“Any time you have an opportunity to make a difference in this world and you don’t, then you are wasting your time on Earth”.
I mentioned back in August that I was invited to speak to an Entrepreneurship and Small Business class at Skidmore College in Saratoga, NY (about a 45 minute drive north for me). Well, the day finally came yesterday, and it was an awesome experience. The class is comprised of about 20 seniors who are interested in entrepreneurship. For a senior class, it’s relatively intense – they actually develop an idea and pitch to local venture capitalists at the end of the semester. That’s certainly not something I had the opportunity to do as an undergraduate!
I wasn’t really sure what to expect. I mostly visualized one of my engineering classes at RPI where half of the students played video games on their laptops during class and the other half slept. We could have had Bill Gates come in and speak and they wouldn’t have paid attention. Not the case at all with the Skidmore students. The class was an hour and twenty minutes long. The first twenty minutes the students broke up into two teams and debated whether or not your should become an entrepreneur out of college. Pretty quickly it became apparent that they were really truly interested in the class. Their responses were right on point – they nailed all of the important pros (you have nothing to lose, you have a stronger desire to prove yourself, etc) and cons (risk of falling behind your peers financially, ruining your social life, etc).
For the next hour I got the stage and was able to talk about entrepreneurship as a career choice. I spent the first half telling my story. I certainly have some work to do on this part for the next time I present, but the goal wasn’t necessarily to do a perfect job talking about myself. The goal was to give them enough of an idea about who I am and what I do so that we could actively engage in a discussion period at the end. I posted a list of roughly 10 discussion topics on the last slide and I spent the second half hour bouncing between Q&A and talking to some of the discussion points I had listed (an example would be “businesses you can start for $100 while still in college”).
Again, I feared that I would hear crickets after my initial part of the presentation and I would be stuck talking to the last slide for a half hour not really knowing what they were interested in hearing about. Instead, almost every student had a question for me. It really was an awesome experience. You couldn’t ask for a better group of college seniors. Regardless of whether they start companies or go into the corporate world, they’ll all have a huge positive impact on the world. I know that’s a bold statement, but you could just tell when you were around them. Anyone who doesn’t have faith in putting our future in the hands of the kids graduating today hasn’t met any of the students in this class (side note: I couldn’t find the professor’s office once I got in the building, and a group of about 10 random kids all helped me get there. They went above and beyond just pointing me in the right direction. Don’t see that very often).
First and foremost, I want to thank the entire class for (especially Prof. Wales) having me in to speak and actively engaging in the presentation. I also want to thank them for giving me a more optimistic outlook of the next generation of workers. We will undoubtedbly be hiring quite a few employees from their generation, so I feel a lot better about our prospects of finding someone great after meeting them yesterday.
Somewhat selfishly, I also want to thank you for opening up a new door for me. I was really hoping this presentation would go well, because I wanted to have the opportunity to give it again. It’s rare that you’re put in a position where people actually want to hear what you have to say, so much so that they will actively engage you in a Q&A session. I’m lucky enough to be in that position when it comes to entrepreneurship, particularly the decision making process a young entrepreneur goes through when deciding a career path. How cool is that?
Everyone has opportunities to give back and make the world a better place, but some are less obvious than others. I’m not very handy, so volunteering for Habitat for Humanity might not work so well for me. I like to do everything really fast and I hate wasting time, so helping out at a seniors home might drive me insane. But I can talk all day long about the ups and downs of running a business in your twenties. I can talk about all of the tough decisions I’ve had to make. I can talk not only about the really smart things we’ve done, but also the really stupid decisions we’ve made. When I started this blog I had a feeling that people would be interested in hearing about my experiences. I thought being as candid as possible would help them decide whether or not they wanted to run a business, especially because most business owners are either too busy to share their story or unwilling to share it. I feel like that’s been validated from all of the wonderful comments and emails I’ve received over the past few years. Now I have another medium to get the same message out.
Oh, and for now I’ve decided not to put the presentation online. This first time I wanted to focus on creating a positive experience for the audience. I didn’t want to have to worry about setting up a camera or mic. I don’t want to put the slides online as-is because they have some financial numbers that I’d like to keep off the web. Ultimately if this continues to go well I will have an online version. I’m going to make it a goal to give the presentation to one new school per semester. So in the spring I’ll try to hit up RPI or SUNY Albany in addition to Skidmore. Once I feel like I’ve got it down and it’s really resonating consistently with every audience, I’ll record it once and create a section on this site. I’ll try to include other relevant content to supplement the presentation (other videos, articles I’ve written, recommended reading, etc)
But I’m getting a bit ahead of myself. For now I’m thankful that it went well and hoping that it goes even better next semester. In the meantime, I’ve got to get back on that SportsLizard revamp that I’ve managed to drag on for the past few months…