Which is better: investing or entrepreneurship?

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Business and finance are very different skills, and paths in life. There are many things you can do in college that will prepare you well for either one or the other — and many other careers, passions, and pursuits. The best advice in college would be to get a solid underlying general education, with enough strength in math, logic, analysis, finance, engineering, management, history, philosophy, language… all of these, nearly any education or life experience… will be a reservoir of understanding that you can draw on in career and life.

Investing is an easier, surer, less stressful path for a smart person to make lots of money quickly. But it requires two things you probably don’t have, and probably can’t pick up on the job: money to invest, and wisdom / opportunities / connections / leverage on placing it. Moreover, if you start off with a lot of money and contacts, for example a sudden windfall or having rich parents to sponsor you, it will only set you up to lose more money faster because it takes discipline and knowledge to beat the market. Finance is hard to learn, at least very expensive to learn, by trial and error, making mistakes with your money.

What you can do in college is to learn about money, practice saving, investing, and spending it at modest amounts, and making friends with anyone and everyone you can among your peers, teaching assistants, and faculty. Keep tabs on them, be everyone’s friend, treat them generously, and try to really understand and care about them. This will be your initial network after school, and because many people are part of multiple networks, it will be your link to other networks that will last a lifetime.

If you are from a top school, know the right people, and/or your grades are good it may be relatively straightforward to land a job in finance where you are working with investors, doing analysis from them, selling to investors, perhaps advising people where to invest. But while that is a good learning experience, it makes you the proverbial mail room clerk, as there is no straightforward career ladder within financial firms to climb from a post-college analyst internship to the executive suite. You have to make a mark, somehow.

Entrepreneurship, by contrast, is open to all, and something you can only learn fully on the job, by doing it. It is a lot of work, stress, risk, ups and downs, and an all-consuming way of life. Sink or swim. It takes street smarts, finding opportunities, being willing to do anything and everything. If something is broken, you don’t study why, and how it might be fixed, the theory of how things are fixed, you don’t develop a management plan to find the right people to hire and organize a team around what to do, you just go in and fix it. You need a good analytical head, but also skepticism, an ability to think around all angles of a problem, listening to evidence and not authority.

There is a wide path from successful entrepreneurship to becoming an investor (though that is not the only path). There is not much pathway from being an investor to being an entrepreneur.

I think the answer will come to you over time – and in my view there is no “better” choice, but rather “what works for you” choice. Sequentially though, I imagine that you may naturally start with the new products. If you do have one or more ideas about news products and succeed in developing them, than that will become your focus. Understanding the process of bringing those ideas to market will give you valuable insight into what makes a business successful and make you a better investor as well.

 

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If however you are not as successful as you hope in developing your ideas, you will still learn valuable lessons about investing. I firmly believe that experience in running a business, combined with financial training, is extremely valuable for an investor.

If on the other hand you focus on developing your investment skills first, those will be valuable in thinking through ways to fund and develop your products in bringing them to market.

So my advice is for you to focus your attention on whatever you are most interested in and go from there as you will be hard pressed to go wrong and waste your time.

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