CHAPTER :
Youth Are the Future
With entries from:
Steve Guengerich   —   6 years ago

The entrepreneurial spirit is alive in young people. The period of young adulthood - leading up to graduating from high school, from college, or from "the school of life" to become a working adult - is a time when we, as humans, learn the fastest and have the least to lose, by trying new ventures.

But, it is also a time when we are the least experienced and most vulnerable to being led astray, accidentally or intentionally. In other words, it is a time when experienced mentors and impactful relationships can make the most difference.

If you are a Young entrepreneur, Mentor or "Parent-repreneur," please share your thoughts in this Thread. Here are a few prompts to get you started:

Mentors: What have you learned is different about working with teenage entrepreneurs? How do approach your assessment of risk-based funding for the youth-led venture versus bootstrapping?

Parents: As the mother or father of a daughter or son who has been raised in a entrepreneurial household, how do you balance their passion about a new venture versus their need to focus on school work and graduation?

Youth Entrepreneurs: What lessons did you learn starting a business or launching a new product or service in your teens or early twenties? How did you manage it while keep up your grades (or not)? If you had it all to do over again, what would you do differently now?

Sarah Hernholm   —   6 years ago

Teen entrepreneurs are the most dynamic, inspiring and well worth investing in demographic. I can say this with certainty because I've built an entire company focused on providing a platform for teen entrepreneurs to get their projects/enterprises/businesses out into the world. Time and time again all of us at WIT (Whatever It Takes) witness teens turn their ideas into reality and make an impact. Teens are hungry for an opportunity to use their voice and eager for the adult audience to listen. And you know what...we should! Why? Because teens see the world a lot less tainted than all of us adults. They also see possibility where many adults see roadblocks - the fearlessness in teens helps make them great entrepreneurs.
I applaud adults that look past age and focus more on the idea. Not long ago we had an adult invest $5,000 in a WIT teen project focused on combatting childhood obesity and guess what happened? The teens created a curriculum and after school program that was so well received the CEO of the American Medical Association wanted to meet them and hear more about "Choose You". These teens flew to Chicago, pitched to the CEO and got the green-light to run the program again. It's now on track to be implemented nationally and internationally. Now if the investor had been deterred by age he would have missed out on a great investment AND communities would have missed out on the benefits of "Choose You".
So to all the adults reading this book I invite you to do two things:
1. The next teen you talk to ask this question, "How would you improve your school, community or the world?" - and then pause for a moment and get ready for a great response.
2. Invest in teen ideas - whether it's through WIT, attending teen pitch events or your own teen - give the ideas a chance. You'll reap benefits you didn't even know existed.

Hugh Forrest   —   6 years ago

Working with younger people hopefully keeps you a bit younger. I appreciate the energy that younger people often have. So much of what we do with SXSW Interactive is, in a word, about “energy.” Further, given that SXSW is such a non-traditional job, it tends to have less structure than other jobs. In our case, that has worked out to be positive, because I think that younger people are often a better fit for such a less-structured, more spontaneous environment.

Gary Hoover   —   6 years ago

I believe we should start celebrating the enterprise and teaching how it works at an early age. Young minds are naturally curious. By the end of elementary school, most have learned a great deal about the environment and many other topics. But those same bright young minds often graduate from high school without any real understanding of how the economy works or how enterprises are created and built.

My best audiences – the most curious, unafraid, and bold in their questioning – are between the ages of 15 and 18. By their early 20s, when most business education takes place, personalities and interests are often already well-formed. Those who go on to great success in sports and entertainment are often engaged in their calling before they reach 18.

Sam Goodner   —   6 years ago

I’ve had the opportunity to speak to young people may times on the subject of entrepreneurship, as well as participate as a mentor and pitch competition judge for youth startup programs. So the issue of youth entrepreneurship is a big one for me. To any young people considering the path of being an entrepreneur, here are my top recommendations:

1 - Don’t wait: I think a lot of young people who consider entrepreneurship think to themselves “maybe it would be better to secure myself in a career first, then establish a network of professional contacts, then - maybe in my mid-thirties – consider becoming an entrepreneur, because I’ll be ready.” But, my thought is the opposite!

Don’t wait: if you have that drive, it’s better that you try a venture, fail, try again, fail again, and continue the cycle until you succeed. When you’re young and you fail, you have nothing to lose. You’re unlikely to have children, a mortgage, or even a spouse. Those things are like anchors in your life that slow you down; the older you get, the more difficult it is, until eventually it becomes impossible to move the anchors.

2 – Be comfortable with risk. Tolerance for risk is important for an aspiring entrepreneur, because chances are that you won’t make it. Of the 4% of small businesses that ever even reach $1 million in revenue, 80% of those will fail.

3 – Innovating is worthless without selling. Most young people that think about entrepreneurship think they want to be the innovators. They believe they have some different and unique idea for a product or service. However, if you’re not the salesperson of your venture, then you need to go find someone who is. I have seen so many fantastic ideas and products that ended up going nowhere, because they never had anyone involved with them to find customers and close sales.

Campbell Erickson   —   6 years ago

As a young entrepreneur, the act of taking 0 to 1 (shameless reference to Peter Theil) is the most important lesson I could have ever learned as a student. Entrepreneurship can be tough and time consuming - but it can also be the most adrenaline filled learning experience of your entire high school/college career.

My biggest challenge as a young entrepreneur is balancing my different worlds. In today's age, a teenage entrepreneur is very rarely caught up in just one circle, just one community of people. We spread ourselves across thousands of Facebook friends, dozens of organizations we are involved with, and an above average repertoire of personal connections. What does this all mean? It means we have to be flexible, actionable, and very friendly!

This summer I attended MIT Launch, a startup incubator for high schoolers held at the Martin Trust Center for Entrepreneurship at MIT. The importance of flexibility, action, and kindness were some of the most important lessons taught, much more so than balancing expenditure spreadsheets (still important!) or calculating your net profit after year three (also, still important!). Our most important lessons were blind pitches to VCs at Venture Café or discussing partnerships and deals with potentially interested corporations - all of which required you to be flexible, actionable, and very friendly.

What does that mean though? Well, let's find out.

Flexibility: one meeting here, one meeting there, one business plan here, one pitch there. Know your schedule, understand your interest, and be ready to pivot! Always try to be open to new ideas, jump in, give advice, speak your mind - never believe you're the smartest man in the room.

Action: If you have time, do it. The best way to get something done is to do it, take 12-14 hours and just do it. Need to write an email? Do it. Need to make a call? Do it. I recently started a photography project titled A Youth Mind. It took 24 hours to build a team, make some graphics, and become trending on thunderclap with a social reach of over 100,000 people - all because we did it.

Friendliness: Be nice, smile, laugh, be happy! If you get stressed, it's not going to help anything. Remember, it's something around 60% of pitching only matters on how you say it - not completely made up of what you say.

To simply conclude, young entrepreneurship is the act of pursuing a passion (going 0 to 1) while being able to communicate and walk in a few different circles. To do this, we must have great flexibility, passionate action, and an uncanny knack for friendliness.

Selina Eshraghi   —   6 years ago

The first step is embracing. My generation tends to see "entrepreneurship" as a scary word, and even I'm guilty of seeing this world of innovators as impenetrable and unconquerable. Breaking this mindset is what jump starts our individual kinetic energies, and as soon as we start seeing entrepreneurship as a part of us and not something that we cannot be, what we can achieve becomes infinite.
Once we begin to see ourselves in this way, we develop a "what do I have to lose" mentality that is mandatory for success. We become confident, we become risk takes, and we start to push the envelope and challenge those who stand in our way. Realizing that we deserve opportunity just as much as the next guy, is what opens up all the doors in the first place.
This brings me to my next point. Nobody will open those doors for you. Most entrepreneurs fail because they wait for opportunities to be handed over to them. But if J.K. Rowling's first book was turned down 12 times, then it's clear that you have nothing to lose from rejection. Success doesn't come to those who wait, and out of all the things that entrepreneurship has taught me, the understanding of this concept has affected my life the most.
Bear with me as I take you through this explanatory anecdote.
I met my most influential entrepreneurial mentor at the gym. One day my dad texted me about meeting the founder of "some nonprofit" in his weight lifting class. The next week I was holding a ten pound plate and asking the founder of The Strongheart Group if I could work for her. A week after and I found myself sitting in La Madeline eating a strawberry cinnamon crepe talking to the same person about the eradication of a disease in Rwanda and pushing legal action surrounding child soldiers in Uganda.
At the end of this meeting I bluntly asked her why she had given me such an opportunity. She responded by saying that my confidence, professionalism, and directness led her to believe that I would treasure her mentorship and show initiative. I had opened myself up to rejection, and watched that risk pay off.
You may be wondering how my story relates to entrepreneurship. In short, it proved to me that risk taking can only move me forward. It also taught me that you can apply things you learn in your personal life to your professional life and vice versa. Your personal and professional sides are interconnected.
The last and most important part of entrepreneurship is learning how to blur the lines between your professional and teenage self. The fact that you are a YOUTH entrepreneur is actually your greatest asset. Entrepreneurship will automatically teach you how to be professional, so you have to blend this with your inherent urge to have fun. Many adult entrepreneurs rely on entrepreneurship for a steady income, yet youth entrepreneurs rely on entrepreneurship for creation and change. Youth entrepreneurs initiate things because they are passions and not because they are the best business ideas. Because of this, it's important to be fun, relatable, and silly. It is important to bring that component to entrepreneurship that nobody else will have, and it will only help you set yourself apart.
With that, I wish you the best of luck. All my aforementioned points can summed up with three words: believe in yourself. Trust in your own ability, and you will find success.

Rohit Srinivasan   —   6 years ago

It feels like yesterday when in fact it was 5 years ago. The most dynamic and inspirational experience I have had around entrepreneurship was in fact my first! When I was 10 years old, I participated in the Entrepreneurship Foundation’s Lemonade Day contest. This was a contest where we had to prepare a business plan to sell lemonade and actually execute on the plan and report our results. I learned so much information and approaches that felt very advanced for a 10 year old such as how to price, selecting the location, how to advertise to get folks there, what do gross margins mean, keeping track of my expenses, what is net profit and even something called a “target audience”. My experiences at the contest were not only educational because I was able to step inside a real entrepreneurs shoes but have inspired me to get on a path of entrepreneurship. He are some of the lessons that I learnt from it which I apply even when I think of any business plan.
1) Be unique – One of the most important things I learned was to have an idea that was unique. While other kids were making traditional lemonade, I decided to make a more distinctive one that had real apple-raspberry and so was both healthier and tastier. This allowed me to cater specifically to my target audience at my chosen location which was people coming out of a work out at the gym. This uniqueness won me an award at the Lemonade Day competition. I was interviewed by Fox News and in fact Eugene Sepulveda, the CEO of Entrepreneur’s Foundation, wrote a blog post on this. Whenever I think of a new startup idea I immediately ask myself how I can make the idea to have more “raspberry-apple” in it!
2) Be opportunistic – During the contest while my customers were loving my apple-raspberry lemonade, I saw an additional exciting opportunity. I took orders for bulk delivery for half a gallon for a lot higher price. I came up with this idea this when some people mentioned they could serve it at one of their parties. I started to offer it for others and soon it became a very popular item and I made much more sales from the bulk delivery than from the single drink sales. Nowadays when I am describing a new startup idea I have to someone, I remind myself to listen carefully and be opportunistic to alter my original thinking because a “bulk delivery” might be lurking there.
3) Be Socially Responsible – Perhaps most importantly, this experience inspired me to become socially conscious and responsible. As per the recommendation of the contest, I gave away half my profits from Lemonade Day to a local charity called The Miracle Foundation that supports orphans in India. This was my first ever donation to a charity. Not only did this donation make me feel good, it actually got me more engaged with this organization. I have since visited these orphanages multiple times and I recently started the first youth chapter for The Miracle Foundation. I have continued to look for a social impact opportunities and contributed to causes such as STEM education in my other entrepreneurial activities.
Though five years have passed since my lemonade stand, I actively apply these lessons learnt to entrepreneurial ideas I have pursued. A couple of ventures where I have applied these include the creation of a 3D printing bureau using SolidWorks designs created by students (like in a shared economy) and an app called YelpHelper which is an app that finds trending restaurants in your city based on your specifications. The lemonade stand business was my first shot at being an entrepreneur. I learnt valuable life lessons from it and realized how the life of an entrepreneur could be exhilarating. It has undoubtedly inspired me to dream about being a successful entrepreneur one day!

Alessandra Rey   —   6 years ago

My dad and I seem to have very few things in common. Our identically cheeky smile aside, he is an analytical engineer whereas I am an aspiring writer and marketing intern. He does physics for fun, and I tweet for a living. This was especially apparent when planning out my career. Thankfully, my father knew from the beginning that differential equations and sustainable planning for offshore drilling was not at all in my future. However, it never stopped him from relaying his best “fatherly advice.” In my last few years of high school, none of the advice seemed to surprise me. It all seemed very sound, very familiar, and probably very well-quoted by fathers all around the world invested in their child’s future and well-being. However, it was a question he asked himself that struck me. One day at dinner, he raised a quizzical brow, looked at me and said,

“We are always telling our kids how to be the best employee for our boss; how to be the most hardworking, the most talented, the most loyal out of all the other employees. But why do we rarely tell our kids to work for themselves? Why don’t we encourage them to be their own bosses from the very beginning?”

I was floored. This was an angle my father had never brought up. What a peculiar yet not so peculiar idea, I thought to myself. The idea to work for one’s self, to cultivate your own passion and to dive into a market that is just waiting for you write your legacy all over it. It sounds inspirational and almost impossible, but it also sounds like the greatest learning experience one can have in life.

I think entrepreneurship is just that. A journey of personal drive, strong work ethic, the need to make one’s dream a reality, starting with a leap of faith. Of course as a third-year in college, internships were more of an option when I was looking to fill my resume. Between two majors, officer positions, and different student organizations, inventing the next best thing or establishing my brand has not been the most feasible. So instead, I look to other entrepreneurs.

I was lucky enough to land a summer internship at Austin-based app company, RideScout. I began to work social media for them and quickly fell in love with the leisurely work environment, charismatic coworkers, and the brand’s inspiring mission. When discussing with the CEO regarding his developing of the company, I learned that entrepreneurs are really just looking to solve a problem, to make life a little easier. A successful entrepreneur is one who believes in his or her solution so much that he or she is willing to pursue it 110%, taking on failures with as much confidence as the successes.

I don’t think it’s something you are necessarily born with. I used to think my father was born with his mathematically-inclined mind and natural tendency to overly-prepare for every sort of examination or event he schedules. It wasn’t until I sat down with him that he confessed he didn’t graduate first in his class without intention. His mission was to be the best student at his university, to get the scholarship, to move to America. He made a decision and followed through with it. Joseph Kopser of RideScout made the decision to make his morning commute simpler, more hassle –free, and created a company name out of it with a mobile app that combines nearly all available alternate modes of transportation in one place. Entrepreneurship is what happens when you come up with an idea and have the confidence to follow through with it, surely and decidedly.

I still don’t have too much in common with my dad. But he is the one of the wisest people I know. He taught me to ask questions, to not be afraid of the term “entrepreneur” and to maybe, just maybe, consider it a possibility for myself. And after my experience with Joseph and RideScout as a whole, that's something I can't say I disagree with.

Jason Zhao   —   6 years ago

Our world is rapidly evolving. All around us - and now, more than ever - enterprising young people are thinking about starting their own business venture. It’s a beautiful movement, but the problem is, most of them are looking for someone or something to tell them what their first step - and second, and third - should be. It’s a reasonable demand: After all, the process of starting something, whether it’s as simple as a lemonade stand or as complex as a Fortune 500 company, can be very daunting. All throughout our grade school years, the key to success was to simply follow the instructions precisely and exactly. But in business, there are no standard procedures that can guarantee your triumph - in fact, the more a business stands out from the norm, the better. That being said, the best way to grasp the many facets of growing a business is to simply start one!

Think about it: Now is the perfect time to chase your dreams, however far-fetched they may seem. You don’t have to worry about earning an adequate income. You always have a home to go back to. You won’t need to pay the taxes, drive the kids to their piano recitals, or stress about your retirement funds. Young people have an awesome degree of freedom, and even more amazing is what becomes possible when they put down the remote and start sketching out a business plan! The only requirement is your attitude - you’ve got to love what you do, so much so that you’re willing to miss meals and lose sleep just to make that next deadline (there's a reason why this book is called “Naturally Caffeinated”, after all). Even if you struggle along the way (like almost every entrepreneur, youth or otherwise), you will have picked up valuable lessons on the nuances of entrepreneurship - working with people, managing your time, and dealing with setbacks. Yes - magazines, newspapers, and books can tell you what you need to do, but only by exploring the vicissitudes of the entrepreneurial experience for yourself can you truly develop an intuitive sense for business - an understanding that simply cannot be expressed through words alone.

This realization that immersing myself in the actual process of starting a business would teach me far more than any resource was a turning point in the way I approached things. I pushed myself to get out of my comfort zone, which, looking back at it now, was an extremely cramped space to live in. It was this exhilarating new way of seeing things that eventually led me to kickstart the 3 Day Startup Foundations program. I had always wanted to attend a 3 Day Startup workshop, but the programs were almost exclusively focused towards university students and corporations. Before my change in perspective, I had resigned myself to missing out on the experience. It wasn’t until after my realization that I took charge and asked if I could personally help out at 3DS, hoping to find a way to expand the program to high school students like me who were passionate about entrepreneurship. I certainly felt vulnerable and a little intrusive asking the folks at 3DS (who I had never met) to join their team, but I did it anyway, and the 3 Day Startup Foundations program for high school students was born! The simple act of taking initiative and putting myself out there allowed me to launch something that I would never have dreamed of otherwise.

In the end, we all have concerns that make us hesitate and think twice about starting something that we really believe in - in fact, it’s our human nature to resist change. But I challenge you to get out of your head and into the world, a whole universe waiting to be discovered, interpreted, and improved. Now open your eyes, free your mind, and jump in!

Ian Charnas   —   6 years ago

I recall in the middle of my undergraduate studies a particular moment when I realized that everything in the world is someone's job. Yes of course collecting recycling is someone's job, and the person on the phone helping me resolve a billing dispute would certainly not put up with me if they weren't being paid to do so. It's more than that though. There's a sea of invisible jobs... like the people planning when to spin up more turbines at the power generation plant to meet demand, or the folks carefully testing for bacteria at the water treatment facility. If these people do their jobs well, we never hear from them and we never see them. They are in a sense, invisible to us as regular folks. The field of view apparent to us as consumers lets us enjoy services like Dropbox or Vine or Snapchat or whatever, without knowing the names of the people behind them... people who had a vision, who had the audacity and the confidence to think they can do anything they set their minds to. How can we develop that confidence in ourselves? How can we take that leap from consumer to producer, from observer to maker, to a point where we believe that anything is possible?

An innovation-centric makerspace like think[box] can forever alter the trajectories of young people. The first time you hold something in your hands which you designed, which you looked at in the theater of your mind, improved, and finally built and saw it actually work, roam around, or fly - this is an exciting time in a person's life. It's like the beginning of a montage where the Karate Kid finds balance in his life, or Rocky trains for his big fight. Once you start making you never look back. You start inspecting every interesting thing you run across and wonder, how is that made? How could it be improved? This is the essence of what we are training for when we take that leap from observer to maker. We're training to be able to see the problems in the world, and have the contagious determination to think that we could be the ones improving that life-saving medical device, building the web app that helps people find love, or the device that gets sent into space. Come to a makerspace. Let us help you build that belief that you can do anything.

Anjali sundaram   —   6 years ago

Creativity. One word with a hundred different meanings. It's creativity that enables entrepreneurs to succeed. We as the youth live in a time where being creative is celebrated and we are pushed to create something everyday, whether it's by our parents, are school, or just ourselves. We are privileged enough to not be bound to the restrictions our parents had when they were younger. So why is it that we don't see many young entrepreneurs out in the world today?
From my experience as an entrepreneur and from my friends experience, the difficult part as an entrepreneur is not the process of creating a project, rather the voices in our head telling us it's not good enough. The hardest part of being an entrepreneur I have found alongside of my friends is ignoring the echoes of fear and doubt in my mind. We tend to be so scared of rejection that we often forget to even try.
So here is my advice, try. It may seem hard to get rid off the voices in your mind that tell you that your project isn't good enough or that you are too young to be an inventor, a creator, a business man/women. Get rid of those thoughts .
Being able to create something original is rare, don't let your insecurities stop you from doing what you do best.
So close your eyes, take a deep breath; you are in charge of your future, so make your dreams happen.

Hank Stringer   —   6 years ago

Many things have changed with regard to the systems and processes used to identify, evaluate, and hire college graduates and other young people in a tech company. However, at the end of the day, there are some qualities that matter that have remained constant in recruiting: a demonstrated work ethic, integrity, the desire to serve, resourcefulness, and the willingness to find personal reward and value out of doing a great job at whatever it is you are doing.
I remember a new college graduate coming to the airline departure gate, back in the days before the TSA and modern airport security, for an early morning flight to San Francisco. The flight was well-known in Austin tech circles as the “nerd bird” because it was a non-stop, direct flight that left very early, with a matching late afternoon flight returning to Austin.
The young man was in a suit and tie, just walking up and down the gate area, giving everyone his resume’. I don’t know who hired him, but I loved the resourcefulness shown in what he was doing. He was smart enough to figure out that what hiring authorities like are not individuals who “think out of the box” but “who DO out of the box.”
Hiring authorities seek individuals who go to the next level to prove themselves. They’re not seeking cute or clever answers to interview questions or a uniquely formatted resume’ – it’s showing hard work that wins the day. I love seeing young people who have accomplished things in high school, or worked their way through college, or who have the tenacity to come into an interview and say “I have researched your company, I know your market, you are the company I want to work for, here are the reasons why I belong here, I’ll work hard regardless of the position or role I’m hired into at the beginning, in short: I am going to come to work for your company.”

Pia Deshpande   —   6 years ago

As someone who has had the privilege of being recognized with that fancy title you hear thrown around (" young entrepreneur"), I’d like to share some tips with people who have a budding idea or passion that they want to share with the world.

Surround yourself with people you’d like to be more like:
The development of an idea starts with the development of you, so treat yourself well. Make friends with people you admire, whether it be for their kindness, humor, or intelligence. They will start to rub off on you, and if you picked wisely, you’ll be better off for it!

Prioritize:
Life is a constant war with time. That means you are going to have to compromise sleep if you want to get that email drafted and sent by tomorrow. You might have to push back a work deadline for something more pressing. The ideal situation is when everything fits into your free time and you still have plenty of time to relax afterwards. That probably won’t happen. As someone heavily involved with TEDxYouth@Austin, and other organizations, it was difficult to keep my academic and work life in balance. I became an expert at time management.

Become a master copycat and startlingly original:
This one is strange, but it’ll make sense in a minute. When you see something you like about someone else’s idea, try to take some aspect of it. You heard that a company uses TeamUp to organize and has been doing well? Start using TeamUp. You like the fact that your last job had work parties that actually increased productivity? Use that idea! Knowledge isn’t something lost between each business model or revamp. Don’t let that kind of ingenuity go to waste. That being said, to succeed and to succeed ethically in our market, you have to bring something new to the table.

You need a team:
Even if an idea is made in isolation, to execute it, you need other people. This is an exciting thing for some people and a groan worthy reference to group projects for others. Having a team makes your idea a reality, and you need many different types of people to do it. As much as you may hate it, you need people that will shoot down your ideas, or tell you when something is underdeveloped. These teammates force the rest of your team to grow as thinkers, which in turn grows your business. You need people that will provide practical applications to ideas, or act as a mimic consumer. You need people who will be your confidant or sounding boards, and you need people who will nag and poke and pester until everything gets done. Trust me, you’ll thank them later. When you make a group, take a moment to assess where you are within that group dynamic and where your teammates stand.

Just start:
Waiting for a better time means waiting forever. The best time to try out that crazy idea or business plan is probably right now. Staring at a graveyard of could-have and would-haves is a little bit more than depressing, and you’ll regret what you didn’t do much more than the things that you did!

  • - just now