of late nights with Wikipedia and the Journal, and lots of library time.
In this process, I’ve learned a lot about poetry and poetry publishing with Rebecca and Trubadour. And I’m learning about cryptocurrency, blockchain, and how a new type of financial security emerges, sometimes with to-the-hour breaking news, working with a new company for which I’m designing and programming.
Starting a company requires almost constant writing — emails, newsletters, marketing copy, blog posts, legal docs…And unlike school-assigned writing, it isn’t about doing enough to get by. Everything from word choice to brevity to grammatical correctness and style matters to the extent that it can make another sale or lose a potential customer, and none more.
I wasn’t a terrible writer, but I learnt the best ingredients of good writing by figuring out how to get my point across to people who are busy, distracted, and not paid to read my essays anyways.
In the long-term, being in the business of management means you probably need to see beyond just your checkbook. Policy changes and market trends matter more than when you’re just making a fixed income.
Recently, this has gotten me pulled into studying economics. I’m by no means an expert analyst, but necessity here has introduced me to how markets and national economies work, where we may be in the current economic cycle, and how to critically read arguments for and against things like government regulation, trade agreements, and corporate tax structures.
Additionally, understanding history is indispensible to understanding markets. My growing interest in today’s economy (and by relation, politics, culture, and technology) is pushing me to read up on how the world has been working for the last few centuries, so I can make better educated guesses at where we may be headed.
Lastly, when you have no boss, you are your own boss. You have to learn how to manage your time and hit internal deadlines, because the other option isn’t a grade cut, it’s losing business.
I attribute much of my self-awareness about my working style to this.
Lest this becomes a listicle, I’ll stop there. But my examples have a point, that “entrepreneurial skills” aren’t a specific set of technical credentials. They’re just good life skills, for being a student, for being an employee, for being a good citizen.
And obviously, for starting businesses.
Entrepreneurship doesn’t just pull students into thinking about business and economics, it also fosters, nay, necessitates, development in good writing, essential people skills, and self-management; and understanding of history, economics, and personal finance.
Starting a company is the most educational thing I’ve done. And I wish more students were pushed to give it a try.
If you enjoyed this piece, you might also enjoy my next post, What's more important than STEM?.
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