When I teach my entrepreneurship course at Stanford, some students are there just because they want to learn "the trick".
They are hoping I'll teach them that one secret – that one piece of secret knowledge – that will allow them to create a startup next week and be a tech billionaire by Friday.
There is no such thing, of course. Furthermore, the startup-specific concepts we cover in class – cap tables, term sheets, and venture capital – aren't even the things that determine startup success. Startup success has to do with having smarts, experience, the habits of a high-achiever, and a healthy dose of luck. Those are hard things to teach.
I don't teach undergrads, but if I did I would tell them to just forget about the whole startup thing entirely. It's the wrong thing to focus on. Just focus on learning things and improving yourself.
Honestly, I think as a society we've become too obsessed with tech startups. Many college kids today think they'll be a failure if they don't create a tech startup before they are 25. Which is ridiculous for a lot of different reasons, not least of which is that attempting a startup will highjack your entire life, with a very small chance of success.
As Paul Graham wrote in a great essay he posted last week, "Startups are all-consuming. If you start a startup, it will take over your life to a degree you cannot imagine. And if your startup succeeds, it will take over your life for a long time: for several years at the very least, maybe for a decade."
Which, coincidently, is exactly why we don't encourage teenagers to have babies. As Paul Graham writes, "What are the universities thinking? They go out of their way to ensure their students are well supplied with contraceptives, and yet they're setting up entrepreneurship programs and startup incubators left and right".
Which brings me to my favorite quote from Paul's essay: "How to start a startup is just a subset of a bigger problem you're trying to solve: how to have a good life".
So if you are a college student today, read Paul's great essay.
Then spend the next few years learning, experiencing, and soaking-up all that life has to offer. The startup can wait.