How To Start A Business While Paying Off Student Loans

Two Entrepreneurs Share How To Start A Business While Paying Off Student Loans

These days, “pension” and “company men” are terms about as relevant as “on fleek” will be in five years. Until just a few decades ago, it was commonplace for a college graduate to get an entry-level job and work his way up the corporate ladder, retiring 40-some years later with a healthy pension and a parting gift.

But not anymore.

Today, the workforce’s newest generation of entrants—millennials—take a different approach. Although depicted in both the media and by some baby-boomer bosses as flighty opportunists, who eye the door before they even get a chance to grow a respectable beard, millennials don’t wait for career advancement—they chase it.

According to a 2016 Gallup report, 60% of employed millennials are open to different job opportunities, 21% have changed jobs in the last year, and 36% are willing to look for other opportunities if the market improves. Moreover, a 2016 Deloitte Millennial Survey found that only 16% of millennials plan to be with their current employer a decade from now. Less than half—44% to be exact— believe sticking it out with one company is the best way to advance a career, according to a recent survey commissioned by EY and the Economic Innovation Group.

Recommended: Starting a Startup With Student Loan Debt

And it all makes sense. Why shouldn’t millennials job hop to increase skills, salary, and find the perfect cultural fit? In fact, why not hop all the way out of the 9-to-5 grind and into their own businesses?

Taking a risk for the ultimate career goal

While throwing caution to the wind plays into the stereotype that millennials are an entitled, trophy- and praise-seeking generation with crippled work ethics, maybe their willingness to take risks is the perfect groundwork for something even bigger than advancement: entrepreneurship. You need a little dash of narcissism to pursue entrepreneurial endeavors, after all. It’s self-defeating to go into a business venture thinking you’re going to fail, especially given that taking a risk could lead to a lucrative business of which you’re the boss.

But millennials face a big problem that other generations didn’t: ridiculously high student loan debt. And that just ups the risk of becoming an entrepreneur.

Debt doesn’t have to be a deterrent

Student loan debt is often cast as the boogieman of startups. It’s the archenemy of the well-intentioned, young hero, who strikes out to make the world a better place only to find he’s unable to pay his bills, never mind save the world. And, for some, it’s a nemesis too mighty to take lightly—at least right away.

A 2015 Gallup-Purdue index of more than 30,000 graduates found that 19% of those graduating with student loan debt would delay starting a business due to that debt. But that still leaves 81% willing to take the risk. And they’re doing it before they hit age 30. A 2016 global study of entrepreneurs conducted by BNP Paribas found the average age of millennials opting to start a first company is 27.7.

SoFi Entrepreneur Program member Mark Pawloski is one such millennial.

Pawloski started his career with a lucrative job in the banking world, but soon left the salary and benefits behind to teach. Eventually frustrated by the inequities he saw while working in underfunded school districts, he decided to get an MBA to marry his background in banking with his passion for education reform—a decision that generated a significant amount of student loan debt.

Yet, instead of panicking over that debt and returning to the cushy life and big paycheck of corporate America, Pawloski took the leap into entrepreneurship and co-founded Upkey, a student incubator that helps connect often overlooked, but highly competitive, students with potential employers.

Support and sacrifices pave the road to success

Through SoFi’s Entrepreneur Program, Pawloski and others like him found a solution to their struggles. Through student loan deferment, access to mentors, resources, and investors, members of the program learn how to be judicious about the ways in which they spend their money, both in business and in their personal lives, while also making the connections they need to grow their startups.

Part of chasing your entrepreneurial dream while managing student debt is the intense fear that one or two bad months could mean missing a string of loan payments. It takes diligence to build several months of savings before completely cutting off the financial pipeline of a traditional job with a steady paycheck. And then there’s the feeling that risking so much is downright financially irresponsible.

That self-doubt experienced by startup founders is so common there is a term for it: the “trough of sorrow.”

Related: Worried About the Economy? Help Entrepreneurs With Student Loans

Entrepreneurship is synonymous with financial and personal sacrifice, and requires a focus on hyper-productivity in order to sustain both your business and your relationships. But your friends and family just have to understand the dream comes first.

Pawlowski is honest about the struggle to balance the financial, emotional, and social demands of being an entrepreneur with student loan debt. “There were deep valleys and questioning,” he admits. But he didn’t let student loans stand in his way of pursuing his passion for education reform. “You have responsibilities, aspirations, relationships pulling you in different directions,” Pawlowski says. “You need to make sacrifices, and I’ve been willing to do that.”

Andrew Josuweit, CEO of Student Loan Hero, also refused to let student loans keep him from becoming an entrepreneur. Josuweit graduated college in 2009, in the depths of the Great Recession. Unable to land a corporate job, he decided to become his own boss by teaching himself to build websites and starting website design service business. He later made the switch to a product-focused business, Student Loan Hero.

“When I launched Student Loan Hero, I had to freelance on the side for almost two years until the product started to get traction,” Josuweit says. He advises new entrepreneurs to test the waters with a service-based business.

Embrace your potential to design your future

The most important investor in your business is yourself. With confidence, some savings, a healthy handle on your student loans, and the support of the SoFi Entrepreneur Program, taking a risk to chase your dream of entrepreneurship could be the best decision you make in 2017.

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