It’s hard to make it as a young entrepreneur. Only 16% of businesses are founded by people under the age of 35, so young entrepreneurs are rarer than most people think. The stereotype of a young, hoodie-wearing founder doesn’t quite match up with reality. The typical, successful Silicon Valley startup founder is 47 years old and across industries, the average founder is 45. It doesn’t mean it’s impossible to be successful as a young entrepreneur, but it does mean having the right knowledge and resources is extra important. Odds are that the average young person will have to bridge a knowledge and skills gap to really get the ball rolling. As a young entrepreneur, there are some common challenges that any young person should be prepared to handle as they get going. Let’s consider the challenges we are talking about:
Lack of Experience and Credibility
You’re probably on your first venture. You might have just graduated, still studying away as a student in school or maybe you’re still exploring your options. Most young entrepreneurs we talk to say that their biggest challenge is not being taken seriously because of their age. This can lead to being passed over for being “too young” and supposedly “less capable”. Yes, age and its decades of living and working lead to business and industry wisdom, but that shouldn’t mean staying at the bottom of the pile because you’re young.
Lack of Confidence
Potential young entrepreneurs are brimming with ideas for what could be an immensely successful venture, but may never feel comfortable enough to get things started. Young entrepreneurs often lack confidence in their own business concepts, struggle to realize their vision and have second thoughts about becoming an entrepreneur. It may feel like uncertainties in day to day life are a big enough hurdle, let alone feeling ready enough to take on a business!
Lack of Networks
Business is all about connecting with other professionals to get things done, but learning how to network is a skill of its own. Young entrepreneurs have messages worth sharing to the world, but the challenge is getting others to listen. The network an entrepreneur builds for themself gets your message out there, so it’s time to start going out and selling everything about who you are and what you’re doing.
Access to Capital
Getting money to help fund a business is hard for anyone let alone for young people. Typically young entrepreneurs don’t have significant savings or extensive credit history to be able to access traditional funding options such as loans or lines of credit to fund their startups.
What can seem like monumental challenges are only roadblocks that can be mitigated through some smart and creative strategies. Through our work with youth entrepreneurs, we have found that focusing on – building your network, creating a group of champions and being creative about your capital options can truly boost your growth.
First of all, find a set of mentors and advisors that function as your champions. Getting over the hurdles requires a change in mindset. Overcoming doubts isn’t a one-person job, so having help is a requirement for success. Building a support system of friends, peers, and mentors that you surround yourself with can both give you a boost as well as serve as an invaluable group of people to bounce ideas off of. Knowing there are people who believe in you can help take the pressure off and stretch what you believe you’re capable of.
Creating capital is a bigger challenge. After all, 82% of businesses end up failing due to cash flow problems even though 70% of businesses are at least breaking even. Entrepreneurs need to get a handle on what’s necessary while learning how to stretch what resources they have. Starting small and building up can be a path to success without money to launch an enterprise- whether by doing one thing really well or servicing a more focused audience. The simplest option is reaching out to the people around you for a “Friends and Family” funding round. Sell the big idea to them- know what you’re doing, the facts and figures, short and long term goals and get their buy-in. For a lot of businesses, this is the only funding round they do. Many successful companies like Starbucks and Subway started off with just a few thousand dollars in the bank, so piles of cash isn’t a prerequisite to success. Don’t be afraid to look for creative ways to gain access to resources. Crowdfunding or pitch competitions can provide the money you need to fuel your growth, a route companies like Cards Against Humanity have taken. Get started with a Kickstarter campaign, company’s creative marketing tactics have shown that if you are able to sell almost any creative idea to an audience, you can bring money in and help get things done for your startup. Don’t forget to tap into those champions that you have brought around you.
Building your network is going to be a fundamental step in not only building your startup but your career. With a lack of experience you can hyper boost your network through going to networking events, conferences, and joining communities (online and offline), and even applying for an incubator can provide a massive boost to your network and stoking up your credibility. You never know where and when you will find the people that will help you connect and grow and where those conversations will take you.
At the end of the day, all entrepreneurs face many daily challenges and that is amplified for youth. But unlike ever before, you, young people have more resources than ever to overcome these hurdles and build up your own confidence and abilities while having some fun. Don’t be afraid to think out of the box to come up with ways to tackle the hurdles you face and most certainly don’t be afraid to ask for help.