Student founders run startups without dropping out

Since then, RhinoRope has generated millions of dollars in sales, grown to 10 employees, and raised venture backing at a $5 million valuation. All this time, the computer science major remained at school.

“I feel like I’m going to get an MBA in business and then go to school for an undergraduate degree as well,” Khan said.

But running a school and a startup at the same time is a scheduling nightmare that sometimes means doing homework while handling a shipping snafu at the port of Los Angeles from 3,000 miles away, he said.

Middlebury College students Brett Perlmutter, a junior, and Sam Segal, a senior, have been running a weekly newsletter business for the past year while sitting in school. Called Bulletpitch, the ad-supported publication profiles small startups that could be of interest to investors, founders and early technology adopters.

The two said they weren’t ready to give up the rich life on the Middlebury campus. And living among other students helped them spot new viral apps and growing trends.

“Every social media app has really exploded on college campuses,” Perlmutter said. “So actually I think it’s been advantageous for us to have boots on the ground, understanding the early trends.”

TokenTag, meanwhile, is a Web3 startup founded by a trio of Williams College football players. The service allows users to connect digital wallets for non-fungible tokens, or NFTs, with accounts on Twitter, Discord and other services.

The company has raised money from friends, family and angel investors and is preparing to raise a seed round, it said Zoe Bank, marketing major and Williams senior. TokenTag has a small office in Williamstown, but many meetings have been virtual.

When RhinoRope raised its backing, some VCs were impressed that Khan was still in college, but others were wary, he said.

“There were some people who said I wasn’t dedicated enough,” Khan said.

That’s no surprise to venture capitalist Travis Connors of Boston-based Building Ventures, who works with early-stage startups and has heard several pitches from students who plan to stay in school. He hasn’t invested in any yet.

“We are fiduciaries,” he said. “The level of commitment of a founder is important. It can’t just be seen as one of their options at graduation.”

Also working against younger founders is research that says older founders were more likely to find success, said Benjamin Jones, a professor at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management who co-authored a study on the topic.

“That said, there’s a lot of variation in entrepreneurial talent, and some people can be so good, talented and entrepreneurially inclined that they’ll succeed even when they’re quite young,” Jones said. “The good news is that whether you start companies at a young age or later, people probably get better as they get older and more experienced.”

Mark Zuckerberg once dropped out of Harvard to build Facebook. The next Zuck may already be running a startup without giving up.

Aaron Pressman can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @ampressman.

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