UT Austin’s Startup Job Fair on Friday welcomed 30 Austin startups that are interested in enlisting Longhorns to their teams. The fair was created and is hosted by the Longhorn Entrepreneurship Agency (LEA) of Student Government and is sponsored by my office, Liberal Arts Career Services (LACS). Last Friday’s fair was only our second ever but we plan on hosting them every semester. The next fair is planned for March 10th, 2015 during UT Entrepreneurship Week.
The first thing Bob Metcalfe, UT Austin’s Professor of Innovation, did when he walked into the fair last Friday was tell LEA Director Amanda Barrington and me why he loved the idea of this event. He referred back to when two Y-Combinator partners visited his Longhorn Startup Seminar in October. They told the group of about 100 students interested in entrepreneurship that they probably aren’t the best positioned for being the core founder of a new business.
Instead, entrepreneurial students should consider working at a well-funded startup like one of the 27 that their Y-Combinator has produced that are worth over $100 million (according to a 11/21 tweet by Y-Combinator President Sam Altman). Typical college students are committed to a full class load, a few student organizations, a precious social life and recruiting. You can’t just throw your own startup on top of that unless you sacrifice something else. Plus, being paid to work at a startup allows you to learn the entrepreneurial process on someone else’s dime.
Working for a startup also gives you the opportunity to play a real role in a special mission to change the world. At our breakfast this semester, I told fellow UT Friar Society members one thing when it was my turn to speak. “If you are in this room, have graduated in the last 5 years and are a consultant then you should quit your job and help start something.” The reason I said that was to combat a disheartening idea put forth by Peter Thiel, one of the most powerful people in Silicon Valley, in his book “Zero to One.”
Thiel describes our society as one that thinks optimistically about an indefinite future. Our best graduates are going into fields where they’ll create few concrete plans to build a better world but still expect it to be better in the future. Management consultants go from project to project implementing operational efficiency procedures with no long-term interest in the future of the business. Lawyers step in and solve other people’s problems then get out of the way. Investment bankers rely on the tenet that nobody knows whether the market will go up and down and therefore rely on diversification of assets.
This indefinite optimism is inherently unsustainable according to Thiel. How does the future get better when nobody plans for the improvement?
I’ll admit the quickest route to what we traditionally consider success (financial security, job prestige, etc.) is probably a career in consulting, investment banking or law. In that sense, it makes sense the best students are pursuing these fields. However, at a University that prides itself on producing people that will change the world, shouldn’t our graduates enter fields with more agency over the future?
Working for a startup, you will have agency not only over your life but a new part of the world. Startups develop a vision for the future and grind it out to make that vision a reality. Founders play the leading role in this but, of course, it couldn’t be done without help. Employees contribute directly to the success or failure of every startup while still earning a consistent salary that can help pay bills and student debt. Good startups set aside stock to offer their employees as an incentive to offset lower salaries. Then once the startup takes off, you can cash those stock options in and use those funds to launch your own company.
Hundreds of students visited the Startup Job Fair last Friday in search of a startup to join. If you missed the fair, there is a startup networking event (or ten) happening every night in Austin. Otherwise, join us during UT Entrepreneurship Week on March 10th for the next UT Austin Startup Job Fair.
Spiller is a rhetoric and writing alumnus. While a student, he founded the Longhorn Entrepreneurship Agency of Student Government. and worked as a Daily Texan opinion columnist. He writes about UT entrepreneurship on his blog at UThinkTankNick.com and can be found on Twitter @Nick_Spiller.