Flickr and Hunch co-founder Caterina Fake wrote a provocatively titled blog post: "Want to be an entrepreneur? Drop out of college." Her arguments were on my mind when I met Jay Rodrigues in early May. The 21-year-old University of Pennsylvania junior had just secured Series A funding for his startup DormNoise. And while that conversation was primarily about the college-calendaring system he has developed, he promised me a follow-up conversation about life as a CEO and college student - once finals were done.In April,
And although he's now in the midst of summer school, we had a chance to speak again today.
The Importance of a College Education
contention, Rodrigues believes "You need an education." Rodrigues admits that entrepreneurs should gain experience "in the trenches," but thinks that the education he's receiving at Wharton School gives him particular strengths and understandings that serve him well in those very trenches. A finance major, Rodrigues feels he can speak knowledgeably in business dealing with investors and clients thanks to some of his coursework. He admits, however, that certain classes, including marketing and management, are frustrating, in part because his own practical experiences on the subject seem to outstrip the textbook case studies.Contrary to Fake's
Rodrigues points to the learning that happens outside the college classroom as well. College helps you meet people, learn to work with people, and, Rodrigues adds, "learn about yourself."
Time Management: Juggling Work, College, and Social Life
But balancing being a full-time college student with being a CEO is grueling. There's no escaping from the cellphone or email, Rodrigues notes, detailing a schedule that, on a typical day, alternates between dealing with school and work, from first thing in the morning til the wee hours of the next morning: email, phone, class, email, phone, class, email, phone, dinner, gym, homework. Rodrigues works about sixteen hours a day, adding jokingly "You can sleep when you die."
He does give his company a warning when it's exam time, asking to be disturbed only in case of emergencies.
Rodrigues insists that despite this hectic schedule, he carves out time for a good social life, including involvement in his fraternity.
Age: Help or Hindrance?
Rodrigues says he has benefited from good support, not just from his family, but from DormNoise's Advisory Board and now Board of Directors. He also says he's got a strong team with him at DormNoise. But he admits that despite having good business mentors, the missing piece might be a community of other college student entrepreneurs, colleagues who understand the unique demands of being 21 and of having both a college education and a corporation's success riding on your shoulders.
Rodrigues describes himself as "kid with an idea that doesn't like to hear 'No'," but admits that it's often difficult - as an entrepreneur in general, but as a 21-year-old one to boot - to be taken seriously. He feels he's had to work even harder to earn respect from potential investors and clients.
But Rodrigues also points to the benefits of being a college student, namely "energy, passion, fresh viewpoints." And as DormNoise targets the college market, he undoubtedly brings particular insights to bear on the development, implementation, and marketing of his product.
Jay's Advice to College Student Entrepreneurs: Stay in School
When I asked Jay what advice he'd give to other aspiring college student entrepreneurs, he praised the optimism, energy, and even naivete of youth, encouraging others his age to make the most of that. But be ready to work hard every single day. "Be 150 million percent sure this is what you want," says Rodrigues. "You'll need passion and confidence." And don't drop out of school, he adds, because for every Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, there are hundreds of entrepreneurs who drop out and go nowhere. At least if you stay in school, you'll have an education.
You don't have to be a Zuckerberg or a Gates, says Rodrigues. You just have to be good at what you do. "You don't have to try to be the next Microsoft or Facebook," advises Rodrigues to other college student entrepreneurs, "but I hope you are."
Photo Credit: University of Pennsylvania Fine Arts Library by Flickr user Nathan Mathias