Students speak out

Students entrepreneurs speak out: #1 in a series

Amanda GobaudWhy I Freaked Out When My Classmates Said They Wanted To Start Their Own Companies
by Amanda Gobaud, Carnegie Mellon University Senior

I recently read an article my friend retweeted from @newsycombinator entitled “Do Not, Under Any Circumstances, Start A Startup: Or, What I learned At Startup School 2011” by Andy Brett. Obviously, the title grabbed my attention, as well as my at-the-time boredom with the Internet.

I thought the title was an interesting take on the increased popularity of starting a company in today’s culture. Even in our Venture Capital Investing class we were asked on the first day if we would be interested in starting our own companies one day. I was baffled by how many of my classmates were able to say, “Yes, I want to start my own company,” while they were still in college.

At the time, I thought that I was only one who thought that it was silly to want to start a company just for the sake of starting a company – how many of my peers had actually thought deeply about the companies that they hypothetically wanted to develop? But reading this article, and then several other similar articles as a result, has shown me that my opinions on starting a company are not necessarily new.

In his article, Brett talks about how many of the speakers at Startup School 2011 were adamant that individuals do not start companies for the sake of starting companies – people should first find a problem that needed to be solved, work hard at trying to solve that problem, and the company will come later.  Brett said it himself: “In fact there was a palpable undercurrent of exasperation from a number of the speakers who had probably seen, heard about, or been pitched by one too many fresh-faced college students with billion-dollar ideas and an odd affinity for ramen noodles, hoodies, and caffeine.”

Especially coming from a school like Carnegie Mellon where we are exploding with talent and brilliant ideas, it makes sense that my classmates have high aspirations and want to change the world with their talent. However, the skeptical side of me has to wonder just how many of those classmates who want build a startup have actually thought about the problem their company would address, or if they want to simply start a company because it is the “It” thing to do currently.

These legendary-esque stories of Facebook, Twitter, and Foursquare that we have all now mostly memorized are certainly attractive to college students who are more brilliant than even they know. But the fact that people are looking at startups as “The Thing To Do” rather than the result of working to solve a problem in the world concerns me. Yes of course small businesses are what will bring us out of this recession with all the job creation, but half-baked ideas cannot be good for our economy, in my opinion.

I want to caution my fellow classmates and peers who are in similar stages of their lives to think a bit more deeply before they decide that they want to be “The Next Mark Zuckerberg” and develop “The Next Facebook” – I believe that if we focus more on problems that we need to solve, our world will be better for our efforts. And if a company comes along that will make us rich and famous as a result of the solution that we have developed, then all the better for us.

Of course, I am just a 21 year old college senior who has only ever had experience in financial services – what do I know about working in the startup world? I simply write this post as another point of view for my classmates to consider as they plan their futures – the original blog post did the same for me.

Amanda Gobaud is a Senior studying Information Systems and Human-Computer Interaction at Carnegie Mellon University. After graduation, she will be moving to New York to work at Deutsche Bank in Group Technology & Operations.


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