How You Can Be Young and Inexperienced, but Successful
In a meeting with a potential investor, I knock the pitch out of the park. With our final slide still on the screen, the potential investor--seated across from me at a wide, brightly-polished mahogany table--takes a pause and tilts his head down. He pops his head up, looking at me with big eyes, and then tilts his head down again.
After tilting, popping, and staring three times he asks, "When were you born?" I reply, "1987." "OK," he quickly responds. "My sweater is older than you are." With the startling discovery that I was 22-years-old, a meeting about an investment opportunity suddenly became a meeting about my age and (in)experience. Starting your first company at a young age can expose vulnerabilities in the battle for investors' and customers' confidence, and more importantly, their money. While conventional wisdom would prefer the older, serial entrepreneur, there are three tactics a younger, first time entrepreneur can take to buck conventional wisdom, close the confidence gap, and turn youth and inexperience into an asset, rather than a liability.
1. Acknowledge the lack of knowledge
One of the greatest attributes a first-time entrepreneur can possess is coachability. Acknowledging a lack of knowledge may appear to be a vulnerability, but to a seasoned investor it shows an openness to outside advice and counsel, which are required for effective decision making. An openness--or, better, a thirst--for that outside advice can convince investors they are taking the plunge with a coachable entrepreneur. Try the same thing with customers. That thirst for outside input reinforces the customer's feeling that your success is tied to a better understanding of your customer's problems.
2. Reinforce an association between your youth and the novelty of the innovation you bring to market
Supermarket and pharmacy aisles don't stock too much "graying" product for you to dye your hair and look older. So why do the same thing with your brand? If your market pines for innovation and you have the solution to that hair-on-fire problem, then embrace your youth because that can drive home the novelty and newness of your product. My co-founders and I are all around the same age and our twenty-somethingness became inextricably linked with our product and our brand, which drew a direct contrast to the stuffy sport coats that typically sold into many of our mature target markets. Our newness to business and the newness of our product were tied together and we harnessed that to show how different NuLabel could be from the status quo.
3. Surround yourself with smarter, more experienced people
The only way to accelerate experience is to acquire it. The quickest way to acquire experience is to hire people who have the skills and experiences you lack. To accurately identify the future team you need to build, start with a frank assessment and a basic table. In this basic table, create three columns:
- The skill sets and/or experience you need to be successful (Example: Solution selling to our target customers)
- A yes/no if you or your current team possesses this skill set and/or experience
- A prioritization of the skill set and/or experience. Create three levels of priority (Need, Should Have, Good To Have) and evenly distribute the three levels.
From this table, you can build a job description for the ideal candidate that checks the right boxes for you. When recruiting these more experienced team members, revert to tactic 2 and embrace your youth. Potential team members will thrive on the energy that surrounds a stark raving mad young entrepreneur--use it to recruit and rejuvenate, and then unleash the dangerous combination of a high energy young entrepreneur with a seasoned team of proven individual contributors onto the markets that are starving for something new.