Four Pieces of Advice for Aspiring College Entrepreneurs

If you’re in college and your goal in life is to be an entrepreneur, there are a few things you should be doing now that will help you tremendously when you finally walk away with that diploma.

A few weeks ago, I was giving some advice to a college student over the phone. His aspirations are entrepreneurial, and he wanted my advice on what he should do to really be prepared once he had that billion dollar idea.

Here’s what I told him:

1. Define and Build Out Your Reputation

“Personal brand” is a bit of a dirty word, but it is important to be doing things that build up your reputation as a smart and entrepreneurial individual. This means starting a blog and commenting on the subjects that interest you the most. This means setting up and LinkedIn accounts. This means using Twitter regularly. This means not posting too many pictures of your drunken frat night on Facebook.

When a recruiter searches for you, they will find your name on the top of Google Search results. More importanty, they will find smart commentary and a following. Those are invaluable assets in the social era of business.

Building that out now, even before you leave college, makes it easier to network, secure a job and build a company. It makes it easier to recruit for your startup, as well.

2. Network, Network, Network

Networking is fundamental to business, and it’s even more important in entrepreneurship. Convincing users to try your crazy product or partner with your tiny company is a matter of master salesmanship and relationships.

If a personal friend asks me to try out their product, I’m going to try it. Unfortunately, I cannot say the same for the thousands of entrepreneurs that email me regularly. There simply isn’t enough time.

Network now, and network hard. Network not just with your classmates and professors, but with smart professionals in your area. This is especially helpful if your school is near a major business hub (Northwestern –> Chicago; Stanford –> Silicon Valley).

When you have a large and powerful network, job offers come to you and term sheets are easier to secure.

3. Find Your Entrepreneurial Mentor

Mentorship goes a long way towards increasing your knowledge and having someone to rely on when you do finally decide to take the leap. You’d be surprised how many people are willing to mentor you if you only ask; it’s a really positive feeling for the mentor, especially when they see you go off and succeed.

I’m grateful that I found not one, but two amazing mentors while I was at Northwestern. Without my mentors, I wouldn’t be where I ma now.

One more thing: mentors make for great angel investors.

4. Learn to Code While You Still Can

I’ve saved the most important piece of advice for last. No matter your major and no matter your aspirations, learn to code. It will serve you tremendously as an entrepreneur.

I may not have majored in Computer Science (though I wish I had), but I did take programming classes and I did teach myself PHP. The reason is simple: if you can’t code, you can’t build.

Sure, you can find yourself a technical co-founder, but engineers will respect you more if you can speak their language. You don’t need to become a zen master at programming; you just need to know enough to understand what’s going on under the hood of your product.

While things like Codecademy definitely help, there is no substitute to a half-year immersion in programming. That opportunity slips away once you leave the ivory tower.

Northwestern University image courtesy of Flickr, wallyg