Imagine a room full of teenagers honing their entrepreneurial skills by learning how to build a startup company and brand from scratch, and then doing it--to the tune of $1 million per company.

That's the scene at Founders Bootcamp, a full-scale startup accelerator for teenagers. The goal of the program, which runs in partnership with UCLA, is to help teenagers build startups from scratch including developing products and securing investor funding.

So far this year, 1,000 student teams from more than 26 countries have applied for the program. The top teams have secured investments of up to $300,000.

I spoke with one of the co-founders of the program, Roger Kassebaum, to find out the secrets to these teen successes. Here are five behaviors Kassebaum says all the winning teen teams share--and that adult entrepreneurs should use to build their own multimillion-dollar businesses:

1. "First principles" thinking

A philosophical idea promoted by Aristotle, "first principles" thinking is essentially the practice of actively questioning the assumptions you bring to a particular problem or scenario--then being willing to discover new knowledge and find new solutions.

Startup legends like Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos have publicly promoted their belief in first principles reasoning as a part of their success. "Since teens have yet to learn most of the assumptions that older entrepreneurs tend to take for granted," says Kassebaum, "they tend to do this automatically." What might be mistaken for adolescent rebelliousness or youthful naiveté is actually an invaluable habit for any business leader.

Take on a problem you've been trying to solve and write down everything you already believe to be true (your assumptions) about what's creating it and what will solve it. Then, write down all the possible things that could be creating and solving the problem you had not thought of, or have been assuming have no impact. 

Finally take some time to go through the second list and look for new actionable items to try that might help you resolve the issue. 

2. Data-driven decision-making

Because teenage founders were raised in the Internet Age--where any information imaginable is just a few clicks away--they aren't afraid to look things up. 

Whether trying to understand how much to charge customers or how to split equity, there's a wealth of information at our fingertips, and teenagers don't hesitate to access that information. Kassebaum points out that motivated teenagers generally don't just trust a single source. Instead, their practice is to aggregate opinions from 10-plus Google links, Quora answers, and blog posts before concluding.

Of course, you shouldn't believe everything you read. Use only sources you trust, which may not be the top hits on a Google search, for data points big and small.

The bigger takeaway is the teenage tendency to look up a wide variety of sources rather than settling for one or two. Take the extra time to get a few more data points than you normally would.

3. Ease seeking help

Nothing replaces the value of advisors. These teenagers, Kassebaum says, are already in the habit of seeking help from peers and elders alike in academic settings.

As grown-up founders, we can find asking for help difficult, and often feel like it's a weakness. Create a built-in support structure for yourself that's available whenever you need it. It could be a coach, an advisory board, or a weekly meeting with a trusted colleague. You'll be more likely to turn to it when times get tough.

4. Social media savvy

Branding, inbound marketing campaigns, and digital acquisition strategies all require a significant social media presence. "Today's customers require engagement," says Kassebaum. "They don't just want a product; they also need a story," he says. That's second nature for today's teens.

Don't just assign out the job of social media to a marketing director or consultant. Educate yourself on how it works, best practices and what role you should be playing in your company's social media strategy.

5. Audacity

Kassebaum's final point may be the most powerful. "Teenagers in general have not yet been burdened with the weight of failure and as a result can dream big more easily," he says. Audacity is an essential mindset for any entrepreneur, so perhaps it's time to embrace your inner teen, put down your assumptions, and set high expectations for what you can achieve.

The trick is getting into this mindset. One way is to play the "What if" game with a group of colleagues. Get everyone together in a room with flipcharts and markers and brainstorm what your biggest goals for the business would be if you had no limitations. Get everyone's brain engaged in the expanded state of audacity and to come up with new ideas you might not had before.

Who knows? You may just grow up into the next Elon Musk.

Published on: Aug 22, 2018
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