Why These 2017 Grads Are Becoming Entrepreneurs—Not Employees

Updated on April 16, 2020
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Pedro Espinoza was 10 years old when he started his first business, so it’s no surprise that he won’t be looking for a job when he graduates with the rest of the Class of 2017.

Espinoza, who attends the Haas School of Business at the University of California-Berkeley, is the founder and CEO of SmileyGo, a data analytics funding platform that aims to redefine the way nonprofits and corporations are connected to each other. But when he was a kid in Miami, what he cared most about selling was French toast—and he delivered it to all of his neighbors.

“The first day, I launched a marketing campaign by posting toast signs around posts, tennis courts, and major landmarks,” he says. “My neighbor, Stephanie Castrillo, would help me out. We would be partners in crime. She was also Latina, and we were the dynamic duo. Then, after a full day of sales—more like two hours per day—we would celebrate by going fishing in the condo’s lake, playing tennis with our siblings at 100 degrees, and swimming in the light blue pool with our parents.”

About 1 in 20 MBA graduates start their own business out of school, according to Poets and Quants, but there’s no data for pre-teens in the French toast sector.

The graduates who are skipping over the workforce-grind step will go straight to becoming their own boss. We asked a few why they’re taking this career path and what and who inspires them as entrepreneurs.

An Early Start Determines Post-Graduate Plans

Espinoza, like many others in the Class of 2017 who are passing on working for other people to start their own ventures, caught the bug early.

Espinoza’s parents were also entrepreneurs, and instilled it in him as soon as they could by taking him to business meetings as their “executive assistant.”

“I have a passion for serving others, forming leaders, and leading groups,” Espinoza says. “Every day since I was 3, my mom, Julia, would tell me, ‘Pedro, you will be the president. You will be the leader, the CEO, the hero.'”

When Espinoza was 8 years old, his father took him to Ate, a district in Lima, Peru, and told him that they were going to build a business that was a combination of a convenience store, gas station, pharmacy, and rest area next to the major highway.

“I saw a piece of land full of dirt and dust,” Espinoza says. “I said, ‘Really? How?’ My dad said, ‘I will show you! With much perseverance discipline and vision, we can make things happen! Businesses don’t run businesses—people run businesses! And you will become a better businessman than me!’ And the rest was history.”

A year later the business opened, and daily sales surpassed $60,000, Espinoza says, adding that early experiences such as that are what helped shape him into one of the very few 22-year-old CEOs in Silicon Valley who’s been backed by a major business investor, Frank Baxter.

The Lightbulb Moment Already Happened

Early lessons also helped fuel the drive of two other members of the Class of 2017. Max Huc and Sam Boochever also are skipping the job search because they started their business while they were still in school. The duo launched 1Degree, an app that auctions connections between fans and their favorite influencers or celebrities, with some of the proceeds going to a good cause.

They met when they were paired as roommates at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business, which boasts on its website that “93% of Darden’s Class of 2016 received job offers within three months of graduation. The average base salary of a 2016 graduate was $122,806.”

But those promising numbers weren’t part of the plan for Huc and Boochever. They even skipped the corporate recruiting sessions that are such a big part of what it means to earn an MBA at one of the country’s premier business schools.

“We both knew we wanted to use our time in school to do something entrepreneurial and come up with an idea,” Boochever says. “We spent a few months on that.”

It paid off one night when they came across a story about a fan paying $2,000 to take a selfie with Meek Mill, a rapper from Philadelphia, which is also where Huc hails from.

“We were just like, it’s crazy what people will pay and what length they’ll go to connect with people who influence their lives,” Boochever says.

Prioritizing What Moves You

Boochever had given the workforce a shot after finishing up as an undergraduate at Cornell and even started a small business. But he decided he wanted to pursue something that he was passionate about, some bigger puzzle he could unravel while putting his reputation on the line.

“Business school changes the way you think and solve problems,” he says. “We delved into thousands of different problems that don’t have right or wrong answers, and we address them in an academic environment. And it’s so much more intense. You don’t have to go to business school to start a business, but it’s made me and made Max sharper thinkers in the way we attack our business.”

Huc, who started his first venture as an undergraduate at Princeton, comes from a long line of entrepreneurs, he says, dating back to his grandfather in Haiti to his mother in Philly.

“Ran in my blood,” he says, adding that being in a program like Darden, the economic climate does not factor as much into why they’re not looking for corporate work “because a lot of the top companies are coming to you. Entrepreneurship gives you a say in X-Y-Z, and that motivates me to wake up in the morning. There’s no ceiling to your success.”

Building Off of Inspiring Entrepreneurs

Some of what drives these young entrepreneurs is the stories of those who have come before them. Here’s who inspires these three graduates-turned-business-owners.

Huc’s Entrepreneurial Hero: Jay Z

“He didn’t come up as a corporate businessman. He’s just somebody who’s impacted our culture in so many ways and he’s changed the perception of what it means to come from poverty and do something with it. I think he’s an interesting example of a nontraditional individual who’s shown kids who come from these communities that it’s possible. I personally lost a lot of friends to the streets, quote-unquote. It’s powerful in a way that’s hard for some people to understand.”

Boochever’s Entrepreneurial Hero: Elon Musk

“He’s on a different stratosphere. He thinks so far outside the box of the realm that’s possible. He’s not restrained by what the rest of society thinks, and he’s someone who’s so audacious with his goals.”

Espinoza’s Entrepreneurial Hero: Jesus

“He saw the potential in 12 men that no one else saw. All of those 12 guys were social rejects, dropouts, and incompetent. To look at one case, Peter—which is my first name, by the way, mine in Spanish being Pedro—was an impulsive, brash, and fearful fisherman. Jesus saw something no one else did. He greeted this potential disciple with a new name, Peter—the rock. … [The startup that developed,] known as Christianity, disrupted the legal, social, cultural, and values verticals of the world. Eventually, those disciples led the Christian movement, which has massively disrupted, influenced, and changed the entire world from year 0 till 2017.”

Robb Todd

Robb Todd is a freelance writer and editor at The New York Times, Fast Company, and elsewhere.
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