THE QUEST — A Letter for Young Entrepreneurs Thinking of Dropping Out of School
Not finding happiness & fulfillment in higher education is a fairly common feeling. For some of you, this boredom is amplified by your desire to create, your will to act, and your urge to impact. You feel like you’re wasting your time in class, and you yearn to create impactful things right now. I’ve felt that way.
My name is Julian, co-founder of the startup studio The Secret Company. For the past three years, with my four associates (Robin Seligmann, Maxime Blondel, Pierre Paris, and Adams Salahou), we’ve been building ambitious companies with dropout entrepreneurs.
- Three years of iterating, resisting, and sometimes celebrating.
- Three years of co-founding projects led by singular entrepreneurs.
- Three years of building a 22 Million (€) ARR portfolio.
It’s probably been the craziest three years of our lives, with sleepless nights at work, plenty of risk-taking, and constant questioning…But after three years of designing and redesigning our structure, a laboratory error made us realize that we might have created something different. Something new in the entrepreneurship landscape:
THE QUEST, The first entrepreneurial training center.
The dream place for singular entrepreneurs from 17 to 27 who want to start working on their dream project rather than sitting in a classroom. Designed as a multiplayer online game, it includes offsite trips abroad as checkpoints every two months, a 100,000 euro starter kit, and a talented team ready to do everything in their power to build a flourishing company.
Following the launch of THE QUEST, and inspired by the journey of the dropout entrepreneurs with whom we’ve created multimillion-dollar companies, I wanted to share a few thoughts for young entrepreneurs considering leaving higher education to focus on their entrepreneurial journey.
Every day, I talk to young entrepreneurs who are leaving or considering leaving higher education to pursue their entrepreneurial dreams.
- Some left school early, under the judgment of others.
- Some are still there, trying to get by at all costs.
- And some ask themselves questions, torn by frustration.
Together, we often talk about our visions of school and the frustrations associated with it. The subject that comes up most often is the place of school in our society and the impact it can have (or not) on each individual. Let’s talk about it.
The school’s limits
In the past, schooling was a privilege reserved for the elite, perpetuating social classes and limiting change. Over time, schooling has undergone many important changes, which today shape both its benefits and its limitations.
Governments worldwide recognize the importance of education in shaping societies and fostering long-term progress, which has led them to focus on widening access to schools. This awareness fuels efforts to make schooling accessible to an ever-increasing number of individuals, surpassing socio-economic barriers. As a result, access to schooling has seen a remarkable increase. Over the past two decades, the gross enrolment rate in higher education almost doubled, rising from 19% in 2000 to 38% in 2018. This substantial increase highlights the growing recognition of the value of higher education and the collective will to enable more people to pursue higher education.
The development of new industries, particularly in the digital sector, triggers a wave of transformation in the educational landscape. This digital development creates a demand for innovative educational pathways. Consequently, individuals can access a much wider and more flexible range of training opportunities. Alongside increasingly rich and diverse training courses, tools and infrastructures also improve. Whether it is online courses, virtual classrooms, or interactive learning platforms, the digital revolution enriches educational experiences like never before.
However, as schools become a matter of interest for states, they become progressively more complex. Multiple players and stakeholders often administer higher education. This slows down its responsiveness and ability to evolve rapidly. This slowness is particularly apparent in curricula, which struggle to keep pace with an ever-changing world. At a time when technological advances and the opportunities they offer multiply, the education system struggles to adapt. The two recent industrial revolutions of blockchain and artificial intelligence illustrate this. These two industries have developed rapidly and created numerous career opportunities. However, very few programs are emerging to train students in these sectors.
Generally speaking, the world of higher education, divided into private and public sectors, reveals its vulnerabilities. On the one hand, public schools are influenced by political authorities, which directly affects their progress. In many countries, it is the government that decides the amount of funding allocated to education and even to educational content, which can sometimes lead to abuses depending on who is in power. In some cases, schools may be used as a means of promoting specific ideologies or agendas, aligning with the government’s objectives. This can be seen in authoritarian regimes where education is often tightly controlled to enforce a particular political narrative. On the other hand, private schools are experiencing a steady increase in student numbers, with a growth of 77% over the last two decades and around 17% of the student population in France in private schools. These schools are becoming more focused on their business model and profitability. Private education is becoming more expensive, while materials and access to courses are becoming more accessible & affordable online. In addition to the rise of new private schools, we also observe the privatization of former prestigious public institutions such as EMLyon in France (4th best business school in France). This transition is leading to major changes in how these schools are run. For many schools, financial gain takes priority over educational gain, affecting the overall quality of teaching and student development.
School is an investment
School is an investment. An investment you make in the hope of getting a job after graduation — but not only.
Above all, school is a financial investment. For private schools, the amount to be paid is high and rising every year. Many students take out bank loans to meet the costs. The average cost of college (a 4-year post-secondary institution offering an undergraduate program) in the U.S. is $35,551 per student per year. The average cost of college has more than doubled in the 21st century, with an annual growth rate of 7.1%. Schools are also an investment for public and private institutions. Beyond private schools, for any school, living expenses also represent a budget, especially in the absence of income. The average cost of student accommodation in the UK is around $8112 per year, for example.
Attending school requires a significant investment of time. Students typically spend approximately 6 hours a day or 30 hours a week in school. Throughout a 180-day school year, this amounts to roughly 1,080 hours spent at school. Considering a typical lifespan of around 70–80 years, and considering that higher education can range from 3 to 10 years or even longer, the percentage of our life devoted to studying in higher education could vary from approximately 3% to 14% or more.
By joining higher education, students seek to facilitate their integration into society by training for a job. They follow what has become “the norm” and is the most secure option for finding a job in society. Students, therefore, invest in a job after school, but above all, in the security of being offered jobs after their studies.
The promise of security will be respected in most cases. Finding a job after higher education will be easier. That’s a fact. However, there’s no way of predicting whether you’ll be able to do the job in the long term, whether the sector you’re studying will always be attractive, or whether you’ll find fulfillment in your work.
Dropping out of school: Is it the right thing to do?
You’re dreaming of creating your own company and wondering whether leaving higher education is the right decision for you. It’s a question that requires careful thought and consideration of your deepest aspirations. Here’s a step-by-step approach to help you evaluate your options and make an informed choice that matches your goals and ambitions.
Step 1: Define your true objectives
Start by getting a clear picture of your ideal lifestyle and dream career. Do you really want to be an entrepreneur? All your life? Or do you want to work in a traditional profession? Some professions, such as medicine, law, or even aviation, have strict training requirements. If you aspire to work in these regulated fields, you must consider taking the associated study courses. On the other hand, if you want to set up a business or even work in unregulated sectors such as marketing, IT, or administration, there are many other alternatives to school. This initial self-reflection may give you some answers.
Step 2: Explore options
While studying can help you enter your field of interest, it’s important to consider other alternatives. Traveling, gaining field experience, or engaging in volunteer work can expose you to various experiences and give you valuable insights into your future direction. These alternatives can offer unique opportunities for personal fulfillment and help you define the path you want to follow.
Step 3: Weigh the pros and cons
Consider all your investment options and carefully weigh their risks and rewards. Start by making a list of the options available to you, and spelling out their positive and negative points, so you’ll have a clearer picture before you decide to leave school. You don’t have to be 100% radical. You could, for example, take a year out to test another alternative or choose a more flexible course of study.
Step 4: Value and personal growth
Make sure that the alternatives to the school you’re considering have value, not only in terms of monetary gain but, more importantly, in terms of personal growth and investment of time. Eliminate any desire for status. Focus on pursuing your own authentic interests and passions rather than seeking validation or fitting a particular image or societal expectation. True fulfillment and success come from personal development, meaningful contributions, and pursuing activities corresponding to one’s deepest vocation.
Step 5: Seek support and accountability
Share your goals and objectives with others when considering dropping out of school. Making your intentions public is an effective way to hold yourself accountable and seek support from people who can help you achieve your goals. By sharing your journey, you ensure that you stay focused even when you encounter difficulties along the way.
BONUS: Talking to those around you
The reaction of your family and friends to the idea of leaving school is often complicated. Most of them are from a different generation and may not be aware of the alternatives available. It’s essential to have open and honest conversations with them, as their views can also help you make the right decision. Share your ideas and explain your reasoning. Their support and understanding can help you overcome the difficulties of this decision.
Leaving higher education to pursue your ambitions is a bold step. Don’t forget that this is a pivotal moment that can shape your future. If you need to talk about it, don’t hesitate to contact me :)