Last week I received an e-mail from one of my readers and I decided to share it with the rest of you guys.
Now this is a very very text heavy entry (which is not really my style) so I know many of you might not really bother to read it.
But I get a number of these questions sometimes so I thought I'd just share it once and for all.
How are you? I'm XJ and we met at the (was it?) last bloggers meet in KL. Do you still remember I wanted to pass to you some Mac software?
Anyway, if you still do not remember, I'm that guy in HELP doing A -Levels and it would be a great honour if you could spare me some time just to answer a question that has bugged me. To cut everything straight to the point without beating around the bush, I wish to seek the advice of an entrepreneur like yourself to weigh my options.
The question is:
Should I quit my studies to pursue business (work, not studies)?
If you don't have time then a yes or no would suffice for me. I would be grateful for your answer.
Considerations: (If you have time)
1. Mentors encourage me to quit.
a. My mentor evaluates that my character is more suited to employer than employee. I argue that his evaluation may not be accurate, and if accurate, then I shouldn't quit studying as a Plan-B in case my business fails I can still work. My mentor argues that I should start working immediately as I'm young and this is the time to make mistakes and gain experience. On the other hand, his idea of a Plan-B is to not have a Plan-B so that it will force me to think and innovate.
b. As I currently have a photography business where I'm self-employed as well as hire a couple of assistants and designers, my mentor encourages me to build the small business and gain experience rather than studying first as it would be a waste of time if business is the ultimate thing I want to pursue. I argue that I do not plan to run the photography business for long and merely use it as a stepping stone to pursue my other interests. He argues that all my other interests only interests profit-making.
c. My mentor argues that the hard way is the easier way to nuture an entrepreneur's mindset. As in, throw you into the deep end to force you to learn how to swim. I argued that I would drown as knowledge is lacking.
d. My mentor argues that studying may not be necessary if I intend to do business in the end. I argue that by going through university I will have acquired a set of knowledge and skills that may be useful. My mentor argues that the more I know, it would have a detrimental effect on my risk-taking spirit. I argue that I may be jumping off a cliff and not knowing it. He argues that better jump off that cliff when I'm still young so I would recognize it when I'm older.
2. Difficulties in financing studies
So far my results have been fair, as in fair enough to obtain scholarships. However, cost of living still has to be taken into account and if I do not manage to obtain a scholarship, I may have to resort to a loan. (For context, my parents refuse to finance my studies as they think it's a waste of time for me.) The problem of loan may be a pending recession and the availibility of jobs for me to finance repayment of it. Other than that, I would have much much less capital for whatever I want then. Another loan may solve the problem but credit restrictions may be even tighter by then, and a whole host of problems one could argue both ways.
3. Lack of direction.
There's no direction for me if I want to start a business. If I want to start a business, what business? If I continue studying, there is that definite course of studies normal people would go through- From A levels to a degree and after that an internship somewhere and a job at last. However if I drop out then I may be stuck with little idea what to do. The arguement against this is that the situation may cause me to think and be creative albeit in a hard way.
Thank you for your time and I'm sorry if this has taken up much of your time. If you have read until this point, my respect for you has really tripled. I apologize once more for taking your time if you had pressing matters. I value your opinion much.
Thank you very much.
My Reply to him
Hahaha no I'm kidding.
Here's my reply to him.
I am terribly sorry I took so long to reply your e-mail.
The truth is, I don't want to be giving you "YES" or "NO" answers, I wanted to take some time to draft out your answers so I needed to find some time between my days to write something.
Here are answers to your questions.
1a) Mentors Encourage You To Quit
There is no right or wrong answer to this question. I finished my degree at university not really because I thought that was a better route to take but more because I never really knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur until a year before I graduated. All along I always thought that I was going to work in an investment bank like JP Morgan or Deutsche Bank.
That being said, my father who is a very successful businessman believes that a tertiary education is very very important. Not so much for what you learn from the books there but more on the character you will build there especially if you go overseas.
I'm not sure what you do here exactly so I'm really in no position to comment about this except that, whatever business it is, it has to be one that can make money. Robert Fong, the CEO of Mojikan once told me something that I felt was true to the bone: "Business cannot be built on passion".
Passion starts you off, but sooner or later when you learn the ugly side of things and you will, you may begin to lose your passion for it. The only thing that will keep you running by then is whether you make money or not.
It really depends on what your business is all about. Some businesses like property, I imagine will be impossible to start on your own if you don't first work for people and understand the basics.
Others like internet businesses are so new that you're not going to learn much from any other existing company. People like to say work experience is important but so is the experience of being an entrepreneur.
Every year you spend working for others is a year that you gain by learning from your bosses and also a year you lose by not learning from yourself by making your own mistakes as an entrepreneur.
Before I took the leap to become and entrepreneur. I asked a few successful businessmen I know for some advice.
One of them is a very very rich man who started off working for a few years before he became an entrepreneur and made millions.
His path has taken him from a nobody to a very rich man, then back to a nobody again after failing in business and today... he lives in a huge mansion with supercars that will make Jeremy Clarkson take his hats off to.
When I asked him whether I should work first before I jump into business, he said
"Tim, during my time, you had to WORK first to be able to see opportunity. Today, with the internet age, opportunity is everywhere and you don't need to work to see it which is why you see so many young entrepreneurs.
The difference however, is that during my time... 1 out of every 10 entrepreneurs actually make it. But in this time and age... only 1 out of 20 will ever make it. Do you like those odds? If you do... go for it".
I agree with your dad but your way is not wrong as well. Like i said earlier, there is no right or wrong answer to this question.
2. Difficulties in Financing Studies
Having no money to run a business is an excuse that I see too many wannabe entrepreneurs use to get away from their complacency.
Take a simple example of Nuffnang for example.
Numerous venture capitalists have come up to us to ask if we need money, not just local venture caps but venture caps that have flown in all the way from China or Hong Kong just to see us to see if they could invest. Now we're not talking thousands or tens of thousands here... we're talking millions and millions that these venture caps are looking to put in.
My point is that today there is so much money floating around this region.
You just got to make sure people believe your dream as much as you do.
Whatever you do, don't take a bank loan though (even if you could get one). Especially if you're running an internet business and expect little revenue in the first two years... the interest will kill you.
3. Lack of Direction
If you don't have an idea of what to do then it's best to wait until you do. Why the hurry.
One thing though, you have to be sure about what you're getting yourself into.
Being an entrepreneur or being self-employed is not about enjoying the luxury of working whatever time you want, keeping all the money you earn for yourself and having all the glamour of being called an entrepreneur (Believe me, there is NO glamour in that and chicks don't DIG entrepreneurs... no they dig investment bankers and lawyers. Do you see me with a different girl every week?).
The truth is, in the past 7 months since Nuffnang started not too long ago, I have experienced the most traumatic stress that I have ever had to deal with in my life.
Nights go by when I can't sleep whether because of the stress that I'm faced with or whether it's because I have so many things on my mind I can't wait for morning to come so that I could go get them all done one by one.
Sometimes I may be out having fun with some friends and I may get a sudden call from a client or from someone with a problem at hand, and my whole night will be gone with me thinking deep inside how I can go about solving the latest crisis I was just handed.
It may be fun having employees and fun having a big team. But you can't help but worry that every move you make now is important because your life is not the only one at stake, you have people who depend on you for their pay cheques to come at the end of the month ON TIME.
Sales & Marketing is an essential part of any business you may run and it is also the most difficult. It is from your sales & marketing efforts that you will face the most degrading experiences in your life with people rejecting you because you are a NOBODY and like it or not, YOU are a nobody to them.
I've had it fairly easy because I got lucky and because I love sales & marketing, I LOVE pitching and I enjoy the rush... but if you don't feel the same way that I do... you're in for a very very hard road.
Imagine this, my partner Ming and I started off without knowing a soul in the advertising industry. The only way we got our advertisers is by cold calling people and begging for a meeting or a chance to pitch.
For every 10 calls we made, 9 turned us down and it is only after perseverance, hope and a lot of LUCK did we eventually manage to land advertisers from the likes of Nike, Air Asia, Nokia, Nestle, HUGO, Media Prima and the list goes on.
Whatever you choose to do.
Going into business is something you have to think about very carefully about.
But the good news is... as much as you will have many ups and downs... the downs will make you feel really really bad...but the ups... the ups will give you a feeling so good that I just can't explain with words.
I can't make this decision for you dude. You have to make it yourself. What's important is.. once you make the leap, don't ever look back.
Also, try to make it a point to ask advice from a successful entrepreneur. I may be a start, but I'm also young, inexperienced, still learning and far from successful.
PS: I get quite a number of these questions, you mind if I clean this up and publish this on my blog? (He said yes obviously :P)
Ok tell me honestly... how many of you actually managed to read this far? I say not more than 30...