Successfully starting and running a business is a difficult challenge. Long work hours that detract from one's social and family time, financial pressures from unreliable income, repeated rejection from prospects and investors, and the inevitable accompanying emotional roller coaster all create an uphill battle that few wish to fight–and far fewer actually win.
Young entrepreneurs face additional challenges that can make their path toward entrepreneurial success even more difficult. Employees, prospects, investors, partners, and pretty much everyone else with whom a businessperson must deal, for example, may not trust young entrepreneurs due to a perceived lack of experience.
Learning from people who succeeded as young entrepreneurs, is, therefore, especially important for people starting businesses before they have built up years of professional experience. Below are some points of advice from several entrepreneurs who successfully built businesses before they were 30:
David Adelman, President & CEO of Campus Apartments, developers, owners, and managers of student housing, of which he became CEO at the age of 25:
- Listen more than you speak in business settings. Many young leaders talk without offering anything of value because they are trying to prove their expertise to more seasoned leaders in the room. It's important to listen to others in the room and learn from them. Speak wisely and others will respect you more.
- Learn from your mistakes. You will gain respect in the business community as a young leader if you pick yourself back up after a mistake, and use it to your advantage to move your business in right direction.
- Stick to your strengths. Be proactive in differentiating your company from competitors while remaining true to your original goals. Put your stamp on an industry and work hard to become the leader in your space – don't try to become a leader in every industry.
Gregory Galant, who founded Halenet, a website development business, when he was 14, and is now the Co-Founder and CEO of Muck Rack, a platform used by columnists (including myself) to showcase their writing and by businesses to get press and manage public relations, and the Co-Creator and Executive Producer of The Shorty Awards, the "Oscars" of social media:
- Pick an emerging industry. Pick a young industry so you are on an even playing field with other people. When I started, commercial websites were still a relatively new thing. Even though I was young, there was no one out there with more experience. Since everyone knew the medium was young, I was able to position youth as an asset rather than a hindrance.
- Provide an awesome product or service to your customers. At the end of the day, no matter how young or old you are, the quality of what you are selling will make the difference. That’s how the founders of Facebook, Microsoft, Google and many other great companies built credibility despite their young ages and lack of business experience.
- Get PR! Journalists love writing about young entrepreneurs (Please note: If you have a good story--please feel free to pitch me--I'm on Twitter at @JosephSteinberg). There is nothing better to build credibility than pointing to press about your accomplishments.
Geoff Gross, Founder & CEO of Medical Guardian, a provider of Personal Emergency Response Systems, which he founded when he was 25 and has since grown to over a hundred employees:
- Know your customer. If young entrepreneurs want their customers to trust them, they must prove themselves capable beyond their years. To do so, it's crucial to cultivate one-on-one relationships with customers. Selling customers on your vision by focusing completely on their needs will go a long way in differentiating you from many of your peers.
- Lead by example. Young entrepreneurs need to show employees that they "know what they're doing" if they want to earn respect and trust. It's not enough to have a great idea--the idea must be a 24/7 mission, and instead of automatically wanting to outsource tasks, young leaders need to get down in the trenches.
- Be brave, and speak up, carefully. Young entrepreneurs frequently face many doubts from older business leaders. But it often takes a fresh perspective and a younger mind to recognize new opportunities or to revitalize a stagnant industry. Don't be scared to push boundaries. At the same, time, however, avoid monopolizing a meeting by bragging about your company's accomplishments. Be brave enough to challenge the status quo, but take more of a thought-leadership stance versus unloading an overview of your latest career highlights, which can be seen as a sign of immaturity.
Chris Wilkerson, who founded Pachysandra Plus, a plant nursery, which he ran for over a decade after founding it when he was in ten years old, and who is currently the Senior Managing Partner of Praxis Summit, a cloud-based performance improvement platform.
- Look professional! The first thing I did was create a company name and business cards with my name, title and phone number. This gave me substantially more credibility than saying I was some kid who raised plants.
- Advertise. I put up signs all over town (in the post office, deli, grocery store, sign posts), which was the "website of the time." People recognized my brand.
What do you think? Please feel free to discuss with me here or on Twitter.