Millennials have developed a bit of a bad reputation. They’re seen as entitled -- 73 percent of millennials expect to be able to modify their work computer and 40 percent believe they should be promoted every two years. They’re also described as being sheltered from criticism and being self-absorbed by both generational researchers and their on-the-job managers.
But that’s not the whole story on this generation. In addition to these seemingly-negative traits, they’re also optimistic, love to volunteer and choose to search for work that matters. They truly care about the world and their place in it. They are digital natives. And it is these qualities that make them the best entrepreneurs the U.S. has ever seen.
1. Work that matters
It wasn’t long ago that the majority of workers were concerned primarily with a steady paycheck and a nice retirement package. To these workers, income was central to success, with bigger houses, bigger cars and bigger vacations the status symbols that symbolized achievement. What you did wasn’t that important -- what was important was that you made a nice amount of money doing it.
Today, millennials aren’t as concerned about making a living as they are about making a life. They want to do work that matters -- and if they can find a way to live on less income to do it, they’re more than willing to give it a try.
There couldn’t be a better trait for an entrepreneur. Building new businesses takes vision, scrappy determination and a willingness to go without for a time in the service of a larger purpose. When a business has a purpose and actually makes the world better, not only is the founder inspired, so are customers. Millennial entrepreneurs are reaching millennial customers with products and services that matter, and they’re succeeding in the process.
One great example of this type of success is Tom Szaky, who dropped out of Princeton to create Terracycle, which started off making fertilizer and now creates over 250 products from 60 different waste streams. The company’s 2010 revenue was $13 million, and since then, it has also donated $3.2 million to charity by pledging two cents for every waste item recycled.
Millennials came into the job market in the middle of a major economic downturn, and they’ve made the best of it. Not only that, they’ve thrived. The much maligned self-assurance of this generation is in fact a deep optimism about life and their place in the world. They believe that they can, and will, succeed.
This optimism is essential for success as an entrepreneur. Being able to see past current circumstances and believe that you will achieve your goals is the hallmark of a successful business owner. Studies show that those who are optimistic work harder than those with a negative outlook, which directly impacts business success.
In addition, the people around us feed off of our positivity. As a result, an optimistic entrepreneur will be able to put together an energized team that’s ready and willing to go the extra mile. Those extra efforts add up, leaving the long-term vision of the business more likely to be achieved.
As an example of how optimism wins in business, meet Shafqat Islam. A millennial born in Bangladesh, he tells his own story of how irrational optimism saved his business when he was out of options. By using a trip to a friend’s wedding in San Francisco in 2010 to share his vision and make connections, he was able to get on an email sent out to a list of angel investors, conduct several meetings and raise the funding he needed. To this day, he says, the first item on his company’s list of values is to never, ever give up.
3. Comfort with technology
While many have criticized this generation for being addicted to their mobile devices, the truth is that millennials are simply digital natives. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat are as normal to them as eating, breathing and walking around. They founded the social media movement and, as a result, are constantly connected to their social circles.
This comfort with the digital world gives them a striking advantage in marketing goods and services. While older entrepreneurs have to learn social media like a new language, millennials are native speakers. They know how to connect, what to say and how to get their message across. They know what resonates with others like them. As a result, these digital natives are well equipped to succeed in business, given their innate knowledge of media marketing.
One successful online millennial entrepreneur is Milena Botero. She began Room for Tea when she was just 22 with the goal of helping older and younger generations connect while also filling the needs of each. Through this unique home-sharing exchange, young people find the affordable temporary housing they need for internships and travel, while older folks enjoy the company and extra income of hosting these young visitors. Through Room for Tea, both sides win.
Millennials have taken a lot of criticism for their entitled attitudes and always-on social media lives. However, this criticism is simply a misunderstanding of their entrepreneurial strength. Their strong optimism, desire to make a difference and comfort with technology may, in fact, make millennials the best entrepreneurial generation we’ve seen yet.
Do you see these entrepreneurial strengths in yourself? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!