By Greg Mercer, founder & CEO of Jungle Scout, the leading all-in-one platform for selling on Amazon.
With Covid-19 restrictions and a pause on in-person learning over the last year, some college students are finding the university experience less exciting. And now that schools are headed back to the classroom with increased vaccine uptake, students are questioning whether higher education is worth it at all.
According to National Clearinghouse, undergraduate enrollment is “in its steepest decline since the pandemic began,” citing a 5.9% drop; community college enrollment has dropped 11.3%.
If you’re already in the middle of your college career (second year and beyond), I say stick with it. But if you’re at a crossroads and considering alternative routes such as entrepreneurship, read on.
I’m the founder and CEO of Jungle Scout, an all-in-one platform for selling on Amazon. For context, there are different methods of selling on Amazon, but the most popular is private label FBA (Fulfillment by Amazon). A seller comes up with a product idea based on actual Amazon product demand and opportunity, sources and optimizes the product and creates their own brand to sell it on Amazon; Amazon will take care of storing, packaging and shipping the products (even on Prime). FBA is how I got my start.
While I did attend college and go on to create my own private label business afterward, knowing what I know now, there are compelling benefits to forgoing a degree and choosing to run your own venture. Here’s my take:
College is an expensive investment.
Covid-19 has strained the financial plans of college-bound students. According to a survey of 2,000 teens, 43% of high school juniors and seniors say that their parents and guardians will cut back on planned financial support for college due to the pandemic. With the average amount of college debt hovering at nearly $37,000 per borrower at graduation in 2020, college is a considerable expense.
There are a lot of benefits that come with starting your own business on Amazon. For one, there’s less debt.
Compare that $37,000 figure to the smaller investment you can put toward your business. In our 2021 State of the Amazon Seller Report, based on insights from 4,864 Amazon entrepreneurs, business owners and major brands, over 58% of sellers spent less than $5,000 to start their business on Amazon — including the cost of products, Amazon fees and storage, and advertising; 28% spent less than $1,000.
The money you put toward Amazon could be a fraction of what you would pay for school, likely the cost of a couple of classes or less than one semester. With minimal financial baggage, you can also invest more in expanding your business and portfolio down the line.
Educating yourself about Amazon is getting easier and easier all the time, too. There is no shortage of resources you can access — from free tools to YouTube videos to guides — and there are affordable platforms to help you scale and streamline your business.
Running your own business offers greater autonomy.
With Amazon, you get to make your own rules and work on your business as much or as little as you please. Being your own boss is a huge motivator for sellers of all kinds to get started.
Taking the reins does require self-discipline and setting your own rules. Remember, Amazon is not a “get rich quick tactic.” However, the profit potential is virtually uncapped.
What’s difficult about Amazon is that “winning” isn’t defined by traditional milestones, like acing exams or graduation. College is far more structured, and there’s comfort in the academic mindset: If you show up to class, study and do your work, you’re bound for success.
However, I’d argue that Amazon gives you a greater sense of autonomy and agency quicker than any college experience ever could. You’ll get to understand entrepreneurship firsthand, from choosing a product to sell and managing its brand presence to creating ad campaigns and calculating profit and loss.
Plus, e-commerce is booming. There’s plenty of space to make your mark on Amazon and experiment with other avenues such as Walmart.com and Shopify to diversify your portfolio in the future.
The value of higher education is shifting.
According to the same teen survey, only 20% of 2020 high school graduates have the goal of getting a college degree in the next 10 years, although 65% report being optimistic for their financial future.
College may not work for everyone — and that’s OK. With the persistence of the pandemic and its lingering effects, enrollment rates have dropped and students have become disenchanted by Zoom calls and high price tags. Even before the pandemic, students looked to certifications, coding schools and other technical jobs to dodge debt and earn money sooner.
Although 86% of Amazon sellers have some form of post-secondary education, a degree is not an indication of success. When we observed net profit margin, average monthly sales and lifetime profit, high school graduates tended to perform just as well — if not better in some circumstances — than degree holders.
More and more companies are counting other pathways as viable experience on a resume, too. If I was considering a candidate for a role, I’d view running your own successful business as equivalent to a three or four-year university degree — if not more valuable. It takes guts! Managing your own venture shows initiative, commitment and strategy, and it strengthens business acumen.
If you’re open to less traditional career paths, I strongly recommend Amazon as a higher education alternative. While it can’t buy you a degree or an alma mater, starting a business is a much more cost-effective investment and provides a unique opportunity for limitless success at a peak point in e-commerce’s growth.