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The Upstarts Are Coming

An inside look at the latest book from renowned author and journalist, Donna Fenn
December 21, 2009
URL: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/204432

Gen Y [also know as the Millennial Generation] is undoubtedly the most entrepreneurial generation in history. With more tools at their disposal, a knack for thinking outside the box and a natural instinct to avoid the proverbial corporate ladder, fearless Gen Yers are changing the world of business and redefining the entrepreneurial movement. In her latest book, Upstarts! , internationally renown author and journalist Donna Fenn profiles over 150 of today's most promising Gen Yers--from startups to rock-star serial entrepreneurs--to find out what makes the Upstart generation tick.

Donna FennScott Gerber: What was your biggest inspiration for writing Upstarts!?
Donna Fenn: My primary motivation was to chronicle the entrepreneurial journeys of a new generation of business owners--to figure out what inspires them to start companies, what makes those companies different from the ones I've covered in the past, and to impart some key lessons to entrepreneurs of all ages. Secondarily, I was tired of hearing Gen Y stereotyped as spoiled, entitled, and even narcissistic. As both a mom and a business journalist, I saw a different side of this generation: they're incredibly hard-working, innovative, agile, socially-conscious, and team-oriented. Leadership guru Warren Bennis calls them the next "Greatest Generation." I'm betting he's spot on.

What are the most unique characteristics shared by Gen Y entrepreneurs?
As you know, I talk about eight characteristics in the book. But I think that at the very heart of each and every one of those characteristics is a widespread and driving passion for the entrepreneurial life that we've not seen in previous generations. I know I'll get some pushback here, but consider that Gen Y (and younger Gen Xers) are the first generation to grow up with entrepreneurial role models: Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Anita Roddick, Richard Branson and, later, Sergey Brin and Larry Page, Steve Chen and Chad Hurley, Mark Zuckerberg, Kevin Rose--the list goes on and on. Just as Gen Yers have no memory of life without computers and the internet, they also have no memory of a time when successful entrepreneurs were not imbued with rock star status. And they've never had the expectation of lifetime employment in corporate America. So I think they approach entrepreneurship very much from a lifestyle perspective. They want to live the entrepreneurial life and for many of them, that will mean starting multiple companies. These young company owners will make their biggest mistakes in their first and second companies and by the time they're in their forties, my prediction is that we're going to see the most seasoned, experienced generation of entrepreneurial leaders in history. Just wait!

What can older entrepreneurs learn from Gen Y entrepreneurs and vice versa?
They can learn a lot from one another! Younger entrepreneurs tend to be collaborative, tech-savvy, and very agile. They're also very socially conscious, focused on work/life balance, and they strive to create high-performing but fun workplaces. So I think those are all traits that entrepreneurs of every generation should take note of and emulate because they make companies not only more humane but far more productive. Older entrepreneurs are probably more savvy about managing people, they're not as easily distracted, and they're typically better negotiators. They also have a lot experience with scaling their companies, which is something younger entrepreneurs can have trouble with. I think we would all benefit from a good amount of cross-generational knowledge transfer.

What is your advice to aspiring Gen Y entrepreneurs?
Take full advantage of the resource-rich environment that now exists for young entrepreneurs. I'm not talking about money, but about the vast number of intellectual resources that are available. There are more entrepreneurship programs than ever before at U.S. colleges and universities and I do believe that college can be a terrific place to start a company. Professors are often willing to give advice, your classmates provide an eager workforce and college towns are typically economically stable, so there's a receptive consumer base. Outside of college, there have never been more networking groups or more older and experienced entrepreneurs willing to mentor "Upstarts." It's an increasingly collaborative world and Gen Y is fabulous at collaboration. So leverage your talents and your own generation-specific way of looking at the world to your advantage.

What is a fun fact about you that not many people know?
When I was finishing Upstarts!, I thought it would be hysterically funny to make a promotional video with the people in the book called "I'm in a Book!"-- a spoof of the Saturday Night Live skit "I'm on a Boat!" My publisher was not amused. I'm still hoping some eager young videographer will make it happen!

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