Throwback Thursday: Five Ways School Teaches You to Run a Start-up

Going through our archives , we came across this great post from February 25, 2015, “Five Ways School Teaches You to Run a Start-up” that we wanted to share in case you missed it the first time around. 

“That’s academic.”  is a term of dismissal. It means that the argument you just raised has no practical importance.There may be times when that aspersion is true (see my next post). It is also true that work life in general, including at start-ups , is closer to school than students would like to believe:

1. You have to spend a lot of your time on stuff that is not personally interesting to you because the powers-that-be, whether teachers or venture capitalists, think that stuff is important. I have never once heard an entrepreneur say with breathless excitement, “I’m going to be computing costs of customer acquisition today.”

2. The people who want you to do that boring stuff are often right to demand it of you. Cost of customer acquisition is an important metric to determine whether you are on track to making a profit. Similarly, despite what you may not believe at the moment, algebra is incredibly useful in a huge range of situations.

3. Speaking of algebra – math matters. Whether it is doing your balance sheets or calculating the correct trajectory and speed of an arrow shot by the character in your computer game you’re making, running a start-up requires being at least competent in math. Often, the better you are at math, the better you will do in other areas, like meeting with potential investors, because you can understand and answer their questions.

4. Learning to read, write and speak well is important. You get a couple of minutes if you are lucky, and 30 seconds if you are not so lucky, to explain your idea to potential investors and customers. Seriously, what percent of web pages or on-line videos do you give 10 minutes of your attention? A tiny fraction, I am sure. Every word counts, and having one of the 25 words you’re allowed misspelled wastes your opportunity. How important is that essay you were required to write comparing Lincoln and Douglas as candidates? If it taught you to make a well-reasoned argument, pretty darn important when you get to arguing about why your audience should give you money to keep operating for the next six months.

5. You have to comply with a lot of stupid, petty requirements. Personally, I think I didn’t learn this lesson too well in school. “Tell us why your start-up is awesome in 20 words.” “Submit a video of no more than one minute.” Is it completely stupid if they reject your pitch if it is 61 seconds? Probably. It’s probably just as stupid as when the teacher docked you 10% because the homework you turned in for your 500-word essay assignment was only 472 words. This is another post all by itself.

My point is that if you think graduating from high school or college is going to be the end of arbitrary demands on you, or that running a start-up consists of nothing but “following your passion” all day long, boy, do you have a rude awakening coming.



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