On Founding a Company Fresh Out of College

11/18/09

On May 18th of 2009, I signed the papers to legally incorporate my first company. Three weeks later, I graduated from MIT with my BS in biological engineering. Fast forward, and after 10 months of working on the venture, it was decided to not continue.

After failing to get the outcome the team had hoped for, some questions loom: did I make the right decision to jump into the entrepreneurial arena so early in my career? Is it generally a good idea to start a company right out of college?

Before I answer these questions with the benefit of hindsight, I’d like to first take you through the process that led to my decision to just go for it.

During the year prior to making this decision, I had spent a lot of time thinking about what I would do after graduation. I knew I wanted to be a part of the entrepreneurial community, so I began learning all I could about the entrepreneurial process. I read everything I could get my hands on, I talked my way into relevant MBA courses at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, I did projects for startups and venture funds, and I sought advice from members of the entrepreneurial community.

I received a variety of opinions on the best route for getting into the land of startups. Here are the three most common views, along with my brief analysis of each:

Go get a job. Learn how real business is done first. This is the safe advice, which is why it is the most prevalent. By getting work experience, you get a chance to really develop your network, expertise, and understanding of problems in a specific industry. However, working in a mature business isn’t anything like a startup.

Go work for a startup. “Startup” work environments, of course, vary heavily. Some startups are a couple of guys working out of their apartment trying to find a way to make some revenue. Others are more like developed companies, with office space, hours, and managers.

At the time, to me, joining a later-stage startup didn’t seem all that different from getting a job at a more mature company. Joining a smaller band of warriors setting out on the start-up road would have been difficult. In the early stages, such efforts mainly need engineers to get a prototype built. I knew how to code, but programming wasn’t my forte. All in all, this wasn’t a very good option in my eyes.

If it feels right, go do it. The negatives for starting a company immediately after school are the lack of experience, network, credibility, and money. But, there are many positives:

• Access to a lot of help. I find the entrepreneurial community to be incredibly supportive, with lots of vibrant, experienced people happy to help students. I had access to tons of great people through the MIT and Boston communities. I talked with professors, cold called and emailed alumni, and just found a way to get in touch with people. Not everyone would respond, but those who did were extremely helpful.

• Low opportunity cost. You aren’t walking away from a high-paying job in order to attempt a startup, so you have little to lose financially if it doesn’t work out.

• Low responsibility. By this I mean you … Next Page »

Kevin is a writer and entrepreneur based in Cambridge, MA. He blogs at KevinVogelsang.com. You can also follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/KevinVogelsang Follow @

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  • Uncle Andy

    Hey Kevin, you’ve got to stop using the words “failed” and “failing”–those words are much too harsh. It sounds like you just conducted a very successful experiment. You’ll build on what you learned and get closer to the prize next time… and the time after that… and the time after that. One of the great things about the U.S. business landscape is that having unsuccessful entrepreneurial ventures on your resume does not brand you a failure–they’re badges of honor, scars to show off and be proud of…. But I’m sure you know that already.
    Personally, I’m looking forward to hearing about the next successful experiment which I’m sure is already underway….

  • http://KevinVogelsang.com Kevin Vogelsang

    @Uncle Andy, You’re absolutely correct. You have to get your scars before you get the glory.
    Although, I do think it’s important to call it like it is. “Failure” is a harsh word, but it reflects the fact that failure hurts like hell.
    And you’re right, the next steps are already underway….(just gotta find a way to pick up some cash in the meantime)

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  • http://www.cstergiou.com Chris Stergiou

    Kevin,

    You might consider your entrepreneurial experience as a graduate course and chalk it up to experience. In your case it wasn’t really a “failure”.

    And, since you’re looking to pick up “some cash” for your next foray, you might consider that the job you find will be more rewarding than any start-up and you might find that you can accomplish a lot more in an environment where someone else has to worry about the electric bill and you can focus on whatever your talents truly are.

    Good Luck!

    Chris

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