Mitch Gordon on the Challenges of a Student CEO

by Kevin Casey on July 20, 2012
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Mitch Gordon is president and co-founder of GoOverseas.com, a startup that helps people find academic, volunteer, internship, and other programs abroad. It’s no surprise that he’s putting in long hours to help get the company off the ground. The shocker: He’s simultaneously enrolled in highly competitive MBA program.

Gordon (pictured) isn’t the first entrepreneur to start a business while juggling other responsibilities, such as parenthood or a second job (one that pays the bills, at least temporarily), but his experience and insight could help others managing multiple demands.

The Intuit Small Business Blog recently talked with Gordon about his life as a “student CEO,” the unique challenges he faces, and what he thinks other small-business owners might learn from his experience.

ISBB: Describe the “student CEO.”

Gordon: I’m currently completing my MBA at the University of California, Berkeley’s Haas School of Business while working 80-hour weeks as the co-founder of Go Overseas. I have a few classmates in the same position, starting companies and doing all the many things that go along with it: developing products and business plans, raising money, hiring, doing the books, paying the bills, et cetera. Juggling two life-altering pursuits at the same time is a definite challenge.

What are the ups and downs of that juggling act?

There are a number of significant challenges. First of all, being a student and founding a company are both full-time jobs in and of themselves. How do you decide what comes first, priority-wise? Do I write my paper first or call a potential client? There are a ton of trade-offs. There is one thing that will definitely suffer: your personal life. The last two years for me have been 100 percent focused on finishing school and starting my company. There hasn’t been much time for anything else. That can be difficult, and you’ll need family and friends to be understanding. At the same time, one great benefit is that I can take what I learn in class and put it into practice in the office immediately.

How do you deal with those challenges?

Sometimes you can be at your best when you have too much going on. It can force you to focus and manage your time more efficiently. It helps crystallize what’s most important. I know I’m working hard to squeeze as much productivity as I can out of my workday. At the same time, you need to set aside some personal time to recharge. I’ve seen people completely burn out by just taking on too much for too long.

What can other entrepreneurs learn from a “student CEO”?

One thing people can learn is not to be afraid to make the leap to entrepreneurship. From my observations, I’d say aversion to risk-taking is the main reason many people don’t make the leap to start their own companies. Going to school is a great way to force some change in your life. That change may be the catalyst to make you comfortable enough to take the next leap and start your own company. For me, making the decision to get my MBA at Berkeley was the first step toward starting Go Overseas.

One other thing I’ve learned to do: prioritize. It’s easy to come to work and check your email first thing in the morning. I force myself to look at the three most important tasks I have in my day. I tackle those three items before the email. That may sound simple, but when you have too much to do in any one day, prioritization is really critical.

Kevin Casey is a business writer for Intuit and is passionate about solving small business problems.

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