Question: I am about to finish my second year of college. I have an amazing idea for a business and so I want to drop out and start my start-up but my parents are against it. Could you please help me convince them that I am right and they are wrong? — Jesse
Answer: Sorry, no can do.
Score one for the parents.
Oh sure, I get it, the allure and pull of becoming the next Mark Zuckerberg or Steve Jobs is strong. The romantic notion of the young start-up college dropout entrepreneur is part of the American DNA. But I have news for you:
The odds are great that yours is not the Next Big Idea.
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This whole notion began with Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. Gates famously dropped out of Harvard to launch Microsoft, and Jobs left Reed College in Portland, Ore., to start Apple. Later, Michael Dell launched Dell Computers out of his dorm room in Texas, and most recently, Mark Zuckerberg started Facebook at, and soon left, Harvard.
But despite these well-known success stories, what is far more common are the students who dropped out to create the next big thing, but didn’t. Turns out none of them are that quixotic, romantic dropout who made a million (er, I mean a billion; as we all know, a million ain’t quite cool enough). They are just, well, dropouts.
So no, you shouldn’t drop out to start a business, and I’ll even go so far as to say you shouldn’t even stay in school and start a business.
The reasons to stay and not go are many: Statistical, emotional, and practical.
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Statistically, let’s face it, the odds that you are going to create the next great American success story are astronomically small. That said, if you are a true entrepreneur at heart, I also know that stat won’t stop you.
Consider this: According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, people who graduate have both higher employment rates as well as great overall earning potential as compared to students who drop out. Additionally, the Kauffman Startup Activity Index indicates that new entrepreneurs with a college degree now exceeds 30%, as opposed to 1996, when it was about 23%.
But let’s forget statistics for a bit. Here’s why you should stay in school:
*You don’t know yourself well enough yet: When you are 18 or 20 years old or whatever, you don’t know yourself well enough yet to know whether entrepreneurship is right for you, and, even if it is, whether this business is right for you (let alone the world). What you think you will want to do with your life at 20 is very different than when you are 30.
*You need to get smarter: One thing I admire about entrepreneurs is the breadth of their knowledge. For good or ill, to own a business means you need to be a Jack or Jill of all trades. Learning how to learn is vital, and that is one of the true benefits of school.
*You don’t really know what people want: A great business must serve a great market need. But what you think is a market need at 19 is very different than what you will know after even a few years out in the world. At 19, you know what teenagers want and need, but you don’t know what adults want and need.
*You need some life experience: Having a “real job” and a boss can only help you once you are ready to start your own business. Ditto having a few successes and failures under you belt.
*You have plenty of time: As I tell my own daughters, you will have plenty of time to work — too much, really. There is plenty of time later on to focus on work.
*School is great: Last and not least, there really are very few times in life when the stars align such that you are afforded the ability — the luxury, actually — of learning for learning’s sake. You should not only appreciate that, you should milk and savor it.
Steve Strauss, @Steve Strauss on Twitter, is a lawyer specializing in small business and entrepreneurship and has been writing for USATODAY.com for 20 years. Email: email@example.com. You can learn more about Steve at MrAllBiz.
The views and opinions expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect those of USA TODAY.
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