If you were like most teenagers, it was all you could do to survive the trials and tribulations of junior high and co-existing with the opposite sex. But Jennifer Kushell had more than boys and school on her mind back then. At 13, she started her first small business-creating and selling hand-painted T-shirts. By the time she was 19, she'd started three other businesses and had just launched the Young Entrepreneurs Network, the first online network for young people trying to start their own companies. Now 30, Kushell is the author of Secrets of the Young & Successful: How to get everything you want without waiting a lifetime. Drawing on both her personal experience and the experiences of the hundreds of young entrepreneurs she's met in the past 10 years, Kushell offers some words of wisdom to help you get off your duff and get your business started now!
Entrepreneur: Why did you decide to write this book?
Jennifer Kushell: Three years ago, my husband, Scott, and I were sitting on the beach in Belize [and] we came up with the idea for this new company called the Young and Successful Media Corp. This company does what we call "educaiment," a cross between education and entertainment, and the point is to take all the intellectual property we've been developing over a decade now and create the tools and resources young people need as they go out into the real world, picking up where parents and school leaves off, [and help them] establish themselves not only in their own businesses, but in life in general. This book was the first project.
Entrepreneur: Your book is really interactive and included exercises for readers to work on. Why did you choose to do it in that format?
Kushell: We really wanted to get people to start thinking about what their opportunities are and how far they can go with their lives and really start questioning how much more they can accomplish if they think strategically about it.
Entrepreneur: Although it's not written specifically for entrepreneurs, what do you think the most important lessons are for young entrepreneurs reading this book?
Kushell: I'd say the most important thing in the world is to be able to clearly articulate what you're trying to do, or what you're interested in. You don't have a lot of time to pitch yourself and to pitch your ideas to people out there, and the more clear, concise and sophisticated your answers can be, the more people will pay attention to you.
I think you have to start working very early on to build your own credibility and your respect in the professional workplace or in your industry. The younger you are, the more people question what you know and what you're capable of and if you go in knowing that, you can start to join organizations, you can volunteer, you can maybe even sit on boards. You can start to build up your bio early on and do research; you can hire interns; you can start to establish yourself in your community and your industry and become someone people know and respect. When your knowledge base and your expertise overshadows your age, that's when you're in a position where you can truly do anything and not be limited by how young you are.
Entrepreneur: What other important lessons are there for young entrepreneurs in your book?
Kushell: Young entrepreneurs must understand and be able to clearly articulate both their history and where they're headed. We like to ask the question "What's your story?" because it's very important that young entrepreneurs can effectively communicate their story to others, especially in business. In order to have customers, vendors, potential investors, employees, etc. to buy into your vision, you must know how to communicate what both you and your business are all about.
With "Real World University," we provide a concept of continued learning and sculpting an environment to efficiently and effectively learn what you really need out in the real world. Unfortunately, the education system and parents can't prepare everyone for what they really need to know once they're out on their own-everyone learns differently and has different knowledge bases they need to be successful in life. By identifying the areas you need to become an expert in business or industry and designing "classes" for yourself, an entrepreneur will set up a system to continually obtain new knowledge and wisdom over time. Attend Real World University, and your knowledge base and success will jump right past your competitors who think they know enough. Great entrepreneurs know that learning never stops!
The metaphor of "the house on the hill" is one we created to [help young people learn] about power players. Power players exist in different industries and areas of society. Young entrepreneurs need to learn early who the people are in these influential power circles that directly affect them and how to gain access and build relationships within "the house." It takes just one of these "homeowners" to take a liking to you and want to invite you in to their house to transform your business and opportunities.
Entrepreneur: How did you come up with the "young and successful" character traits you describe throughout the book?
Kushell: From people we knew, people we'd researched, and people we'd read about. From having the Young Entrepreneurs Network, I was dealing with tens of thousands of people who were doing amazing things with their own businesses. And we travel all over the world, we speak to huge audiences all the time, so we've come into contact with thousands of young people.
What we tried to do was figure out the key attributes that separated the people who are going about their lives and are maybe not so happy with everything but don't really know where they're going or how they're going to accomplish what they want-and [determine] what separates them from the people who have what they want-[those] who are totally focused, totally on the right track. That's where we came up with those attributes and said, 'OK, these people have taken control, they've taken ownership, they've said, "It's up to me to make the right decisions to get where I want to go." ' They don't wait for other people to hand them things and they also have a remarkable ability to spin challenges and disadvantages into the most powerful motivators and most powerful advantages, which was a very interesting thing we saw over and over and over.
I'd describe young and successful people like this:
- They display high levels of optimism and confidence.
- They possess vision and passion in their dreams and convictions.
- They ensure that they surround themselves with other like-minded people.
- They're highly resourceful, creative and inventive.
- They seize opportunities and create their own whenever possible.
- They know what motivates them.
- They have a strong sense of personal identity.
- They have spent a substantial amount of time on introspection and self-discovery.
- They refuse to let other people dictate how they should live.
- They take responsibility for their happiness.
- They spin challenges into their greatest motivators-and sometimes biggest advantages.
- Most importantly, they take control and ownership of their lives and careers early on, and never let go.
Entrepreneur: How did you develop TAPPS, the Four Rs and the personal balance sheet?
Kushell: [Scott and I] have always been very introspective and very intuitive, and part of our pact with each other as a married couple and as business partners is that we're constantly analyzing the way each other operates and [trying to] improve ourselves. You can't really do that unless you can be very candid with yourself and other people about what your strengths and weaknesses are.
TAPPS, which stands for Truth, Awareness, Preparations, Prevention and Survival, is an advance planning process that takes people through five simple steps to uncover how they might best approach a major challenge that could threaten to knock them off their path to success. It helps you identify the best possible approach to take to overcome the challenge, prior to the challenge occurring! For entrepreneurs, there's no denying that the path to achieving their dreams will inevitably have some bumps along the way. By applying TAPPS to a few of the top scenarios and mishaps that could potentially have the biggest impact on your life, you can rise to and overcome most challenges with great strength and clarity of mind.
The Four Rs is a tool we created to help people measure the level and kinds of returns they can expect from their investment of Risk, Effort, Sacrifice and Time in their major life decisions. For entrepreneurs, this is a critical tool to use, as it enables them to think clearly and analyze if and why they should plow everything they have into a new idea or business. By determining the returns on each of the 4 Rs, they'll be able to rest comfortably and confidently as they forge forward (or not), knowing that they've carefully thought through all they could in advance and not second guess themselves.
The "personal balance sheet" is similar to the process of a balance sheet used by a company to take a snapshot of their financial health on any given day. It's a terrific self-assessment tool that allows people to take a snapshot of their personal skills and abilities, as well as their current weaknesses and disadvantages, and then put this information to great use.
Many entrepreneurs tend to undervalue or overlook their assets and over exaggerate their liabilities, which can be detrimental to the success of their business. If you can be fair and honest with yourself when putting together your personal balance sheet, you'll develop a keen awareness of both your personal strengths and weaknesses or personal "assets" and "liabilities." This will enable you to better focus on and learn to minimize your liabilities and increase the strength of your assets so they can best be leveraged for success in both your business and personal lives.
Entrepreneur: In the book, you emphasize the importance of having a balanced life, a balanced and strong support structure with your family. Why is that so important to success?
Kushell: I've always said when it comes to entrepreneurs, I think more young people are put out of business by emotional issues than by financial issues. But people are always surprised when I say that. It's not money that puts young people out of business, it's the fact that people don't believe in them, that people are criticizing them or ostracizing them. I think when you're young, you're trying so hard to build a foundation for yourself, to get comfortable in your own skin and build your confidence, and people are always going to be chipping away at that, no matter you are, whether you're the most successful person in the world or you're homeless.
We have to become comfortable with who we are, and the only way I think we're gonna do that is by doing something we call 'sculpting a more perfect environment.' None of us has an absolute perfect environment to live in. Whether we're in school or at work or whatever we do, it's critical that we surround ourselves with people who understand us, who love us, who support us, and then also that we have a strong mentor mix. It's not a matter of finding one or two mentors. You need to have many different mentors, and that's [why we recommend] having a board of advisors.
You don't have to have a business to have a board of advisors, but it's critical that you have people who can support you in all different ways: people who are going to watch out for you and your health, people who are going to watch out for your finances and your money, people who are going to watch out for your education, your relationships, your social life and your lifestyle. There are a lot of different people we each need, and if you're not surrounded by people who motivate you, you're just not gonna go as far as you could.
Jennifer Kushell is the founder and president of The Young Entrepreneurs Network as well as the author of several books on entrepreneurship, including her most recent release, Secrets of the Young & Successful.