There are more than enough college business success stories to go around - and I'm not talking about that dude who lived next to you in your dorm and made enough money for books by selling home-made Che Guevara t-shirts. I'm talking about the businesses that started in college and became billion-dollar companies. There's something to learn from the Zuckerbergs, Dells and Gateses of the world. Here are four of those lessons.
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- Find a Need and Fill It
This is the most basic of advice for starting a business; either find something that doesn't exist but would improve the lives of those around you, or find an already available product and make it better and cheaper. Mark Zuckerberg is probably the most famous and richest 26-year old on the planet right now, and he did exactly this when creating Facebook. (The social networking site is a private company, but there are still a few ways that you can buy in. Check out Alternative Ways To Invest In Facebook.)
Zuckerberg was an undergrad at Harvard in 2004, taking computer science (go figure), and had been programming since he was in his teens. At Zuckerberg's old school there had been a registry of students and their photos published every year, but not at Harvard. So Zuckerberg set out to change that, but after his initial hacking into Harvard's server to retrieve the information needed to make a kind of "hot or not" Harvard page, he was shut down and had to go a different route. This gave rise to thefacebook.com and later, after he and his team moved to California, facebook.com.
There have certainly been problems and issues along the way, but what started as a desire to give everyone access to Harvard student photos has made Zuckerberg a billionaire. Facebook is expected to reach one billion accounts in the near future. (Find out how to keep Facebook from ruining your job prospects in 6 Career-Killing Facebook Mistakes.)
- Think Outside of School
Michael Dell regularly ranks among the richest men in the world as the founder and CEO of Dell computers. Dell actually started this company while he was still in college doing his pre-med courses. Even as a teenager, Dell was interested in computers and finding out how electronics work, and while he was at college, he turned this into a part-time job. Dell started upgrading computers from a room in residence and eventually started operating as "PCs Limited" out of a condo, selling upgraded PCs via direct order. This eventually became Dell computers, which dominated the PC world during the 1990s and mid-2000s.
The company is not quite as dominant a PC force right now, but having started it as a hobby while pursuing an entirely different goal, Dell has certainly made his mark on the computer world. (The next time portfolio losses have you down, just be glad that you can blame some of your woes on the market, rather than your own poor judgment. Don't miss the Biggest Millionaire Flops.)
- Use Your School Projects for Larger Goals
When you're in college, it's best to try and focus your studies in a way that interests you and will work out in your favor once you're done school. So don't write a 2,000 word paper on Chapter 57 from "Moby Dick" unless you truly find it interesting or want to teach this Melville classic in the future; make your studies work for you.
This is what Larry Page and Sergey Brin did when they were both pursuing their PhDs at Stanford in computer science. They were working on a research project that would create a search engine that would analyze the relationship between websites, and Google was born. The idea of Google comes from Brin's and Page's idea that information should be accessible and universal, and they're making this a reality through a project started at Stanford.
- Don't Let School Get in the Way
Bill Gates didn't let school get in the way of creating something that would both help the world and make him a multibillionaire. After scoring a mere 1590 out of 1600 on the SATs, Gates enrolled at Harvard with the hope of studying law, and after seeing one of the first mass-consumed micro computers, the Altair 8800, Gates and his former classmate Paul Allen approached the maker of the computer to let them know they had written a programming language for the computer. After the maker of the computer, MITS, accepted the offer, Gates left Harvard to pursue his dream, never to return. Shortly after this, Microsoft was formed.
Gates used the college's computer labs to work towards his real passion, and when that passion paid off, he realized that college wasn't for him. Zuckerberg also left Harvard and hasn't returned. (There are many ways to hit the million-dollar mark, but the faster you try to get there, the harder it becomes. Check out So You Wanna Be A Millionaire: How Long Will It Take?)
The Bottom Line
There are many other success stories, like Frederick Smith who based the idea for FedEx on an economics paper he'd written while doing a bachelor's of economics at Yale, but the majority of money-making college entrepreneurs have been involved with computers. Overall, college entrepreneurs need to focus on their true passions and let schooling aid them in getting to this goal, and if schooling gets in the way, entrepreneurs have to be prepared to put it aside to follow their idea to the end.
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