Starting a business is always intimidating – and this is especially true when you are young. From coming up with the idea to charging clients for your product, there’s a lot to learn on a journey full of ups and downs, fallacies and hard work.
In the past several years, entrepreneurship has been portrayed as a cool alternative to getting a job. The emerging influencer-marketing industry encourages young people to start businesses, but also creates an unrealistic image of what building one is really like.
Having your own business comes with lots of benefits and is undoubtedly one of the most rewarding things in life. It’s a journey that can only be experienced with all its hardships. Here are seven lessons I learned by building my own startup while I was still in high school:
1. Your first attempt will fail.
I’m sorry, it’s inevitable. Although it’s motivating to think that your first idea will succeed, it’s extremely unlikely that it will. This is a lesson that entrepreneurs usually learn the hard way. It’s hard not to set unrealistic expectations when you’re getting started, but try to always be prepared for failure.
The good part is that you will get better with each attempt. My axiom to keep me motivated Is: “Trying is the only proven way to increase your chances of success.” Learning something from each mistake is the best way to make sure you won’t repeat it on your next attempt.
2. First, validate your idea.
Don’t assume that people will buy your product. Validate that assumption first.
Start by identifying your target audience and asking them for feedback. Figure out if your product really solves one of their problems and if it would be valuable enough for them to pay you.
With online products it’s even easier: you can create an email list to measure interest, ask for preorders and reach out to your internet friends or potential clients. The worst thing that can happen is that you pour time, effort and money into something that nobody wants or needs.
3. Move fast and break things.
This mindset allows you to test ideas quickly and validate their potential, at the cost of occasionally breaking things.
Having that sense of urgency, especially in the early days of a company, drives you to learn more about your product and your users, often highlighting problems. It’s a great way to evaluate multiple assumptions without spending too much time on the process.
The obvious trade-off is the technical debt that you’ll accumulate with time. The shortcuts taken to get the product out as fast as possible can become a real stumbling block later on -- this is why Mark Zuckerberg (the pioneer of this philosophy) later changed it to “Move fast with stable infrastructure.''
4. You probably won’t change the world.
But changing the world shouldn’t be your goal. Most successful businesses started with a specific niche in mind. They focused on offering the best service to their clients before expanding.
Facebook didn't start out with a plan to connect the whole world. It started as a college-focused social network. Uber started as a black car service for 100 friends in San Francisco. We only have Dropbox because Drew Houston kept forgetting his USB stick. And the list goes on…
The companies mentioned above were focused on solving a specific problem at the outset, and later saw the opportunity to expand to other markets. Start small, take baby steps and be ready to seize the opportunity to scale.
5. Co-founders make it easier.
The reality of entrepreneurship is anything but glamorous. Emotionally, you have to prepare for a roller coaster ride. It’s very hard to stay motivated when things are not working as expected
Although there are plenty of successful solo founders out there, those tough moments can drive you down a dark path. You’ll often need a shoulder to lean on, and you’ll realize pretty fast that friends and family are not the best solution
You’ll need someone who is truly devoted to your objective and can help you get past those obstacles. A co-founder you trust can assist with that.
6. It takes time.
Obviously, success doesn’t come overnight, but you will usually be surprised when your company’s time frame doesn’t match up with your predictions. Napkin math may boost your motivation in the beginning, but you should always expect the worst.
Growing a business from nothing takes time and involves a lot of trial and error. Start by throwing a bunch of darts and figuring out which channels work best for your specific market. In the early days of a company, marketing is a real challenge, so make full use of all your resources and connections to get that initial traction.
7. Starting really is the hardest part.
The old saying got it right: You don’t have to be a genius to build a successful business. However, it does take a great amount of fearlessness, ambition and discipline to sacrifice the comfort of your current lifestyle and fully commit to starting your entrepreneurial journey.
Here’s where being young offers a slight advantage, as you don’t carry the baggage that comes with adult life. This leaves you with more time and mental real estate to explore different ideas.