THE DROPOUT DILEMMA

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THE DROPOUT DILEMMA

(Source: www.dosomething.org)

Dropping out of college has become a thing now. It probably has to do with the stories of so many luminaries who made it big despite not going the degreed path. Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and many other dropout billionaires have seduced young minds worldwide into believing that dropping out and working the markets sooner can bring them  fame and fortune that much faster. Caterina Fake, co-founder of Flickr and Hunch, actually advocates dropping out over wasting time and money in college if your goal is to become an entrepreneur. 

This trend has enticed students throughout Asia as well. Many aspire to forge a path similar to the ones taken by dropouts such as Haruhisha Okamaru, founder and CEO of Adways, and Jack Ma, founder and chairman of the Alibaba Group (and also the richest person in China). The craze has made its way into Nepal as well, so much so that these days, I am not at all taken aback when my friends here talk about quitting college to focus on their startup ventures. 

Many aspire to forge a path similar to the ones taken by dropouts such as Haruhisha Okamaru, founder and CEO of Adways, and Jack Ma, founder and chairman of the Alibaba Group (and also the richest person in China).

But the question that remais unanswered, and the dilemma that remains unresolved is this: is dropping out all that it’s made out to be? 

 

Exceptions to the rule

(Source: rachelkingbatson.files.wordpress.com

Most people who consider giving up formal education probably think along these lines: “If they can succeed, then so can we.” However, such naive thinking fails to accommodate the fact that Gates and Zuckerberg are outliers: we are so mesmerised by such success stories that we hardly notice the millions of similar ones about those who have failed. Moreover, the people that succeed in this trajectory are usually those who are backed by the resources that they need to become entrepreneurs--be it the finances for their ventures or the technical expertise needed. This amalgam of commitment, intelligence, resources and a fair amount of luck fills in for the training and mentoring a formal college education would have provided. Such an amalgam is rare in an individual.

 

The times have changed

(Source: media.gq.com

Nepali businessmen of the earlier generations were able to tap into the market and succeed without having higher levels formal education. The consumers too did not have too many options to choose from. For the businessmen, learning by doing was the preferred way to get things going in business. Binod Chaudhary, for example, left his studies when he was 18 and still was able to build a dynasty; and he started out with only a department store, Arun Emporium.

But the information age has changed the dynamics of entrepreneurship. Markets have become diverse, and consumers are getting smarter every day. Information is fed directly into devices in their hands, and consumers can compare prices, features and models, and read up on product reviews, which makes entrepreneurship a more difficult proposition than it already is. The old business models that helped such people as Binod Chaudhary have already become obsolete. While you can still opt to ‘learn by doing’, there is a greater range of things that you as an entrepreneur have to learn before starting your venture, and there is no better accessible platform than college to do so. 

But the information age has changed the dynamics of entrepreneurship. Markets have become diverse, and consumers are getting smarter every day. Information is fed directly into devices in their hands, and consumers can compare prices, features and models, and read up on product reviews, which makes entrepreneurship a more difficult proposition than it already is.

 

Procuring investment

(Source: academy.cityfunders.com)  

Once you’ve put your time and resources into your startup, you will want to procure capital investment, possibly from a third party. An evolving ecosystem of angel investment and venture capitalism has made it easier for entrepreneurs to get that capital; however, a venture capitalist is likely to look into the authenticity of your startup, which has much to do with your team’s education and experience. If you don’t have a degree to flaunt, even if you have the knowledge in your head and the experience in your resume, then the potential of your startup is compromised in the eyes of your investors. This might make procuring investment more difficult. 

 

Not just textbooks

 

(Source: usatcollege.files.wordpress.com

Caterina Fake’s proposition that college is a waste of time and money is based on the premise that colleges operate on a “factory model,” while entrepreneurships operate on an “apprenticeship model”--a premise that I completely agree with. However, the conclusion that she reaches is perhaps premature, in that she does not consider the other things that colleges can provide. A college is not merely an academic institution; today, even in Nepal, colleges offer so many things that could help launch an entrepreneur’s career. For example, one of the most important ingredients needed to succeed in the entrepreneurship world in Nepal is networking, and what better networking platform is there than college? Participating in different club activities, working in group projects, and simply mingling with a diverse body of students in college helps would-be entrepreneurs build the skills they’ll need to use in the real world. 

A college is not merely an academic institution; today, even in Nepal, colleges offer so many things that could help launch an entrepreneur’s career. For example, one of the most important ingredients needed to succeed in the entrepreneurship world in Nepal is networking, and what better networking platform is there than college? 

Furthermore, for enterprising students, textbooks are just the starting point for making deeper explorations into their subjects of interest. The college environment allows students to absorb as much knowledge as they can, with teachers guiding them along their learning path. This type of mentorship would be difficult to avail of in a business setting, where seniors at work might not have the time to guide incoming workers. In colleges, it is the job of teachers to help students learn as much as they can. True, there are teachers who might not be as committed to their vocation as much as they should be, but if you look around, you will find at least one mentor who can inspire you to be all that you can be.

 

Room for mistakes

 (Source: www.paullemberg.com

 Mistakes are painful, and if you’ve dropped out of college and invested in your startup, even a minor slipup can be devastating. Blunders made in college, on the other hand, can, at worst, become learning opportunities. Rookie mistakes made in college can serve as opportunities to learn and grow for future ventures.

 

To each his own

The stories of Gates, Zuckerberg, Ma are alluring, but there are also success stories of people who have taken the traditional route through college and built business empires--Buffet, Tata, Ambanis, Gilbert. 

The pivotal question, then, is: who will you take inspiration from?

  *First published in M&S VMAG 

 

 

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Guest Tuesday, 16 January 2018