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Advice for students wanting to be a tech entrepreneur

Thinking of taking that next step into technology entrepreneurship? Here’s some advice from someone whose been there and done it
Adrien Montcoudiol

/ Last updated on 30th October 2017

This advice was given to me by people I trust, or it simply comes from my personal experience. Hope it will be helpful – would love to hear what you think about it.

Stay aware

There are two complementary and inseparable ways to learn about tech entrepreneurship: from outside information and from your experience as a project founder. When it comes to outside information, the Internet made it amazingly easy to have access to very high-quality content. There’s so much knowledge at your fingertips today that it would be a mistake not to harness this new tool to the full.

Related: Guide to getting your dream startup job

Here are a few resources I think you should consider using:

1. Blogs

The first category of blogs you should read to be aware of the latest trends are the tech news websites such as TechCrunch, VentureBeat, Mashable or Hacker News. If you don’t live in the US, I would also look for local startup blogs – we have Rude Baguette or Frenchweb in France for instance.

The other category of blogs that are interesting to follow are personal blogs written by experts. Just to name a few, I really like those of Steve Blank, Paul Graham, Chris Dixon and Andrew Chen.

Look for the blogs you prefer on Google or Quora, there are tonnes of lists and select a few ones you will really read. It could also be interesting to look for less famous blogs where you can discuss thoughts with the author more easily.

To stay up to date, I usually subscribe to their newsletters or like their page on Facebook. You can also use an RSS reader such as Feedly that will gather all the articles on a single updated place. Another tool I’d recommend is Pocket to save interesting articles and read them later.

2. Twitter

Another must have for tech entrepreneurs. Two different points lie in Twitter to me: information and interaction. Information: get the latest news shared from people you value – friends, journalists, founders, investors, dreamers, etc. You’ll find lists of must-follow people on Google. Interaction: react to their tweets and start a conversation with them. As an example of the power of this platform, a good friend of mine organised a conference with the famous French blogger Loic Le Meur after getting in touch with him on Twitter.

Twitter can also be used as a tool to get a general idea of people thoughts, interests and “influence”. For instance, I know people who always check out the Twitter profile of a potential hire before the interview. So I really recommend you join Twitter soon if you’re not on it yet, and stick to it even if you have difficulties in finding the point at first. Say hello by the way!

3. Quora

I fell in love with Quora quite recently and already learnt so much! The concept is pretty simple: people ask questions, and other people answer or vote for the best answers. The credit system makes it the best knowledge-sharing tool I know today, and if I could, I’d spend hours and hours on it every day. You’ll find a lot of stories, tips and great resources about tech entrepreneurship but not only that.

The nice thing about Quora is that the Quorans community counts people such as Jimmy Wales (founder of Wikipedia), Dave McClure (500 Startups), Ashton Kutcher or Dustin Moskovitz (co-founder of Facebook – Zuckerberg is also there but never answered a question yet). So you might get answers from them if you ask:

 

If I had to hire someone, I’d definitely have a look at their answers on Quora.

I use Evernote to classify all the valuable information I get from all these different sources. It’s also a good tool to organise your thoughts and your projects. Don’t put heavy PDF files or high-quality pictures on it and you should be ok with the free version.

Meet People

Having a good network won’t make you a great entrepreneur, but most of the time a great entrepreneur needs a good network on the road to success. As a student, I’d say a good network is the combination of two kinds of people: mentors and partners. Mentors are people who will help you build your projects by giving you experienced advice and the contacts you could need. Here’s an interesting article about finding mentors. Partners are people like you, close to you, who you could launch projects with.

Try to meet as diverse people as possible, when it comes to skills, culture and personality – be it with your mentors or your partners. Differences come with opportunities and broaden your vision. Of course, it’s all about mutual help – the more you bring to the community, the more you’ll get from it.

To meet the local tech community, you should use Meetup and subscribe to the Startup Digest of your city if there is one. There must also be Facebook groups you could join.

If you’re not satisfied by what you find out, just build your own gathering. You’ll find out quickly if other people felt the same need. That’s why I founded Start Me Up, the Entrepreneurs Student Club of ESCP Europe: we organised events and tried to bring an entrepreneurship mindset among the Master students of this business school. I also organised events with friends such as Students At LeWeb in London on June 2013, and I’m planning to gather young tech enthusiasts with Early Entrepreneurs in San Francisco. Each of these initiatives brought me wonderful encounters, recognition and a lot of fun. You should definitely consider shaking the world around you too!

Build projects

There’s no better way to learn how to launch a project than to launch your own projects.

Need ideas?

Look for problems that matter to you and find innovative ways to solve them (when it comes to startup ideas, I recommend this great article by Paul Graham).

Need a team?

Attend events and especially Startup Weekends or likes. If you’ve an entrepreneur spirit, you’ll love these weekends. My advice: come with an idea to pitch – always a good exercise – and have developers in your final team. Building a prototype of the product in 54 hours is incredibly fulfilling. Two of my side projects in Paris were born in such events (Jukeo at a 3DayStartup and Feel at a Startup Weekend). Each time, I learnt a lot and met great people with whom I continued working on the product afterwards.

Need technical skills?

– Are you sure? Today, you can build basic websites without coding using Content Management Systems (CMS) such as WordPress, Strikingly or the wonderful Webflow.  You can also easily create prototypes thanks to these tools: Balsamiq for generic mock-ups and Pop App for mobile app “paper prototyping”.

These are great tools to begin with but, in the mid term, I’d advise anyone to learn the basics of computer programming. Software is eating the world and being able to build things on your own and to understand how all of that works is priceless. Again, there are plenty of resources available online to learn how to code (Udemy, Codecademy, etc.) As any knowledge, it simply needs motivation, time and some passion.

Just two things to finish with

Play it lean. If there is one book any aspiring entrepreneur should read it is The Lean Startup by Eric Ries. Eric Ries and Steve Blank (The Four Steps to the Epiphany) reinvented the way start-ups should be built.

In a few words: instead of working on your project for months and planning every detail, launch a “minimum valuable product” (MVP) that will enable you to get user feedback as soon as possible to know if you’re in the right way or not. Sometimes, people (me included) spend way too much time building beautiful websites while simple Google docs and forms would have done it.

You don’t need a beautiful website with tonnes of features working perfectly to discover if you are answering a problem that really matters to people in the right way – cf the success of the ugly Craigslist if you doubt it… Launch a simple product soon, learn from its users, change what need to be changed and iterate. It actually doesn’t even have to be a product sometimes. As an example, The MVP of Dropbox was a 3-min video showing how easy and intuitive this service would be. This is how Drew Houston drove awareness around his product on Hacker News and got fast feedback. Here’s the story about it. Buffer also did a great job when it comes to testing ideas without product.

Break things and have fun. Life is short. Try things that make sense to you. Never stop testing new ideas. Fail, learn, fail again, never stop learning. Share your experience with people. Listen to what they say, don’t necessarily do it. Don’t always be business focused about what you learn, who you meet and what you do. Let serendipity enter your life. Break your habits. Be mobile. Go and discover the world. Be open and talk to people, they have so much to teach. Inspiration can be found anywhere. Go out of your comfort zone and be the change you would like to see in the world. (Ok that last one is from Gandhi, not me). Love what you do and be proud of it. That is what I’m trying to do everyday.

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