The question I am most frequently asked by students of business schools and engineering colleges who are aspiring to be entrepreneurs is – When is it the right time to become an entrepreneur? Should I do it straight after college or should I work for a few years first?
The truth is that there are success stories of all sorts. There are those who have done it after working for a few years as managers in companies – the Infosys founders are an example. Then there are people who have done it straight out of college – my good friend Kunwar Sachdev of SuKam invertors is one such. And there are those who have dropped out of college to become entrepreneurs – Bill Gates is the most famous name that comes to mind. There are people who do college and entrepreneurship side by side – Michael Dell’s story of how he founded and ran Dell from his college room is famous. Finally there are those who became entrepreneurs without even going to college or completing their school education – the best known story in India is of Dhirubhai Ambani.
There is no one right answer to these questions however you can always find an example to support whatever point of view you support.
The argument in favour of becoming an entrepreneur straight out of college is that once you are in a job and you get comfortable with the idea of a regular salary you will find it extremely difficult to quit do a start up. This is especially true if you are from a premier institute and earning a high salary in a well known company. It becomes worse if some years have elapsed since you finished college and you have now bought a car and a house and have EMI’s to service. And later on when you have got married and started a family it becomes nearly impossible to quit – you crave security.
The single largest reason why people give up on their entrepreneurial aspirations and continue is a job is delay in breaking out after college.
The argument in favour of working for some years in a job before becoming an entrepreneur is that you improve your reality check. It is well known that the Indian education system does not provide a great reality check to students. It takes several years of working after college for graduating students to figure out how the real world actually functions. You learn to work as a subordinate before you become a boss and that experience is important when your company scales up and you are managing a larger team. You acquire skills on the job that you would have otherwise not have. You meet customers, get an insight into their needs and an understanding the market. You get to know about business opportunities. You learn about processes and good practices that are useful years later. You build your network and credentials. In summary, working for a few years will increase your chances of success once you do become an entrepreneur. The flip side is that if you get into a good job and work there for a few years you may never actually quit to become an entrepreneur.
My view on this is that you should become an entrepreneur only when you are ready. I had worked for five years before I quit and became an entrepreneur. And in hindsight I would not do it any other way. I needed those five years to learn and mature and become a better people’s person. And you will know when you are ready. You inner voice will compel you to do it.
The other time to become an entrepreneur is when you have such a compelling idea that you are totally convinced that it is now or never. Bill Gates often cites this when he talks about his decision to quit college and found Microsoft. He could see the PC age coming and he just had to be a part of it but felt it would pass him by if he spent another three years in college. He just had to do it then.