What kind of impact a failed startup has got on your career?


I'm thinking about my own software house and I'm very serious about it. Right now, I'm in my first year of studies (got Bsc, pursuing master) and I have a feeling that I would have to drop out of the university. Since, I don't have much experience the risk of fail is pretty high (f.e. in terms of financial liquidity - eastern Europe, not many angels/VCs).

My master's really sucks: nonlinear dynamics, quantum CS - don't enjoy it. I love programming and I love building things. I made a few mobile apps from scratch and I happy that people buy them.

I think I'm in a similar situation as Joel Spolsky (he wrote one blog post about it ). I do not want to jeopardize my carrier and burn all bridges, but I don't see any value in it. What do you think about a kiddo that dropped out to do a start-up? Is it better to stay and finish college?

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asked Oct 3 '11 at 04:41
110 points

4 Answers


You always hear about the guys that dropped out of school and then made it big, and I have a feeling that that is influencing your thinking here. But like other times in life, sometimes what's more important is what isn't being said. For every successful person who pulled off dropping out of school, you don't hear about the 100+ who dropped out, failed, and then were left in a very awkward position in life.

You said it yourself that the risk of failure is pretty high. Even here in the US, where funding is still relatively abundant, the failure rate for most startups is typically around 80-90%. And even if you're in that 10-20%, just because you're making money doesn't necessarily mean you're successful.

You could sink years into your business before you realize it just isn't working. Picture it then: you have no money, so you need to get a regular job, but compared to your peers you're now competing against, you have no education. You'd essentially have nothing to fall back on.

As far as bang for buck, when it comes to both your time and money, there is no better personal investment than in your own education. I would recommend you stay in school, do what you can on the side to further your entrepreneurial dreams, and plan to set yourself up so that you can hit the ground running as soon as you're finished with school.

You've got plenty of time; it's important not to waste it, but just as important to remember that you don't have to rush things.

answered Oct 3 '11 at 04:59
1,156 points
  • Thanks for your input. Actually it convinced my to dropped out :). I do not want to invent another facebook or MS. I do have a degree, very good internships in my CV and even failed start-up doesn't look bad. – Lukas 13 years ago
  • Ah, I had been under the impression it was your undergraduate. Even so, my advice would remain the same. You can't compare it with the real life experience of launching your own business, but in the vast majority of cases the master's is still going to be better when it comes to an _actual_ return on your time and effort. Good luck with whatever you choose though. I like to try and have no regrets. After all, everything is a step forward, just maybe not in the direction you originally intended :) – Alex 13 years ago


A failed startup is not a failure. There is no degree on earth that could ever teach you as much in 2 years as you will learn with your own startup - assuming you actually work of course.

If I were hiring someone and they said that they had worked hard at a startup for 2 years and that it didn't work out, they would stand out positively far more than a guy that never tried and never failed.

That said, there is value in finishing your degree. If you are really passionate about it, you can always sacrifice other things in life and still squeeze in 30-40 hours a week on your startup while finishing your degree. It won't be easy, but in the end it will be worth it.

Pretend for a moment that it is 10 years in the future. Do you think you will say "I'm glad I never finished that degree", or "I wish I had finished that degree"?

answered Oct 3 '11 at 06:59
John Gb
384 points


That's a bad idea in your case, here is why:

  • Software house is a bad type of a start-up. It is not unique in any way, it's highly reliant on people running it, will have small customer base and it's value will be very little. You won't attract any angels or VCs with just a software house. You will have much higher chances if you are building a product or software-as-a-service.
  • If you are going to drop-out, do it at the 3rd year at least. Try to find the lectures which you like, attend them and at least get the knowledge. I agree that graduating is tough, but knowledge is really useful.
  • When you form a team, get someone skillful. If you team up with your friend from college, you might lack a very critical skill - "sales". Technology is a very small part of every start-up.

Some facts about start-ups:

  • from 10 start-ups with proper team, investment, idea, business plan and prototype the 8 will fail.
  • from remaining 2 one will only bring in moderate profits.
  • only one out of those ten on average will be bought by a larger company (exit) or go public.

If you are prepared to do some stuff with no experience at all, no leverage (something that gives you advantage over competition) and no investment will give you about 1% chance of success.

Then again, you might do be able to do it. You'll find many people encourage you yet they won't invest unless they are family&friends.

My suggestion would be to attend start-up courses, learn the basics about market research, USP, SWOT, business and finance plans, try to sign-up some sales, do competitor analysis. You can take a break from your studies for 1 year just to do that. You will surely learn a lot and will drop out anyway, but be careful on how you spend your time.

answered Oct 4 '11 at 08:34
253 points


You're right that most start-ups fail. If you go the start-up route, just keep reminding yourself that you're in it to succeed, and that if it doesn't work out then you'll learn.

So then you have two choices: do your own thing, or join someone else's startup?

The latter's a great default choice, in my opinion. You get all the learning, without the emotional trauma, and with some of the pitfalls avoided. Network. Find out what's happening, what's about to happen, who seems to be connected to everything interesting going on.

If you don't want to do that, then you're in the process of finding an idea, developing it yourself and seeing where it leads. And that's best done in the context of a reasonably stable working life. A Master's - especially one that's not exciting you - is a pretty good base. It gives you a role, connections, routine... and plenty of opportunity to carve out time to build software on the side, and find out what really, really works before you commit 100%.

answered Oct 4 '11 at 18:56
Jeremy Parsons
5,197 points

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