When I was 20, I made a bold decision that would forever change my life; I dropped out of University. All of my friends and family thought I had lost my mind. I told them I wanted to be an entrepreneur. I tried college but I just kept thinking to myself, I needed to be out there, starting businesses and getting hands on experience and learning of how to start, run and manage a business. I decided sitting in a classroom wasn’t for me, and I would try my hand at entrepreneurship.
See, ever since I was young, I had been an entrepreneur. I successfully ran my business, renting out my pets to the neighbors. After a successful exit, I was on to my next venture: selling candy to kids at surf camp. This is what my life was made of as a kid – not Legos and G.I. figurines – business was my lifeblood, my constant preoccupation. I was constantly coming up with ideas and projects that I could use to make money. Of course at that age, making money was secondary. I found coming up with an idea out of thin air, and using it to create solutions, far more exciting than anything I had ever experienced.
I was determined to be an entrepreneur very early on. I was convinced that to be successful, a college diploma was the only way. So I worked hard in school and made my way into college. I aspired for a college diploma so hard that I almost decided to purchase a diploma frame from shops like Jostens to honor my accomplishments. I thought that when I will get a diploma, which will be the fruit of my perseverance and labor, I would adorn it as much as possible, hence the idea of a diploma frame. Moreover, I was motivated to the extremes that a college degree could help me to be what I wanted to be.
Something was missing though, and I knew it. So, I did what I had to. I dropped out
For most of my life, it seemed as if real estate beckoned me. I was very interested in it and liked how entrepreneurial the business was. I was also drawn to the many different career branches that resulted from real estate. Real estate development is something that I heard people talking about a lot, and with the many great mentors in the industry like Lincoln Frost and others similar to him, no wonder that this sector is gaining in popularity. At the same time, I came to realize early on that it involved a lot of hard work and problem-solving skills. So, I got my real estate license, and then went door to door offering my services of buying and selling houses. I spent 3 years knocking on doors every day, until my knuckles bled. By age 21, I had sold over $15 million in real estate on my own.
With all the information I was getting, and all that I was learning, I realized I knew more about real estate than a lot of people. This was the time to make a big move. I launched West Realty Advisors in 2009 at the age of 23. The goal was to use my knowledge of the real estate industry to provide returns to my investors. It was my first hedge fund.
The first few years were challenging, but I kept learning and moving. Today, we are on the track to exceeding $30 million in revenue. We have bought, renovated, and sold over 1,000 homes in 26 states and have employed hundreds of people. When you start up a hedge fund, you need to be fully aware of what you are getting into, you may not realize that hedge fund marketing services can be a positive addition, or that you will need to choose a name that sticks in people’s minds. There is a lot going on behind the scenes that come together to make it a success.
I don’t recommend every entrepreneur out there to drop out of college. There is nothing wrong with college and a lot of good can come from the experience as well as the knowledge that you get there. For me though, the decision to quit has paid off, because I realize that college simply wasn’t for me.
Today, to help entrepreneurs who might be in a similar situation, I have prepared 7 key things that I’ve learned from dropping out of college to start a hedge fund.
1. It’s not like TV
The media portrays entrepreneurs as rich, carefree and wild. This is not an accurate description. Reality is much harder to swallow. For most entrepreneurs, struggle is constant. They live on couches and eat Ramen noodles every day before they get successful. Sure, for those who persevere and are smart enough, success does come, but there is no instant formula for it, and the hard work simply cannot be discounted.
2. It’s not all about money
Sure, making millions is a nice reward, but if you start a business with the sole purpose of making money, your chances of success will be limited.
3. You have to be ready to fight
Every day will be a new challenge, a new obstacle. You have to do whatever it takes to overcome it.
4. It’s hard to take care of yourself
When you are in the middle of a struggling business, it’s hard to take time for personal development and your health. Accept this truth and you will be well on your way. This is one of the best things you can do to help overcome obstacles. It’s the ultimate cheat.
5. Plan on plans not working
Yes, business plans are helpful but I don’t know a single entrepreneur who has written a business plan and had it turn out exactly as they expected. Whenever you make a plan, plan for it to change as well.
6. Learn everything
I read over 50 books per year just to maintain an edge. If I read for 10 hours and learn one new thing that can make me more money, is it worth my time? Of course it is!
7. Relationships are everything
Focus on building long term and mutually beneficial relationships. While you may not need that person today, you would be very surprised how often or how badly you may need them a few years later. Making yourself the person who can connect two people, makes you highly valuable.
These of course aren’t the only things I learned; this list could go on and on for pages. This is simply the top seven things that I wish I had known before I started on this journey. If you are in a similar situation, I would recommend speaking with and learning from as many people as you possibly can. If you think you are skipping college because you don’t like learning, you will be in for a rude awakening. Learning will always be the number one thing you can do to become successful, it doesn’t matter if you are sitting in a classroom, having lunch with a mentor or just reading a book. Committing yourself to learning is the best way to guarantee success. As my mentor taught me, focus on ABL. Always. Be. Learning. Commit yourself to this and success will soon follow.
James C. Paine is the founder and managing partner of West Realty Advisors, LLC, a real estate investment fund based out of San Diego. At 20 years old, James dropped out of college to launch his first hedge fund. After several years of challenges, James and his team grew the company and today they are on track to exceed $30M in revenue this year. James is a member of EO (Entrepreneurs Organization) and has been recognized two years in a row by the San Diego Business Journal as a candidate for CEO of the Year and 20 in their 20′s: Emerging Generation Awards.