Paul Graham on Why College Before Startups Leads to a Better Life

Paul Graham recently delivered a guest lecture in Sam Altman’s Startup class at Stanford. Graham approached the lecture from the vantage point of what he would tell his own kids about startups if they were in college. The entire lecture was dedicated to developing approaches,strategies and understandings “Before the Startup”.

Graham pointed out several things about startups that are counterintuitive, opining that the entire nature of startups is counterintuitive, “startups are so weird that if you trust your instincts, you’ll make a lot of mistakes…” Graham is a master and amongst the best at giving advice about startups. One of his five points is that 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, maybe for the rest of your life.”
So, now what? What’s Graham’s advice to young startup wannabes? Take your time getting started. At the very least, finish college because, in Graham’s words, “You can’t start a startup for real as a student, because if you start a startup for real you’re not a student anymore”.

I think that the uber-success of people like Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg often tricks the younger generation into thinking that you need to start early and that college is not that important. A quick glance at Wikipedia’s list of billionaire college dropouts might add to that notion. Graham argues, however, that ditching college for a startup dream is foolish.

The ability to discover yourself, the world and any topic that captures your fancy is invaluable. And it’s not only because you will never have a chance to do that again, which is part of it, it’s because those things will actually make you a better startup person: There’s not even a tradeoff here. You’re not sacrificing anything if you forgo starting a startup at 20, because you’re more likely to succeed if you wait. Even though a successful startup may be part of a good life for ambitious people, there is a significant tradeoff in the sacrifices you will have to make to get there. What’s the rush?