Many people dream of becoming an entrepreneur, but few have the foresight and fortitude to make those dreams a reality. It’s not easy to leave behind a stable job with a regular paycheck for the uncertainty of running your own business. But this hasn’t stopped many young entrepreneurs, who often have an uncertain future anyway, and haven’t yet taken on major life responsibilities such as mortgages, school, or children. Today, a number of young entrepreneurs are starting their own businesses while still in high school.
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“According to a recent article in Forbes, entrepreneurs are getting younger, and they’re getting younger by necessity,” says Wyatt Rancourt, who at the age of 17 is co-founder of The Mallard, a online retailer specializing in men’s preppy clothing. “What I’ve learned quickly is that being an entrepreneur means you are married to your work. There is often no one else to lean on and when there’s a problem, you’re the one who needs to address it.”
Young entrepreneurs like The Mallard’s two co-founders, Griffin Spolansky and Wyatt Rancourt, have adopted the qualities needed to be successful business owners while at the same time meeting the challenges. Being young, they are often adaptable, but at the same time, they lack the experience that an older person might have. To survive, they must learn quickly and adapt to a host of day-to-day challenges that arise when running a business.
An Emerging Trend
The Great Recession resulted in economic conditions that made it hard for many Millennials to find stable, paying jobs. Members of this generation were forced instead to seek other nontraditional career paths, such as starting their own businesses. Noticing this trend, a number of universities and colleges began offering programs of study revolving around entrepreneurship. Evidence of this comes from the Kauffman Foundation, which reports that 5,000 entrepreneurship courses were offered in 2013 as opposed to about 100 in 1975.
The Kairos Society, which was started in 2008 as a student club, has evolved into a professional organization that helps young entrepreneurs get started by providing a network to offer startup capital, write business plans, build advisory boards, and help develop prototypes. Daniel Gross, who is 21 years old and the organization’s Southern California regional president, says that Millennials like him are “A generation of people who have grown up with access to so much information, and with figureheads and fairytales like the Zuckerberg story or the Snapchat story that have made it seem like creating and making a billion dollars is a very attainable goal.”
Tough economic conditions combined with billion-dollar dreams have made the idea of becoming an entrepreneur extremely attractive to younger people, and the concept of launching a startup seems like a viable career option for many who hope to follow in the footsteps of their business heroes like Mark Zuckerberg, the 30-year-old founder of Facebook. Success stories like Zuckerberg’s, says Gross, “have made being an entrepreneur socially acceptable.”
Qualities Needed to Be a Young Entrepreneur
Another organization that helps young entrepreneurs realize their dreams of starting a business is the Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC). Comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs, it is an invite-only organization that recently partnered with Citi to launch StartupCollective, a free virtual mentorship program tailored to answering the questions entrepreneurs have when starting a business.
When asked about the qualities young entrepreneurs need to be successful, Scott Gerber, author and YEC founder, says, “For first-time entrepreneurs, focus is an invaluable skill. Also, social capital is one of the most valuable tools in your arsenal because understanding how to connect meaningfully with business owners, mentors, and advisors can help you immeasurably. If you love what you do and can prioritize what is important, you will be successful and lead a very fulfilling life.”
Besides staying focused and networking, other success tips for young entrepreneurs include
- Constantly minimize risk by being resourceful and “starting lean.”
- Think and act for yourself, and don’t be afraid to make decisions that are good for the company even when they are sometimes unpopular.
- Keep learning all you can about business and entrepreneurship.
- Develop a consistent, cohesive, and effective work ethic.
Generally, entrepreneurs have an obsessive, fiery passion and desire that drives them to accomplish what they set out to do. This passion gives them the will to meet all the challenges involved in running a successful business — no matter their age.
Challenges Facing Young Entrepreneurs
When starting your own business, each day brings new challenges that you must meet head on. In addition to finding startup capital, you also need a constant flow of funds to pay operating expenses. Remember, everything generally costs twice as much as you expect and takes twice as long, so you have to be ready for these unexpected situations and expenses.
Asked what their biggest challenges were when starting out, The Mallard’s Rancourt and Spolansky say they thought they would be ready to open three weeks after first coming up with their idea, only to realize they could not have been more wrong. Says Rancourt, “We traded prototypes over eight months with China to make sure we loved what we were getting. That was extremely tough because we didn’t know what we were doing!”
As with anyone starting a business, young entrepreneurs face the challenge of balancing their personal and business lives so that neither gets neglected. Often, family and friends do not understand the amount of time involved in building a business. This sense of responsibility is especially challenging when you’re young and many of your friends have few responsibilities outside of school.
So is it worth it? Says Rancourt, “A lot of times, my peers do not understand why I can’t hang out. Work comes first and I’ve needed to grow up fast and take on a lot of responsibility very quickly. But the rewarding feeling of owning my own business, making decisions about the company, and being the master of my own ship offsets a lot of this.”
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