Sunday, February 23, 2020

3 lessons I learned as a student entrepreneur    


For the past two years, I’ve had the unique experience of being a student entrepreneur spearheading ProjectEd, a social enterprise which strives to tackle education inequality in Malaysia. It’s been a bumpy, yet memorable ride juggling startup work, personal life, and school.


Many ambitious students have a vision of the future that they are passionate about. Often times, they also have an idea of how to go about creating that future. However, most of them are hesitant to take the plunge: there’s too much at risk, and as students, inexperience seems like a serious roadblock.


Reflecting on my startup journey, it was a learning experience from the very beginning. Below are the top three lessons I learned through my experience–lessons that I hope will inspire all the potential student entrepreneurs out there to step out of their comfort zones and embark on their own entrepreneurial journeys. 


  1. People love helping students.


The most effective way to skill-build as an entrepreneur is to learn from others’ experiences. As a student entrepreneur myself, I was initially very reluctant to seek advice from more experienced peers in my university. I thought I could solve every problem with my brilliant brain alone. Little did I know that the power of asking could have saved me from dozens of failures. 


Life as a student entrepreneur is tough, and it’s an experience that few can claim to share. Therefore, instead of shying away from the advice of others, leverage this unique identity, swallow your pride, and learn as much as possible from those who are more experienced in the startup ecosystem. 


The question I always get from my peers is, “Aren’t you afraid that the people you ask for advice will reject your request?” However, I do believe that successful people are generous with their knowledge and eager to share it with other people. More often than not, successful individuals want others to be as successful as they are! 


As the old saying goes, “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.” Throughout my bumpy journey with ProjectEd, I’ve been blessed with mentors who have constantly shared their experiences and nuggets of wisdom with me. From business models to team culture, I’ve received a lot of guidance from experts who willingly spent their time mentoring student entrepreneurs like me. I may never have had the chance if I didn’t reach out and ask them a question. 


2. It’s okay to fail.


In the very early stages of my entrepreneurial journey, I was under a huge misconception: you have to know everything before launching a startup, and failure is not an option. 


Back then, I was totally wrong. In actual fact, one learns by doing and succeeds by failing. It took me a long time to fully understand that failure is an integral part of success, especially in the startup world. However, giving up is definitely not conducive to success. Do not stop trying. If you want to chase the startup dream, take the first step regardless of the fact that it could end in failure.


Many successful entrepreneurs have told me that they had wanted to start their entrepreneurial journey back in university. I was initially astounded. However, the university is actually the best safety net for aspiring entrepreneurs. When else will one live a life free of monthly expenses and rent payments? Thanks to the generosity of the FAMA (Father and Mother) scholarship, many of us are able to do so during college, and it’s worth capitalizing on this financial freedom.


3. Prioritizing is key.


“Dude! Why can’t you go out for a movie with us again?” 


“We never see you anymore, can’t you join in tonight?” 


As a student entrepreneur, it’s common to hear these kinds of questions from your friends, but entrepreneurial journeys require a lot of sacrifices. 


During my entrepreneurial journey, I’ve had to turn down invitations for movies, dinners, and pretty much all other kinds of entertainment. I once thought the more sacrifices I made, the greater rewards and chance of success going forward. Unfortunately, that’s not entirely true. The ‘hustle’ mentality associated with successful founders can lead to frustration and burnout, and could even affect your passion for your startup.


Therefore, self-love should be the paramount consideration of your entrepreneurial journey. Love and take good care of one’s body, mind, and heart, as they are the most important tools in one’s startup arsenal. The ability to prioritize tasks is crucial for every aspiring student entrepreneur out there, especially when juggling academics and work.


Luckily, when the work is piling up and it’s difficult to sort out the priorities, there are tools like The Eisenhower Matrix  out there to help make sense of it all. Tools like this will help to prioritize tasks and increase productivity. 


These are the three lessons that I absorbed from my entrepreneurial journey with ProjectEd. It undeniably takes a lot of hard work and sacrifice, but with the right attitude, students can be some of the best entrepreneurs out there.


About Author



Nelson Jia Jun Ng is an aerospace engineering student at the University of Southampton and the founder of ProjectEd, a student-led social enterprise which strives to tackle education inequality in Malaysia by empowering underprivileged students to pursue their tertiary education dreams.

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