So you want to be an Entrepreneur…
“Don’t follow leaders/Watch the parkin’ meters”
— Bob Dylan, “Subterranean Homesick Blues”
If you really want to be an entrepreneur, and you will know if you do (because you can’t possibly imagine yourself wanting a “real job”), you must expand your realms of knowledge, hang out with odd people, and not settle into any comfortable job for very long right out of college or grad school. Beware of the prestigious and lucrative post-education job offer because you will adapt your lifestyle to your excessive compensation; then pretty soon it won’t seem excessive, and you will crave promotions and a bigger salary. You will wake up one day and realize that you’ve signed a Faustian, or perhaps Dilbertian, deal.
“But wait,” you say, “If I give some time to The Man, I will then have savings, a Scrooge McDuck-like money pile earned from my career at Smartypants-For-Hire, Inc. or the prestigious firm of Salitieri, Poore, Nash, De Brutus and Short. With that financial safety net, not to mention my worldly wisdom and my social network, I will then pursue my entrepreneurial career while still living in stately Wayne Manor.
Right now you have a huge advantage being young and naive, well-unconnected to anyone of power or importance, capable of wandering freely and living cheaply, unafraid to ask dumb questions and pursue odd interests and lucid dreams. Don’t sell out and squander these powers. Pursued early in your career, your entrepreneurial risks are nearly free, unencumbered by expectation or “opportunity cost.” But, after your three-piece kryptonite suit at PrestigeCo, you won’t be faster than a speeding bullet. “It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s …. oh, never mind, it’s a bird.” Yep, you’ll just be another bird.
So do the following:
Take plenty of humanities courses so you will learn to think deeply and communicate thoughtfully, but also join Yale’s CEID (Center for Engineering Innovation and Design) to become a “maker-geek,” getting your hands dirty crafting prototypes and designing clever devices. Play at the interstices of disciplines, find the edges and seek overlap. Talk to people who are discussing things you don’t understand.
Take an Astronomy course. The sooner you realize that you’re essentially pointless in the grand scheme of things, the better. And, armed with a sense of your own cosmic worthlessness, you will be less likely to take yourself too seriously or accept the self-important rubbish that GreyFlannel Ltd. is peddling.
Take a Philosophy course, especially one that covers Ethics. Given the irrepressible march of technology into every arena of life, including into life itself, the biggest issues you may face as an entrepreneur could be pretty deep ones: so be armed.
Learn to write well. Entrepreneurs need to explain their ideas; they are assumed to be insane unless they can talk and present their way into convincing people otherwise (or, for that matter, how about taking a Drama class or joining a production?).
If you’re not one yourself, have a few decent software programmers within your circle of friends. Trust me on this; someday one of them will help you.
Hang out at YEI (Yale Entrepreneurial Institute) to see what it really means to launch a start-up, i.e., not for weak-kneed dilettantes. Maybe even apply to one of their periodic student venture competitions.
Now, the last and most important suggestion:
Network “weirdly,” e.g., find out what a Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Science grad student is working on (did you even know that Yale had a Forestry School?); talk to students and faculty working on matters involving “Big Data;” meet someone at Yale’s Divinity School and try to imagine what an entrepreneur could possibly work on there; sneak into a faculty symposium (preferably a technical one), sit in the back row and try to understand what they’re talking about (for extra credit, raise your hand and ask a question); buttonhole alumni to learn what they do and whether or not they’re happy doing it, and ask them to tell you how they ended up where they are; spend a few months in China; read a pile of trade magazines from an industry that interests you; go to TEDx events, or at least watch a bunch of TEDx videos; phone (don’t email) 10 important Yale alums in a field that interests you and pitch them on your crazy entrepreneurial idea — you’ll be amazed at how many will take your call, maybe some will even help you.
Well, I think you get the idea. Stay light, move fast, think deeply and widely, network weirdly. Don’t follow leaders (but do listen to them and attend their lectures); watch the parking meters (so you don’t get stuck too long in one place).