Is Future Learning Entrepreneurship?

Posted on January 5, 2012 at 9:35 AM

By Jeff Kirchick

Two years ago, I was a senior at Princeton University trading time writing my senior thesis, getting through classes, soaking up the last rays of sunshine with my friends, and looking for a job. I was an English major and my thesis was a set of short stories done through the Creative Writing department. Needless to say, I did not envision that I would be working in the tech industry.

Indeed, I had convinced myself by then that my true dream was to become a screenwriter. And yet, I found myself applying for jobs in sports, finance, consulting, and teaching. It was when I was coming home to Boston for a teaching interview that I stumbled upon SCVNGR, a Google-funded social location-based gaming start-up founded by Seth Priebatsch – a year younger than me, and someone who had dropped out of Princeton when I was entering my junior year of college.

Yes, for the last two years that I spent trying to earn my degree at Princeton, Seth was building a company, being interviewed by the likes of the New York Times, and eventually keynoting the SXSW Conference in Austin, a mecca for tech nerds everywhere and the self-selecting few in higher education who want to travel to see what is hot and what is not in other industries.

Seth wanted to make a positive impact on the world. Or, as he always puts it, “build the game layer on top of the world.” As the only fellow Princetonian in the office, I can assure you that there is the occasional joke about my finishing college. I will admit that I even make the joke when talking to potential clients.

Is it really so funny, though?

I’m not so sure.

My parents may not like to hear this, but I am not entirely convinced that my four years of college are the end all and be all of where I am today, outside of the impact that it has on my resume.

I cannot discount that I had a tremendous educational experience in college. For one thing, I learned a lot about myself. Originally, my focus was on Economics. Mid-way through college, I realized that I was doing the “conventional” Princeton thing: major in Economics, sell my soul completely, get a job in finance on Wall Street, and hate my life for the next ten years.

I switched to English. And though I had always deemed that English majors would be too pretentious for me (and they probably still are), I found out that, well, I actually could like someone as dull as Emily Dickinson. In fact, I wrote a 25 page paper about Emily Dickinson and contemporary “funny guy” poet Billy Collins. And then about French film during the Resistance. And Wordsworth. I went from being the jerk on Wall Street to the starving artist pretty quickly.

But when it came to looking for jobs, I was still thinking conservatively. Safely. No risk. I was on the cusp of becoming a school teacher.

I did not get an iPhone until the spring of my senior year, and I did not get a Twitter account until I began working at SCVNGR. In short, I was resistant to technology, and people that tried to impose it on me really bothered me. They were overhyping fads and technology that was simply not useful to me.

What has occurred over the past two years is nothing short of mind-boggling to me. I mastered the SCVNGR product and entered the world of sales. Soon, I became engrained in the world of higher education: I understood their problems, concerns, their way of thinking. After that, I was becoming a thought leader on geo-social networking in higher education. I could rattle off mobile statistics and I developed a reputation for having very strong opinions on the evolution of geo-social networking. A year later, I had accurately predicted what was to take place in the geo-social realm, I penned an article for Mashable, was routinely asked to speak at conferences about mobile and geo-social, and even received a keynote invitation for the same subject matter in 2012.

I became a geek. A geek who really loved what he was doing.

But here is the more astonishing thing: I want to start my own company in the future. Over the course of the two years I have worked at SCVNGR, I have learned to think critically about what developments are happening in the world of technology, how start-ups work (keep in mind that my naïve self did not even know what a start-up was, even when I had accepted the job at SCVNGR), and how to anticipate what types of needs our society would have in the future. Every few weeks, I write down a new idea. One idea I had was about building a personalized social network; today, that company is Path. They are getting a lot of buzz right now, but at least it validates that I am onto something.

I did not learn how to think critically from reading poems in college. I learned how to think critically through my experience in the tech/mobile industry.

I was recently reading an article about Babson College and how the end goal there is to act entrepreneurially. The faculty, staff, and students are all on board with the philosophy. A lot of the classes are geared around entrepreneurship –like “Giganomics,” which teaches you how to treat everything you do in your life as a “gig.”

Would it really be so awful if we taught our children to act unconventionally?

With the rise of online learning, we have only seen the beginning. At Emerson College, David Gerzof’s social media class – featured in the Wall Street Journal – are taught the ins and outs of social media: and then they do the teaching. They bring in major brands and educate them on how they can reach their audience. Their most recent project was to try to schedule a meeting with New England Patriots wide-receiver and reality television star Chad Ochocinco. With more than 3 million twitter followers, he seemed impossible to reach. But they had dinner with him in December.

Why can’t more classes be fun like that?

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