Being a founder under 30 is hard. Being a founder is hard in itself, but when you're a young founder, you're most likely managing people double your age (employees, investors, advisors, etc.), and competing with corporate giants whose executives have been in the industry for decades.
However, being a young founder also has its perks, namely being able to
Take more risks.
See things from a fresh perspective.
Shield yourself from any preconceived notion of what you should or shouldn't do in order to successfully run a multimillion (or even billion)-dollar company.
As a 26-year-old CEO, I've been there before. I know what it feels like to be a young, female, and minority founder. I know what it feels like to spend four months trying to convince 125 Silicon Valley venture capitalists to invest in your startup and your team, which, at the time, consisted of two first-time founders (in Shippo's case, my co-founder Simon and me). I know what it feels like to finally get those yes's.
Attention, twenty-something founders: The self-doubt gremlins can be real. But so are your talents, your vision, and your company's opportunity to make its mark on the world.
My biggest advice? Learn how to manage up. From closing the communication loop to practicing empathy, here are some tips I've picked up from my entrepreneurial journey thus far:
1. Close the loop.
When it comes to dealing with investors, it's imperative to:
- Communicate what you're going to do.
- Do it.
- Tell them when it's done.
In 99 percent of cases, it's always better to err on the side of over-communicating as opposed to under-communicating. Even if you're not able to reach a deadline, you need to close the loop by relaying the relevant information and then coming up with a new action plan. It might sound like overkill, but your investors truly want to know what's going on.
2. Prevent surprises.
Life doesn't always go as planned, and neither do things at companies. Inevitably, there will be times when employees quit, customers leave, and morale decreases. These are all things you should share with key stakeholders, even if they never ask.
No investor wants to learn that he or she was unaware of a major human resources violation or a shrinking sales pipeline. Oftentimes, your stakeholders can help you navigate tricky waters, so use their expertise to your advantage.
3. Admit your mistakes.
Young founders are a unique breed. From personal experience, I can say that we are equally as driven as we are stubborn. In the past, I've ignored advice from investors and mentors, only to realize that I should have listened.
So what did I do? I admitted my mistakes, but I never let them say, "I told you so." Instead, I pre-empted them by saying, "I know you told me so, and now I've learned my lesson. The hard way."
After all, the best leaders recognize their mistakes, own up to them, and don't make the same ones again. Most importantly, they see mistakes as valuable learning opportunities.
4. Recognize that your stakeholders are human.
Your stakeholders are human beings, and this means that they have emotions. Sometimes, these emotions will get out of control, causing them to act irrationally.
Whatever you do, do not discuss emotionally-charged topics via email. Instead, pick up the phone. Especially when tensions are high, phone calls are a significantly better option than back-and-forth emails that can easily be misinterpreted by both parties.
Managing up isn't easy, and neither is running a company as a twenty-something founder. But don't fall victim to self-doubt. Know what you bring to the table and recognize that you're at the table for a reason.