Entrepreneurs Don’t Need College

December 30, 2013

11:22 am

My name is Danny Boice and I am a college drop out. There, I said it. I briefly went to college, realized I was spending a bunch of money I didn’t have while not learning anything that was going to actually help me do what I knew I wanted to do in life – start companies. Rather than taking out student loans, I decided to quit and jump into the startup life.

I initially found work as a software engineer and got a “trial by fire” into every role in the product development lifecycle and startups in general. Fast forward a few years, and I went on to bootstrap my first company, got it acquired by a larger company, and I’ve been building businesses ever since.

Currently, I am the co-founder and CTO of Speek where we are making free conference calls fast and easy. We’ve raised nearly $3 million in seed funding and are about to close our Series A. We are growing like crazy and all signs point to Speek being a successful business.

I can honestly say that college played no role in my successes thus far.

What is America itself if not the original startup—a risky operation spun out of Britain? America’s founders risked death to build it. Helping modern entrepreneurs thrive can’t be harder than that, right?

At my startup Speek, we have hired 16 people in the last 18 months – at least half of which do not have college degrees, by the way. We also employ a hive of contractors. We started with very little. Built a product. Started getting user traction. Raised cash. Started hiring. The value of our company grows monthly, and we will very likely go on to generate wealth for our founders, early employees and investors. This is a microcosm of how America’s economy can and should grow as fueled by entrepreneurship. College has no place in this equation.

And yet founding a successful startup is incredibly difficult. I’d like to focus on the primary barrier that prevents normal people from successfully founding startups: securing living expenses while you are raising initial funding and otherwise getting your startup off the ground.

It will likely take at least six months to raise a significant seed-funding round. To do this successfully, you must build a minimum viable product that has started gaining user traction. Early stage startup founders are typically not able to take a salary until the seed round has been raised. Even after the seed round, founders tend to pay themselves just enough to scrape by. It’s the ultimate catch-22: how does the normal person without a previous exit or trust fund afford to even get past the first six months? It is not uncommon for early stage startup founders to adopt the lifestyle of a homeless person to get through the early days.

Why not take the money people use for college and simply use it to live off of while jumping feet first into a startup? Either an unpaid apprenticeship or even full-fledged founder-hood would be far more rewarding for the wantrepreneur than a college education.

Of course, food money for founders is a small part of what is needed. Even with the increase in seed deals over the past few years, raising funding is very, very hard. Investors often seem as ethereal as their namesakes, and “Investment Groups,” or paid pitches, typically end up being rooms full of real estate agents, dentists and Aflac salesmen. It can be a bit of a tightrope act. 

This is not all bad news: it creates an environment where crappy startups fail fast. The thin soil at the bottom means only the most tenacious—and worthwhile—startups can survive. However, a lot of great products fail simply from a lack of access to sufficient capital. At Speek, it took six months of spending 100 percent of our time fundraising to raise our seed round. We have a great team, and each founder has successfully exited a startup in the past. John Bracken, our CEO, was one of the founders of Evite. Should have been easy, right? It wasn’t.

Fundraising and financial considerations aside: Startups create jobs. Startups create wealth. Startups are representative of the values upon which the United States of America was founded. By facilitating startup creation, we multiply job creation.

College, on the other hand, costs you money (rather than making it for you), doesn’t prepare you for the workforce – in fact, it’s not likely you’ll even be able to find an entry-level job coming out of school, much less keep it. Most students these days leave school in debt, unemployed, and under-prepared for the real world. Startups, on the other hand, can make you money, create jobs, and even amidst failure, will better prepare you for a real job or for your next entrepreneurial venture.

Sounds like a simple decision doesn’t it?

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Danny Boice is the CTO of Speek - a 500 Startups-funded startup that lets users do conference calls with a simple link (speek.com/YourName) rather than using phone numbers and PINs. A serial startup/technology entrepreneur and executive, Danny started his career as a software engineer working for startups like Network Solutions and MusicMaker.com in the 90′s. You can find Danny on Twitter @DannyBoice.

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