Founding a Startup is Just Like Going to College

Over the past four months my co-founders and I have had the experience / pleasure / challenge of launching our startup, CouponRoller. What we’ve discovered is that our day-to-day activities, our mindset and the ramifications of our execution are all incredibly similar to our university and college days. Much more similar, in fact, than it was when working for a startup as an employee, even as one of the first employees. Here’s how:

1. Risk, Uncertainty and Flexibility – In college, you risk starting a degree, a direction, a school and it not working out. You might not end up having the passion you thought you would for that particular discipline. So you might switch it up, change departments or universities entirely. These uncertainties and dilemmas are thought about and discussed among college students quite ubiquitously. A good friend of mine moved from Chemistry to Physics, then to Journalism and finally to English Lit. At a startup, this is called pivoting. And it’s quite common.

2. Networking – Some of my closest friends today are from my college days. At university I met the people who would later become business associates, co-founders and advisers. Similarly, while working hard getting your startup off the ground, you’ll most definitely forge alliances, meet new contacts and speak with more people on a daily basis than you ever imagined. This will grow your network both in breadth and depth.

3. Languages Skills – At college you’ll likely take a language course, or maybe even two. You might pick up some words in other languages when chatting it up with classmates from around the world. Maybe you’ll take part in an international student exchange, do a semester abroad. Heck, you might do what I did and do your whole degree abroad. At a startup, you can find yourself working with international markets. You’ll localize your product and forge global partnerships. And so you might find yourself picking up a new language there as well. Which I love doing. For example, I’m learning Japanese in order to communicate with our Japanese partners and customers. 素晴らしい !

4. Tests and Exams – Your profs test your knowledge on the subject matter. This is how they challenge you to do your best, and weed out those who don’t. In the startup world, it will be your investors, the board, the press, your competition etc. who test your knowledge, execution and performance, pretty much all of the time.

5. Financial Investment – To go to college you invest your money (AKA tuition). At your startup you (generally) invest your money to get it off the ground while bootstrapped. Even when working from your garage, you’ll spend a couple bucks on freelancers, SAAS products, licenses and so on.

6. Financial Opportunity Cost – While at college you have the opportunity cost of working, albeit generally at a lower-paying job. Most entrepreneurs launch startups after having worked in the hi-tech sector for 5-10 years. And so they have significant opportunity cost to their time when they decide to build their dreams.

7. Learning – In college you learn stuff. At your startup, well, that goes without saying.


Shaun Waksman is co-founder and CEO of CouponRoller.

*This post is *not* meant to discourage people from going to college.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s