A friend of a friend recently emailed the following question:
I'm currently undertaking my penultimate year of law, a degree so far disastrously unappealing. Much of this comes from my lack of interest in practicing/ pursuing work in law and partly from the disenchantment in the tertiary education process.
The past 3 months have been a mental debate on what the best decision is in regards to either finishing my degree or cutting my losses and pursuing something of interest. Obviously given the stigma that is a lack of a tertiary education, all those around me have suggested that I suck it up and just finish. Personally I feel as though I would achieve more if I discontinued my study and attempt to immerse myself in the real world and gain some real experience.
So my query for you is - Q. Did completing your Law degree substantially contribute to your success with Shoes of Prey or do you feel as though with your drive and entrepreneurial desires you would have achieved your goals regardless?
Here's my response:
It's a tricky question. There are some programs in Silicon Valley designed to help budding entrepreneurs head down that path without going to uni first and there are good arguments for getting stuck into what it is you love now as you'll learn faster. However I think overall in Australia I would suggest finishing uni, for a few reasons:
1. As an Australian business community we're still culturally quite unaccepting of people who haven't completed a uni degree.
2. There are lots of great jobs out there that require a uni degree, and high marks at that. For example, Google won't hire anyone who hasn't finished uni at a good university, and with high marks. Working at Google was hugely influential for us in starting Shoes of Prey and Sneaking Duck. I learnt a great deal about online marketing there and met lots of amazing people, including Mark Capps who we went on to co-found sneaking duck with.
3. I met my Shoes of Prey co-founders studying law. I met Mike in about 2nd or 3rd year uni. Then I met Jodie in final year uni when I get involved in the Australian Law Students' Association (ALSA). Without finishing my law degree and meeting Jodie and getting to know Mike more, I may well be working for a corporate rather than being an entrepreneur as finding great co-founders is probably the most critical thing you can do in starting the entrepreneurial process.
4. Working for other people is a great way to learn. Mike, Jodie and I experimented with some startups while finishing uni and in our first years of working. Looking back, our ideas and the way we executed them were terrible, there was so much we didn't know. 5 years working for other people taught us lots which has helped us be successful now. Sure, we could have learnt similar things doing startups full time, but that is an expensive way to learn when it's your own money and you're not earning a salary. Learning and making mistakes while working for someone else is much cheaper for you personally.
For those reasons I'd suggest finishing your degree, but find things that you're passionate about that will help with your future entrepreneurial career. Ideally start a startup part time! For me, I hated studying law with a passion, however I got involved in the UQ Law Society as social convenor in my second last year then president in my final year. I loved those roles and running The L Card and the finances of a pretty large voluntary society (we raised over $100k from law firm sponsorship and sales of The L Card in my final year) taught me lots about running a business and motivating people which has gone on to help in running Shoes of Prey and Sneaking Duck.
Also, when you cut it back, studying doesn't take up much time. I attended about 50% of my lectures and became pretty adept at cramming at the end of the semester. I probably wasted a lot of the extra time I had, but you could easily start a business part-time and see how things go before quitting uni. Even some of the most celebrated uni drop outs - Mark Zuckerberg and the Google co-founders started their businesses while studying full time, and only dropped out of uni when their businesses started to take off - that's a much safer approach.
Even when starting Shoes of Prey, Mike, Jodie and I did that part time while keeping our full time jobs and only quit our jobs once we were confident we were onto a winner and the business was getting to the point where we could no longer do it part time. I'd suggest taking the same approach to your study.
That was my two cents. I and the questioner are interested to hear what others think, what would your advice be?