Straight from College to Startup CEO

One of the most popular questions at the Atlanta Tech Village is if our community is comprised of early twenty-somethings that are fresh out of college. While we do have several of those, our average age is around 30 with plenty of entrepreneurs in their 40s, 50s, and 60s. While there are outlier success stories of entrepreneurs going straight from college to startup CEO, I’m a fan of entrepreneurs-to-be working at a startup for a few years before starting their own company. Personally, I went straight from college to startup CEO and made a ton of mistakes I could have learned on someone else’s dime.

Here are a few lessons learned going into the startup CEO role with no real world experience:

  • Culture is King – The tendency coming out of college is to focus on people that can get the job done — not people that meet the core values and get the job done (this is my most important lesson learned).
  • Sales is Hard – Even the best products require extensive sales and marketing, which is difficult to appreciate without experiencing it first-hand. Acquiring customers is much harder than expected.
  • Everything takes Longer – As an entrepreneur I like to rush things and move quickly. Only, most of the world doesn’t operate that way and everything takes longer than expected — much longer than expected.
  • Multiple Iterations Required – Every successful venture I’ve been involved with started out doing something different from what they ultimately ended up doing. Don’t expect the first idea to work.

Going straight from college student to startup CEO is hard. Seeking mentors, peer entrepreneurs, and studying lessons learned will help increase the chance of success.

What else? What are some more thoughts on going from college student to startup CEO?

7 thoughts on “Straight from College to Startup CEO

  1. I think this post points to the necessity to start educating at an earlier age. Wouldn’t it have been great to have Tom Noonan, David Cummings, Bert Ellis, Reggie Bradford and Allen Nance show up at your college as adjuncts?

  2. Age is a factor as well. I notice business-wise people take you more seriously when you’re older than when you’re fresh grad from college.

  3. A couple other thoughts:

    1- always be doing startups on your own or helping others do the same. Practice makes perfect.

    2- get professional training at fast growth companies with strong training programs and reputations and that pay well. You will need the money to buy you time in the startup stages.

    3- startups are for the young and energetic. They are exhausting, require tremendous time, and hard to do when you have liabilities and bills to pay! Do it while you are young. One you hit 40, you are then in the senior leagues!

    Do it because you love it and not just the idea of it!!!

  4. I absolutely agree with your 4 points David. Particularly, the importance of understanding consistency and energy for sales is a problem for many start up CEO’s, not just the ones with less real world experience.

    I don’t agree with the comment that start ups are for the young and energetic though! Also I don’t agree that once you hit 40 you’re no longer young and energetic! I’m still powering on at 44 and no sign of slowing yet! 🙂

  5. It’s good to see you mention the average age; this is an under-reported fact. A lot of news media will focus on the story of the “young entrepreneur” at the expense of what is typically true of small business owners across the globe.

    On our site (the UK’s largest business for sale marketplace), we find that 79% of the people that sign up to our site in the hopes of buying a small business are in fact between the ages of 30 and 60. It would be interesting to know how many people within this age range have ‘come to terms’ with the 4 lessons you mention in your article 🙂

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