If you ever doubted that it's incredibly hip to be a young entrepreneur these days, consider that HBO is about to launch a new Entouragesque series about the travails of aspiring young business owners. How To Make It In America, which airs Feb. 14 at 10 p.m., follows Ben Epstein (Bryan Greenberg) and Cam Calderon (Victor Rasuk), two twenty-something New Yorkers who decide to launch a premium denim company. Greenberg and Rasuk, along with co-star Lake Bell, who plays Ben's ex-girlfriend, Rachel, and series creator Ian Edelman, were at the New York Stock Exchange this morning to ring the opening bell. I chatted with them before they headed down to the trading floor. As it turns out, each of the young actors had a little first hand experience in the world of entrepreneurship and I'm hoping they'll draw on those early lessons as they breathe life into their characters.
Greenberg: "I had a lemonade stand but it wasn't that successful because there isn't a lot of traffic in the suburbs of Omaha where I grew up." (Lesson: even the most awesome lemonade stand needs customers. Location, location, location.)
Bell: "I had a tattoo and piercing shop when I was in boarding school in Connecticut. It was a very preppy place and someone had to be the punk, so I was the punk." (Lesson: it always pays to find a great point of differentiation. But, oops, Bell didn't charge for all that inking and piercing! Lesson #2: never underestimate the value of your product or service).
Rasuk: "I went to public school in New York and they gave us Metro Cards for the subway. I used to say I lost my card, then I'd get more and sell them." (Lesson: Before acting upon your entrepreneurial impulses, it's probably best to check in with your moral compass.)
Still smarting from the lemonade stand failure, Greenberg took his role as Ben Epstein seriously enough to actually have some conversations with successful entrepreneurs in the fashion industry. He checked in with some folks at Mark Ecko, and also had a long conversation with Bobby Kim, co-founder of The Hundreds, a streetwear apparel company and former Inc. "30 Under 30" company. "Bobby told me is that it isn't about what you're making — it's all about the brand and the hustle," says Greenberg. He hints that all will not go smoothly for Epstein and Calderon. After all, the fictional partners have already failed once. "We made a skateboard but then the guy we made it for went off his meds and went crazy," says Rasuk. Ah, another lesson: the perils of celebrity endorsements! "We have no idea what we're doing," says Greenberg of the characters. "So the business plan may change over the course of time. Plus we get into debt with some people who we probably shouldn't get into debt with." Sounds realistic enough to me. I'll be watching on the 14th and, because I can't really help myself, looking for all the little ways that this fictional world resembles the real paths of the young entrepreneurs we cover here at Inc. What about you? Will you be tuning in as well?
DONNA FENN is the author of Upstarts! How Gen-Y Entrepreneurs Are Rocking the World of Business and 8 Ways You Can Profit From Their Success, an exploration of the ways Gen Y is changing the entrepreneurial landscape.
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