This week we watched a video of a presentation Paul Graham, founder of Y Combinator, gave to a class at Stanford on launching startups. He said, paraphrasing, that you can’t learn how to launch a startup in school. This was an interesting point of view, especially as it echoed around the room in which I sat, at UIT, in a program called “startup immersion”. It probably made a few people wonder about UIT’s sales pitches and glossy brochures. Paul’s opinion was one answer to a question I obviously asked myself before joining this program and I think his answer understates the value of the program in all cases.
I don’t mean to discount the opinion of one of the industry’s gurus but if you can learn how to launch a startup anywhere it’s in a program like this. There is absolutely no substitute for experience but if you can learn writing or electrical engineering in school you can learn how to launch a startup. Studying and schooling doesn’t guarantee you’ll be on the NYT bestseller list or that you’ll be a good electrical engineer (especially in absence of experience) but you can acquire the knowledge and skills that will pave the path for success when combined with hard work, aptitude and an idea. Of course, that’s not the only route to take but it’s probably as good, or better than, most options.
Paul’s suggestion is to “learn powerful things” and I do agree with that. I think this class teaches “powerful things”. By all means, travel. Gain worldly experience. Study philosophy and psychology and economics and evolutionary theory. But this program, for the people in this room, quite possibly ranks among the greatest options available locally to gain the experience, vision, knowledge and technical skills to successfully launch a startup.
I’m looking at this program as a way to help accelerate an idea I have for a company and I am viewing the curriculum and instructors (student success coaches) as partners in this pursuit. Over the last month I’ve had to pause at any form that asks me to write my current occupation. “Student” is always an option but I don’t think that covers the way in which I am acting and perceive myself. I write “entrepreneur”. I hope others in this class, in spite of Paul Graham, think similarly and prove him wrong.