Should You Start College or Startup: Perspectives from Two CEOs

by / ⠀Entrepreneurship Startup Advice / June 10, 2013


The debate about whether hopeful entrepreneurs should start college or startup has been alive and well for many years.

There are countless examples of successful entrepreneurs – Richard Branson, Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg, to name a few – who never completed a college degree but those stories are admittedly few and far between. The more traditional route is that of Mark Cuban, Warren Buffett and Larry Page, all who found success after graduating college.

With examples of success in both camps, how are you supposed to decide which path is right for you?

To help, we decided to speak with two entrepreneurs that started their business in their mid-twenties – one with a college degree, the other without – to get their thoughts on entrepreneurship, college and how future entrepreneurs can prepare themselves for finding success.

Thoughts from a college graduate

Shawn Geller

Shawn Geller is the co-founder and CEO of Quikly, a discount deal company that delivers time-sensitive promotional discounts via text message.

Shawn graduated from Temple University with a bachelor’s degree in finance and entrepreneurship and started his company when he was just 24 years old. Geller’s views on entrepreneurship and college lean heavily on the importance of a college education:

“Running your own startup takes determination, persistence and a little bit of luck. While you’re most likely to gain real world experience from taking the dive and learning from your mistakes, college offers a means for building maturity, responsibility and dedication – all traits that are crucial to your success.”

Without a doubt, there are experiences in becoming an entrepreneur that you immediately miss out on by choosing to attend college first. The belief that failing fast allows you to learn from your mistakes is certainly important for up-and-coming business leaders who don’t have any formal business education. However, in any startup situation there is always going to be opportunities to learn and gain experience, those don’t go away simply by going to college. And who knows, maybe some of the common mistakes startup entrepreneurs make could be avoided with insights provided in a college classroom.

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Thoughts from a college dropout


Rand Fishkin is the chief executive of SEO software company SEOmoz, which offers customers search engine optimization software. Fishkin founded the company in 2004 when he was 25 years old, after dropping out of the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business. Fishkin’s views on entrepreneurship and college are equally appreciative of both paths:

“Today, college and entrepreneurship do not necessarily go hand-in-hand. I’d offer two pieces of advice on this topic. First:  If there’s a company you absolutely must start and cannot imagine living your life without working full time toward its success, don’t let college be an artificial barrier; go for it. Second: If that idea is not yet burning a hole in your head and college is affordable for you, it’s one of the best ways to network, expand your mind and have a really fun time, too. Don’t neglect it out of some fear that it will stunt your entrepreneurial possibilities.”

As we have seen with examples of college dropouts turned successful entrepreneurs, if you have an idea for a business that you truly believe in, then the timing of when you are “supposed to” attend college should not stop you. But it’s also important to realize that if you know you have an entrepreneurial spirit but are unprepared to immediately start a business then college can provide you with many of the opportunities to learn how to make that happen.

Making your choice

Let’s face it, neither choice guarantees you success or failure. Even if companies started by college graduates were found to be twice as successful, there will still always be the newest story of young startup entrepreneurs that did without it.

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Overall, it’s important to remember that both paths will have pros and cons, risks and rewards. For every college graduate turned successful entrepreneur like Shawn Geller, there will be an equally successful entrepreneur like Rand Fishkin.

If you’re still debating which path is right for you, don’t let anyone try to influence your decision. If you are destined to become a successful entrepreneur, a college degree or lack thereof should not get in your way.

TIP: One way a lot of people make difficult decisions is by removing the arbitrariness of the decision by making a list of pros and cons. This all-too-simple technique may just work for you. Click here to create your list to help you determine whether you should start college or startup. Just remember to be realistic and honest when filling it out. And don’t forget to revisit it and make changes when necessary.

What are your thoughts about going college versus getting started on your business?  Let us know in the comment stream below.

This is a guest post by Grant Tilus, an inbound marketer at Rasmussen College. Grant has a passion for helping future business professionals learn more about entrepreneurship and business management through the School of Business Blog. You can connect with him on Google+.

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About The Author

Matt Wilson

Matt Wilson is Co-Founder of Under30Experiences, a travel company for young people ages 21-35. He is the original Co-founder of Under30CEO (Acquired 2016). Matt is the Host of the Live Different Podcast and has 50+ Five Star iTunes Ratings on Health, Fitness, Business and Travel. He brings a unique, uncensored approach to his interviews and writing. His work is published on, Forbes, Inc. Magazine, Huffington Post, Reuters, and many others. Matt hosts yoga and fitness retreats in his free time and buys all his food from an organic farm in the jungle of Costa Rica where he lives. He is a shareholder of the Green Bay Packers.