When most people think about the typical age of a denizen of Silicon Valley, young Mark Zuckerbergs and other college dropouts usually come to mind. However, the average age at any entrepreneurship networking event, meetup or party is around 30, and there will be many older than 40. It is easy to start a company with less experience but there are definitely some barriers that need to be overcome.
The biggest thing people overlook while starting a company is that nothing will ever go to plan. But unless you know the industry inside and out you will not be able to make the right strategic decisions. This industry knowledge comes in two necessary components: people and business value.
If you are, say, starting a record label, and you don’t know people in the radio industry, you cannot hope to succeed. If you don’t understand how to make a good music video or how to handle PR, you will not be able to make the groundbreaking decisions that lead to double-platinum records.
This knowledge can come in a variety of forms. The most typical are work experience and education, which is why younger folk struggle to launch explosive ventures. For aspiring entrepreneurs, the main option involves picking things up on the fly and surrounding themselves with mentors to gain industry knowledge and advice.
A few days ago, I interacted with young author Deep Patel. Though he is still in high school, Patel is the co-founder of YouthLogix, a youth marketing publication, and has managed to network with some of the largest and most influential figures in entrepreneurship.
I interact with a lot of young people about how to get started on their entrepreneurial journeys. After all, why make the same mistakes others have stumbled over? Learn from those around you and do whatever it takes to become as knowledgeable as someone with 20 years of industry experience, because unless you achieve that you are destined to fail.
While interacting with Patel, he shared some insightful tips on how to get successful people on board to make them your mentors. Here are they:
1. Provide value.
This can be a difficult task because many will be skeptical that a high school or college kid can give value to a tech CEO, celebrity investor or bestselling author. However, it is crucial to find some solution for this, because when you are rich, successful and famous you get hundreds of messages a day asking for help and advice. When everyone wants a handout, offering a hand up to someone is the best way to stand out. For example, this could mean offering to do an unpaid internship.
2. Aim for introductions.
Because entrepreneurship communication has become so spam-filled, one easy way to make sure your email gets opened and answered is to have someone introduce you. This technique will often require you to be vigilant at utilizing social media, since keeping track of first- and second-degree connections is the name of the game. I will typically spend a few hours hunting down people I want to meet on LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook, noting any mutual connections or interests.
3. Find common interests and biases.
If you are pitching a tech product to a journalist who happens to love cosplay, try to put a cosplay spin on the pitch. Similarly, if you and an investor both love to golf, ask if you can go golfing with them. Just as you want to try to provide value in order to avoid becoming just another leech, finding common ground helps make you more human and someone they want to associate with.
4. Leverage your age.
People love to see ambition: kids trying to actually do stuff in the world. Youthful aspiration has a lot of appeal to older people who had that same twinkle in their eyes years ago. As you frame your messages of request look for an angle that plays on your age and makes you seem like you are seeking mentorship rather than just looking for another piece to a puzzle.
5. Master the art of the subject line.
Sometimes you will never be able to add value, get an introduction, find common ground or leverage your age, but if you can create a great subject line for your email, you might still be able to get a reply. Think about scrolling through your inbox. What subject lines make you hit delete or spam? What lines make you want to open them? Understanding these motivations and crafting a witty, self-contained message in the fewest number of characters will help increase your click-through rate.