If you run in startup circles (especially if you’re ever interfacing with investors) you are familiar with the role of an Entrepreneur in Residence. It’s an experienced/seasoned entrepreneur in various roles at a Venture Capital firm, or higher education/government institution.
But before you can be an “seasoned” entrepreneur, you start as no entrepreneur at all. Because the only path to entrepreneurship is to be born with certain defective personality characteristics, and then to basically go do it. You can’t learn it in school anymore than watching videos on Youtube can teach you to fly fish. Entrepreneurship is trial and error, mentoring, and apprenticeship.
So mid last year, I was struck that startups don’t have a counterpoint to this prestigious position that lives on the other side of the table. Since I’m a believer in Yin/Yang, we set out to create the Yang to the E.I.R. Yin. And to find a guinea pig that would sign up for bailing on school to live/learn on the front lines of a startup, with the ultimate goal and outcome being that they would go be an entrepreneur someday.
We call it: Entrepreneur In Training (E.I.T.)
We call him: Applessassin (a.k.a. Jon Allen)
What follows now is a guest post by Jon. It’s his story, decisions, life changes, and experiences to date as (to my knowledge) the world’s first officially titled startup E.I.T. (seriously, it’s on his business cards).
The path to be an Entrepreneur in Training E.I.T. (Hands on Education and Experience> MBA and “A name on the Resume”)
The past few years I have been on a journey to figure out what it is I want to do with my life. As I have attended college at the University of Utah I meet many talented individuals in my same situation. Most of us are in a hurry to get ahead, finish paying for school, and move on with life. We have little life experience to drive our decision making process. We often turn to professors and advisors for advice and are told the only path to success is Consulting, Investment Banking, Fortune 500 Companies, or Big4 Accounting Firms. We are also told that we will never survive the working world today without a Master’s degree, MBA, or Law Degree. While these are all good career options that have helped many people find success, I see everyday student’s ignoring their dreams and what they are passionate about to pursue these “Cookie Cutter” careers. I was almost one of these people who ignored what I like doing for the conventional “Cookie Cutter” path. My advice now for all people is to not fall in to the trap of doing something just because it is the “normal and conventional” path but to pursue what you think you want to do for the rest of your life and learn as much as you can along the way!
Before I became an E.I.T.
In college my career path seemed set. I would get a Bachelors degree in accounting, attend Beta Alpha Psi and network with local Professionals, I would stay up late studying every night to maintain a high GPA, get an internship just prior to graduation with a Big4 Accounting firm, come back and complete my Master’s of Accounting Degree, and go out of state and work a lot hours until I became the partner in the firm. The path seemed so simple and for some reason to me this felt like the only way I could find success. The funny part about it all is I was never excited about my degree in accounting, never excited about what I would be doing during my internship, and never excited about doing a Master’s degree in accounting. I was being fueled by the money I could earn, the minimal risk in the career path, and the fact that my teachers and advisors would get really excited about me helping the schools rankings by taking a job at the firm. Everything was on par for me to do these things until my Internship when I had a big turning point. I had been working 70-80 hour weeks as an intern in Washington D.C. for the same accounting firm my dad had worked for 25 years before me. It didn’t take me very long to figure out that this wasn’t the right career for me. I tried to ignore that I disliked the job I had chosen by focusing on the free dinners for working all day, the vacations I could take when I was in my 40′s, and the idea that I could retire when I was 65 and not have a care in the world. It is hard to make an extreme career change when you have had your expectations and goals set on something so long, to be so close to accomplishing what you always wanted, and then turning it down for the complete unknown.
I am happy to say that I started doing some serious introspection asking myself questions like, “What am I passionate about?”, “What would I willingly stay up until 4 in the morning to work on?”, “What type of job would I be willing to skip lunch for because work is better than food?”.
My whole life I had enjoyed reading business books and startup books. I had spent high school staying up late editing movies for school assemblies. I would wait every week for the newspaper to pull out the ads that had all of the electronics from all of the different brands. I had spent my weekends pulling apart and putting back together old computers. I had helped organize the business plan competitions throughout the state of Utah. I had worked construction and really enjoyed building things. All of these things combined I knew I wanted to be in an environment where creativity, business, diversity, and innovation were all a part of my daily job description. I think I have a little bit of ADD and don’t like to be pigeon holed into one small thing but like experiencing lots of things.
When I got home from my internship I started looking at other options and applied and got accepted to the full-time MBA program at the University of Utah. I started interning at the University Venture Fund, a student run venture fund where we would do diligence for local firms and invest. At the same time I was going to lunch with as many people I could asking their perspective on what I should do when I finished my undergraduate degree.
Turning down an MBA and BIG4 Job offer to work for a Startup Company
It is funny how the universe has a way of putting the right people in your path at the right time. After receiving a job offer on completion of my internship I moved back to Utah and was shortly introduced to a few people who would change my life forever. The first, Al Doan, whose a random kids whose phone number I had from 5 years back I randomly called and asked if he would like to grab lunch. Al had worked with techStars for while and started a few companies. When I called him up, he had no idea who I was. I told him about the MBA, the job offer, and my what I enjoyed doing and asked for advice. He said very simply, “Why are you going to an MBA? From what you have told me you really need to go work for a startup!!!”
I began researching startups in the area cold calling and emailing the ones I liked explaining my background and that I really wanted an opportunity to work for them. Finally Jeremy Hanks, from what was DropShip.com at the time, emailed me back randomly and invited me to do some research and come into the office to interview for a position as a Marketing Crony(Intern). I interned for the summer and at the end of the summer he said very simply you should just not do the MBA program and come work for us full time. His offer was simple, “you want to be an entrepreneur, the MBA is for experience and you are going to pay a bunch of money for it, come work full time as our E.I.T. and you will get way better business experience.”
The fear of losing the MBA name on my resume was very scary to me! I talked to a lot of people and thought a lot about the opportunity and realized the opportunity to work for a company like this and get mentored as an “Entrepreneur In Training” was once in a lifetime. I realized “When a rocket ship is about to take off, don’t ask questions or which seat you are in, just get inside.” I accepted the offer and for the last 6 months have been an Entrepreneur In Training for what is now DropShip Commerce. I love waking up every morning, taking on new challenges, and learning. I love my job and know that the startup world is a place I want to be for the rest of my life!
What being an E.I.T. (Entrepreneur in Training) has taught me
I don’t want to downplay the importance of a formal education because in a lot of ways it still prepares me to do my job well. I do however want to strongly emphasize that hands on experience trumps all formal education and that college should just compliment your skills career and not define it.
Since becoming an E.I.T. here at DropShip Commerce I have had all sorts of unique opportunities that I never had in school. Here are some of the range of activities I get to participate in on a daily basis that I never would have gotten working for a Big Company or in a Full-Time MBA:
• Attending board meeting’s with local investors, advisors, and other seasoned entrepreneurs
• Attending executive meeting’s where strategy and real company problems and solutions are being discussed in real time
• Looking at a terms sheet, our companies articles or incorporation, stock options plans, and stock certificates
• Keeping the books for the company and making financial projections for the companies future
• Analyzing key metrics and data to determine where we are at and where we can improve
• Picking up a Diet Mountain Dew and David Sunflower seeds for our CEO Jeremy Hanks
• Researching the eCommerce, DropShipping, and Supply chain markets looking for trends and opportunities
• Building IKEA Furniture, Ordering Trek desks, and FitBits for new employees
• Testing software to help make sure it is functioning properly
• Helping to recruit new and talented people to come work with us
• Editing documentation and user guides for our customers
• Networking with all sorts of investors, business professionals, and students from different schools in Utah
• And much more..
As an E.I.T. I feel really lucky to learn from talented and smart people everyday. I enjoy working on a huge range of projects that help me know the in’s and out’s of our company. This opportunity has been the greatest education experience of my life. I have learned more about business in the past 6 months than any other time in my life. I now feel confident telling students that if they don’t like where they are at it is alright to pursue an unconventional career path to do something that you enjoy! Worse case scenario you fail and you still got some really valuable life experience. I hope that more entrepreneurs help mentor confused students like me. I know that my experience as an E.I.T. is better preparing me to one day be a capable and experienced and hopefully successful entrepreneur here in Utah.
Awesome. Amazing advice for anyone considering entrepreneurship as a career. It’s so close to my own story. And BTW: Jonny is as awesome as he comes across in this post.
Entrepreneur to Aspiring Entrepreneur? MBA? Utter waste of time. Might as well take your $50k or $100k or $200k (SERIOUSLY?!) to Vegas, and bet on black #17: If you loose, you’re ahead cause that moment when the ball is circling the roulette wheel with a bet that large would be SO INTENSE and then you could go spend the other 729 days you’d have wasted listening to professors who 9/10 times have no damn idea what entrepreneurship is (hell, actual entrepreneurs don’t even know what it is) and work at a startup (where you will get PAID). If you win? Well my friends. Even at the low end of $50k, that’s $1,750,000. Seed round? Check.