Vail Chamber: Dropping out of college rarely a positive step for those with startup aspirations (column)

Michael Staughton
Vail Chamber
Michael Staughton
Special to the Daily

I believe my last article (“Do you have a business succession plan?” Monday, Dec. 4) put the cart before the horse. In order to have a succession plan, you need to own a business.

How do you obtain a business? There are many ways: inherit a family business, buy a business, create a business or do a start-up business. What if you are halfway through college and have an amazing idea for a business and you want to drop out of college to start your startup? Legal advisers (not just your parents) specializing in small business and entrepreneurship would say “no.”

The aspiration that you might become the next Bill Gates, Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg is fine — and the allure of becoming the next college-dropout entrepreneur is tremendous — but are you sure your concept is “the next big idea”? Despite the success stories of Microsoft, Apple and Facebook, what more often occurs is that the dropout does not become the idealistic engaging millionaire (billionaire). He or she just becomes a dropout.

Reasons to stay in school

Here are reasons to stay in school:

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• You do not know yourself completely. At age 19 through 21, or close, you likely do not know yourself well enough yet to know if entrepreneurship is your path and, if it is, then whether this new business is right for you and/or the rest of the world. Do you think your idea at age 20 is what you want to do when you are 30 or 40?

• You need to get smarter. Usually to own a business means one needs to be a Jack or Jill of all trades. Learning how to learn is critical, and that is the benefit of school.

• You do not really know what people want. A great business must provide a great market need. What you think is a market need at age 20 is extremely different than what you will know after three or 10 years out in the work world. You might know what teenagers or young adults want and need, but do you know what adults want and need? More importantly, do you know how to implement and service that need?

• You should acquire some life experience. Getting a “real job” and a boss will assist you once you are ready to start your own business. You might get a job that is a success or, perhaps, a failure. It is good to experience different results.

• You have lots of time to work; too much, in reality. There is more than enough time later in life to focus on work.

• School is terrific. You are in a part of life that you have the ability (and luxury) of learning for learning’s sake. It is important to appreciate that opportunity.

The best conclusion in regard to a startup business at a young age is thinking about being flexible. Flexibility is fine early in life. If your focus on the new idea is not proving productive, then do not be afraid to change course.

You need confidence. Confidence is key. Nothing breeds success more than believing in yourself, even when no one else does. The ability to learn how to learn in college can lead you to flexibility and confidence that will lead you to being experienced enough to do that start-up business at the right time.

Michael Staughton is the owner of Slope Enterprises, which operates the restaurants Los Amigos and Russell’s, both located in Vail Village. He is a board member of the Vail Chamber and Business Association. The Vail Chamber and Business Association is a business advocacy group in Vail and a communications outlet for businesses that want to have a voice in community affairs. For more information, call 970-477-0075 or email

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