Business 101: Bootstrapping an Education

While serving with the Peace Corps, I decided that my next step in life would be grad school where I would either focus on engineering, design, or business. I researched schools and spent almost four months studying for the GMAT’s.

One day it dawned on me that I wasn’t quite prepared to make the $100,000 financial commitment.  I made that decision almost two years ago and I am grateful that I did.  In that time, through personal study, I acquired a foundational knowledge of all three subjects and then some. I learned to code, design and build electronics, 3D print, laser cut, build websites (this one included), photograph products, create a video, run a Kicsktarter campaign, and start an online store. Of course along the way, I failed – often and epically, but that’s a post for another day.

So how did I do it and how much did it cost?

The short version is that I surrounded myself with experts on the topics I wanted to learn about and asked them lots of questions, got a library membership, binged on video and written tutorials, and joined a makerspace.

Experts

You’d be surprised where you can find experts. While job searching in Boston, I took a temp job packaging electronics and shipping at an electronics firm. While not a glorious job, I was able to chat with the electrical engineers about programming and designing electronics, my boss about manufacturing and purchasing, and to the company boss about the direction I should take my startup.

Through Meetup.com, I found helpful communities including a makerspace which has been crucial to my self study. During meetups I could bring my completely random and unsearchable questions and get very helpful responses. With a membership I gained access and training on lots of tools ranging from woodworking to electronics.

Who are the experts that surround you?

The Internet

I am insanely grateful for the quality and quantity of free and cheap resources that exist on the internet today. I’m only going to touch on the tools that have been helpful personally but you can check out a massive list of resources compiled by Reddit users here.

Lynda – For $20 a month, Lynda has given me access to tutorials on everything from Adobe Photoshop, to web design, to video editing.

Khan Academy – I’ve been using Khan Academy since college to learn about math, science, engineering, and programming topics. I haven’t found a place that explains things more clearly and simply than anywhere else.

YouTube – YouTube is a bit of hit and miss but if you check out a few videos for a specific topic, you’re bound to find one that explains things clearly. I’ve watched tutorials on Eagle CAD, Arduino 101, and many specific issues I’ve had with various topics.

Google – Google is quite similar to YouTube in that it’s rather hit or miss but there is a ton of resources out there for every topic and issue imaginable.

These are the four resources I utilize over and over again. I highly suggest browsing the Reddit link above to find your own resources but understand if that’s a bit overwhelming.

Tools

I won’t go too in depth on this one but I just want to make a note. If you’re looking at an expensive software, try finding student discounts or alternative cheap/free software. For the most part, you probably don’t need the expensive software anyway. Photoshop has a $10/month subscription, AutoDesk Fushion 360 3D CAD is free, Google Docs or Open Office can replace Microsoft office, etc.

The Cost

So how much did my personal education cost in the end?

  • Makerspace Membership: $75 / Month
  • Lynda Membership: $20 / Month
  • Website Hosting: $5 / Month
  • Adobe Photoshop & Adobe Lightroom Membership: $10 / Month
  • Education via Youtube, Google, MIT Lectures, Khan Academy, etc: $0 / Month
  • Tools via AutoDesk Fushion 360 CAD, Eagle CAD: $0 / Month

For a grand total of $110/month or $97,000 cheaper than an MBA.

Going forward

It’s been a wonderful journey thus far and I’ve got no plans of slowing down anytime soon. If you need help in your own journey, feel free to add a comment below!

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