Juan David Campolargo

“I Guess That’s What You Do When You’re in College.”

But what shocked me the most was when he said, “I’m looking to start a startup because I guess that’s what you do when you’re in college.” What????? Are you out of your fu**ing mind?

Recently, I started college and one day I was talking to a guy who seemed motivated and driven. As I talked to him, I realized we had the same or very similar goals like getting an internship[1] or doing research. 

When I heard that, I knew I was not thinking for myself and I knew I needed to redefine what I want and why I want what I want. 

We want what other people want

That’s what it means to be a human, and that’s how most people are. And that is fine. However, when you want what other people want, you compete with them and it becomes harder to get what you want. 

And even if you get what you thought you wanted, you may realize that that was not what you wanted in the first place because you were busy competing and not thinking about what you wanted.

I continued talking to him and my eyes suddenly stopped blinking and I looked to the horizon with the “Oh sh*t” gesture as the feeling of amusement and pain raised up in my chest.

I knew that as soon I finished talking to him, I’d be spending lots of time thinking about what I want while avoiding competition (e.g. creating my own opportunities or finding things I can only do).

But what shocked the most was when he said, “I’m looking to start a startup because I guess that’s what you do when you’re in college.” What????? Are you out of your mind? 

I didn’t say that, but I immediately thought about the first principles or the contrarian approach. 

I asked myself, “What does doing the opposite look like?”

 

This essay will attempt to answer this question. 

The essay was inspired after this interaction and was something I wrote for myself. 

On that note, I want to emphasize that what I say in this essay mostly applies to motivated and driven people who want to understand how to think from first principles and are thinking about starting startups.

 

Why do you do what you do? 

Is it because you think it’s good? Is it because your parents told you? Or is it because you thought things through?

I realized that we rarely make our own decisions, and lots of the time we’re imitating other people, or even worse we are lured by invisible forces such as prestige, money, and our inability to say, “This isn’t for me. I made the wrong choice.”

Most people go through life mindlessly and don’t know why they do what they do. It’s almost like our default reaction to life. But we shouldn’t be reacting to life. Life shouldn’t happen to us, we should make life happen for us. 

I started college and I plan to study engineering. But why? Why am I doing this?

After lots of thinking, I came to a few conclusions:

I want to study engineering because I want to get the foundation of specialization in a method of thinking. I want to have one strong foundational skill that I can build on.

If I study engineering, I could come back and learn pretty much anything else. If I study soft sciences, I can’t really come back and study engineering.

I want to have a technical background that could help me work on projects and companies.

These are all cute answers, but why are they right? Are they even right? 

Or are they right because they align with what people suggest or advise? 

Now, we get a peek at why we do what we do. Or what the forces that are driving us to do X, Y, and Z. 

Here, it’s not about engineering or college. It’s about WHAT I WANT or even better WHAT I DON’T WANT. 

So what are those things?

I wouldn’t like to get a job because it doesn’t go with my personality of self-starting projects and initiatives to help people and work on hard and challenging problems. 

“Sure, but what are the important problems? Or better yet, what would your ideal life look like? Why and how do you want to help others?”

Tough question to answer, but what I do want is a life where I work on things I’d do for free and learn things I’m interested in while focusing on my comparative advantage to solve hard and important problems. 

Why help others?

My thinking aligns with what Muhammad Ali said, “Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth.” Beyond this, it gives me fulfillment and a sense of purpose like nothing else. It makes me think of myself less and imagine the possibilities of the person or people one just helped. 

How about college? Is it even necessary?

A bad question will give you a bad answer, so let’s ask a better question. 

What are the problems I want to work on? What are the technologies that will most likely affect civilization in the next 10-20-50-100 years? 

I don’t know what problems per se, but I want to work on important problems and things I’m weirdly interested in while using my comparative advantage. Does having an engineering degree help for what I’m trying to do? I want to be a technologist. Is an engineering degree a must? No, but will it help? Yes, especially having a more technical background. 

How can I work on the “important problems”?

Well, a good way to carry that out seems with startups because 1) it’s one way where one gets the most leverage, and 2) it’s a model where most incentives are aligned. Nonprofit or other models are not there yet. 

In a world where many people want to create a startup, the first principles approach, or perhaps the contrarian approach, is not to start one but to understand one’s motivations, why a startup makes sense, or why it doesn’t.

In lots of colleges, starting to start a startup is like joining a school club or a frat. It’s what you’re supposed to do. Wait, what? I don’t know if that is a good thing or bad thing, but I do know doing something because other people are doing it is the path to misery and competition [2].

These are all cute answers, but why are they right? Are they even right? 

Or are they right because they align with what people suggest or advise? 

Now, we get a peek at why we do what we do. Or what the forces that are driving us to do X, Y, and Z. 

Here, it’s not about engineering or college. It’s about WHAT I WANT or even better WHAT I DON’T WANT. 

So what are those things?

I wouldn’t like to get a job because it doesn’t go with my personality of self-starting projects and initiatives to help people and work on hard and challenging problems. 

“Sure, but what are the important problems? Or better yet, what would your ideal life look like? Why and how do you want to help others?”

Tough question to answer, but what I do want is a life where I work on things I’d do for free and learn things I’m interested in while focusing on my comparative advantage to solve hard and important problems. 

Why help others?

My thinking aligns with what Muhammad Ali said, “Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth.” Beyond this, it gives me fulfillment and a sense of purpose like nothing else. It makes me think of myself less and imagine the possibilities of the person or people one just helped. 

How about college? Is it even necessary?

A bad question will give you a bad answer, so let’s ask a better question. 

What are the problems I want to work on? What are the technologies that will most likely affect civilization in the next 10-20-50-100 years? 

I don’t know what problems per se, but I want to work on important problems and things I’m weirdly interested in while using my comparative advantage. Does having an engineering degree help for what I’m trying to do? I want to be a technologist. Is an engineering degree a must? No, but will it help? Yes, especially having a more technical background. 

How can I work on the “important problems”?

Well, a good way to carry that out seems with startups because 1) it’s one way where one gets the most leverage, and 2) it’s a model where most incentives are aligned. Nonprofit or other models are not there yet. 

In a world where many people want to create a startup, the first principles approach, or perhaps the contrarian approach, is not to start one but to understand one’s motivations, why a startup makes sense, or why it doesn’t.

In lots of colleges, starting to start a startup is like joining a school club or a frat. It’s what you’re supposed to do. Wait, what? I don’t know if that is a good thing or bad thing, but I do know doing something because other people are doing it is the path to misery and competition [2].

He said that most successful startups do one of these three things:

  1. Find a human desire

    1. People want to do the same thing as others and have the same desires
  2. Make something convenient 

    1. Fast

    2. Make people not think

    3. Make people more productive

  3. Take a boring experience and make them exciting.

    1. Examples

      1. Gyms: Equinox

      2. Coffee: Starbucks

      3. Airlines: Virgin Atlantic

To start a successful startup, you have to want it and you have to be intentional about it. Collison (Stripe) was always working on projects ideas during college until Stripe gained traction and he dropped out. Bezos (Amazon) realized the opportunities of the internet, so he quit his high-paying job in Wall St, and the list goes on. 

However, as creating startups is what people are supposed to do, now more than ever, we need to think about why a startup, why it makes and doesn’t make sense, and avoid mindlessness at all costs, just because everyone seems to be starting a startup does not mean you should. 

If I want to start a startup. How do I do it? By following the framework above, having some skills, and crazy wild belief you can do it. 

So why do we do what we do? We imitate others, we follow prestige, and do what people think it’s cool. 

But no!!!! If you want to have a life of greatness and excellence, you take a step back and try to think from first principles. 

Few people stop to think and see for themselves. And ask, “Am I being authentic to my true self, or am I just being a copycat?”

Wait. Hold on a second.

I already started a startup. Instead of being a company, the startup is me. I’m young, seeking opportunities and big returns. Exactly like a startup. 

The startup of me might start a company, or it might not. We’ll have to see. If you’d like to get updates every week, consider signing to my Weekly Memos

 

 

Notes 

[1] Many college students want an internship; this is not that weird of a coincidence. But again, why do we even get internships? Is it because that’s the way things are or because it makes sense? Something to think about. 

[2] "Doing something because other people are doing it is the path to misery and competition." I’m referring to business and startups. This does not really apply to health, relationships, workout, etc.

 

Thanks to Cam, Adam, and Najla for reading drafts of this essay.


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