Starting a company when you are still in school

A third-year college student asked: “I want to be an entrepreneur and start a company. My friends like my ideas and believe we could start a company now. My question is should I quit school to start my company or continue to stay in school and work on the startup at the same time? Please advise.”

Answer: I know that “startup” is a trend that many college students want to do. There are articles on how to do a startup even when you are still in school but the fact is you need more than just an idea and skills to do a startup. To disrupt the market, you must know the market well to identify the opportunity when to start and when not to start. That means you must spend the time to research the market and work hard to achieve your dream. My question is: “Can you research the market trends, develop skills, manage a startup and go to school at the same time?”

“Starting a company is NOT a random but a strategy that you develop carefully based on the opportunity to disrupt the market. Do NOT believe the myths about Apple, Microsoft, Facebook, or Uber etc., there are a lot of untrue stories about how they start. When these companies succeed, it seems so easy to do what they did but what most people DO NOT know the challenges and difficulties that these founders had to work through before their idea disrupted the market.”

“Do not think that you can quit school to do a startup because Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg dropped out of school so you can do the same. You go to college to learn and develop the knowledge and skills that you can apply to your startup. Basically, you need more skills than you think because you are solely responsible for everything that you do. For example, you need to hire technical people to develop the product and people to do marketing and accounting for the company. Do you know how to hire the right person? You will need to learn quicker than you could ever imagine. In starting a company, technical skill is NOT enough but you need more and learn from experience. My question is: “Can you start a company at the same time going to school with homework, tests, and exams?”

“The fact is no one starts a company and succeed immediately. Most people fail several times before they succeed. The question is how many time can you fail and still learn from it? In theory, the more failures, the more experiences you learn and the better chance of success but it is only a theory. My question is: “ Can you learn from failure? Not one time but many times? Or you give up and abandon your dream? How determined are you in achieving your dream? Are you serious enough or you just want to do it for fun? Ask yourself: “Can I go to school and start a company at the same time and do well in both?”

“No one ever says that startup is easy, both your mental and physical will be tested. There will be a lot of stresses, many late nights working, and many nights that you do not even get any sleep. You have to put in all your efforts, all your strengths, all your money, every day, every week, every month until you succeed. My question is: “Can you do that when you are still studying in school?

My advice: “Stay in school and learn as much as you can. Everything else can wait.”


  • Blogs of Prof. John Vu, Carnegie Mellon University
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